Money: Blessing or Curse?

Money.jpgThis week’s news offered us the latest glimpse into the life of a lottery winner.  Willie Seely was part of the 16-member office pool that won 450-million dollars in last month’s Powerball jackpot.  After taxes, that’s 3.8-million dollars each, an amount that allowed Willie and his wife Donna to quit their jobs, and begin living on a revenue stream in an amount they never imagined possible. They’ve fixed their home, bought new cars, paid for medical treatment for a family member, and helped their children. But the media won’t leave them alone, and every day brings one more contact from someone making a case for financial aid. They’ve lost so much privacy that Donna Seely calls the money a curse.[1]

If you search for news reports about the lives of lottery winners, then you’ll find that others have felt the same. There are plenty of stories about people who have reaped a financial fortune, but moved quickly from that happy circumstance to addiction, bankruptcy, divorce, and even tragic death. What seemed like a tremendous blessing became a hated curse.

A similar fate is at the heart of today’s text from the sixteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel.  Jesus tells a story in which an unnamed “rich man” and poor Lazarus trade places. Lazarus, who in this life was ill and starving, goes on to live with Abraham in God’s care.  The rich man, who lived in splendor, goes on to live in the agony of hell.  Between them is a great chasm that no one may cross.

In context, Jesus tells the story to an audience that contains prominent religious leaders, who are called “lovers of money,” and who ridicule Jesus for his teaching. If you think about Jesus’ confrontations with religious leaders, then you’ll realize at least a couple of things.

  • First, Jesus is very good at pointing out how selfish motives influence the interpretation of scripture and theology.  “When you are interpreting scripture,” he seems to say, “be humble enough to recognize your version of the truth may at least slightly self-serving.” “Don’t be so proud that you cut off conversation with others who may have ability to offer insight and correction.”
  • Second, Jesus despises any theology that justifies wealth and power at the expense of those who have neither.  He seems to say, “If you’re going to celebrate your right to spend, then make sure you give equal energy to your responsibility to share.”

I saw a post on Facebook that read: “If money is the root of all evil, then why do they ask for it in church?” On the face of it, it’s an interesting question to explore. Recently, we’ve experienced some local money-related scandals involving a city police chief and a county treasurer, and I know that for many people in our community it must seem like money is the root of all evil.

Still, practically speaking, money is a measure of relative worth, and allows us to easily and efficiently exchange goods and services.  I think very few people would rather return to a barter system in which we exchanged chickens for gasoline, or paid for our services in vegetables. In the church, budgeting dollars is an important planning tool for mission and ministry, and our pledges and contributions an important expression of our priorities.

And, biblically speaking, Paul’s famous statement about money actually is a little different from the Facebook post implies. Paul doesn’t say money is the root of all evil, but rather, “the LOVE of money is a root of all kinds of evil ….” If you look at the entire biblical record, then you see many instances in which wealth is used to accomplish great good. Paul himself asked for money. The problem arises when we are tempted to place more emphasis on the tool than on the people who the tool is supposed to help, when we love money more than we love God, God’s children, and God’s good earth.

Michael Brewer shares an old Jewish tale that warns of the risks of wealth.  A rabbi invited a rich and selfish man to accompany him on a walk through the city streets.  On one corner, the rabbi stopped and pulled a small pane of glass from his coat.  He held the glass before the face of the rich man and asked, “What do you see?”  The rich man peered through the glass and said, “I see beggars in the street.”

The rabbi nodded and pulled a small mirror – silvered glass – from another pocket.  He held it in front of the rich man’s face and asked, “Now what do you see?”  The rich man shrugged and said, “I see my reflection.”  The rabbi nodded again.  “Isn’t it odd,” he said, “that when silver comes between us and our neighbors, all we can see is ourselves?”[2]

Everyone here today lives in a real world where we must earn a living, support families, and support the greater good of the community of which we are a part. The wisdom of Christian scripture supports us in that endeavor. But it calls us to do so humbly, listening for the insight and correction of others, and looking out for the needs of others that exist all around us.

May we never become so focused on personal agenda that we neglect to look, and to listen, and to share. Then money will be not a curse, but a blessing, and tool for good.

Video Sermon, 8:30 AM @ First Presbyterian Church, Edwardsville: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8QJB31eaDY

Video Sermon, 10:30 AM @ First Presbyterian Church, Edwardsville, Unavailable.

Video Sermon, 12:30 PM @ Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfW5qfFu9sc

[1] Beth Stebner, “Powerball winner ‘Wild’ Willie Seeley of New Jersey’s ‘Ocean’s 16’ says $3.8M windfall is double-edged sword,” New York Daily News, online edition, 25 Sept. 2013.

[2] H. Michael Brewer, The Present Word curriculum series, Winter 2000-2001.

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~ by JohnH1962 on October 1, 2013.

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