The worship series this January is about Health and Wholeness through Balance of Body, Mind, and Soul. One area of our lives that can pull us out of balance—body, mind, and soul—is finance. Be it the quest for wealth or just keeping our heads above water, our finances can impact our health, consume our mind, and steal our peace.
Everyone has their own definition of “wealthy.” Some say its $1 million; others say $100 million— or maybe $900 million if you won the lottery last night. But a survey noted on CNBC shows that most investors say “wealthy” means $5 million—with at least $1 million of that in cold, hard cash. On the other end of the scale, if everything you own is worth more than $10,000, you are better off than over 70 percent of the world’s adults. It is all about perspective.
I do not have three simple tricks, steps, or prayers that will turn us all into millionaires; but I would suggest that our topic on financial wholeness and balance should rest on the Goldilocks Principle…. not too much, not too little, we need it just right.
The trouble, of course, is deciding what’s ‘just right’. When we are talking about money and not porridge, it is most often something more than whatever we have. It is at least as much as our friends, neighbors, and our siblings. Finding the ‘just right’ for healthy balance in body, mind, and spirit, as it turns out, might not have anything to do with an accounting number. Maybe the key to ‘just right’ is deeper than numerical, and ‘healthy, wealthy, and wise’ means something altogether different than personal finances.
How would you describe your relationship to money? Are you lovers? Friends (with benefits)? Are you partners or adversaries? Is money a cruel master or freedom liberator? Do you own it, or does it own you?
Does your relationship with money inform your theology of God, or does your theology of God inform your relationship with money? As Walter Brueggemann puts it, if you believe and worship a God of Scarcity—then you’d best gather up all you can because there’s not enough to go around. If you believe and worship a God of Abundance—then there is enough for all, if we all use and manage our part well.
Our relationship with money influences our theology; it also shapes our philosophy of life and lifestyle, and certainly our health and spirit. We can choose to live a life of simplicity or a life of consumption. We can live an extreme at either end or we can seek that ever-elusive balance in the middle. Which takes us back to the question of Goldilocks. What’s not too much, not too little, but just right—for healthy, wealthy, and wise?
Goldilocks might have advice on oatmeal and chairs and beds that are ‘just right’, but let us look to an expert for advice on money. No, not a wealthy management company or a financial planner; Jesus talked a lot about money. I’ve read that there are more teachings about money from Jesus than any other topic. There’s stories and parables of rich young rulers and prodigal sons, and pearls of great price and lost coins and silver talents. Stories about day laborer’s wages, workers in a vineyard, and a widow’s two coins. There are the famous quotes attributed to him: “Where your treasure is, there also your heart will be” (Mt 6:21); and, most famous of all: “You cannot serve both God and Mammon—you will love the one and hate the other.” (Lk 16 and Mt 6:24). The list of his money talks indeed seems endless. It would seem wise perhaps that I could have focused on one of these texts this week where Jesus speaks of money in no uncertain terms. Yet, instead, we heard Luke 4.
Luke’s inauguration of Jesus’ ministry; It is possibly my favorite passage—if I could narrow to one favorite. This one passage shines light on the rest of his life; gives us his life and ministry purpose. It gives vision of Divine on earth and empowerment of achieving God’s vision. I think this passage lies at the heart of the gospel. Whatever we take to be the heart of the gospel is the central shaping force in our life of faith, and in our daily living if we take such things seriously. What we see as the heart of the gospel shapes who we are, how we relate to others, and even, how we earn, spend, save and give our money. Jesus taught about shared wealth and common good and care for poor. This text might be our plumb line for faith and for living. It might even inform our thoughts on money
In the passage, Jesus begins his ministry reading a scroll of the ancient Hebrew prophet, Isaiah. Jesus asks for and is handed this scripture for his inaugural address. It lays foundation of human compassion and social justice. He claims the messianic job description that has been in circulation for centuries. His life work will be (1) heal the brokenhearted; (2) announce the release of prisoners of war (3) give insight to those who are unable to see the truth before them (4) announce the year of jubilee—letting those oppressed by debt and in bondage to poverty regain their freedom. In the Year of Jubilee, debts are forgiven, people returned to the homes they had lost, and slaves were set free. Jesus sees his ministry to turn the economic structures upside down. Jesus focus is to bring healing and justice, not vengeance, not walls, not condemnation, not greed, not self-made men or women, not rugged individualism, not accumulation of more, not identity through possessions.
Jesus goes on to teach about money, but the foundation of his teaching is set forth from the beginning. Before all the stories about money, before all the parables and aphorisms, he lays the foundation upon which he builds his life, claims his identity, and offers freedom. Like last week, when I said our New Year’s resolutions for behavior modification must begin at the very core of who we understand ourselves to be. Finding our ‘just right’ relationship with money, that will indeed make us healthy, wealthy, and wise, begins not on a spreadsheet or accountant office. It begins deeper than that. It begins with the intent and foundation that will inform our attitude, our relationship, and our daily decisions about finances.
If we understand our identity is God-given and not money-given, then money loses its power to define us. If we claim our devotion to the Holy, we can release money as our idol of worship. We can step off a rat-race wheel to consume and move to freedom from bondage and debt.
Money then becomes a resource, a God given resource, for God given goals; a resource placed in our hands to manage, to fulfill the purpose that we understand and claim in our inauguration (baptism) as God’s holy people and messengers of the Divine.
On that foundation, we can look at the practical. John Wesley, the founder of Methodist movement, preached “On the Use of Money.” First, he said, “earn all you can.” Sometimes that might be his entire quote, but there is more. He said, “earn all you can—without harm to yourself—without harm to your morals, your integrity, your soul. Earn all you can without harm to your neighbor and your family. Earn all you can without harm to the earth. Wesley doesn’t advocate unbridled or unending labor—only labor to the extent of maintaining health in body, mind, and soul.
Then he preached, “Save all you can.” He did not mean put it in your savings account. “Save” in 18th century England meant more like “refrain.” Refrain from spending all you can. In other words, live simply; choose the humble purchase; be intentional in what we consume.
Then when you have earned and spent not too much and not too little, but just right, “Give all you can.” Your giving can bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, new sight to those who have lost vision, and freedom to all who are oppressed.
Not too much, not too little, just right…to make us healthy, wealthy, and wise in our relationship to God, in our identity as God’s people, and in our relationship to all others.
May it be so.