In God We Trust: For All God Has Given
Psalm 116: 1-14, James 1: 16-18
There’s a story that plays out almost every week in our family (and I’m guessing it happens in your family, too), but it’s at least once a week in the Dinger household. Someone will leave a plate of leftovers in the fridge, or a half-finished bottle of root beer, or two lonely little chicken nuggets from the night before…and someone will catch me trying to finish them off. And as they slap my hand away, one of my girls will begin to sternly announce an all-too familiar refrain, “Daaaadddy! Those are MINE!” Most of those moments are funny and playful, but every so often they annoy me. I catch myself thinking, “These girls don’t know how much I’ve done for them. They’ve forgotten that I was the one to buy those chicken nuggets. And besides, I wasn’t asking for the whole box, just for one! And that’s about the time when a conviction stirs in my spirit and I hear a still small voice whisper: Sometimes you act the same way toward God, Brett, especially when it comes to money. Today we’re beginning a new sermon series called “In God We Trust: Biblical Perspectives on Money.” Throughout the month of November, we’ll be considering how a healthy view of money is essential to a healthy life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Would you read with me?
In the 14th Century author Geoffrey Chaucer’s wrote a story called The Pardoner’s Tale. It’s a story of three young rebellious men set out on a mission to become the master of death. On their quest to defeat death, they run into an old man who tells them exactly where to find the enemy they’ve been looking for: at the root of a certain tree. So they go looking for the tree, and upon arriving at the tree, they’re surprised to find something else: gold. And lots of it. All of the sudden, conquering death wasn’t nearly as important to the three men. Soon they forget about their plan to find death and begin to scheme how they live their dream with their newfound fortune. But the only problem was how to get the gold home. They decided to wait until nightfall, so as not to look suspicious. But something funny happened as the night wore on. The men couldn’t resist the pull of those riches. And one by one, they were overtaken by greed, fighting each other to the very death, the same death they had set out to defeat.
Money has a certain pull over us, doesn’t it? Maybe influence is a better word. It can make us work more hours than we should. It can rip apart our families. And it can cause us to lose sleep. In a recent poll reported by Moneyish, 65% of Americans reported they often lose sleep because of financial stress. I’m guessing that’s why there was so much buzz last week about the Mega Millions drawing. Many of us, including me, thought about the endless opportunities afforded by millions, and sometimes, billions of dollars. I thought about paying off the remainder of our student loan debt, buying a piece of hunting property and helping some friends find a home. But sometimes the love of money, and the dreams that go with it, can be too much. I stumbled across an article last week on CNN titled, “Pray That You Don’t Win the Billion Dollar Lottery,” and the title caught my attention. Why wouldn’t you want to win a billion dollars, I thought? Because, the article explained, having more can sometimes lead to unintended problems. The article went on to share story after story about life-threatening and sometimes life-ending situations, mostly born out of hearts that got all tangled up in the lust of money. And as I read that article, I found myself thinking that Jesus has something to say about all this. Mostly, he has something to say about our hearts.
“For where your treasure is,” says Jesus, “there your heart will be also.” That little line from the Gospel of Matthew always cuts right through me. It convicts me to my core every time I start to worry about my todays and tomorrows; but it also helps me remember that Jesus cares deeply about me, so deeply that he’ll gracefully warn me to pay attention to my heart. The heart is the “wellspring of life,” as Proverbs calls it, the secret chamber where our inner life is formed. But it’s also the realm where we learn about our potential for harm and evil. In the heart we choose to love or hurt, to bless or curse and to seek holiness or to seek selfishness. And Jesus surprises us by making the case that what happens inside our hearts is often directly influenced by an outward treasure. And that’s why teachings on money are never just about money; they’re also about the heart.
