Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
August 19, 2018
Matthew 6: 19-34 (CEB)
“Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. 20Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. 21 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Seeing and serving
22“The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be! 24No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
25“Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? 27Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 28And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 30If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? 31Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ 32Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
“In God We Trust.” So reads the slogan on every piece of United States currency. It seems awfully ironic, doesn’t it? Every day we carry around in our wallets and our purses and our pockets pieces of money that say we trust in God. But when it comes time to pay the almost past due utility bill, what’s really going on in our heads? Are we trusting God to take care of our remaining needs, or are we worrying about how we’re going to pay the next bill or buy the groceries that week? If you’re like me, you’re worrying, not trusting. Those of you who’ve spent any time around me know that I spend probably more than an average amount of time thinking (and sometimes worrying) about money. I drive Ken crazy because I’m constantly tracking our income and expenses, and I call a “non-essentials spending halt” whenever we are getting close to overspending our income. As some of you know, I keep a close watch on the money here at Wesley Memorial, too.
At home and at work, I take meticulous measures to keep track of finances so that I can prevent future worry about how the bills are going to be paid. I get worried about making sure that I don’t have to worry about money. It’s almost silly, but I think I’m correct in saying that most of us spend a lot more time worrying about money than we do in trusting God with money, and with all the other things that make us nervous. And Jesus knew that. So as he preaches here this Sermon on the Mount, he says to the crowds around him, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Rich and poor alike, if we’re going to be worried about money, we are going to be distracted from our faith and service to God. Worry keeps us from a right relationship with God.
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 in to 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!
As Jesus preaches to the crowds here in the Sermon on the Mount, his focus has turned to those things that consume our lives, and what Christ 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, and 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 a word of wisdom in the midst of our over-burdened lives, an antidote to the worry that often consumes us: 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! We have to be diligent and intentional in working toward true generosity. That often means putting our full trust in God, because only when we trust God with our stuff are we able to break free! A math professor in northern Virginia has broken free from the hold “stuff” might have had on his life. Every year, Richard Semmler gives away over half of his income. He makes decisions about where to live and what car to drive based on his commitment to give. His goal is to donate one million dollars before he retires. At 61, he is very close having given over $900,000 dollars to six different charities through the years. And not only does Richard give his money, he gives his time, working on houses for Habitat for Humanity and serving food in soup kitchens. Now, he’s a bachelor, and he makes a six-figure salary, so maybe he has an easier time than those with family obligations. Nevertheless, he shows us how to break free. His money doesn’t control him. Richard’s friends and colleagues say he is always smiling. He has turned what is a burden for many of us into a joy!
Mr. Semmler has found happiness through holiness, faithful discipleship to Christ our Lord! The point is that when we are about God’s business and operating out of God’s vision for us, we have no room or need for worry! I imagine that most of you are familiar with that old song entitled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The song seems to suggest that worry could be turned off and happiness turned on through the exercise of one’s will. All that was needed was a positive attitude. We all know it’s not that easy, right? And Jesus suggests another approach: Don’t worry, be holy. We all fall short of this goal, and refuse to entrust our lives completely to the Lord. But in so doing, we open ourselves to anxiety and worry. But we can free ourselves from worry, says Jesus, by a single-minded devotion to God. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.” Christ calls us to holiness; to be set apart for God’s service alone; to be wholly the Lord’s and trust him for all of life’s necessities. For a happy and well-ordered life, we have to put the kingdom of God before all else! “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
So when it comes to money, seeking God’s kingdom first means returning thanks to God by giving him a portion of our first fruits; we call it tithing, or a first fruits offering. Now, I’m not trying today to make you all give more money, but I do want to stress that this is crucial to our lives; eliminating the stress that money and finances can cause is critical if we wish to fully experience the wonderful, happy, abundant life that God plans for each of us. The deal is that the world tells us that money is one of the most important (if not the most important) thing in our lives. So by bringing some of our money to God first, we are saying that God is most important in our lives. And where our money is, there our heart will be also. So when we give our money, our treasure, to God, our heart will follow. “Seek first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Tithing, or returning thanks to God through the giving of our offerings, makes us put “first things first.” And it is, at its root, about our commitment to God; not the ministries of the church, or the pastor, not a tax break, nor anything else. Giving is a spiritual discipline and it is 100% about the connection and relationship that each of us individually has with God. Now, it is indeed a discipline, and in order to give faithfully to God, that means we have to have all our finances in order. We have to know where the money is going, and we have to be able to work with what we have after we make our offering rather than giving God whatever happens to be left after we’ve splurged, and indulged, and “taken care” of the other expenses.
Jesus tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God, and the values of God’s Kingdom include generosity, self-discipline, selflessness, and love for others. And in pursuing those values we find freedom from worry and the things that enslave us, and an affirmation of the goodness of life lived in God! “You cannot serve both God and money.” We joke about money and possessions because we are all too aware of its power. We say things like “the almighty dollar,” which is dangerously like “Almighty God.” “Money talks,” says the comedian, “but what it mostly says to me is, ‘Good-bye!’” But what Jesus is saying is that money gives orders. Possessions are like a slave master; they boss us around. But if we have our priorities right, there is only one boss, and that is the wonderful and loving God!
Jesus’ promise is that if we can put God first then the other stuff will fall into place; we’ll have what we need. We may go paycheck to paycheck, but we will never go without. Now don’t get me wrong, Jesus is not saying that there is some sort of direct correlation where if we give more money somehow we’ll make more, but he is saying that if you are faithful to God, God will be faithful with you. And I think it’s fair to say that the first way God will show his faithfulness to you, is that you will find that financial burden and stress lifted off your shoulders. Then, as you put God first in your life through giving, as Christ says, you will find your heart drawn to God. And when those two things happen, how can we help but live the wonderful, happy lives in relationship with the God who wants good things for us and who loves us beyond measure?