Ordinary Sunday 18 (4-8-2019)

Money Can’t Buy Me Love

I don’t think I’m the only one, but sometimes it’s hard to tell because we don’t often talk about this. My problem is money. It’s not that I don’t have enough. It’s just that I often think and believe and act like I don’t have enough: enough money, enough time, enough stuff.

More than this, I live in a culture that regularly tells me I don’t have enough. Television commercials, billboards, and the internet all shout out at me, not only that I’m insufficient, incomplete, and not quite right on my own, but they also promise me that if I only buy the product they’re pushing, be it a tube of toothpaste, new laptop, or better car, then I’ll be complete. 

Our culture equates consumption with satisfaction, possessions with happiness, and material wealth with the good life, and all too often, I believe it. Now, I know it’s not true. In fact, I know it’s a downright lie. Not only can I rest on the multiple biblical proscriptions warning about greed, but I also can cite the studies that measure national happiness: the wealthiest country in the world, the United States, ranks in the bottom ten percent with regard to reported happiness. 

In my own life, I know I have a lot more money and stuff now than I did forty years ago, and yet am no more happy than I was then. So I know that, as a rule, money doesn’t make a person happy.  Yet deep down, I still secretly believe that I’ll be the exception to that rule.

It’s kind of like I have two sound tracks running in my head. My stated beliefs are represented by the Beatles’, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” You remember:

I’ll buy you a diamond ring my friend if it makes you feel alright/ I’ll get you anything my friend if it makes you feel alright/ ‘Cause I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.

At the same time, Pink Floyd’s “Money”probably catches the spirit of my actual life more than I’d like to admit:

Money, get away / Get a good job with more pay /And your O.K./ Money, it’s a gas / Grab that cash with both hands / And make a stash.

This ambivalence scares me as I reflect upon Jesus’ parable about the rich fool, and simultaneously, it makes me hopeful. What’s scary, of course, is that I identify a little too closely with the rich guy. After all, he’s not a cheat, or a thief, or even particularly greedy. He’s just worked hard and made a lot of money, kind of like most of us dream about. His mistake, in the end, doesn’t have to do with wealth; rather, he goes astray by believing that his wealth can secure his future, can make him independent from others, from need, from God.

Our possessions tend to do this for us. I catch myself dreaming that, if I just had a little more in the bank or if the mortgage were paid off or if my superannuation got better returns or if I won Tatts, everything would be okay. The allure of money is the creation of an illusion of independence. It promises we can transcend the everyday vulnerabilities and needs that remind us that we’re mortal, created beings who are ultimately and always dependent upon others and, most especially, upon God.

Now here’s where I get hopeful: I honestly don’t think I’m all that alone with this struggle. This week, I’ve heard in church a reading that describes my plight. It’s so darn hard to have a conversation about money, because most of us have pretty much bought into the cultural assumption that equates money with personal worth, so we don’t talk about it, lest we discover we’re not worth all that much. But wouldn’t it be great if in church, surrounded by people I know and trust, we might actually have a conversation about all this stuff? Can you imagine? A frank conversation so that we can discover that we’re not alone, we can hear and learn from some of the shared wisdom of the community, and we can find some support in resisting the false promises – actually a false gospel – our culture makes about money?

Rudyard Kipling gave an address to the graduating medical class of McGill University in Canada, in which he said, “You’ll go our from here, and very likely you’ll make a lot of money. One day you’ll meet someone for whom money means very little. Then you will know how poor you are.”

More than at any other time in our history, we are living in a time marked by the need to have things: to have a large superannuation payout, to have a house, to have a car or three, to have a job… even a second job. To ‘have’ seems to symbolise our way of life. In a sense, we are what we have. At least that’s what many believe. However, I am buoyed by the fact that some people are actually discovering the truth of which Kipling spoke, and they have asked themselves an inevitable question: ‘if I am what I have and I lose what I have, who then am I?’

Lost for an answer, and realising the impoverishment of their luxurious life styles, they want to move away from ‘I am what I have’ to another lifestyle: ‘I am what I can be’. This is not an occasion to give you a judgmental sermon about the evils of money or the injustice of an economic system in which you are able to have more than your fair share of the world’s resources at the expense of the poor, or the immorality of the practice of political parties to tickle our hip-pocket nerves at election time and bribe us with more stuff. I could, but you already know those things. Rather, today is an occasion to proclaim the good new that there is another way, a way back, once we have realised how poor we are in the midst of our relative wealth.

Theologian and biblical scholar, G.K.Chesterton said that when we “cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing; we worship anything.” And so in the place of God, we erect idols to receive our praise and adoration. If materialism is a problem, it is only a problem because we left God out of our lives, and money was there to fill the void.

Money and material things are not a problem; they are not evil. In fact, they are very necessary in this world. We might like to blame them, but they do not just jump in the way of worshipping God with our whole being. Rather, they fill the gap when we stop looking to God. So let’s put the problem where it belongs: with us; not with material things, but with the lack of spiritual things in our lives.

Colossians tells us, “Set your minds on the things that are above,…” In the end, the Beatles were right: money can’t buy us love. Lord, help us not just remember that, but also live it. Amen.

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