Although he says some challenging words at times, Jesus understands the complex games we often play when it comes to our needs. As one who walked in our shoes, Jesus understands the worries and anxieties that keep us up at night. In the Gospels, he acknowledges that we need clothes to wear and food to eat, but he tells us to not worry, because the Father knows that we need them. But Jesus doesn’t just say things because they sound good; he says things because he really believes it and he’s lived through his own experiences. Now, Jesus didn’t have to worry about things like car payments, job security or student debt, but the possibilities of wealth were never far from him. You might remember the story of Jesus spending forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil with riches and power one can only dream of! And all he had to do was say “yes.” With a simple yes, Jesus could’ve “quick-fixed” his way through the struggle of the next three years and avoided the cross. With a simple yes, Jesus could’ve guaranteed a stress-free, worry-free life. But instead, Jesus chose to trust the Father’s good plan. Instead of letting his circumstances direct his response, Jesus chose to believe that the Father would not let him down. What Jesus believed about God mattered.
Friends, what you believe about God matters a great deal. And I’m not talking about going to heaven some day. I’m talking about the way you live your life. You see, your beliefs will largely shape your responses to the ups and downs of daily life, including the worries that keep you up at night. Our beliefs drive our behavior. They lie behind every decision we make, every dollar we spend, every choice we ponder. What you believe is important. But what’s even more significant is this: God cares about what you believe about God! He has a reputation to hold up, a reputation of being good and faithful, loving and trustworthy. And that reputation is at stake when tragedies like mass shootings take place at synagogues, when the stock market crumbles, when loved ones die, and even when your tempted with quick fixes. That’s why God cares so much about what you believe. He loves to prove time and again that He is everything we proclaim him to be.
I saw this firsthand this year while we celebrated our first ever Global Impact Celebration, which a wonderful event that got us all fired up for missions. During the event, we were invited to make a financial pledge, called a Faith Promise, toward missions. For many of us, including me, the whole notion of a faith promise was a fairly new one. The idea of making a pledge based on faith, and not on what we could reasonably justify, runs counter to the way we generally operate. For Joanna, and me that conversation was a bit unnerving. Instead of asking “What can we afford to give without sacrificing what we need,” we had to start with a different sort of question- “What is God asking of us and do we trust God enough to provide?” With a leap and a prayer, we nervously turned in our pledge, and the results have been nothing short of remarkable. Today we stand only $45 short of our original goal, and very little of our lives has changed since making that pledge. As a Parish, we are well on our way to our $30,000 commitment, and it’s all because we’ve given God space to be who God says He is.
James tells us where these remarkable blessings come from. They come “from above,” from a God who is unchanging and eternal and good. Every good and perfect gift, says James, comes down from the One who has given us gifts like birth and truth, from one who loves us more than we could ever imagine. And this truth makes all the difference in the world. It made all the difference for a sneaky tax collector named Zaccheus. He was a man who stole from vulnerable citizens by charging more than what they owed, but as soon as he trusted the words of Jesus, as soon as his beliefs were shaped “from above,” his life become a generous one. It made all the difference for Abraham, who left the comforts of home and family to follow a promise “from above” that he would be the “father of many nations.” And it made all the difference to Mary, who answered “Yes” to God’s good and perfect gift of a baby “from above,” even though it signaled a dramatic new direction for her life. These decisions –to cheat or bless, to give or take, to stay or go, to trust or refuse—were all made in response to a faith-defining question, “Do I believe God is faithful- and do I believe he’ll be faithful to me?”
Friends, that’s the invitation I offer you today. It’s not about manipulating you to give more money or to spend less, but rather, to approach your life, including the way your treasures (whatever the might be), “from above.” I don’t know the last time you took a “from above” approach to your finances…maybe it’s been awhile, or maybe it’s a completely new concept for you. But trusting God to be God, and trusting God to be faithful is at the root of what it means to be a disciple. What we believe matters, because what we believe will influence what we do. And in a world where it seems like every week we deal with a new tragedy, a new threat and a new problem, I can’t think of a stronger need than for people of faith to declare with every decision we make what is silently etched into every dollar and every coin in our country: “In God we trust.” Today I invite you to put your trust in God. Remember who God is. Remember what God has given. May God be the treasure your heart desires above all else. Amen.