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Sermon: Making the World Go Round -- May 2, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch Sermon: Making the World Go Round -- May 2, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch

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   Discussion: Sermon: Making the World Go Round -- May 2, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch
Chelsea Badeau · 8 years, 7 months ago
Cheryl Pyrch
Summit Presbyterian Church
May 2, 2009
Exodus 20:1-6; Isaiah 55: 1-3
Making the World Go Round
 
     Today begins a three-week sermon series on money and faith.  I thought of preaching this series for a few reasons.  The Bible talks a lot about money, or - if not money per se - wealth and poverty.  The prophets prophesize about it, almost every parable  Jesus tells has something to do with it, it's an underlying theme in Old Testament stories, and the apostles lecture us about it in their letters.   God must think it's important.  I also know that money is on our minds.  Some of us think about it more obsessively than others, but in a culture where we see or hear about 3500 advertisements a day,*  it's hard not to think about it - or about the things it can buy.  And, of course, nearly everyone's worried about it in this economic crisis.  (Finally, I had preached on money before and hoped one of my old sermons would be good enough to use again.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case!)      It's hard to talk about money.   First of all, it's a vast and slippery subject.  Money is concrete:  we can count it and hold it in our hands - but when you try and figure out what those bills and coins stand for, it gets complicated.  When we talk about money, are we really talking about the stuff it can buy, the power it can wield, or the consumer society it greases and runs?  It's also hard to talk about money because it's such a sensitive subject.   Few of us are at peace with it:  we may be anxious about having enough.  We may be ashamed of having less than most people we know, or more.  We may have credit card debts or medical bills we're  scared to even think about.  We may long for it so we can have more security, or vacations, or stuff in our house or things for our children.  We may be angry or resentful of folks who have more. We may feel guilty when we think of people who have less, especially people in dire poverty.  And most of us just don't seem to understand where it goes!  We're confused.   It's no wonder we talk so little about it, in church or outside of it, even though it's so important in our lives.        So I thought I'd start by chiseling away at a very broad and basic question:  what relationship is God calling us to have with money, with our stuff, with wealth?         Around the time Jesus was born there was a movement, or school of thought, we call gnostiicism - some early Christians were influenced by them.  Gnostics believed that all matter was evil:  our bodies, the world of nature, stuff.  They looked around and saw that all living things died.  They saw that people did terrible things to each other, that the world was full of pain.  This messy, painful, evil world, they believed, must not be God's intention  -- and they had an elaborate cosmology, or mythology which explained how an evil, lesser god had taken over from the true God and created the world as we knew it.  Money, and the stuff it could buy, couldn't be "good" or desireable  -- the goal of the gnostic was to transcend this physical world through a special, secret knowledge, and to enter the purely spiritual realm.   (I'm giving you the Reader's Digest version of gnosticism).   This mistrust of the physical world is not something exclusive to gnostics:  even today, many believe that the physical world, especially money and sex, is dirty, and that being spiritual means separating yourself from it as much as possible.  When we look around at the evil and pain in the world, we can understand why such a viewpoint is attractive.      But that's not what the church has taught.  The church has always taught that God created the world, and called it Good -- we heard that scripture last week. Jesus came to us in flesh and blood, showing that we can't separate the material from the spiritual world, with one being evil and the other being good.  Jesus enjoyed this world:  he ate and drank with his friends, he attended wedding receptions where he turned water to wine.  He even chose bread and wine  as a way to be present with us today, as special vehicles of God's grace.  We don't need to separate ourselves from the material world, including money, and the stuff it can buy:  there's nothing fundamentally evil about it.  Indeed, we can be - and should be -  grateful for the material blessings that we enjoy.  Material blessings of food, clothing, shelter.   The material blessing of enough money and the stuff it can buy so that we don't need to be preoccupied with mere survival, with our next meal.  Material blessings that give us time and space to create art, to have parties, to enjoy baseball games, to take walks in the woods.  Material blessings that we should wish for all people.  We're called to be grateful, not to despise money and the things it can buy.      We're called to be grateful for material blessings -  but not to worship them.  Here's where our scripture comes in, and here's where it gets especially tricky for us.   It's easy for us not to worship money in the sense of creating a money tree that we would bow down before and sing hymns to.  But if we define worship more broadly and more accurately:  as placing ultimate trust in the one we worship, we're in trouble when it comes to money.  It may say "in God we trust" on a dollar bill, but that's an example of protesting too much.      Recently Citibank had a "live richly" campaign.  You may remember those billboards - they were at every bus stop in New York - that advertised everything money couldn't buy, and the dangers of thinking otherwise:  People with fat wallets are not necessarily more jolly.  Holding shares shouldn't be your only form of affection.  He who dies with the most toys is still dead.  Funny how nobody every calls it warm, soft, cash. Be independently happy. People make money, not the other way around.  Don't wait until someone says, "Your money or your life," to remember that they are two different things.   Those were the billboards:  but, of course, citibank was selling money.   It was trying to get us to buy their financial services:  credit cards, savings accounts, loans of various kinds.   The real message was something like this:  if you give your money to us, you will be jolly, and happy, and have someone with whom to share you affection.  If you give your money to us -  you'll be showing that you know your money and your life are two different things.  You'll be the kind of person that doesn't try to buy happiness.  Trust us.  Open a checking account.      This is the scary part:  they got away with it.  It was considered a successful campaign, and even won various awards.  They got away with it because even when we know better, even when we say the opposite, it's so easy for us to believe that money can make us whole and happy.  That what we wear or have in our house, what we do with our disposable income really does express or define who we are.  That financial success or failure is a reflection of our character.   That if we're able to purchase a certain house, or buy a certain car, or go to certain places we'll be the person all those advertisements say we will be.   It's so easy for us to believe that we can find meaning in shopping.  After all, that's what we're told - or tell ourselves - 3500 times a day.      So that is our challenge:  to accept with gratitude money and what it can buy, and to use it for good without trusting in it.  It's a lifelong challenge that we need to face together, for the temptation to idolize it is so powerful in our world where money is so powerful.  For when we trust in money and what it can buy, it brings trouble.  We begin to crave it, which blinds us to the needs of others and to the destruction of creation.   We let it dictate how we feel about ourselves, so that the loss of a job or money in an account does demoralize us.  We become so invested in it it becomes the sensitive subject that brings ups such intense feelings we can barely talk about it.  It brings trouble, because it is a false God.      The words of scripture are God's response to our idol worship. The first commandment frames it more as a warning combined with a promise:  worship only me - I'm a jealous God - but I will also show you steadfast love, to the thousandth generation.  And the words of Isaiah are a compassionate invitation.  After all, God knows how hard it is to resist such idol worship, especially in this day and age.  Why do you spend your money on that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Incline your ear, and come to me; listen so that you may live.  You that have no money, come, buy an eat.  I am the one who will give you rich food.         And so we come to the table of Christ.  To be reminded that it is God who satisfies our hunger, it is the Word of God that satisfies our thirst.    (Rodney Clapp, "Why the Devil Takes Visa," Christianity Today 40, Oct 7, 1996: 20)

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