We try though, don’t we? Serve two masters. God on Sunday, Money on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, maybe even Saturday. And you know what it’s like to have two masters, two bosses with opposite agendas. You’re like one of those rubber Gumby dolls, stretched to the point of snapping like an overextended rubber band.
You can’t serve both God and Money; one or the other is going to have to give. And it’s not a matter of “putting God first,” as we sometimes hear people say. God doesn’t want to be first among our gods; He wants to be alone, in the center of everything, including our money.
“In God we trust,” it says on our money, at least the last time I checked. I noticed that the new coins now have that marginalized to the edge along with “e pluribus unum.” The first round from the mint accidentally left that writing off. Is it in God or in gold that we trust? You can’t serve them both.
It’s a matter of idolatry, what we fear, love, trust above all things. What occupies the center of our being. The love of money (not money itself, but the love of it), is the root of all sorts of evil. Greed, the lust for what you don’t have, the heart unbuckled from God, is idolatry. No, we don’t bow down and worship the almighty dollar, but we sure make sacrifices to it. And the thing about idols is that they will always let you down in the long run. Idols always consume their worshippers. The stock market dips, the pension plan goes south, and the almighty dollar doesn’t look so omnipotent any longer, does it?
The key to all this is getting master and servant straight. You are masters of your money and servants of God. As holy priests in Christ’s royal priesthood, you offer your sacrifices (including your gifts of money) to God. As masters, you order your money to do your bidding. To paraphrase Luther on this point, you tell Misters Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant, and Franklin: “Go help that poor man over there” or “Go and feed that hungry family.” You are masters of your Money.
One indication that the tables have turned and that you are enslaved to Money is the inability to let it go, holding it with a death grip instead of the dead hand of faith. Luther said that the wallet is the most sensitive organ of the human body. People are quick to protect it when someone gets too close. “The church is always asking for money.” Well, the church wouldn’t have to ask if we didn’t hold it so tightly.
One way or another, God loosens that death grip we have on Money. Sometimes it’s one finger at a time, teaching us that we do not live by bread alone, or even money alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. And the amazing thing is that the deader we are to Money and to all things in our possession, the freer we are to enjoy them, to put them to use, to press it into service.
Jesus told His disciples a parable about a crooked money manager who was wasting his master’s possessions. We’re not sure exactly what this means, whether he was embezzling funds or just not doing his job. Whatever the case, his master fired him and told him to surrender the books. Realizing that he was about to hit the unemployment lines, the manager called up some of his masters biggest debtors and started refinancing their loans. He had to work quickly, before the boss found out. But for a narrow window of opportunity, he could write discounted loans, cash in on his master’s good name, and win some friends.
Risky but clever. He knew his master would honor the loans. He knew the customers would praise his master for his kindness. And he knew he had nothing to lose. That was the key. He was dead to his job and had nothing to lose. And perhaps for the first time in his bungled career, he actually did some genuine business. And the master even praised him for his shrewdness, how he turned a loss into a win/win situation.
In a way, it’s a picture of faith isn’t it? We cash in on the Father’s infinite mercy in His Son Jesus. We’re dead – dead in sin, dead in death. The thing is, the dead have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Being dead, God makes us alive in Christ Jesus. “By grace you are saved through faith.” Recognizing that we are dead in ourselves, dead to the world, dead to sin, and dead to our Money frees us to be masters rather than servants. We are servants of Christ, who made us His own, who baptized us into His death. We are priests to God, and masters of the money and riches God places into our hands.
In another place, Jesus told a parable about a man who gave each of his servants a sum of money and told them, “Go and do some business.” They all came back and gave a report on how they did. But one servant came back with his coin all shiny and new, no fingerprints. He’d wrapped it in a cloth and stuck it in the sock drawer to keep it safe. And the master was mad. He didn’t say, “Keep this thing nice and shiny and pure.” He said, “Do business.”
You can only take the risk of “doing business” with the gifts God gives you when you hold them with a dead hand of faith not a death grip of unbelief. The dead have nothing to lose. The deadbeat money manager had nothing to lose, and only in his deadness was he free to do business. And so Jesus says, “Use your money, your worldly wealth, to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone (and it will be gone because you can’t take it with you), they will welcome you into eternal dwellings. Invest in eternity, where you have a permanent home. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and the rest will fall into place. God knows what you need even before you ask.
Trust looms large here. We say we trust God with the big stuff – eternal life, forgiveness, salvation. Good. I pray we do, because there is no one else who can handle those things. But what about the little stuff? The day to day stuff? Don’t you think that the same God who cares for the birds and the flowers and the bugs won’t also care for you? Now that doesn’t mean quit your job or quit looking for a job and sit around waiting for bread to fall from heaven. It won’t.
But it does mean that everything you have, including the wealth represented by your money, is a gift from God to you, a trust given you by the Giver of all good things. You are a steward of that trust. And you really can’t lose, because those who have died to the Law are free from the Law and “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” They only way you can lose at this is when you let your money master you. Show it who’s the boss. And the best way in the world to do that, the best way to exercise your dead hand of faith is to give it away, to let go of it in some way that does not directly benefit you.
That’s why God’s people, both in the old and the new covenants, have always had opportunities to give – to exercise the freedom of faith. In the old testament, some, like the tithe, were mandated by way of law. In the new testament, there is freedom; “free-will offerings,” given freely by hearts set free. No laws, no rules, no regulations. In freedom. The freedom that comes from sins forgiven in Jesus. The freedom that flows from having died with Christ and being buried with Him in Baptism. The freedom of a heart that fears, loves, trusts in God above all things.
You can’t serve two masters. You’ll wind up hating one and loving the other. Love your money, and you’ll wind up hating God. Be devoted to your money, and you’ll wind up despising God. It works the other way too, when you try to serve them both. Love God and you will hate money; be devoted to God and you will despise money. And that is a distortion too. Money is the gift, God is the Giver. You are servants of God; you are masters of money.
Of course, the old Adam, the sinner in all of us, just shakes his head and says, “You’ve got to be kidding. I have bills to pay, a mortgage to maintain, kids to feed, college tuition on the horizon.” He needs to be dunked in Baptism and drowned. Yes, there are real anxieties and issues when it comes to money. But we deal with them as masters not slaves. You are in charge of your money, and God is in charge of you.
And that’s good, because in the end when the books are closed, and the property gets parceled out to our heirs, there is an eternal dwelling for us, a permanent home, mortgage paid in full by the Son of God who gave His entire life to give you life forever.
That’s freedom, dear friends in Christ. And for freedom, Christ has set you free.
In the name of Jesus, Amen