Earn, Save, Give 3
Passage: Matthew 25:14–25:30
About two months ago I made a horrible mistake. My cousin’s daughters birthday party was coming up and we needed to get them birthday presents. It involved a quick trip to Target. I offered to go get the presents and bring both of my sons along with me. I thought that they would enjoy picking out birthday presents for their cousins and I thought it would get me good husband points to give my wife a little time by herself. It turns out I made a horrible mistake.
You know what you absolutely under no circumstances should do ever? Bring a four year old and a 20 month old into the toy area of Target to buy toys that will not be for them. If I had a dollar for every time I had to tell one of the boys that we were not here to buy them something, we were there to buy a birthday gift for their cousins I could have bought out the store. If I had a dollar for every time they told me something they wanted, I could have bought the Target Corporation.
Eventually I just picked two things and started to leave to go get birthday cards. In the birthday card aisle the tantrum reached its climax with my oldest son screaming on the floor and my youngest screaming in the cart because I told him I couldn’t hold him and steer the cart and he had to stay seated. It was like something out of a horrible commercial for online buying or something. I finally got the two kids moving again, the kids quite unhappy with me and me spent of my patience, we checked out and went home.
To be fair, I don’t blame the kids. I mean in the moment I did. But now, given a few months distance, I can understand how hard it was for them. Being a kid in a toy store or being a kid in a candy store, all you see is things you want. How can you not ask for them? How can you not express that want and that desire? Everyone has a store, has a place like that. Maybe its going to Michaels or Hobby Lobby. Maybe its going to a sporting goods store. My father cannot get out of Home Depot in under three hours. It doesn’t matter if he’s going for one small thing, somehow he spends three hours looking at stuff.
This morning we are going to be looking at Wesley’s second rule on the use of money. And it’s a rule that is probably going to be the hardest for us to follow. This month we are spending some time talking about John Wesley, the founder of United Methodism, his three rules on the use of money. In the first week of this series we talked about how, more than anything else, what we need is wisdom when it comes to the exercise of our finances. The basic working principle of this series is that for many of us, while we feel like what we need is a larger pie, we actually only need to be more disciplined and wise in how we use what God has given us. Wesley’s rules help us to be disciplined in how we use our resources so that we can 1) more clearly see the ways in which God has already blessed us beyond measure and 2) be more faithful in the use of our money. When we see more clearly that God has already blessed us we can let our financial life bear witness to the faith that we have.
The first rule was earn all you can. There’s a strange parable Jesus tells in Luke’s Gospel about a dishonest manager who is about to get fired and on his way out the door cancels half of the debt under his management so that he’ll have friends to take care of him when he gets canned. And then in the shocker of the century, the dishonest manager gets to keep his job because his boss liked his hustle and moxie. Jesus then praises the dishonest manager and tells his disciples that they need to be equally as wise in the name of the Gospel. Wesley took this parable to mean that the starting point for Christians faithfully using their money was to be wise in the world earning all you can. Wesley said Christians should exhibit the same hustle. Work hard. Succeed. Earn all you can. But there were limits. Earn all you can, but by righteous means. You can’t cheat or steal your way to money. Don’t earn money in ways that does harm to others. Earn all you can by common sense. Be wise! Earn all you can, but never paying more than its worth. Do not sell your soul for riches. Do not sell your body for riches. Do not sacrifice your family to earn wealth. But Wesley’s first rule was to earn all you can.
And it’s a rule I think we are ok with. We might not be used to hearing it championed in church, but it’s how we are conditioned to behave in society. Maybe we aren’t programmed to get rich, but we are told to work hard, succeed, and make as much as you can. I mean did anyone have a parent, friend, or confidante ever tell you not to go for a raise?
Today’s rule is one that is much tougher for us. Wesley’s second rule is to save all you can. If we are conditioned to earn all we can, its for the purpose of being able to afford either a certain type of life or certain things we want in life. And certainly some of those things involve saving, but that typically is saving for the purpose of spending. I’m saving up to buy a house. I’m saving up to buy a new car. I’m saving up for my child’s education. I’m saving up so I can afford my house or my car or my lifestyle in retirement. But all of that earning and all of that saving are oriented towards spending and consumption.
Saving all we can is a hard rule for us to follow. Like my sons in the Target toy area, we are constantly bombarded with things we want. We see the ways that new car on tv would make our lives easier. We see the tool or piece of yard equipment that would be perfect for that project we have been meaning to do. We see the new electronic device that looks cool. We are surrounded by new things to try, new things to buy.
Here is where the Christian faith can help. Here is where being a person of faith can help reframe what it is to save, spend, and manage money. And we see this clearly in our Biblical text this morning.
Matthew 25:14-30 New International Version (NIV)
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
This is a story that may be familiar to some of you. We trot this story out often when talking about stewardship and also when talking about serving and volunteering in the church. It lends itself nicely to either cause. In other versions of the text what the NIV has translated “bags of gold” is labeled as “talents”. A talent in the ancient world was an obscene amount of money. It was more money than the people who listened to Jesus tell the parable would ever have at once. Those who listened to Jesus tell this story would have mainly lived hand to mouth, some able to scrape together meager savings. The most modest definition of a talent that I could find, 100 denarii (with the denarius being a days wages), would have been nearly half a year’s salary. Other definitions of the talent talk about being the weight of an ox in gold. So talent is a measurement of wealth which lends itself to a sermon on money. But obviously in English talent has a different, but quite common meaning. So we can use that meaning to talk about using our gifts to honor God. This is the utility infielder of Bible stories.
