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You cannot serve God and money, Jesus says.  

Friends, I don’t have to tell you that this current pandemic has caused all kinds of economic disruption for our world and financial pressures for so many, including the Church. Most of us are worried about money. Jesus says, ‘Do not worry.’ So this morning either He’s giving us some timely and helpful instruction, or He’s being insensitive. Because I know He loves us, I’m going to say He’s giving us some timely and helpful instruction.  

Matthew 6:24-34

You cannot serve God and money.  

The King James Version of the Bible famously renders the word ‘money’ here as Mammon, which is essentially just the word as found in the original Greek language of the New Testament.  The King James translators decided not to translate this word, ‘Mammon,’ because they knew that in doing so it would lose its original sense and so they introduced a new word into the English language. If they just called it plain old ‘money,’ it would not convey the full force of what Jesus is saying here.  

Mammon refers to wealth and possessions as an alluring idol that tempts us to be greedy and to hoard. So mammon is not simply money, but rather money personified and elevated to the status of a false god. Mammon is money as something we love or lust after, which makes it the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Thus Mammon is very much like one of the foreign gods we heard about in our first reading, the gods that Joshua tells us to put away (Joshua 24:14–25).

And it’s really not hard to see how money has achieved a god-like status in our world today. Our society and culture are driven by money. It is the ultimate value. We have all been conditioned to be acutely aware of the importance of money. We spend a lot of time and energy thinking about money: how much we have, how much we need, how we will spend it, how we will keep it.  

Money has a seductive power. Before you know it, you are living your life in its service. You become its slave. If we’re not careful to control our attitude towards money, Mammon will control us.   Left to our own devices, most of us will seek our identity, satisfaction and security in money and the things it provides. That’s why we’re all so worried about money in this pandemic now that Mammon is playing hard to get, or showing itself to be the unreliable and empty idol it really is.  

Now it’s quite easy and common for us to say that ‘Money isn’t everything,’ or that ‘I don’t live my life for money,’ and so on – I certainly say this sort of thing myself. But do I really live as though I believe this? Quite honestly, no, I do not. 

I may not strive to be fabulously wealthy or even desire a better car or a bigger house. But I basically do believe that if only I had a little more money than I have now, then I would be more secure. And I’m more concerned with how to keep the money I have rather than how I will give it away, even though I know that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7) and that Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). I believe that what I have comes from God and ultimately belongs to Him, but I cling to it as though it were mine and mine only.  

Friends, Jesus knows all about the power that Mammon can have over us. He knows it’s not just an economic issue, but a spiritual and psychological one as well.     

He says this clearly in our Gospel today. After declaring, You cannot serve God and Mammon, in the very next breath says, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life. Jesus knows that placing our trust in money makes us anxious. So what is the cure for this anxiety? 

His prescription is perhaps surprising. As is the case with His teaching on money in general, it sounds hopelessly naïve, even ludicrous.  

Look at the birds of the air and Consider the lilies of the field, He says. Birds and flowers live their lives completely detached from the world of commerce. They do not make money, they do not worry about their bank account balance or their investments; and yet God provides for their needs, so much so, in fact, that they live beautiful and glorious lives.  

God provides for the needs of these things – and without any money involved - so how much more then, will He provide for your needs. So trust in God, not money.  

And by the way, when Jesus says, Look at the birds of the air and Consider the lilies of the field, He means exactly that.  

Unlike modern people, Jesus spent most of His time outside. The Gospel passage we heard this morning is an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was preaching to people in an outdoor setting. So it’s quite likely He was actually pointing to real birds and real flowers right there in front of the audience while speaking. You see, Jesus understood the therapeutic value of nature – and many others are coming to this realization now as well.  

Did you know that doctors are now prescribing time in nature as a way of improving their patients’ health? Imagine going to your family physician with a certain ailment or affliction; and she gives you a prescription, not with a dosage of some medication, but rather with the following instruction: ‘Go for a walk on the Caledon Trail,’ or ‘Plant a garden.’ This is actually happening.  

