Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 29 September 2019.
Money has been defined in four ways: a unit of account, a store of value, a measure of value and a means of exchange.
However we define it, we know what it is when we see it – those notes and coins that we use to buy what we need and to settle our bills.
In one way it is an essential for modern living, unless we have the land and skills to be wholly self-sufficient. It ties us into our society and hence to one another.
But then our needs meld into desires, our relationships become matters of influence and power, some may be more skilled and determined in getting and using money than others, and so the rivalry builds and the resentments accumulate.
Instead of being a simple way of moderating the way we live together, it becomes an end in itself, gathered carefully, spent sparingly and hoarded lovingly.
Instead of being a helper it becomes a little god, demanding all our loyalty and attention. Other loyalties fall away, love becomes a commodity and generosity and kindness become marks of weakness.
But it was at a time when money was needed to buy essentials for life, and Jerusalem was under siege that the prophet Jeremiah committed himself to an act of unbelievable extravagance.
Under the law, he was entitled to buy a field from a close relative in order to avoid the alienation of the land from his family altogether, and land was an essential sign of standing in a rural economy.
But it was behind enemy lines, and inaccessible. He might gain its title but he could not gain its use. But Jeremiah stepped out holding to a promise that whatever the state of siege around Jerusalem, the land would still be his and he would still get to enjoy it.
As a short term bargain, it was absurd but as a longer term investment in the promises of God, it made profound sense.
For Jeremiah, the currency of his life was not the coins in his pocket but the promises of God in his heart.
Then we have Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man lived luxuriously and ostentatiously while Lazarus lay at his gate.
The rich man could not enter or leave his home without seeing Lazarus, so there was no escape from the poverty that was there in his face.
Now we all pass beggars – I prefer to see them as alms-seekers. We all have our ways of responding. Some may walk by excusing themselves that these are idle layabouts who should get a job, or that they are really coining it from other peoples’ gullibility.
Some may say, that well, this is not my community and these are not my people.
For others, alms-seekers have names and stories to tell, medical needs, stories of insecurity and loneliness and of being kept awake if they can raise enough to get into a hostel, and of being robbed either in the hostel or on the street.
And yes they have names – and I can think of William, John, Sean, Jessica, Carol – to name only a few whom I have met.
For alms-giving is not about emptying our bank accounts – it is about using whatever means we have on us to render aid. If we end up with less change in our pockets and purses after a morning’s shopping, we are not really that much the poorer.
But for the rich man, there was a blindness and a hardness that was self-inflicted and he did not have to do it.
To offer alms is a way of asserting our own humanity and it does not demean us. Rather, if out of His immense richness, God was able and willing to set everything aside, including life itself for us, then surely we can set aside a little of what we have in response.
And for different people it takes different forms, for some give generously towards our Storehouse donations, and some are extravagant in giving time and attention to others.
When we look at Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the one whom Jesus knows is Lazarus. He has a name, while the rich man is anonymous.
It is Lazarus whom God calls to abide with Him, as Jesus says, in Abraham’s breast. The rich man is left lonely, tormented, riven by regret, and yet still expecting Lazarus to be the errand boy, to whom he might have given a few errands himself when in life and so offered him some recognition and self-respect.
Paul has some very penetrating things to say to Timothy – such as the love of money being the root of all evil, the entrapment by money of people in their own desires and priorities, leading only to ruin and destruction.
But more penetrating is his comment on contentment and godliness joining together in great gain. My own comment is that money is also a kind of illusion, but one that offers a false promise of freedom and autonomy. But it is a false prospectus.