Commentary for February 27, 2011
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by Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
A few years ago I had lunch with an old friend from a church I had once served as pastor. After catching up on wives and children I started asking about the lives and fortunes of other former church members.
“Bill’s the same as he ever was; still worried about money.”
“Worried about money? Didn’t I hear he inherited about a million dollars?”
“He used to worry about the money he didn’t have.
Now he worries about the money he does have.”
In our Gospel lesson Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for the slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Be it the money you want or the money you have, either way money is a mean master. And if you’re serving money, you don’t have time to serve God.
Back in the day, Bob Dylan put out a Gospel album. I think it was called Slow Train Coming. One of the songs had the mournful refrain, “You gotta serve somebody; it might be the devil, it might be the LORD, but you gotta serve somebody.”
Eugene Peterson in THE MESSAGE puts it this way:
You can’t worship two Gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and money both.
It’s interesting that Peterson uses the word worship instead of serve. The English word worship comes from the word worth. So to refer to God as “worthy of worship” is really redundant. To worship something is to acknowledge its worthiness.
To worship something is also to say: “It is from this that I get my worth.” It is a two way relationship. I value money because if I have money I am a person of value.
If someone were to ask you, “What are you worth?” what’s the first thing you would think of? Your net worth of course. Your assets minus your liabilities. The value of your possessions plus your money on hand minus the debts you owe; that’s what you are worth.
Or is it? That’s what you’re worth if the master you serve is money, if the god you worship is the Almighty Dollar.
But what would your life look like if your worth were calculated by your service to a different master? What is your value in relation to “The Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth?”
Our value to that God, the real God, is not tied up in what we have, nor in what that God provides to us in the way of material blessings.
This is the point Jesus is getting at in our Gospel lesson with all the talk about birds of the air and flowers in the field and not worrying about food and water and clothing.
These are what my Daddy used to call “The Hippie verses.” He frequently told me he thought Jesus was being very unrealistic here and that he wished Jesus hadn’t said this.
Well, we all have to admit there is a level of unreality going on here. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Somebody has to pay for it. Those of us of a certain age get fretted about young people who have what we sometimes call a “sense of entitlement,” as if things should just be handed to them without their having to work for them.
This is not what Jesus is talking about here. Remember, particularly in Matthew, Jesus uses a lot of exaggeration and hyperbole to get our attention, like a couple of weeks ago when he talked about poking out our eyes and cutting off our arms.
Jesus is reminding us that the things of this world are of temporary value and worth, while God and our souls are of eternal value and worth.
Therefore, do not devote your life to the things of this world, like money and clothes and or even food and drink and length of years.
There are lots of jokes about people who “tried to take it with them.” This is one of my favorites.
A rich man was dying. He was mad that he couldn’t take his considerable wealth into the next life, so he prayed every night asking God to give him a break and let him take some money with him.
One night an angel came to him and told him god had heard him and had decided to reward his good works on earth by letting him take one suitcase.
The man filled a large suitcase with pure gold bars and stashed it under the bed.
When he died he showed up at the Pearly Gates with suitcase in hand. It had been explained to St. Peter about his exception so Peter asked to look and see what he had chosen to bring.
Peter opened the suitcase and stared at the pure gold bars with his mouth hanging open. Then he looked up at the rich man and said, “You brought asphalt?”
(Plato and a Platypus Go Into a Bar . . .Understanding Philosophy through Jokes. Cathcart and Klein, Penguin, 2008, p. 177)
No, you can’t take it with you and you can’t control how long you’ll have it. And even if you could take it with you, it wouldn’t be worth anything there. So giving our lives over to accumulating and serving our stuff is an exercise in futility.
We are called instead to devote our lives to that which has permanent value and worth; what Jesus in verse 33 calls “the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
And here’s the counter intuitive thing about this. Once you have turned your life in the God direction, you discover you have what you need. To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, “You don’t always get what you want, but you will find that you get what you need.” That is to say, “all these things will be added to you.”
Now, here’s a key question, what’s the good news for us in this text today? What is God’s call and promise for us in the year of our Lord 2011?
Well most individuals and congregations I know of are worried about money. Most in the last couple of years are more worried about the money they don’t have than they are about the money they do have, but they are still worried about money.
And all the things that circle around money, like staff and salaries, and if we had more people we’d have more money, and if we had more money we could do more ministry and mission and if we did more ministry and mission we would have more people and more money, etc. etc.
And people say, I wish I had more time for God and prayer and church, but times are tight and I have to work more and spend less and figure out how to make ends meet and if I had more money we could do more and have more time for church, etc. etc.
And into the midst of this Jesus’ voice echoes down through the centuries, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”
So, the Good News is that when we know that our true value and worth come not from what we have but from the fact that we are beloved children of God; we are freed from the anxiety of proving our worth through earthly attainments and we can then turn our attention and effort to truly worshiping God by loving and serving our neighbors in all that we say and do; which is what seeking the Kingdom of God is all about anyway.
Amen and amen.