Mark 9:33-37, 1 Timothy 6:6-10
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.) According to our own Declaration of Independence, all persons have the right to life, the right to freedom, and the right to pursue happiness. At some point along the road we began to equate this last one, the pursuit of happiness, as the pursuit of wealth. Dave Ramsey, the founder/author of Financial Peace University puts it this way – “Money is fun, if you got some!” It is not so much fun when you don’t have any money. It is not fun at all when tough choices of our needs become a reality.
But it is interesting how we address a few concepts concerning wealth and money. First, what is the difference between things we need and things we want? How did we become a society that has to have everything ‘now?’ Where did the concept of saving for what you wanted get pushed aside for the ‘have it all and have it now, pay it later’ philosophy? How quickly can we get caught up in the pursuit of wealth to the detriment of everything else?
The music industry has hopped on the wealth-pursuit bandwagon with songs like, “Money, money, money, money…” and “I want it all and I want it now!” That pretty much sums up our biggest natural tendency when it comes to wealth. We want it all and we want it now! When you were younger, some of you may recall the idea of layaway. How did this work? Usually in the summer or even early spring, you went to the department store to try on school clothes for the fall, winter coats, etc. Then mom would put these on layaway and pay a little each week on your items. When it was completely paid for, you went and picked up your bags and took home your fully-owned clothes and outerwear just in time for school to begin (back then it was in September.) You might remember the envelope system, where cash came in on payday and was divvied up into different envelopes for food, gas, church, lunches or milk, clothes, bills, and a little for savings. Credit cards did not exist. Debit cards had not been heard of. Even car loans were few and far between, or held for very short periods of time.
Somewhere along the line we became caught up in two very distinct and fatal illnesses as a society which have converted the American Dream into the American Nightmare. These illnesses are known as ‘Affluenza’ and ‘Credit-itis.’ Affluenza used to be referred to as ‘keeping up with the Jones’.’ We began to compare our status and worth as human beings based on whether we had as much or more stuff as our neighbors. Ramsey says that we spend an awful lot of money buying cars to impress people we will never meet. Our text, Enough, notes that the average house size was 1,660 square feet in 1973. The average today is 2,400 square feet. The estimated storage space in America is roughly 2.3 billion square feet. We are suffering from an acute illness of greed and desire for more and more things that are supposed to make us happy.
If Affluenza wasn’t bad enough, we also suffer from Credit-itis: buy now, pay later. Gone are the days and concepts of layaway and saving up. We can simply apply for a credit card at an exorbitant rate or repayment, buy what we need and never, never, NEVER pay off the debt. Credit card companies count on this – how else can they afford to advertise during the Big Game? The trap of credit card debt is easy to fall into and horribly difficult to break from. I can speak from experience on this one. As young, first time home owners we discovered the additional ‘benefit’ of a second mortgage. What it did for us was allowed us to borrow against our home to pay for more stuff we didn’t need to pay off our insurmountable and growing debt, only to have us go right back and use the credit card again. All we did was extend our credit limit and we paid dearly for it!
There is a spiritual issue going on here. We are humans and inherently broken in our souls. We do not have a natural tendency to follow the teachings of Jesus. We do not have a natural tendency to think of others. We are convinced in our spirits that we are the centers of our own world and everything we do is to satisfy our own desires. This is where we are as a society. “We sacrifice everything at the altars of comfort, convenience, safety, and pleasure.” Jesus tells us that the thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Aren’t you glad I finally got to the good news portion of this sermon? Aren’t you glad that we do not have to succumb to the teachings of our society? Aren’t you glad that Jesus presented a radical, counter-cultural alternative? Satan knows that if he can get you into debt, he can make you a slave. Jesus says you cannot serve two masters – you cannot love and serve God while you are loving and serving money. Mark 8:36 puts it this way, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”
It is time for a true transformation of the heart. It is time for us as Christians to stand against the loud and persistent voices of those saying you can have it all and you can have it now – THAT will make you happy. It is time for us to truly pray for God to transform us from the inside out so that our actions speak volumes to those caught in the web of selfish greed.
If you make enough money to drive a Rolls Royce but choose to drive a Prius, people will notice. If you live just above the poverty line but find contentment with what you have and generosity toward others, people will notice. If you are one of the millions drawn to the new IPhone 6 but choose to wait or be content with your very cool IPhone 5, people will notice. If you take the initiative to get control of your finances and refuse to use a credit card again but instead use cash to buy what you need instead of more stuff that you want, people will notice. If you find your generous side to donate money or items of food to those in need, people will notice.
You will notice that we are beginning our pledge drive next week. This church is active in the ministries that make a difference in the lives of our neighbors both near and far. Your support of Mayo UMC goes a long way to helping people with addictions, eliminating the deadly threat of malaria, support ministries on college campuses, teach our children how to put God first in their lives, and feed our hungry neighbors. Having a heart for giving begins with an acceptance of our natural tendency to want instant gratification, to realizing that the blessings of God rain down on us as we become a blessing to others.
We did not have enough people sign up for our Financial Peace University class this fall so we have postponed it until the spring. However, if you feel that God is leading you toward getting a better handle on your personal finances, contact us this week – there are other classes in our area and the option of taking the class online. As always, we as a church have committed to pay your enrollment fee as a ‘pay it forward’ kind of a deal so that once your finances are in order you may repay the cost back to the church or not. We feel so strongly about this program that we are making it a ministry of this church.
Today I would like us to spend some time in prayer together at the altar. Perhaps you are in need of healing from the dangerous diseases of affluenza and credit-itis. Perhaps you need physical healing for illness or injury. Perhaps you know of someone that is in need of a special touch from God – in body, mind, and spirit. When we come together as a body of Christ, we carry one another’s burdens, admit our faults, seek forgiveness from God, and vow to be the disciples God is calling each of us to be. So I invite you to come as the choir sings softly and the music plays, find a place at the altar to lay your burdens before God. If you are uncomfortable coming forward, that’s ok. Find a space and time with God right where you are. Let us pray.