Blessed - A Sermon About Happiness & Money
Which supposedly can't buy you happiness. But by looking at the way most of us live our lives in pursuit of happiness through money, it seems that none of us really got that memo.
Let's start with some Scripture why don't we?
5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”
The epistle of Hebrews was written to a group of Christians in the first century who were trying to figure out how to live the Christian life in a diverse context.
So we have nothing in common with them...
This discourse at the end of the letter discloses some important things, what I will call the "Signs of a Genuine Christian Life."
These signs include, things like hospitality. The writer says, "be hospitable, because some people who have done so have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." Or prison ministry, "continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison." The writer also urges the believers to identify with the suffering as if they were being mistreated right along with them.
I'm pretty sure there is a sermon or two in that stuff.
Then the writer goes on to call the believers into faithfulness regarding marriage, sexuality and immorality.
To all of these I am sure that there are a number of us who would be shouting out a solid and forceful "Amen!"---if we are of the sort that does that kind of thing in public.
But then the writer hits us with verses 5 and 6---"keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have."
I looked this up: Jesus talked about money more than he did any other topic except the kingdom of God. More than heaven, hell, worship, prayer... more than love.
There are literally thousands of exhortations in the Bible about money and its use or misuse.
I think it's because God knows how easy it is for us to fall in love with money and what it can do for us. God knows that for many of us money might be the one thing that keeps us from really following him.
When we take a look at Hebrews 13:5-6 we see that the writer is using some phrases that would have been very familiar to the Jewish-Christian crowd that would have been reading this letter.
He quotes Deuteronomy 31:6 to them:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
When Moses is speaking these words to the Hebrew people in the Torah, they are about to enter into the Promised Land---and the people living in the area were not too thrilled about it. Some things never change, right? God was sending them into enemy territory, and they needed to hear that he would take care of them.
The other passage that the writer of Hebrews quotes here is from Psalm 118:6-7
"The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies."
Scholars believe that this Psalm was one that was sung by Jesus and his disciples after the Last Supper as part of their traditional observance of Passover. Again, this Psalm was connected to God's provision, God's help, God's protection of his people.
The last verse that is connected to this passage is 1 Timothy 6:9-10 which reads:
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Biblical scholars believe that this phrase was a common one in Jewish wisdom sayings, but was put to good use by the Apostle Paul in this letter to Timothy. The writer of Hebrews echoes these sentiments here. To "love" money in this instance means to "place it above all else," or "to pursue it at the detriment of all else."
So what do we have so far...
The love of money can lead you into some seriously ruinous behavior, and must be avoided.
God will take care of you, be your helper, provide for you and offer you protection.
Oh... and he will never leave us or forsake us.
There's no mysterious interpretation of the Greek word for "never" here. It simply means "absolutely not, not at all, in no way."
Do you believe that?
Do you believe that God will never let you down? Do you believe that God will provide for you? That God will never leave you or forsake you? That he will always be your protector?
This is the point at which most Christian-types would heartily offer their unabashed belief in all of those things.
So, if most Christian-types believe that God is always with them... that God will always provide, protect. take care of and never, ever, under any circumstances leave them in the lurch...
Why is it so hard for them to show that belief with their finances?
I want you to go watch a video on how to trap a monkey. It's in French. Ignore that and watch it.
Do you notice how the monkey seems unable to let go of the food---refuses to, in fact? Do you notice how the monkey's inability to let go of the food caused it to get trapped? Even though it was in French, you get the gist of it, right?
It's like the monkey was so hardwired to not let go of the food---which it believes it needs in order to survive---it would risk it's own life in order to do so.
I have a theory based on this French Monkey Trapping video. Would you like to hear it?
Most of the time when we hear sermons about the love of money---we tend to think that what we are really talking about is Greed. Greedy people desire money and chase after it. Greed destroys lives and tears down economies. Greed is not good, as Michael Douglas' character Gordon Gecko declared in the classic movie Wall Street. Greed is bad.
But what if our desire for money and more of it had nothing to do with Greed? What if it was about survival?
