We have an interesting relationship with money, don’t we? We live in a culture that is completely DRIVEN by the accumulation of wealth and instant gratification. In 2016 the average household debt in the U.S. was $137,063. That’s almost $13 trillion in debt. We borrow money and spend money we don’t have to get things we don’t need. Today’s new homes are 1,000 square feet larger than in 1973. Meanwhile, the average household size has been declining, from 3.01 persons per household on average in 1973 to a new record low of 2.54 persons per household last year. We are smaller families living in bigger houses. A study from 10 years ago showed that about 60% of those whose assets ranged from $1 million to $5 million don’t consider themselves wealthy. We are the wealthiest we’ve ever been in the history of humanity, but we don’t see ourselves as rich.
Today’s wealth-driven culture has led to the I-centered culture. Individualism over the community. Me over you. And all this reminds me of a sermon from the past. The founder of Methodism John Wesley gave a powerful sermon in 1789 titled “The Use of Money,” where he makes three biblical conclusions about money. That is, that we ought to:
1. Make all you can
2. Save all you can
3. Give all you can
John Wesley wasn’t against people having money, nor did he think that money was evil. What mattered most was what people did with their money. For Wesley, “money is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked.”
I believe these three points by Wesley and today’s passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy can all be summarized by three words:
Sometimes when it comes to money, LESS IS MORE.
1 Timothy 6:6-10New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that[a] we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
Thursday October 5, The New York Times publishes a story detailing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein. Since the publication, the total number of accusers go beyond 80. At the root of this “Weinstein ripple effect” is PEOPLE BEING OBJECTIFIED. People being seen as objects and not fully human. And we as the church cannot brush this off and go “Oh well, that Hollywood. They have nothing to do with us.” Because it has everything to do with us. This hyper-sexualized culture in the entertainment industry directly correlates to the normalization of sexual objectification in our own communities.
We are often swayed by what we see in the physical appearances in people. Or take it further, we let what we think other people see in us sway how we think of ourselves. As we are saturated by an objectification culture, we often find ourselves objectifying others and even objectifying ourselves. Our gaze and the gaze of people carries so much weight in the decisions we make in our lives. What we wear. How we talk. What we eat. Where we live. What car we drive. What makeup you put on. We give so much power to the gaze of people and yet it is like the paper currency not backed by gold: There is no real value to it.
There is, however, a gaze that matters. The gaze of absolute truth. The gaze of perfection. The gaze that determines our salvation. The gaze of God. And in verse 7 God reveals the rubric of his gaze; the angle from which he looks at us: “the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The one true gaze that ACTUALLY matters does not see us like a piece of meat. The one true gaze does not objectify us. The one true gaze does not look on the outward appearance, but he looks on the heart.
1 Samuel 16:6-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.”[a] 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
It is so much easier to be with people that look like you and all agree on every issue; and demonize people who aren’t like you and don’t think like you. It is much harder and messier to see people as human beings, build relationship with them, and listen to their stories. But that is what Jesus did! He didn’t demonize people but developed relationship with people; especially those who were the outcasts of the society, and demonized by others. Once you have a relationship with a person you disagree with, the issues might become messier, but it also becomes much closer to the truth.
Pastor James Lee of Conklin United Methodist Church begins a new message series “Stop the Madness” in this sermon given on November 5, 2017. During this series, we will be focusing on restoring faith in humanity and to address the growing polarization in our society.
Ephesians 6:10-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[b] struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.