Money Can’t Buy Me …
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
I. The Big “M” Word
Well, I’ve been preparing you all for this sermon for awhile. You’ve done very well adjusting to different hymns than you normally sing (with some of your favorites, of course). You didn’t even look shell-shocked by the time we sang all of the kids Bible school songs – in fact, some of you have asked for them to be repeated! And none of you laughed at loud when I sang from the pulpit last week. So, I think you are ready for this one word to enter our sermon topics. Are you ready? Here it comes: money.
See? No one collapsed on the floor, no one dove for the door, and no one got hurt. We’re doing really well, so far. There’s simply no escaping it this week. For weeks now, the lectionary passages have had at least one scripture about money and how we use it. This week is no different.
II. Jeremiah and 1 Timothy
Jeremiah makes a wise investment in a time when purchasing for the future did not seem wise. The Israelites were in exile and longing for their home in Jerusalem. So when Jeremiah buys the piece of land from the passage, it is meant as a sign of good hope for the future.
1 Timothy is written after the first generation or two of Christians, and they are starting to realize that they will have to wait longer for Christ’s return than they originally thought. Additionally, the culture is located in an urban setting where there are obviously some members of the church who were quite wealthy. The author, in Paul’s voice, warns against the love of money and urges members to “fight the good fight of the faith: pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness … do good, be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”
III. The Rich are not evil.
The gospel lesson sets before us a story of reversals where the rich man is punished and the poor are lifted up to their eternal reward. Historical concept of money – traditional views of wealth in 1st century provide us with a kind of prosperity gospel in which prosperity and wealth are a sign of God’s favor
And then the pendulum sometimes swings the other way and there are groups of early churches that emphasized monastic living in the desert that required giving up all possessions and combining all goods earned for the use by the entire group. This group often looked at wealth as evil.
It should be said, money is not evil. Money itself is neutral, but the desire for and love of money causes most of the world’s problems – including being the #1 argument that leads to divorce. Jesus does not think money is bad. He has rich friends, probably even corrupt rich friends (like one tax collector!) not to mention the many banquets and feasts that he attends when the opportunity presents itself, but he also does not think it should be anything other than a means for survival and faithful living.
It is not the money that gets the rich man into trouble; it is his inability to “see” Lazarus wasting away on the front stoop. What gets the rich man most into trouble is his attitude that says he is entitled to what money he has. Even when he is in Hades, he does not see Lazarus except as a servant who can ease his own personal pain or be sent on an errand to warn his brothers.
IV. The poor are not stupid and lazy.
The same society that saw wealth as a sign of God’s favor viewed being poor as a punishment for some sin committed either by the individual or their family. Even in our contemporary society we have strains of this thought when we see the poor as being stupid or lazy. Our capitalist society is built on the assumption that consuming goods and buying more is better. Our good old-fashioned American ethic tells us that if we work hard and save our money, we can get ahead. Sadly, this isn’t always the case in America or in the rest of the world.
The website www.globalrichlist.com tells you where you stand in comparison to the rest of the world based on your annual salary. If you make $50,000 to 70,000 a year, you are in the top 1% of the world’s population. If you make $25,000 to 30,000, you are still in the top 7-10% of the world’s population. Most of America make it into the top 10% even if they are currently struggling to make ends meet versus someone who is struggling to survive in a third world country.
But the truth is, in our difficult economic period, the gap between the very wealthy and the very poor is widening and the middle class is disappearing. This is causing interesting reports to pop up on spending habits. Consumer reports shared that buying store brands v. name brands is gaining popularity – what was once seen as “being cheap” is now seen as being “shopper savvy.”
In her book Nickled and Dimed, author Barbara Ehrenreich lives in three different cities each for a month and takes a low-paying job to see if it is even possible to live on minimum wage and completely cover all one’s costs for food and shelter. In each situation, she found a second job necessary, she was physically exhausted, and found the workplace demoralizing.
Most people will accept less money for the work they are doing, if they enjoy their job and have a good relationship with their coworkers. In the current economy, more and more people are finding their way to a simpler lifestyle, and finding contentment in doing that.
V. Being Content
The sins of the rich man are not being rich or enjoying a good lifestyle. His three major sins are 1) not “seeing” Lazarus’ condition 2) not being moved to help him and 2) being content with having more than enough rather than just enough. These are sins that run rampant in our society. Our culture runs contrary to the values Jesus presents in this passage, and it is an easy lesson for us to understand even while it is much harder to live out the message.
I find it very illuminating that Jesus does not name the rich man: he remains anonymous, whereas Lazarus is the only character in any of Jesus’ parable that is given a name. The man that had power because of his wealth is nameless, and the individual that had no societal value is named Lazarus, “God helps.”
Money can be an incredible force for good, but only if we can get past its seductive allure and promise or more. For the church, I think this means that we must get over our fear of talking about money. As most parents know, if you can get your children to talk a little about your fear and worries, those fears suddenly stop having as much power over the way we think and feel. We have to stop letting the Almighty Dollar determine our future and start trusting in God’s hope and promise for a future for us. We must work hard to find contentment with where we are and we must open our eyes to see the Lazarus-es standing at our door, begging for scraps from the Table.
I. See, Be Moved with Compassion, Take Action
There is a “sequence of seeing, having compassion, and acting (that) is a common one in the Gospels. In Luke 7:13 Jesus ‘saw’ the woman weeping at the death of her only son, he ‘had compassion for her’ and brought her son to life. When the father ‘saw’ the prodigal son ‘still far off … he was filled with compassion’ and ran an embraced him (Luke 15:20).”
This is the pattern we must try to emulate in our lives in order to avoid being like the rich man in this parable. We must see, be moved with compassion, and take action. Let us pray …
Heavenly God, teach us what has real value in your world. Help us to stand in opposition to a culture that says we must have or want more in order to be happy and content. Show us the way forward that we might find contentment in sharing generously and extravagantly our lives, our faith, and our money. Amen.
 Alyce McKenzie, “To See of Now to See”: Stepping Over Lazarus? Reflections on Luke 16:19-26.