This was this morning’s sermon.
Matthew 6:19-24 (ESV)
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] destroy and where thievesbreak in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[b]
Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you are familiar with Charles Dickens’ character Ebeneezer Scrooge? Are you familiar with old Scrooge’s love of money? According to Mr. Dickens, Ebeneezer Scrooge was, “a tight fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge!” “The cold within him froze his old features[,]” and, “No warmth could warm him, no winter chill could chill him.” It would seem from Mr. Dickens’ description, Mr. Scrooge is as cold as the money he so dearly loves. You might say Scrooge is the embodiment of that ancient verse, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).” Scrooge loved cold hard cash and the love of it had made Scrooge every bit as cold, and every bit as hard. It also caused Scrooge to be alone.
“Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Scrooge, how are you. When will you come to see me.” No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master! ”
The reason I’ve mentioned Ebeneezer Scrooge is to make the point that our priorities and the things we treasure say a lot about who we are, what we are, and what we hold to be most dear.
This morning’s passage is pretty clear about a mistake we too often make. Too many of us, too often find ourselves chasing after things in this world. We become fascinated with cars, toys, electronic gadgets, nice clothes, and big houses. This mistake is one humanity has been making since Genesis. Solomon may be the greatest example of a person who had it all and still had nothing. King Solomon is credited with writing these words in Ecclesiastes 9:11-12.
“For I returned under the sun and found the race is not to the swift, not the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.”
Solomon did more to increase the wealth of Israel than any other king of Israel. Solomon built the first temple to God in Jerusalem, and Solomon’s temple was a mighty place filled with intricate carvings, and covered in gold and silver. Solomon was extremely wealthy. Solomon had thousands of horses, servants and concubines. Solomon’s palace rivaled God’s temple. Solomon pursued all of these things like a starving, homeless person on a cold night pursues a hot cup of soup and a warm blanket. To acquire all of these things Solomon married many princesses of foreign lands. It was a culturally understood fact that to marry a foreign wife meant she would bring her gods into the home, and the house would be a house divided. This is the source of the Old Testament laws against intermarrying with Gentiles. As we know from the ten commandments, Israel was to have no other gods before The God who brought Israel out of the house of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:1-3). This is the first of the ten commandments, and is tied very closely to the greatest commandment. “You shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might (Deuteronomy 6:5).” According to God’s design the unifying feature which was to give Israel her sense of identity was Israel’s belief in, and love for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. King Solomon welcomed other (little g) gods into Israel. King Solomon, for all of his wisdom taught the children of Israel by his example the way to become powerful was to compromise their faith God by putting their faith in wealth and possessions.
But what riches were they really? At a time when the making of clothing was labor intensive, and bright colors were astronomically expensive King Solomon had closets full of clothes, as did each of his wives, and concubines. Let me ask you, what good are a closet full of clothes when you have a house full of moths? King Solomon had more wealth in gold and precious stones than any other king of Israel, and yet some 380 years later all of the gold, silver and precious stones of the temple had been stolen, and the temple itself destroyed by the Babylonians. When we stop focusing on what is most important we are easily scattered, our way is easily lost, and we very quickly find ourselves alone.
An example of what happens when we lose our way can easily be seen today in the American Honey bee. The American Honey bee has fallen on hard times. It would seem something has caused the worker bees to loose their way. They go out into the world and many never return. Something has been causing their minds to be confused. A bee that cannot find its way home again is as good as dead, and easily picked off by birds, spiders, or other insects. I think that is what happens to the body of Christ when we think we are individuals. I think that is what happens to us when we choose wealth, and financial security instead of trusting in the promises of God. When we follow Solomon’s example we too will become like the American Honey bee – scattered and lost only to lose our faith as easily as we lost our way.
So what are we to do? How are we to keep from loosing our way? Our passage this morning points to something Ebeneezer Scrooge found out the hard way. We must choose between the things of this world and the things of God. We must choose between building up treasures on earth and building up treasures in heaven. For Christians part of that is tithing. There is perhaps no issue within the Christian life that more quickly divides a church than the issue of tithing and stewardship. What we do with our money is important to us. Some might say our money is “precious. My precious.” The minute someone tries to tell us what to do with our money many people fold their arms, and shut out whomever is talking, or they tell that person exactly what they can do with their opinions. I’m sure no body here has ever done that. Money can absolutely be divisive. Money was divisive for Ebeneezer Scrooge. Money cut Scrooge off from the world, and from the rest of Humanity. But there is an interesting thing about Mr. Scrooge’s name. I don’t know if Mr. Dickens knew this, but the name Ebeneezer is actually a very old name coming from two Hebrew words,rz[h nba, ebn atszr, meaning stone of help, or stone of salvation. After Ebeneezer’s experience; and you might call it an evangelical experience, Ebeneezer uses his money differently. Money is no longer something to be grasped or clutched. Money is no longer something that separates Ebeneezer. Ebeneezer uses money to serve others and the result is it brings people together. Ebeneezer becomes a stone of help to others.
We’ve all heard the phrase money is the root of all evil. With humility I disagree. Money is a tool. Money is a tool just like a hammer or a knife, or a gun. When we allow pride in what we have achieved, or fear of losing our sense of security to cloud our judgment money does indeed become a means of evil. However, when we choose to use this tool to serve others the result is all together different. The reward for using money as a tool to serve others, to feed the poor, to share the good news with children, and to help the battered and abused to find safety is as sweet as fresh honey.
John Wesley is quoted as saying, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” In order to follow Wesley’s direction we must make a firm decision for ourselves. Whom will we serve? Will we serve God? Or will we serve mammon, mammon being money. So many of us try to be faithful and find ourselves torn between two masters. And despite our best efforts we are frustrated. I believe we are frustrated because in spite of ourselves we can only give half an effort to both. Let this be our guiding motto for 2014. Where God is concerned let us give no half-hearted effort. Let us no longer be torn between two masters. Let us choose the Lord our God that the sweet honey of God’s love might flow freely.
In the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.