If you won the Powerball lottery tomorrow, what would you do? It’s up to $100 million or something like that. Nothing like the $600 million or whatever a few weeks ago, but a pretty nice sum. I don’t know about you, but that would certainly take care of my outstanding debts.
And so let’s just say you hit the jackpot next week. You suddenly have all this cash in your bank account. Money is no longer a problem for you.
Is your life going to be better? Is it going to be easier? Is all that stress just going to evaporate when you see your monthly statement? I don’t know.
When we lose control over it, money can lord over us, it has the power to keep us up at night, the power to entice us to break the law, the power to destroy marriages and relationships. Yet, we can’t live, we can’t exist in this world without money. Money is a powerful thing. It can do a lot of things. Good and bad.
Jesus understood this. Even back then, money was a central concern to the people. In the Bible, Jesus talks about money more than anything except the Kingdom of God. More than heaven and hell. 11 of his 39 parables deal directly with money—even more indirectly. 1 out of every 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke addresses money.
The Ten Commandments, which we hear today, speak to it as well: You shall not covet your neighbor’s property (that means, don’t be jealous of that fancy Corvette in the driveway next door). You shall not steal (That’s self-explanatory, I hope). You shall have no other gods before me.
(Which begs the question—how often do we worship our bank statements and the stock report and our budget sheets?)
God has lots to say about that. It is clear from the Bible that God is very concern with how we acquire, regard, manage and spend our money.
Yet, there are lots of people who get very uncomfortable when the church talks about money. And let’s be honest, some of that is for good reason. The church doesn’t always have a stellar track record when it comes to money. I mean, why do Lutherans exist in the first place—part of it was because of anger over how the pope in Rome was collecting and using money.
And we can look at Jesus’ actions in today’s gospel—driving out the vendors and the money changers from the temple—we can look at that say that money has no place in God’s house.
But Jesus is actually doing so much more, something so much more radical. The moneychangers were in the temple because that’s how the temple survived. The whole system was built around ritual sacrifices—you paid in order to make a sacrifice of an animal or something like that. It was like paying your ticket to get inside. And people were taught that the temple was the only place where God could be found, the only legitimate place of worship.
So perhaps you can understand Jesus’ anger here. It was essentially a pay-to-play setup. Jesus wasn’t calling for some kiosks to be removed to keep from cluttering up the sanctuary—no, Jesus was calling for the entire structure to be pulled down and raised up again on God’s terms.
It’s really not that hard to see that same dynamic at work today. It’s very tempting in the church to make it all about the cash—to put a ticket booth in the front door, swipe your card to enter. And even when we do things “right,” keeping it in the right perspective, we are constantly struggling with the question of what we do with what is entrusted to us. Are we using it to build up God’s kingdom or are we building up our own kingdom?
At the beginning of Lent, I invited you all to think about money, think about giving, in spiritual terms. I asked you to think about what God is calling you to do, how God is calling you to act. And in adult Sunday school, we raised a very provocative question: What would happen if we placed God in charge of our money? What if we handed over our wallet to Jesus?
When you go home today, think about that question. What would we buy differently, how would we give differently, how would we save differently? If Jesus looked at our budget—whether it’s for your household or this church or whatever—would he see a marketplace or a temple. Would God be at the center or would there be another God before him?
When we let Jesus in, though, something very dramatic happens. We start to regard our money differently. It’s scary at first, but the longer that goes on, the more liberating and life-changing it becomes. As a community, we begin to realize that God has given us everything we need. We start to see that God gives us all our daily bread. We become content with what we have—as a family, together.
And then, rather than coveting what the neighbor has, we begin to ask what the neighbor needs. Do they have enough to eat? Can they pay their heating bill? Can they afford a doctor’s visit?
Being content with what we have does not mean accepting our lot in life and keeping our mouths shut. No, that’s the system that those moneychangers perpetuate—that’s the pay-to-play scheme that still exists today. But letting Jesus in, letting Jesus clean things out, we open our heart’s to the generosity and love and mercy that only God can give.
Destroy it and raise it up! That’s Jesus’ call to us today. Building up our lives—including our financial lives—around Jesus means that we can let go of the things that hold us back from loving God and our neighbor.
Placing God at the center to the point that we give away our possessions, means that we can declare that our stuff does not own us. Our savings accounts to do not own us. Our tax returns do not own us. What we drive does not own us. What we wear does not own us. Our credit card debt does not own us. Our student loans do not own us. Our mortgages do not own us.
Because we were bought with a price, not with silver or gold, but with something much more precious—the body and blood of Christ. That is our daily bread, and that is all we need.
Let us pray:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace; that is enough for me.