Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Money

What will it cost us to follow Jesus? A sermon for Proper 23B

[This post is the transcript of a sermon I preached this morning at the local Anglican church I attend.]

Today’s Gospel reading is Mark 10:17-31. You can read the text here.

Introduction

“Money makes the world go round”.

“Money can’t buy happiness.”

“Money isn’t everything.”

“Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

“You cannot serve both God and money.”

… and I could go on. We have a lot of sayings about money in the English language, don’t we? Only one of those I quoted is from the Bible, but in fact, the Bible contains over two thousand references to money and possessions. (By contrast, it only contains around five hundred references to prayer and a similar number of references to faith.)

Jesus tells thirty-eight parables in the gospels, and sixteen of them deal with how we handle money; in fact, according to the gospels, Jesus said far more about money than he did about heaven and hell combined.

Our gospel text today seems to be about money, but I hope to show you that it’s actually about something deeper than money – something of which money is only one example.

With that in mind, I’d like to simply walk us through the text and see what we can glean along the way, and then at the end we’ll try to pull out one or two conclusions.

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Whose empire?

MonopolyEpicWhen I was growing up, Monopoly was a favourite family game. It was played, in particular, on occasions when the extended family got together, such as at Christmas. Games would go on late into the night, and my sister and I were allowed to stay up much later than would normally have been the case. I still have fond memories of those times.

It used to be that there was only one version of Monopoly (at least, only one in the UK) – the one with London street names on it. Now, of course, there is a whole host of different versions; even so, to me it still feels odd and not quite right to play any version other than the traditional London one. I guess I’m something of a traditionalist at heart.

Anyway, my son happened to mention yesterday that he and some friends had been playing the “Empire” version of Monopoly, pictured above. I didn’t know of this version, and the image that spring to mind when my son mentioned “empire” was of ancient warring empires like Rome, the empire of Alexander the Great and the Byzantine empire. But I was wrong: the empires on which the game is based are corporate empires like Coca-Cola, Microsoft and McDonald’s. I was immediately struck by just how apt this is.

In ancient times, an empire was an extensive geographical area within which everyone was under the authority of an emperor. Empires were mostly dictatorships, which meant that the emperor passed laws by decree, so you were more or less forced to go along with them whether you liked it or not. Stepping out of line usually entailed consequences of the most severe kind.

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God wants you rich!

As I said in a recent post, there is much truth in the adage that money makes the world go round. There’s nothing wrong with money in and of itself: it’s a means to an end, something we use to assign value and to trade what we have for what we need.

But make no mistake: money also has the potential to ensnare us. Paul warned his young mentee Timothy that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Why is money such a potent force for evil? Simply put, money is an enabler for the self: if we have money, we can obtain or experience what we enjoy and desire. The consumer-driven society in which we live encourages us to use money in that very way: to have more things, newer things, shinier things, more exciting experiences, a higher status. The bottom line is this: to love money is to love ourselves.

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