Summary: Money may actually distract us from Kingdom priorities. Some things money cannot buy are compassion for the needy, passion for the lost, and love for one another.

I begin this morning with an invocation from my favorite poet,

the bard of Baltimore, Ogden Nash, who addressed our

favorite god in prayer:

“Oh, money, money, money; some may think thee holy.

But I cannot figure out how thou goest out so fast and how

thou comest in so slowly.”

Ogden Nash, like most of us, found that there is generally

more month than money, and so considered himself poor.

But of course he was not poor, and neither are you and I.

Yes, some of us are in financial distress. Yes, some of us

need a jobs or maybe a better job. But few if any of us are

destitute; I know none of you in hard-core poverty. In fact,

by the standards of much of the world, we are rich. We have

enough; maybe not as much as we owe, and certainly not as

much as we would like. But we are not poor; we are rich.

And yet in some ways we are poor. In the places where it

counts we are impoverished. There some things we really

ought to have, but which money cannot buy.

The Apostle John is now an old man, exiled on the Isle of

Patmos. He lets his eye wander to and fro among the

churches of Asia, and he comes to the church at Smyrna.

Smyrna was one of the finest trade centers of the ancient

world. Smyrna was wealthy enough to have constructed an

immense temple to venerate the emperor Tiberius. Smyrna

was where merchants from every direction converged.

Anything made anywhere in the Roman Empire you could

buy at Smyrna. Any whim you might have could be satisfied

in the trading stalls of Smyrna’s marketplace. Silks from the

far east, spices from the islands. Gold from northern Africa,

beasts of burden from Egypt. Slaves from the interior of

Ethiopia, timber from the forests of central Europe. It all

came together in Smyrna. They were rich there, filthy rich.

Smyrna’s people thought that money could buy them

anything they wanted.

There was a church in Smyrna. One of those little bands of

Christian believers planted by missionaries. Only a few

years before the good news had come to Smyrna, and now

there was a church, well established, on its way, with a fine

tradition and good people. A bright future for that church,

because even though the politics of the Empire were hostile,

still these Christians had resources. They could have hung

out on their little corner of the city for a long time to come,

with no immediate problems. But the Lord of the church

speaks to them and suggests that wealth is not all they

suppose it is: “I know your affliction and your poverty, even

though you are rich.” I know more about you, brothers and

sisters, than you think I know. And I know that despite your

bank accounts, you are poor. In the things that I measure,

says the Lord of the church, you are poor.

There was a church in Takoma. One of those many bands

of believers planted on nearly every corner of the capital city.

Well established, with a fine tradition and good people. The

pastor there at Takoma loved to talk every year at annual

meeting time about the bright prospects for its future. He got

very caught up in statistics. He liked to remind this church in

Takoma that they had three million dollars worth of property,

they were out of debt, and they had thousands of dollars in

invested funds. He especially loved to tell the people at

every business meeting how much better they were doing

financially this year than last year. But the Lord of the church

spoke to him, this pastor, and said, “I know your affliction

and your poverty, even though you are rich.” I know more

about you than you think I know. And I know that despite

your bank accounts, you are poor. In the things that I

measure, says the Lord of the church, you are poor. So

pastor, tell them: there are some things their money cannot



For example, money cannot buy compassion for people in

need. Money cannot make you love people. People need

things and put claims on us, and sometimes we don’t like

it. They want things. They need expensive stuff. Children

want shoes. Young adults want a college education. Wives

want to be clothed and husbands want to be fed. Where

there are people, there are wants. And you may have the

resources to pay the bills, but that is not the same thing as

having a compassion for the needs of people. Money cannot

buy compassion.

I sit on the boards of a couple of organizations that were

formed to meet certain human needs. But the leaders of

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