Thursday, October 11, 2012

Money: Lacking One Thing

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Mark 10:17-31:

In your bulletin you have a little slip of green paper.  I want you to take it out, and then hold it up in front of you.  Now I want you to tear it in half.  Anyone have any problems doing that?  Okay, now it gets a little harder.  Now I want you to take out a dollar bill, or whatever you might have.  I want you to take it and feel it, and then hold it up and then here comes the hard part, and I’m guessing that most of your know what’s coming, now I want you to tear it in half.  How did that feel? (notice that it took people longer than it did to tear the paper)  Did anyone get a little upset stomach, or maybe got goose bumps?  Anyone not want to do it or didn’t do it?  Anyone who made excuses, such as knowing that you could tape it back together?  Anyone not have any bills to tear?  (Not to long ago that wouldn’t have really been possible)  Now what was the difference between tearing just the sheet of paper, which was really easy to do, and tearing the bill?  There is something that happens when we claim that this has some value, and this doesn’t, although really they are both just pieces of paper.  But tearing money is somehow inherently different than tearing another piece of paper.  Why is that?  Well I think the reason is one of the things that Jesus is making notice of in today’s scripture passage.
Today we begin another series on finances and stewardship.  Now I know that for many of you, you’re wondering if there is still some time to duck out the back, because you don’t want to hear another minister tell you about why you should be giving more money, but that’s not what today is about.  I have said before, and I’m saying it again right now, but I think the church has made a terrible mistake in limiting the understanding of stewardship to being just about what we might give to the church, and only talking about money when it’s about giving to the church.  Even if you were to be giving a tithe, which is 10%, you still have 90% of your money left to deal with, and God has something to say about that 90% just as God has something to say about the 10%.  Stewardship is about a lot more than just giving, and we, as clergy, have not only done a disservice to you by reducing money sermons to giving, but we’ve also done a disservice to the church.

If you don’t know how you are going to be paying the next round of bills, then you are not going to be able to give to the church, and so I would like to be able to change that.  But it’s also more than that.  Money touches, or is involved in almost everything we do and most of our relationships, and most of us are not really good at managing that.  In a survey done by Citibank, they said that financial concerns were the number one reason given in 58% of divorces, and according to the divorce lawyer association, they put financial concerns as a primary reason in 90% of divorces, and yet the church has ignored this.  Imagine if we as a church, and at least in rhetoric we say we are concerned about the state of marriages, so imagine if we might be able to cut the number of divorces dramatically simply by talking about and focusing on money concerns, and there is a lot that we have to say.

Jesus talks more about money issues than he talks just about anything else.  The word money is mentioned in scripture 186 times, possessions 53 times, wealth 127 times, debt 26 times, rich 312 times, treasure 103 times, in all money issues are discussed more than 800 different times and we ignore those statements, I think, at our own peril.  Not only because of the cautionary stories that are told, such as today’s passage, but also because of the strong witness we get of what God requires of us and our money.

Now let’s remind ourselves that money is neither good nor bad in itself, just as possessions are neither good nor bad.  They are morally neutral.  Scripture does not say that money is the root of all evil, instead it says what?  The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.  Jesus does not chastise the man because he has many possessions, instead the man is told, at least indirectly, that his possessions have become an obstacle to him and his relationship with God because he has an undue attachment to them.  In his inability to move beyond his possessions, or to even begin to consider the possibility of getting rid of them, he has shown that he would rather put them first rather than God.  He is more concerned with his relationship with his possessions than he is with his relationship with God, and this should be a warning for all of us, because that is where the problems with money arise.

Money, or possessions, have the ability to dominate our lives and to change our perspectives and our relationships.  It has the ability to make everything a commodity to be bought or sold, and it has the ability to make us believe that we are self-reliant and self-sufficient.  Our entire identity, our entire being, becomes tied up with what we own and how much we make, and we wrongly begin to believe that there is no sense of security with the things in our life.  With this misplaced relationship, the accumulation of things, or of more money, of keeping up with the Joneses, becomes the dominant motivating factor in our lives.  And this becomes the case not only because our society in particular pushes and says are important, but also because of things that have been ingrained in us since we were young children.  Suze Orman says that how we deal with our money as adults is based on  lessons about money we learned when we were young, often taught to us by our parents, who learned it from their parents, that we have carried with us, and that still impact how we deal with our money and our possessions to this day.  When you were a child, did you ever put a coin in your mouth?  And what were you told? (get that out of your mouth, it’s dirty)  Did they say that about anything else?  If you had dirt in your mouth, they didn’t say it was dirty, so what message did that send to us about money?