For our purposes we are going to talk about the talent as a measure of wealth. This wealthy man who goes on a journey has, at least, eight talents. Eight bags of gold. My guess is he had more and this is the portion he was trusting to his servants, but let’s not quibble over how rich this guy is. He gives some portion of his assets over to three servants. One servant gets five. One servant gets two. One servant gets one. For all of them this has to be the most money they have ever seen in their lives.
The first two servants take the money they had been given and they follow Wesley’s first rule. Earn all you can. So they put the money to work and it grows. By a lot. It’s a bull market. Both of the first two servants double their money. Thanks whatever president you think is responsible for market growth right now.
The third servant is terrified. Let’s be charitable to him because we know his boss won’t be. He’s probably never had this amount of money in his possession before. Depending on your definition of the talent, this could be an insane amount of money. Imagine being responsible for someone else’s million dollars. There are some of us who would be like “awesome, real life stock market game!” And then there are others of us who would be so scared to lose someone else’s literal fortune that we become paralyzed. Before coming to Spirit & Life I served as an Associate Pastor at a church that was celebrated its 240thbirthday while I was there. They had some larger endowment type funds. And as a brand new pastor this was my first experience with a group of people becoming paralyzed when managing other people’s money. I firmly believe everyone around that table was doing what they thought was the best for those funds. But I also know they were acting contrary to how they behave with their own personal money. In the end this final servant is going to be given the business by his boss; fired and sent out to destitution. But his instincts were ones that I have seen others give and I firmly believe his heart was in the right place. Because what is decidedly worse than taking a whole lot of money and not doing anything with it is taking a whole lot of money and losing it.
But what I want us to see in this moment, and what I think can help us follow Wesley’s second rule, is seeing not so much how the servants differed in behavior but seeing how all three servants were united in mindset.
If there was one thing that united all three servants it was that the money they were given was not their own. It was their boss’s. They all realized that the bags of money they had been given were not their own. And that served as the basis for their different behaviors. The first two understood how their boss would want the money handled. They know their boss would want his wealth put to work, growing in his absence. The third servant equally understands that the bag of gold is not his. He is terrified to be holding that much cash. He knows that its his boss’s money and that if he losses it, his boss will be angered. So he hides it, afraid that if he doesn’t he will lose it.
What unites these three servants is that they all equally realize whose money it is they’re holding. And that knowledge informs what they each do with the money.
The key for us in living and following rule number two is realizing that our money is not our own. The key for us in saving all we can is realizing that we are but stewards of our wealth. It’s not our money. All of it, all the money we have we hold in trust on behalf of our God.
When this passage is preached on in the context of volunteering, we talk about how God has given each of us gifts, talents, and spiritual gifts. And we are called to use those in serving God. In the same way, our money, our wealth, our stuff comes to us as a gift from God. God gives us skills that we can turn into jobs and careers and professions. God gives us opportunity and education. God gives us ways to use our time and our bodies to provide for ourselves and our family. The starting point in talking about how Christians use our money is acknowledging this money is not our own, that it is a gift from God to us. That’s why we don’t have fundraising campaigns in the church, we talk about stewardship. It’s all a gift from God.
What if we took this really seriously for a second? If you really believed that your money wasn’t really yours, but was given to you by God to do with as God would want, what would happen if God were to go through your check record? What would happen if God went through your savings and investment information? What would happen if God looked at how you spend your money, what you spend it on, in general what you do with your money?
Or put another way: if you knew that in three months God would be coming to look at how you managed your money over that three months, what changes would you make? Would you behave differently if the boss were going to come look through the books?
We have this pledge card that we have been handing out over the last couple weeks. And it precisely because of this point. Being a steward is all about intentionality. Faithfully using our money is all about intentionality. We want you to approach your finances in prayer. We want you to approach your finances and say if there’s something I could take out that would make me a bit more faithful, what is it? If there’s something more I could do, even though give all you can is rule three and that’s next week, what is it? To sit and look at how your money is being spent and whether or not that lines up with the values and beliefs you hold dear.
Friends I’ve tried to be honest in this sermon that saving is hard. Very hard. We are constantly shown ways in which life can be made easier through purchasing and consumption. God’s call on us is to use our money to further the purposes of God in the world. We don’t talk about financial stewardship merely to meet the financial needs of the church, though we do have needs. We do this because we need help when it comes to saving, we need to be reminded that this is God’s money not ours, and we need to grow in our discipleship so that our bank account, our check record, and our credit card statement reflect the things we believe and the values we hold dear.
We want to be good stewards. We want to manage God’s money so that it reflects what God would want and would be pleasing to God. And so we strive to follow Wesley’s rules. Earning all we can. Saving all we can. And as we’ll talk about next week, giving all we can. Let us pray.