Monday, September 20, 2010
A Guiltless People in a Cashless Culture
While waiting at the stoplight up the street, a veterans group was selling bracelets to support wounded vets. I do not carry any cash. I could not buy one if my life depended on it. I have become like many in our culture – I shop with debit and credit and if you cannot get it with these, I don't get it. Which is one reason why we may not get the story Jesus told in the Gospel today.
You cannot serve God and cash – that is the message of the parable. But that is not me? I don't even carry cash! So what does this story say to me? We live in a plastic world where most of us never even see much cash. It is an electronic age in which transactions are done online. But that is exactly the problem. This parable is not about the love of cash. It is about the love of self – about the me who craves and wants and is not satisfied until I get what I want. And surely this is not a problem for us, is it?
The message of the parable is clear. God does not audit our checkbooks or bank accounts. He audits our lives. We are judged not by our little altars to cash or plastic cards but by all our words and actions. The first message of the parable is clear. We are accountable. Just as the manager in Jesus’ parable was accountable. We are accountable to God – not simply for our money or our financial decisions but our use of all of His gifts. But we are still accountable to Him for the way we use our money – don't skip over that part.
God cannot be fooled. Like the manager in Jesus’ story who could not keep the deception going, God already knows what we keep hidden inside us. He knows our hearts, he knows our real needs, and he knows our wants. He is not fooled by an outward appearance of holiness. He sees our motives, our wants, and the manipulative ways we work to get what we want. And He calls on us to be honest with Him and honest with ourselves. Sin is about lies and deception. Faith is about honesty and truth.
He calls on us to let go of all those things that come between us and Him. Whatever it is that harms our relationship with Him, that has to go. We cannot serve two masters, we cannot have divided loyalties, and we cannot live a life of deception. It will all come clean and we will lose everything unless we are careful to choose the Master who loves us and has our best interests at heart. Otherwise, our desires will betray us and sell us out.
I watched an interview with Archie Manning talking about how proud he was of his boys – Eli and Peyton. But today they play against each other and what does a parent do when you have to choose between your kids? How can that be anything but a recipe for disaster – that is the power of divided loyalties. They break our hearts.
The goal of this parable is not to make you give more. Now, mind you, I am the last person to say that is a bad thing. But this particular parable is not about giving. It is about investing. God is calling us in Christ as Christian people to invest in heavenly riches and not just earthly ones. He is inviting us to use earthly wealth for heavenly good, to use His resources wisely. And He is reminding us that wise use means an investment. He has invested in us – nothing less than the blood of Christ. God has no divided heart. Mercy and love have triumphed over justice. He has broken down every barrier between Him and us. If we are wise in faith, we will not erect any barriers by dividing our hearts but invest all of our hearts in the true treasure of His grace.
Righteous wealth cannot harm us but only helps us. Unrighteous wealth cannot only help us but can really hurt us. If Christ is our treasure, then we are rich for all eternity. If we have all the earthly treasures in the world, we will live in eternal poverty. But this is the hard part. Trouble is that we have bought into the lie that a little self-indulgence is not so bad and who does it hurt? We have given into the idea that a little division in our hearts can’t hurt us. We have treated our bank accounts like therapists by shopping more to find happiness and pleasure than to get what we need. In the end, it is a lie and a dangerous one that cannot help us find contentment and peace but will hurt us and lead us to our ultimate destruction.
It is as if God is saying to us, hold on to that which is good for you. Not as the first of many things but as the only thing at all. Grace is beneficial and heals and helps. Every other riches steals, divides, wounds, and distracts us. I am not telling you something you do not know but we do not heed this truth.
Last week in the fellowship hall, we looked at Bishop Gulle as he told us of the explosive growth of the Lutheran Church of Tanzania, in southern Africa. And as a back drop while he spoke to us was a bay filled with the leftovers of our yard sale. We brought into the Church boxes and boxes of things no longer needed or wanted. We could have another yard sale next week and the huge fellowship hall would be filled one more time. You and I both know it. Didn't it seem incongruous to see him stand there with our excess baggage behind him? Wasn't it a bit embarrassing? We looked at the riches of our things that we had so much to give away while he spoke of the riches of God's kingdom.
Now God is no ogre who demands everything from us. God is the loving Father who sent His Son to set us free from our captivity to deceit, from our bondage to things, from earthly treasures that take from us, and from hearts divided between the happiness of this world and its things and His treasure of grace. God is here to point us to the one true treasure that does not fade, does not rust, does not diminish in value, and does not fail to satisfy. And that treasure is on the cross behind me. It is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
When you stand in line in the story, they say "cash or credit... debit or credit..." but what these words mean is "me first." For those who call themselves Christians, there can only be one loyalty and one who is first. First and only in the hearts of God’s people is Him who has revealed Himself to us through His Son, displayed His love to us in the sacrifice of suffering to grant us relief, shown forth His power in the death of the cross that imparts life to us, and displayed His mercy in the wounds of sin that grant us forgiveness.
For us the issue is not cash or credit, credit or debit... for us the issue is God behind me, God with me, and God before me... Jesus Christ and Him crucified... the treasure of grace that cannot disappoint and can only overflow in our lives with true joy... eternal joy... unlimited joy... Amen