When I was growing up, I played competitive soccer, and so we would travel around the state playing in different tournaments.  During this time, my father also lost his job, and so I remember one weekend as I was preparing to go to a tournament in Tucson, my mother gave me some cash and told me that I should use what I needed, but that I shouldn’t spend it on things I didn’t need and that whatever I could bring back would be appreciated.  This was my first introduction to family finances.  So we went to the tournament, and on Sunday after the last game everyone stopped at the souvenir stand and they were buying different things, and the guy selling shirts asked me if I wanted a shirt and I said I didn’t, but he wouldn’t let up, telling me he knew how much I wanted a shirt, and then the coach also started in telling me I should get a shirt, but I didn’t want to spend the $10 on a shirt because that would be $10 less that I could take home to my mother, but I also didn’t want to tell them that, and so what I did is that I ran away and went out to the parking lot to the car to wait for everyone else to finish and come out.

I tell you that story because Suze Orman believes that it is money memories like this that drive how we deal with our money as adults.  I came across this idea, and across Suze Orman, when I entered into a debt management program because my credit card payments were more than I was bringing in each month, and so I went out and got help, so I don’t stand up here as some financial genius who has always had everything all together, because I haven’t.  I’m much better, but a lot of that has to do with understanding how that money memory from that soccer tournament was still impacting me as an adult.  I never wanted to be that little kid who couldn’t get what I wanted because I didn’t have the money, and so I had tried not to deprive myself again, and if I wanted something I would buy it, whether I could actually afford it our not.  When I recovered that money memory, then I was able to look at how I dealt with my money, and my greatest fears about money, and I was able to make the changes necessary to go in a different direction, or at least begin to go in another direction.  Now there are still times in which I still have the urge to go buy something, especially when money is tight, because I don’t want to be deprived again, and so there is a part of me that wants to give in and just do it, but I also understand that impulse and have much greater control.

Suze Orman believes, and I am in agreement, that all of us have memories or a memory like this that drive us.  I can remember when Linda did this exercise and her having the same sort of a-ha moment that I did that helped her understand how and why she approached finances the way she did.  And so we’re going to spend just a few moments this morning working on this.  Using Suze Orman’s instructions, I want you to think back to the first money memory that meant something to you as a child.  Some will have positive memories, but most will be negative memories, negative meaning it is something that causes us fear or agitation, a sense of never having enough, or being enough, or a lie or deception that took place.  You may come up with several, but sort through your emotions of each one and trust the one that feels most true for you, and then I want you to remember as much as you can about that experience.

Now you might not come up with one immediately, or you might not recall everything right away, but I want you to work on it, because I have found this to be dramatically impactful in how I understand money now, as well as having it seen played out in other’s lives as well.  In most cases, this money memory has not only impacted our financial lives, but also has seeped into the rest of our lives and has been driving many of the fears and concerns in our lives.  But once we get control of that fear, once we can understand what is causing us to make financial decisions that are sometimes destructive, then we will be on the first steps to overcoming our fears of money, and most of us are driven by fear of money, but what is the first thing that we hear about Christ?  What is the first announcement that people are told about Jesus?  Fear not.

Jesus said you cannot follow both God and Mammon, or God and money.  As long as we are being controlled by our money, or our fears and anxieties about money, then we are being controlled rather than controlling our money.  We are being influenced by money in ways that not only unhelpful, but are in fact dangerous.  The man in today’s scripture passage had many possessions, and because he put too much faith in them, too much of his identity was tied up in them, he forgot who he was and to whom he belonged.  “Go sell what you own,” Jesus said, “ and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  Accept, surrender and follow.  Are we controlling our money or is it controlling us?  Are we controlling our memories about money, or are they controlling us?  Are we trusting in God, or are we trusting in ourselves?

Our salvation rests not with how much we have or how little we have.  Our salvation rests in Christ Jesus, who says do not be afraid, and when we let our relation with money, with possessions, with our memories, get in the way to become the priority then we can get ourselves into trouble.  The disciples are greatly astounded at Jesus’ words and ask him “who can be saved?” but Jesus says to them, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”  May it be so my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

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