Sermon for Pentecost 18(c)
Amos 8:4-7 + Luke 16:1-13 + 1 Timothy 6:6-16
God has something to say to you today about money. Does that bother you at all? Money talk in church? It’s one of those personal areas that we don’t usually like anyone else to have an opinion about – even God. But he does have an opinion about it. More than that, he has a teaching about it, and also a warning. How true the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy are: People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
God doesn’t care about money. He cares about you and doesn’t want you to be ruined by money. And so we turn to God’s prophet Amos this morning to sound God’s warning for us. Amos shows us through Israel’s example that The Love of Money Leads to Terrible Things.
First, a little background on the Book of Amos. Amos was a shepherd and a fig farmer from the Southern Kingdom of Judah. But the Lord called him to take a break from shepherding and farming – to take a break from making money – and to go up to the Northern Kingdom of Israel around the year 750 BC in order to deliver a message to Israel – to warn them that they would be punished and permanently exiled from their homeland for all the many ways they had rejected the Lord as their God. One of those ways was their attitude toward money, and that sinful attitude led to terrible things.
It led, first of all, to a heart that hated God. Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?” You get the relationship between the New Moon and selling grain? Every New Moon – once a month, no matter what day it fell on, God’s law ordered Israel to close down their businesses and do no work, but instead come together for worship. The same thing was true for every Saturday – every Sabbath day. No work allowed. Which meant, no making money allowed.
You’d think the people would have appreciated a day of rest and worship of this good God who provided them with all they needed. But what God provided was never enough for them. Their love for money led them to hate this God who forced them to rest and worship him once a week and on every New Moon. They couldn’t wait for those days of worship to be done so that they could get on to their heart’s true desire: making more money.
Jesus said it himself: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Sure enough! The Israelites’ love for money meant hatred of God.
From there, it was a small step to more terrible things. Their love of money led to the abuse of their neighbor. And here, Amos lists a whole host of unethical business practices. 1) Skimping the measure; 2) Boosting the price 3) Cheating with dishonest scales; 4) Buying the poor and the needy – making almost slave labor out of them; 5) Selling the sweepings with the wheat – so that the chaff that had been beaten off the wheat and the dust on the ground would be swept up and added to the weight of the purchase. Anything goes in business practice, thought the Israelites – including the abuse of your neighbor. Business is business, right?
“Wrong!” says the Lord. God never commanded anyone to love his money, or even to make a profit. But God has commanded, in the two greatest commandments, that a man must love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and must love his neighbor as himself. Money is to be used for one purpose and one purpose alone: to serve the Lord as the Lord commands, which includes serving one’s neighbor. Money is never to be served, because money is never to become your god.
Now, not all business owners are dishonest like the Israelites were. Not all who are rich oppress the poor or take advantage of them. But some do. And God sees. Sometimes it’s actual dishonesty or cheating. Sometimes, it’s just called regular business practice in our capitalistic society, in which boosting the price far above what something is worth is standard practice. Someone will argue, “It’s worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.” Well, that’s what the Israelites were saying, too, but God calls it “trampling the needy.”
And when Amos talks about buying the poor with silver, I couldn’t help but think of the way some business owners contract illegal immigrants so that they don’t have to pay such high wages. So what if the government says it’s illegal? So what if the workers get abused or mistreated or not paid the full amount? It’s business! It’s about making money!
Of course, it goes both ways. Why do some cross the border illegally in the first place? To make money! Not just to survive – believe me, I know. In many cases, it’s to get richer, because the poor wages paid to them here in this country are worth a fortune in their country. So what if the government – and therefore, God – says it’s illegal? It’s business! It’s about making money! God will just have to understand.
See how the love of money leads to terrible things? God doesn’t matter. Your neighbor doesn’t matter. Money is what matters. Now, not many of you are business owners here. But you can all fall into this kind of greed in which your money becomes more important that your neighbor’s welfare, more important than God’s Word.
I wonder if you’ve ever thought to yourself what the Israelites thought – when will this church service be over so that I can get on to the things that are really important to me – like making money, or spending money, or enjoying the things that my money has bought? Or think about what career decisions or retirement decisions you’ve made. Where has God’s Word factored in? Or is serving the Lord an afterthought – something to be determined after you have all the money and material benefits you think are so important?
Notice, I’m not talking mainly about the money that you place in the offering plate. I’m talking about your heart and what occupies it. Because the love of money is nothing else than the love of self – self before God, self before your neighbor. We’re all guilty of that. The question is – won’t you repent of that and turn from it? Admit that your heart is a selfish place – at best, torn between serving God and serving money. At worst – content to serve money and keep God in the background.
Repent, because the love of money leads to terrible things. Can you think of anything more terrible than what God said to the people of Israel through Amos? The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.” That should send chills up your spine. Because if the Lord never forgets anything you have done, then you are lost forever, and on the day of reckoning, you will have all your sins recounted, one by one, and your heart will be laid bare for all to see – your devotion to self, your devotion to money, your lack of devotion to God and his Word, the ways you’ve taken advantage of your neighbor. And there will be only condemnation.
But in his mercy, God has stepped into history before that day – that day of reckoning – and called you to repent of your idolatries and believe in his Son, Jesus Christ. He is God’s forgetting place. The truth is, God wants to forget everything you have done, and so he sent His Son to do everything right for you, and to pay for your idolatries with his blood shed on the cross, blood that cancels the law’s accusations against you, His death that cancels the need for you to die eternally. His blood is the blood of a New Covenant in which you are right with God, not by using money correctly, but by faith in his name. God states the terms of that New Covenant in the prophet Jeremiah, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” God has sworn never to forget your sins – unless you are found in Christ. He alone is God’s forgetting place – where God has chosen to forget – and forgive – everything you have done and to remember everything that Christ has done for you.
You were covered with Christ in baptism. And if you have wandered into the love of money since then, repent and return to God’s promise in your baptism. Repent and believe the gospel you’re hearing now. Repent and receive the blood of the New Covenant here at the Sacrament of the Altar.
God’s forgiveness in Christ leads to a proper view of money – not as something to be acquired and certainly not as something to be served, but as a gift of God to be used only for the purposes he himself outlines in his Word. If God has won your heart through the sacrifice of His Son, then your wallet has been won for him, too.
Yes, offerings to the church are part of that as God directs you to support the one whom he has placed before you to preach the Gospel. Your offerings are also used to provide this place where people can be taught about God – through Bible classes, but also through the beauty of God’s house and through the loving care God’s people take to maintain God’s house. Your offerings are also used to support the spread of God’s Word in our church body, our synod, to prepare pastors and teachers for ministry, to support missionaries throughout the world.
But you serve God with your money in other ways, too, above and beyond your offerings. When you pay your taxes. When you provide for your family and for your extended family in their financial needs. When you care about your neighbor right here among our membership and offer the shirt off your back, if necessary, to help a brother or sister in need. And then you go out into the community or into the world as individual Christians and as you have been blessed with more than enough, you still have something to share with your neighbor, and you may even have something left to spend on your own enjoyment.
And when it comes time to think about your job or your income or your retirement – you have God’s direction to serve Him there, too, not yourself, not your own personal comfort or cravings – to serve God and to serve your neighbor with your whole life, heart included.
The love of money leads to terrible things, but the love of God for you in Christ Jesus leads to wonderful things – a proper use of God’s gift of money, but much more than that. The love of God for you in Christ Jesus grants you the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life and salvation before you spend a dime. Amen.