New Year, New You: Money

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

This January, we’re taking a look at common new year’s resolutions – and what our faith has to say about them.  Last week we dealt with food, but I had to make a disclaimer at the start:  I’m a pastor, not a nutritionist.  This week’s topic requires a similar statement:  I’m a pastor, not a financial adviser.

Yep – this week we’re talking about money.

We sometimes get shy about talking money in church… but Jesus sure didn’t.  Of his 38 parables, 16 dealt with money or stuff.  That’s like 40%.  If I followed Jesus’ example, I’d be preaching about money twice a month or so.

Why did Jesus talk about money so much?

Surely part of the reason is because we have to have it.  Money is a fact of life.

My children are only beginning to understand this reality.  “Why do you have to pay bills?” they ask, wanting me to hurry up and come play.  So I explain that we need to pay bills to have internet for their tablets and groceries for our fridge and heat for our home.  Money makes all that happen… and we’re fortunate to be able to pay our bills, because some people lack the money to afford a safe place to sleep or to pay their hospital bills when they’re sick.

Money is something we have to have, and I’m grateful for the money we’ve got.

Money in and of itself is not a bad thing.  Money provides us with food and clothing and shelter.  Money can also do some pretty good “extra” stuff.  Here at Andrews UMC, money allowed us to build a Family Life Center that serves our community.  Without money there’d be no Welcome Table (free weekly meal), no basketball leagues, no “Fifth Quarters” after the football games.  Money makes it happen.

Yes, money is something we have to have… but the problem is, money can very easily have us.

When I’m paying the bills money can get a grip on me.  I start in a good mood, belly full of coffee and Saturday-morning pancakes.  Then I upload the recent bank transactions, check the credit card balance, write a few checks, look at the automatic withdrawals about to take place… and by the end, “happy Saturday Mary” has turned into “grumpy bill-paying Mary” who wants to know what was purchased at Ennis Home Center and why it was so necessary.

That’s money having me.

Oddly, the flip opposite also lets money have me.  I start paying bills in a good mood… and then end in an even better mood, because look at our savings account balance!  Maybe there’s even enough for those shoes I told myself I didn’t need.  As for that friend who needed some financial help… well…

That’s also money having me.

Neither of these is good behavior.  Unfortunately, the solution is not to give up money.  We have to have money… so our challenge is to have it without it having us.

Or, said another way:  to have money as though we didn’t have to have it.

Five times in today’s short Scripture passage Paul uses that phrase, “as though.”  “Let those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing…”  What Paul is saying is, yes, you live in the world, but don’t let the world absorb you into its value system.  Participate in the things of this life, like wives (and husbands) and mourning and rejoicing, but don’t forget that you also participate in life eternal.

The next two hit on the topic of money:  “…and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.”

Have possessions… but be as if you didn’t.  Deal with the world… but be as if you didn’t.

But that is easier said than done… because money is something we have to have.

John Wesley preached about money almost as often as Jesus did.  The culture of his time (mid- to late-1700s in England) didn’t just value getting rich; it saw a good number of people coming into wealth.  Sermons about money were likely touchy subjects (as they are today), but Wesley didn’t hold back.  His best-known sermon on the subject (“The Use of Money”) boils down to three easy-to-remember points that might help us have money without letting it have us.

You might expect the first of these to be something like, “Give to the church.”  But in a surprising move, Wesley says first to “earn all you can.”

Earning money is good thing, so go on and do it!  It feels rewarding when we get that paycheck, knowing we’ve worked and made something for ourselves.  But, Wesley said, don’t earn all you can by doing unethical things – either to others or to yourself.  Don’t get rich by harming others.  Don’t cheat the government.  Don’t work yourself to death.  In other words:  it’s good to make money, but certain ways of making money are bad.

Now on to Wesley’s second point about money, which is surely something about giving to church.

Nope!  “Save all you can,” Wesley says.

Saving means not living paycheck to paycheck, not spending every dollar we get as soon as it hits our hot little hands.  It’s a way of living within our means.  It’s being responsible – thinking to the future, and not wanting to be a burden on our kids (or whoever else) because we didn’t set some money aside.  One line of his sermon in particular cuts to my heart:  “Do not waste any part of so precious a talent merely in gratifying the desire of the eye by superfluous or expensive apparel, or by needless ornaments.”

Man, I love expensive apparel and needless ornaments.  But Wesley’s right… more than apparel and ornaments, I need savings.

Only in the third point does Wesley advise what you expect of a preacher:  Give all you can. 

Don’t let that make you think it’s third in importance, though.  Wesley saves the best for last, so to speak.  If you earn all you can and save all you can, and you stop there, it’s like you’ve done nothing at all.  God has made us stewards.  What we have isn’t intended to be ours alone, but more entrusted to us as caretakers.  So yes, earn; and yes, save; but most of all, give.  It’s what you’re designed to do.

Earn all you can.  Save all you can.  Give all you can.

That is a pretty good recipe for having money… without letting money have you.

But if you’re like me, you might need more concrete guidance.  I can’t literally save “all” and give “all.”  How much is enough?

That’s where a tried-and-true formula can help:  10/10/80.

This is far from original to me (English major, not Economics major here), but I’ve found it really helpful.  As soon as you’ve earned all you can for the week or month (or whatever your pay period is), take 10% and let that be your tithe (Biblical tradition of giving 10%) for the church offering.  Then take another 10% and put it in savings.

You’ve given.  You’ve saved.  Done.

We’ve been going by this for a number of years, and we’ve found that we can live pretty comfortably on that 80%.  Not everyone can – this 10/10/80 approach probably won’t work for anyone living below the poverty level.  But I think – and I checked this with an actual financial planner this week – I think most Americans can give 10/10/80 a whirl.  If it seems totally impossible, maybe you try out 5/5/90 to start.  And if it’s genuinely impossible, then save something and give something each time you’re paid – even if it’s just $1.

Because these practices do more than just feed our savings or fund the church.  They help our souls – they allow us to have money without being had by money.

Can you imagine a world where everyone had a healthy relationship with money?  How many of the world’s problems are caused by people who are “had” by money?

Don’t be one of them.  Have money… but live as though you didn’t have to have it.

May the Holy Spirit bless our efforts… and make it so.

Amen.

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