Let’s start with this, shall we: there’s a difference between moralism and the gospel. Moralism says, “Do this. Don’t do that.” The gospel says, “In Jesus Christ, you are free from this. In Christ, you are free for that.” Too often, money, if it is discussed at all, is discussed in terms of moralism: do this with the money you have; don’t do that with the money you have. But today we have a parable from Jesus about money, and today we need to hear the gospel, not another moralizing lecture on money.
Money is an enslaving power. I’ll say it again: money is an enslaving power. It has always been an enslaving power, but we now live in a way of doing economics called capitalism. It’s hard for us to imagine this now, but not every economy, not every society, has had much use for money. But in capitalism, our economic system, money is king. And what we’ve found is that money enslaves us. We want to own money, but we discover, in our more clear-thinking moments, that money owns us. To see how this works, try this out: Think about how much money your family makes right now. Do you have enough for what you need right now? Maybe you think you do, maybe you don’t. Imagine what life would be like if you added $20,000 a year. That would be pretty nice, huh? Would it be enough? Maybe. But you know, I hope, that once you got used to that extra $20,000, it would stop feeling like extra. It would start feeling like money you really need. And pretty soon you could find yourself thinking, “Wow, you know, another 20 grand wouldn’t be bad about now!”
That’s how money works. Ecclesiastes calls it a “chasing after the wind.” Unless you are just scraping by, having money isn’t so much about what you need, or even what you want; it’s not even about keeping up with the Joneses. Having money is about—money. The more you have of it, the more you’re likely to want it. The more you want it, the less likely you are to think you have enough of it. Money lurks in the shadows, saying, “Come here, friend, and taste my wares.” Money hooks you, sinks its ugly claws deep into your heart, and chains you. Money is an enslaving power.
For centuries Christian preachers have wrestled with money’s grasp on their congregations. Augustine, John Chrysostom, Basil of Caesarea, John Wesley: all preached about the dangers of money. But money’s claws are coated with anesthetic. They’re drugged. It doesn’t feel bad to be in money’s grasp. We associate it with security about retirement, or coming home to a nice house, or eating out at a good restaurant, or driving a good car, or taking a relaxing vacation. And then money lets in the doubts, the bad stuff, the fears about not having enough, the worries about coming up short: money feeds off of those fears and worries and doubts, counting on them to drive us to seek more, always more, never enough money. So we learn to associate good feelings with having money and bad feelings with not having more money. That’s how money tricks us. That’s how money, like a drug, enslaves us.
But money does more than just make us its slaves. No one can serve two masters, as Jesus tells us. We’ve spent two millenia trying to prove him wrong, but money catches us at the cost of loving God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and at the cost of loving our neighbor as ourselves. We fight for it, we fight over it, we desire it, we protect it: we treat money more humanely than we treat our fellow human beings; we dedicate more of ourselves to money than we give to God. John Wesley (“The Danger of Riches”) tells us that being enslaved to money hurts us by weakening our faith, by making us less humble, by making us less meek, and by making us more impatient. Money is the source of serious spiritual danger; it really can drive a wedge between us and God, between us and our neighbors.
We need to be saved from the enslaving power of money. Admitting that may be one of the hardest things for us to do right now, when we are told over and over that our working lives should be about making money. But salvation is not real if it doesn’t offer us freedom from all that enslaves us, and money is an enslaving power.
Jesus is asked to settle a family dispute about an inheritance; instead he tells a parable about the storehouses of a rich man: the man gets rich, his land produces even more, and he plans to build bigger storehouses, but he dies instead, condemned as a fool by God his judge. It would be all too easy to boil this down to a pithy “you can’t take it with you,” but that’s moralism, not the gospel. And where money is concerned, we need the gospel.
Part of the gospel, to be sure, is a warning: this is serious business. Enslavement to money leads to death, sometimes physical death, always spiritual death. But gospel means good news, and there is good news in this parable, too. First, money is not God! That’s good news. Money can’t save us, money can’t free us, money can’t redeem us, money can’t help us love God or our neighbor; money is not God! The sacrifices money demands—more working hours, less time with your family, attention to money instead of God or your neighbor—don’t need to be made. Money doesn’t need to be at the center of our lives. Money is not the goal of our lives. Money does not give our lives value or meaning or worth. Money is not God. Money is an enslaving power, but money is not God. When things that we thought were gods turn out not to be God, that’s good news, friends! Hear the good news: money is not God.
Second, God is God! And God has power and authority over everything, even money. Storing up treasure for yourself just enslaves you more to the not-god of money. But in Jesus Christ God offers you freedom from money: be rich with God, Jesus tells us in the parable, because God is everything that money is not; God offers everything that money cannot give. God is the source of value, meaning, and worth for our lives. God does not enslave but sets us free so that we can love our neighbors as ourselves. God saves us, God frees us, God redeems us. God is God, and God has power over money! That is good news, friends!
In my two-plus years here at Centre, I’ve been impressed by how we, as a congregation, seem to be pretty free of the enslaving power of money. We are generous as a church, supporting ministries and trying to maintain faithfulness to God and God’s mission through our giving. But I suspect many of us, at home, are still anxious about money, still have scars from money’s claws, or maybe are still enchained to the money we have or want. And some of us, no doubt, are working on building bigger storehouses, whether in retirement funds or nice new cars or home improvements or the many other guises storehouses take these days.
Claim your freedom in Christ from money! This is not a stewardship campaign sermon. I am talking today about your spiritual health and freedom in Christ, not about Centre’s financial goals or bottom line. Giving to the church, giving alms to the poor, living a life that trusts in God, not in money: these are all ways to be rich toward God. And they are also ways God offers us to be free of enslavement to money.
One of the things it means to be the church, to be the body of Christ, is that we ought to be a community where people can live out this freedom from money. If there are those among us who are anxious about money, could it be, in part, because we, as a church, do not offer enough support for each other? If there are those building up storehouses, could it be, in part, because we, as a church, have not been creative enough in living out our freedom from money?
God has power and authority over money. God rightly belongs at the center of our lives. In Jesus Christ, we are offered the grace of freedom from money: freedom from money, and freedom for faith, for humility, for meekness, for patience, for loving God, for loving our neighor. Freedom for the riches of God in Jesus Christ.