Giving for Life Quiet Day: Talk 3 – Dethroning Mammon – The Challenge of Money

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6.19-34)

“You cannot serve both God and Mammon”. It’s the teaching of Jesus taken straight from the Sermon on the Mount so there really is no wriggle room here. So just what is he saying?

Mammon, first, is an old word that Jesus would have used for wealth or riches. It may ultimately be derived from a root meaning “that in which one trusts”. It isn’t the name of a God or being, except by extension as a personification in later use. So the translation I began with is right to get straight to the point, drop the opaque word Mammon, and say we can’t worship both God and money.

Why is that? I went on to quote the following section of the Sermon on the Mount because as so often in the Scriptures, the context gives the answer. It’s about where we put our trust. Jesus points out that attempts to featherbed ourselves financially against the troubles of life are ultimately futile. They may in fact make us more anxious not less, and crucially prevent us from putting our trust in God, who is the one who can actually give us peace. At that point trusting in money moves beyond being just silly to being outright spiritually dangerous.

Now perhaps you can see why I’ve spent most of the time in the previous talks trying to build up our trust in God and our relationship with him. Our attitude to money is going to be a critical test of our Christianity, our discipleship of Christ. Our task is to “Dethrone Mammon”, so that money does not divert us from God but is put in its proper place as a tool to be used in his service. Let’s be clear: money is not bad in itself; but it absolutely needs to be used in the right way or it will be very bad for us.

It’s no surprise then that that phrase “Dethroning Mammon” was the title the Archbishop of Canterbury chose for his Lent Book this year, very unusually written by himself not commissioned in. I hope you’ll read the book and take it to heart. Just listing the chapter titles will give you some sense of the meatiness of the issues he explores:

What we see we value
What we measure controls us
What we have we hold
What we receive we treat as ours
What we give we gain
What we master brings us joy

Here is part of what the Archbishop says in his Introduction:

“In so many human crises money plays a part. Debt and desire for things enslaves many people I know, and draws them into lives that are in the service of Mammon, a master they neither choose nor want, but who tricks them by playing on insecurities, on good intentions and on reasonable ambitions. At a national and international level, every crisis seems to end in talk about economics – not economics as a tool in the service of human flourishing, but as an end in itself. It seems that in many eyes, and often in mine, personal finances that are in good shape, or a national or global economy doing well, are not merely a means to improve people’s lives, but are seen as the goal in pursuit of a good life. That approach is incompatible with serving Christ.”

We will look at some specific behaviours that we might want to adopt in the next session. The question for now is one of motivation, of the heart. Who are we serving? How is God’s DNA expressing itself in this crucial test case? If you have ever found yourself wanting to still hoard the church’s money that has been saved for a rainy day even when the rain is coming in, for instance, then think now what money for you is actually for and where your trust lies.

Or perhaps even more challenging, how do you react to this true story told by a former Director of Christian Aid:

“A Parsee friend of mine had a grandmother who was very, very rich. Living in Karachi in the last years of the nineteenth century, she was inevitably surrounded by poor people who hoped for the odd crumbs that might fall from her table. A deeply religious woman, she was so generous that her family easily foresaw the early disappearance of the family fortune. They stopped her carrying money so she couldn’t give it away. They ensured that no poor person was allowed to enter the house so she wouldn’t give away the precious furniture and priceless ornaments. They even locked her cupboards so she could not give away her own clothes. One day a toothless old woman somehow managed to wheedle her way into the drawing room and confronted the lady of the house. ‘A sari, a sari,’ she cried, ‘Just an old sari. This rag is all I have.’ ‘I cannot give you a sari,’ the lady of the house explained, ‘for they have locked all the cupboards. But if you don’t mind washing this … ,’ and she took off the richly decorated silk sari she was wearing and presented it to the old woman. She thus offended her family as much by appearing undressed before a stranger as by continuing her profligate generosity.”

It’s time to ponder where we are in how we deal with money, and whether there are things that have got the wrong way up that we need to put right – dethroning Mammon, enthroning God. Are we making money an end in itself, or using it to serve the good purposes of God and the common good of his people?

Word document of all four talks: