The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s041g14   Sunday 8  2/3/2014

'You cannot serve God and wealth’  Matthew 6.24

I suspect that by far the majority of sermons on wealth have focussed on the monetarily rich in this world - people like Bill Gates, David Koch, Michael Bloomberg, Georgina Rinehart, Rupert Murdoch & etc. (1)   Yet the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2) show us that the fabulously wealthy are quite willing and able to do enormous good as well.

For most of us ‘mere mortals’, sermons on avoiding the love of money become an exhortation to not envy those who are wealthier than we are and to be generous, especially when it comes to giving to the church!   They tell us to accept that we are not very wealthy and therefore of little importance and influence, but we can atone for this by giving sacrificially to the church.

But Jesus was talking to and confronting the orthodox and the devout of his day, not the movers and shakers in secular society.   Jesus was talking to the religious hierarchy of his day who considered others - the poor, unimportant and irrelevant - as people who could best atone for this by giving sacrificially to their own version of orthodoxy.   In the parallel passage in Luke it says: 'The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him.’  (3)

Jesus came, not with a message to secular society, to become religious and to give their ‘ill-gotten' gains away to the poor - but with a message to the religious, to give up their religious riches and become human amongst others.   For the salvation of this world is achieved not by the re-direction of capital - from entrepreneurial initiatives to direct giving to the poor and needy, but by the recognition that we are all in this together.

This is a daily reality before us all in post-earthquake Christchurch as we commemorate the third anniversary of the most devastating one on February 22 2011.   For the record, there have been 4332 earthquakes magnitude 3+ in a radius of 100km of the CBD since the first big one on 4th September 2010.   (538 magnitude 4+, 61 mag 5+ and 4 mag 6+.)   It is amazing to see hundreds of kilometres of old earthenware sewer pipe, slowly but surely being dug up and replaced with reinforced plastic.   While we personally have merely been inconvenienced; many, many people are still living in damaged houses unsure of what to do and what will happen to the little part of the world which has been their home, into which they have poured their life savings and which has been their community for decades.   Of course there are many worse off - in Haiti, in Sendai, in Tacloban, in Tonga, the list goes on and on.   In Christchurch we face the dilemma daily, no doubt no differently than elsewhere - how do we best proceed - how do we balance the need for big infrastructure projects to replace the city - providing work and prosperity - as well as attending to those living in damaged homes?   Personally we continue to live in the extensively damaged eastern side of Christchurch but in a little pocket that has been unscathed - but each and every day we ride our motorcycles to work through suburbs which were once stable and settled subdivisions, now mostly abandoned - prey to looters, graffiti artists and arsonists.  Our motorcycles dodge the potholes so much easier than cars!

In the 'Guidelines for Ethical Ministry’ in our diocese (4) it states: 'We will not abuse our position by taking advantage of those we minister to for purposes of personal, institutional, political or financial gain’ - so our task as church cannot be institutional gain for the church - this is plainly unethical. 

Christchurch was initially settled as a model Church of England outpost.  The Anglican Cathedral was situated in Cathedral Square in the centre of the CBD.   The Roman Catholics were relegated to the back blocks - the industrial quarter in Barbadoes St - and the Presbyterians banished to Dunedin 350kms to the south.   Readers in the northern hemisphere may read this as 350kms north - significantly a not dissimilar distance from London to Edinburgh.   It doesn’t require much imagination to realise that the ‘Church of England’ in those days found it convenient to love their wealth.

When we quote Jesus saying: 'You cannot serve God and wealth’ it can come across as if we, the church, have the definitive answers to the world's dilemmas, and we need to say loudly and unequivocally - ‘No we don’t’.   The answer to the world’s dilemmas is not that everyone become ‘christian’ like us; the answer to the world’s dilemmas become at least possible when the church becomes human like everyone else.  Or, to put it the other way around, the world’s dilemmas remain incomplete and unachievable while the church clutches on to her delusion of superiority and entitlement.

So I interpret these words: We cannot serve God and wealth as: We cannot serve God and the Church.  We as church serve people and in serving people we recognise that everyone else will have a different contribution to make to serving others, and that each and everyone of those answers are valid, and that we can only contribute to progress by accepting the contribution of others rather than insisting on our own solution and demanding others provide the wherewithal to make our personal solution effective.

Each and every day I ‘loiter with intent’ in the wards and clinics of the hospital, thinking how miraculous things are achieved by doctors, nurses, ancillary and support staff day after day, all the while conscious of how little a contribution I make to what is happening, just hoping to affirm the patients, the staff and the process.

I continue to reflect on our ‘holy communion’ which is defined more by who are not allowed to eat and drink, those who are not forgiven, those who are excluded and condemned - and there are millions of these!   So the question arises - if we give our holy communion away to the multitudes, will there be anything left for us to eat and to drink?   If we give away our robes of righteousness will we end up naked?   We as the church need to believe these words of comfort: 'do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear’.   The Holy Communion is not about bread and wine and fine white dresses, but about the inexhaustible riches when different people come together and feed off each other’s strengths.

I am grateful to the 'Kissing Fish' Facebook page for bringing this lovely piece by Jacob Nordby to my attention: 'Beatitudes for the Weird' (for I think there are few, if any, who escape this blessing :-)

'Blessed are the weird people -
        poets, misfits, writers, mystics
    heretics, painters & troubadours ..
        for they teach us to see the world through different eyes

'Blessed are those who embrace the intensity of life’s pain and
pleasure, for they shall be rewarded with uncommon ecstasy.

'Blessed are ye who see beauty in ugliness,
for you shall transform our vision of how the world might be.

'Blessed are the bold and whimsical,
for their imagination shatters ancient boundaries of fear for us

'Blessed are ye who are mocked for unbridled expression of
love in all its forms, because your kind of crazy is exactly that
freedom for which the world is unconsciously begging.

'Blessed are those who have endured breaking by life, for they
are the resplendent cracks through which the light shines.' (5)

3. Luke 16.14
4. E32.1.4
5. and