What if our problems with money weren't about greed, but were all about abandonment? What if we were so frightened at being left helpless and alone to fend for ourselves that we overcompensated---hanging desperately on to the very thing that could kill us, and refusing to let go.
Here are some statistics...
The average American will spend 80,000 hours at work in a lifetime.
The average Christian will spend 7800 hours in a lifetime pursuing God.
The average American will spend $10,550 annually on housing
The average Christian will spend $1600 on annual offerings
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that things are out of balance for American Christians.
How much would it take for us to finally feel secure that we have enough?
How much money? How many things? How much property? How high up the corporate ladder? A better job? A bigger paycheck? More stuff?
These things that we think will keep us from feeling abandoned---and give us happiness through safety and security are not the answer.
The kind of security and safety that God can give you doesn't have a price tag.
The security and safety that God provides is also counter-intuitive.
And may require sacrifice.
Ever hear that old chestnut, "God never gives you more than you can handle."
Ever wonder if it also applied to money?
Maybe---just maybe---the reason why you can't seem to find the resources to get all of those things that you think will bring you happiness is because God stepped in and is trying to save you from yourself.
Maybe God is trying to teach you to trust him.
That's usually when the Devil shows up in the mail in the form of a credit card approval letter. "See that tree in the middle of the Garden?" he whispers through the window of the letter. "If you eat of it, you will not surely die."
You might be saying at this point, "I don't have a love of money." Or you might be saying, "I don't have any money to love."
Listen, not having any money doesn't mean that you won't have a love of it.
Want to know how you have a love of money?
1. When you find yourself making a sacrifice of something else in your life so you can follow money. And by "something else" I should say "something important and vital to the well being of your soul."
Like your kids. Or your spouse. Or your church. Or your prayer-life.
2. When your life decisions are guided by a sense of financial discontent.
Ever meet someone who just always seems to be pining for a "better" life?
Ever run across someone who is launching themselves down a particular career path not because they love it, but because they think it's lucrative?
Ever know someone who couldn't keep a job because there was always a more exciting one that paid more?
Ever have a friend who made really destructive decisions because they were desperate to get out of financial trouble?
Did I just describe you?
3. When money becomes a substitute for faith in God's loving care.
From time to time I run across people who will scoff at the idea of giving money to God. They argue that Jesus never mentioned tithing (see above comment on how many times Jesus talked about money). Or they might try to flummox me with snarky comments about how all preachers care about is getting donations.
I also meet people who tell me that they don't have enough money to tithe.
I also meet people who want me to believe that they are generous, but who really aren't.
They all---we all---have something in common: The temptation to believe that money will provide us with the sort of sure footing in life that God doesn't seem willing or able to provide.
Guess what? I've done enough funerals to know that we all leave this life with nothing, and our last thoughts aren't about whether we have enough money.
4. When you realize that "enough" isn't "enough."
This hits all of us. Hard. How much is enough? Why is that the most successful millionaires and billionaires can't seem to stop wanting to make money? It's a rare person indeed who takes their wealth, and retreats from our grasping culture to live off what they have, to do good and to share.
Because it's never enough. If you love money---it will never be enough. Because it's the love of money that drives you to want more.
To all of that... I have this to say:
When Jesus grasps our hand in love, it frees us to open up the other clenched one and let the reliance on money go---the reliance that is trapping us like that monkey who couldn't let go of the food to save his life.
Jesus doesn't call us to a life lived in fear that we won't have enough. He calls us to live life and "more abundantly."
[In the sermon that I am preaching I am going to tell a story of something that just happened to my wife---a lesson in obedience, and in trust. But you have to either come to church to hear it, or wait until we make the podcast. Trust me. You will want to hear this.]
If you want to lead a life that is free from fear, from the dread of not having enough--all you need do is be willing to offer all of whatever it is that is keeping you from trusting God.
Lift it up.
The security and safety you seek---the happiness you desire---that kind of safety and security can't be bought.
The kind of security and safety that God can give you doesn't have a price tag.