Summary: Finances are a major stressor in the lives of many, but Jesus gives us an antidote to that stress: if we seek God first, we will experience not destruction, but abundance and abundant life because everything else will fall into place.
Today we come to the end of our September sermon series, “Hanging in the Balance: Antidotes for the Crazy Life.” Over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at God’s wisdom and Jesus’ teachings about how better to manage our time and the burdens that so often weigh us down. Now this morning, we are going to go in a slightly different direction as we take some time to think about the role of money in our lives. For many of us, money may cause more stress in our lives than work, or family, or lack of time, or even all of those things put together. In fact, a recent poll indicated that 75% of all Americans say that money is the number one stressor in their lives. This is a huge issue for so many of us, and it’s really been at the forefront since the economic meltdown of 2008.
Now, indeed, a lot of us are good money-managers who have inadvertently and not of our own choosing gotten caught up in the financial mess of the last few years, and that has caused us stress. But a lot of us also are in a constant state of stress about money because of a problem of over-consumption, which is really a problem of our society and culture in general. And not unlike getting caught up in the financial meltdown, we also easily get caught up in this very pervasive cultural ethos.
Sure, we can throw around all the usual buzzwords and talk about the problems of deregulation, bad lending practices by large banks, and greed on Wall Street. But I think most of us are smart enough to know that when you point the finger and something else, you’ve got three fingers pointing right back at you. Quite simply, we, too, contributed to the financial problems that now stress-out so many of us. But I think getting at the root causes of our struggles with money requires a different kind of language than “deregulation,” “mortgage,” and “stock-market crash.” To really identify our struggles with money requires spiritual language because in so many cases when it comes to money, the problem is that we’ve strayed from the right path; the word for that is sin, plain and simple.
It’s so easy for us to say that God is God in our lives, and yet most of us don’t live that way; we put other things first, and we become consumed with this insatiable desire for more, which we so often give into and end up over-indulging in one way or another that usually involves at least some expense. I think it’s probably fair to say that all of us have struggled with these temptations, if not downright given in and sinned. And what you end up with, as we now clearly know, is a big mess; houses that are too expensive to afford and worth less than we owe on them anyway, credit card debt in the tens of thousands of dollars. I could go on and on. All we have to do is fall into that temptation to buy stuff we really don’t need and live on tomorrow’s dollar today a few times and it becomes the habit of our lives. Then we become slaves to our money and the resulting worry, anxiety, and stress robs us of life; it consumes us!
Earlier, we heard a reading from Matthew’s gospel. Here, Jesus is in the midst of preaching what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. In this particular part of the sermon, Jesus is speaking about those things that consume our lives, and what he concludes is that if we make God the focus of our whole lives, then everything else will fall into place. When the desire of our hearts is not God, but something else, it can lead to destruction, that’s what we have seen very specifically across the country in the last few years, but I think we experience that kind of destruction in our own lives relatively regularly. The Apostle Paul was no idiot when he wrote in a letter to Timothy that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” It was true then, and it’s still true today. And so Jesus gives us another antidote to our over-burdened lives: Jesus is saying that if we seek God first, we will experience not destruction, but abundance and abundant life because everything else, everything else, will fall into place.
Yet it’s so easy to “tend” the other way, to make the “other stuff” the priority of our lives! One day a pastor was called to the house of a church member who was having financial difficulties. The pastor counseled him for a while and then stopped. “Let’s have a word of prayer and while I pray, you make a commitment to give one-tenth of your income to the Lord.” Thinking about his income, the man thought to himself, “That won’t be difficult. That’s only $1,800 a year—only about $35 a week.” They prayed, and the man promised to give back 10 percent to the Lord and to the Lord’s work.