Jesus is not afraid to talk about money. He talks about taxes, he talks about investments, he talks about repaying (or not repaying) debts. As a matter of fact, he talks about money so much that you could even say, is he talking about money AGAIN? You see, money matters, and Jesus knows it. And money matters seem fairly unavoidable in our thinking and in our daily life. It seems that we pay an inordinate amount of attention to money, how much we make, how much we you spend, how much we owe, how much we wish we had. Even so, money can be a touchy subject for conversation in general, and especially in church. As a general rule, Jesus doesn’t seem to be afraid of touchy subjects.
Touchy or not, I invite you to take a minute and open your purse or check what is in your pocket or your wallet. I am not going to ask you to show the contents to your neighbor or report in to the whole congregation. Simply take a quick inventory of how many different items you carry with you that are money-related—maybe cash, maybe plastic, maybe your phone, maybe a check book. Sometimes the money related items take up more space than the insurance card or the id. You can tell by the contents of your purse or wallet that money matters. It appears to me that money matters to Jesus as well, or he would not have talked about it so much. For Jesus, the issue is the way we look at money, the way we handle it, the way we think about it, the way we use it or the way we refuse to use it. Jesus was not against money, but Jesus was against an attitude about money that could be described as almost worshipful, because he knew that you can only serve one god—either it is God the Almighty or it is the Almighty Dollar. Attitudes about money that exclude God just do not work. Jesus was against an attitude about money that made wealth a primary focus instead of simply a means to an end. He was against money used to stockpile things that are vulnerable, things that can be destroyed by moths, termites, flood, fire or theft. He was for stockpiling the kind of invulnerable treasures that get measured by generosity, compassion, appreciation, gratitude, and so on.
Money, or the lack of it, feeds into our attitudes about our stuff. Jesus talks about food and clothing, but it could be anything that we think we need to make it through the day—an ipod, a tablet, a drink, a car, a snowblower. Typically, the more expendable income we have, the more stuff we collect, although sometimes even when we don’t have any expendable income we still collect stuff and let some necessities of life go by the wayside. The way we look at money definitely impacts the way we look at our stuff or the stuff we wish we had.
Maybe you have heard of Dave Bruno and his 100 Thing Challenge. He challenged himself to simplify his life and used the number 100. He consciously took inventory of all of his personal items (not household items like furniture and pots and pans), separated out what was not needed, and kept 100 things for daily use. (I think he did count all underwear as one thing on his list!). He made a list of the 100 things he really needed, and made a commitment to try living with 100 things for a specified time period— maybe a month, 3 months or a year. He boxed up his unneeded stuff. Some he gave away. If he received a gift that he planned to keep, then something else had to go. At the change of seasons he swapped out summer items for winter items, etc., but only operated day to day with 100 items. The list could change any time, but stayed at the level of 100 things. Dave Bruno challenges us all by writing:
“If you do this — if you will give up your stuff for a while — I am sure you’ll never go back. You’ll spend the rest of your life creating a more valuable life, instead of wasting your money and time on stuff. You will be glad. And best of all, the people around you will be blessed by your efforts to prioritize more meaningful pursuits.”
You see, the 100 thing challenge is something you can do even if the rest of your household chooses not to try it. If someone else does your laundry or pays for your dry cleaning, it would have a very positive impact! Your participation in the challenge doesn’t cramp anyone else’s lifestyle, but it has to affect your life. Surely it can turn you from fretting about the color of the Jordan shoes or Ugghs boots you want and free you to focus on a lot more worthwhile things! The goal is to change our preoccupation with what we wear, to let loose our grip on our stuff. The 100 Thing Challenge is one way that people are using to try putting Jesus’ sermon into action in real life.
This entire section of Jesus’ sermon is getting deep down with a very personal question: How are you spending your money? Jim Wallis is the founder of Sojourners, a newtwork of Christians in the US committed to the Biblical mandate for social justice. In his articles and statements about our national budget, he makes it clear that our budget is a moral document—a document which prioritizes what we think is important and has the possibility of shaming us or making us proud.
It seems to me that any budget at any level can be considered a moral document. Your own personal budget, or if you don’t keep one, simply making a list of where your money goes will tell you a lot about what you value. It could be our church budget. Unfortunately, here and at many other churches, the funds for reaching out, for ministering to those outside the congregation often come from what is left after we take care of our staff and our building. It is an argument for the new thinking about congregations which operate without the burdens of a large facility, enabling them to put their money where their mouth is instead of where they sit on Sunday mornings. I have been in churches which aim for 30% of their budget to be designated to mission or some outwardly focused support. That is moving in a direction like the 100 Thing Challenge. Here at Hunting Ridge we have designated a lot of our building for community usage, but if you want to look at how we spend our money, for 2015 we have designated less than 5% of our budget to go outside of this building.
Money matters. That is one thing that we all have in common. There is no getting around it. It matters to people who do indeed have to worry about food on the table and shoes on their children’s feet. It matters to anyone trying to climb the ladder of salary and benefits. It matters to man with the sign standing at the intersection and the man fretting over the construction details of his new home on the water.
Jesus says, stop worrying about it, stop fretting over it. Not, just pretend it doesn’t matter. Put your focus where it belongs. On seeking the kingdom of God, the realm of God on this earth and in the next life. No one can deny that poverty exists all around this nation, and figures report about one in six families are without a secure food supply to their dinner tables. Some definitely have a realistic worry about feeding and clothing their family, either here in the US or a family back home in another country. If we are focused on the right things, then it becomes the responsibility of those who don’t have to worry about where the next meal is coming from to care for, and not compete with, those who do have that real life worry.
Jesus adds food to his list of stuff we can stop worrying over…why do we fret over the food we want or don’t want?—why do we always say, “It is better to have too much than not enough?” It is not better to have too much. It is better not to waste food. In America we have a bad practice of throwing away food. It is because we can. We are confident there will be more tomorrow. There are estimates by the National Resources Defense Council and others that as a nation we waste 40% of the food that comes from the farm to our table. To the tune of $165 billion. Thrown away. Sent to the landfill, or perhaps to the compost pile in environmentally conscious homes, but wasted food is still food uneaten. How many of you have seen the garbage cans in a school lunchroom after lunch? It is a crying shame to see the amount of uneaten food that goes in there, some of it untouched. I’ll bet one can could feed multiple families for several days.
Jesus has laid out a challenge to would be followers in any time and place. Can you do it? Maybe you can’t do the 100 things challenge, but you might try 150 or 200. How often can you really wear 200 articles of clothing anyway? There are only 365 days in a year! Or maybe you don’t need to get into counting your personal items. Maybe you just know that if you could make more space in your closets, in your drawers, in your attic, in your fridge, in your pantry, you will very likely make more space in your life for what really matters—your family, your friends, your relationship with God, your ability to give and to share with your neighbors near and far.
That is my challenge to each of us this morning—can we make more space? Can the stuff we have be better used by someone who does not have enough? How about those clothes you keep thinking you are going to be able to fit in some day? How about the items that you are holding onto just in case they come back in style in 20 more years? How about the things at the bottom of the drawer which have not seen the light of day in more than a year? You know what items those are. Or, if it is too hard to part with clothing first, look around at the extra items you store in your kitchen cabinets, excess pieces of furniture that collect dust more than getting used. What is it that you can remove so there is more space in your life? Now that is a challenge, because money matters, doesn’t it? Amen.