A wealth of research now indicates that outdoor activities ‘can lower a person’s stress level, blood pressure, body weight and reduce the risk of asthma, allergies, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, while boosting mental health and increasing life expectancy.’ And by the way, the recommended amount of time in nature is 2 hours per week. So friends, my practical take-home suggestion for you this week is to do just that: spend 2 hours outdoors. See what it does for your anxiety.  

Friends, these are anxious days, so let us take these doctor’s orders, the prescription of the Great Physician Himself: Go outside.

The fact that we even have to be told something so basic says a lot about us. But you see what’s happened: Mammon, being the harsh taskmaster it is, has taken so many people away from our natural environment and chained us to a desk, in front of a computer, indoors, where we can’t look at the birds of the air or consider the lilies of the field. No wonder so many are so anxious today.  

And we should realize what this Mammon-induced anxiety makes us worry: it makes us anxious by directing our focus to the uncertainty of the future. It fills our mind with contradictory pictures of what will happen to us, so that we spend our time and energy fretting about different scenarios: ‘What if there’s a second wave of the pandemic and I’m laid off from work’ and so on.  

Jesus understands the future-focus of anxiety very well. That’s why He says: Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Therapists and self-help guides today often tell people to ‘live in the present moment.’ Focus on and deal with the tasks at hand of each day. Practice mindfulness. Be aware of your surroundings. And again, look at the birds of the air and consider the lilies of the field.  

Jesus understands the future-focus of anxiety very well. That’s why He says: Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Therapists and self-help guides today often tell people to ‘live in the present moment.’ Focus on and deal with the tasks at hand of each day. Practice mindfulness. Be aware of your surroundings. And again, look at the birds of the air and consider the lilies of the field.  

We are free to live in the present moment and not worry about the future because Jesus Himself has done the work to ensure an ultimately good future for us and all the world: He will come again to usher in the new heaven and new earth, a new creation.  And Jesus accomplished this work on the Cross.  

Galatians 6:11-18  

That brings us to our reading from Galatians, where St. Paul says:   Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.   Friends, the heart of your faith is about what you boast in, that is, what you trust in for your identity, satisfaction and security. As we know, the world tells us to boast in money.  

But the heart of the Christian faith is a man who lived very modestly and warned about the dangers of accumulating wealth. And at the culmination of His life on the cross, He was stripped of all wealth, even His last earthly possession, His garment.  

St. Paul says that he has put all his faith and trust in this; and with that he can say that the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. What this means is that for Christians, nothing in the world now has any power over us, including money, because we don’t boast in it, or trust in it. This means that we can now really enjoy the world because we no longer need anything in it.  

All that matters is that through Christ crucified, we are made a new creation. This good news changes your future, giving you a place in Christ’s new heaven and new earth to come. The gospel changes your present situation, giving you a whole new self-image and way of relating to the world.  

And so Paul says, walk by this rule – live your life according to this and God’s peace and mercy will be upon you. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, as always, I encourage you to pray our collect every day this week. In this prayer, we confess our human ‘frailty’ and vulnerability to ‘all things hurtful,’ including Mammon.   And we ask that God would lead us to all things ‘profitable’ to our salvation. I love that choice of word: ‘profitable.’ What matters ultimately is not our financial profit, but that the blessings God gives us through Jesus Christ our Lord, who though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich. (2 Cor. 8:9).

Keep, O Lord, your Church, with your perpetual mercy; and, because without you our human frailty cannot but fall, keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sources quoted and consulted:

  • Timothy Keller, Galatians for You (The Good Book Company, 2013).
  • Harold Percy, Following Jesus: First Steps on the Way (Anglican Book Centre).
  • How Much Nature Is Enough? 120 Minutes a Week, Doctors Say,' New York Times (13 June 2019).

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