sermon for the seventh sunday after the epiphany / year a / february 27 2011

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

You cannot serve God and mammon.

 

What is mammon?  Mammon is money.  Specifically it is what money becomes when we spend ourselves seeking it.  When we order our lives around the acquisition of money, when our daily decisions are governed by pecuniary considerations, we are in danger of falling away from the grace of God, because we have, according to Jesus, given ourselves to the service of something other-than-God. One might ask, right out of the box, whether sometimes we don’t HAVE TO worry about money – to pay the rent and buy clothes and so on. I think the Lord says, “No.” In Luke’s Gospel, the Lord asks his disciples, “‘When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘Nothing.’”

 

The danger of pursuing money is nothing less than the danger of idolatry, serving a false god.  And indeed the word “mammon” is personified in today’s Gospel reading:  Mammon is a master, and a hard master at that.  In this respect, Nicholas of Lyra (d. 1340) (a Franciscan biblical scholar of the 14th century) said “Mammon est nomen daemonis” – “Mammon is the name of a demon.”  And in a real sense therefore, spending ourselves, giving ourselves to the domain of the financial is like devil worship.

 

So does God hate money?  No.  He does not hate money, and he knows that, for most of us, dealing with money is a necessity of life in the world.  What the Lord is talking about here, by contrast, is having a life that is dominated by financial considerations.  When that happens, we become CAUGHT, we become SLAVES – slaves of the devil.  Saint Augustine says the same:  “he who is the servant of money endures a hard master; for… he has been made subject to the Devil.”

 

This is a greater danger to each of us than we are apt to think.  We live in a capitalist society:  our culture is organized around one thing:  seeking profit.  And when this message gets internalized, when it becomes an END for us, then we are in trouble, because then we have come to believe the primordial lie of the Serpent who seeks our destruction:  that we can be anything apart from God.  In the Garden, the Serpent told Eve that if she ate of the fruit, she would be “like God”.  The horrible irony is that God MADE US in his image and likeness.  To be like him we have to do NOTHING but abide in his presence and believe him.

 

Now, what does this mean?  Does God want us to be derelict, homeless, miserably sitting in the dirt?  No.  Of course not.  God wants NOTHING but good things for us.  He wants us to be at peace.  He wants us to be happy and fulfilled.  But here’s the thing:  God knows better than we do what will make us happy and fulfilled, what will bring us peace.  And that is nothing less than himself.  It is not necessary that we be poor, but it IS necessary that we DESPISE wealth.  Because when faced with two masters, a slave will “will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  Scripture does not say that money is evil, but it does say that “THE LOVE OF MONEY is the root of ALL evils” and it says that through the craving for money, many people have wandered away from the faith and pierced their own hearts with suffering (1 Tim. 6.10).

 

Put another way, God calls each of us. Each of us has a purpose and a vocation, which comes from God. And finding it, and walking in it, is our only chance at being truly happy. But if our life decisions are determined by the pursuit of money, then they cannot be determined by the will of God. No one can serve two masters.

 

True riches, for the Christian, are nothing other than the grace of God.  Everything that comes from God constitutes our riches.  And if we accept what God offers, then we will be really rich.  And what does he offer?  He offers himself.  “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might BRING US TO GOD, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3.18).  And the narrative of salvation is clear and consistent on this point:  it is much easier for the poor to accept what God offers than it is for the rich.  Why? Because the poor by definition don’t have a lot of worldly junk cluttering up their lives and their hearts to begin with.  And many, many Christians down through the centuries have voluntarily embraced poverty to grease the wheels of their salvation.  Somehow we have got to make room in our lives for the grace of God, and the witness of Scripture – as well as holy men and women is consistent: voluntary poverty is one of the surest means of making room for God.

 

And if you are filled with the grace of God, you will be at peace.  Period.  End of sentence.  And that, ultimately, is what today’s Gospel reading is about.  Jesus says:  “DO NOT BE ANXIOUS about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”  He is talking about how to be free of anxiety.  And who among us would not like to be free from anxiety?

 

If you want to be free of anxiety, here’s how:  SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AND THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD.  The Kingdom of God means the RULE of God – seek the doing of God’s will.  And we know what his will is, because he has revealed it in Scripture, and has given authority to his Church to understand it and to teach it.

 

And the WILL of God is that we should love him and love one another.  And the latter is reducible to the former:  the love of God is everything.  God alone is the end toward which all of our energy and activity should tend.  And if we engage life with this as our starting point, then we will be content with what God provides.  If we are rich, we will give thanks.  If we are poor, we will give thanks.  It won’t matter, because we will have been freed from anxiety. “‘When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘Nothing.’”

 

So the author of Hebrews says “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for [God] has said, ‘I will never fail you nor forsake you.’”  God knows what we need, and he knows better than we do that what we really need is HIM.  Therefore having what we need begins with trusting him, and being content only with him.

 

One of the best exemplars of living this way is St. Francis of Assisi. Francis came from a very wealthy family, and he could have done considerable good with the money he inherited. But he gave it all away, and chose to live instead the life of a beggar. When he made the definitive decision to live for Christ and to trust in God’s providence, Francis even took all of his clothes off and left them behind, so that he could have absolutely nothing that did not come to him from God.

 

A Franciscan treatise called the Sacrum Commercium, written in the 1200’s, speaks beautifully of Francis and his disciples’ willing embrace of poverty.

 

While they were hastening to the heights with easy steps, behold Lady Poverty, [stood] on the top of the mountain. Seeing them climb with such strength, almost flying, she was quite astonished. ‘It is a long time since I saw and watched people so free of all burdens.’ And so Lady Poverty greeted them with rich blessings. ‘Tell me brothers, what is the reason for your coming here and why do you come so quickly from the valley of sorrows to the mountain of light?’ They answered: ‘We wish to become servants of the Lord of hosts because He is the King of glory. So, kneeling at your feet, we humbly beg you to agree to live with us and be our way to the King of glory, as you were the way when the Dawn from on High came to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death’.”

 

May God likewise give us the will to pursue no earthly thing whatsoever, but only him – his kingdom and his righteousness – that we may be free from anxiety and rest always in the mercy and peace of his providence.

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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