University of St Andrews, Fife
Sermon preached on Sunday 29 September 2019
Texts: Jeremiah 32. 1-3a, 6-15; 1 Timothy 6.6-19
I bring greetings to St Andrews from my colleagues at Churches Together in England, CTE. We are part of the UK Churches Together family of ecumenical instruments set up by the churches to facilitate and encourage our journey together in unity, in fulfilment of the prayer of Jesus, ‘Father, make them one as we are one, that the world may believe…’ I never tire of reminding Christian sisters and brothers everywhere I go that there is only one church in the world – THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST. Like all families the unity of our diverse, some say fragmented, church remains a fragile entity, often falling short of the ideal; but as followers of Christ we continue to journey together even in our weakness, towards and into the unity God has given us in Jesus. I greatly enjoy my vocation in ecumenism, particularly my central focus working alongside those churches that self-identify as Pentecostal and Charismatic as they seek to walk in unity among themselves and between them and other Christian families, so that together the whole church can engage in the mission of God for the salvation of the world for which Christ died, was resurrected and lives forever. This my brothers and sisters is the high calling to which we have all been called, and we do well to so love one another, live in peace and unity, that the world may be moved to look at the way we treat each other and say, ‘Oh how they love one another’, and be drawn into that same love of God in Christ
Today’s lectionary readings engage us on the topic of money and wealth. I wonder who is the wealthiest person in here today? And who is the poorest? Who has the largest student loan? Who has no student loan at all…don’t need one? No need to identify ourselves at all, but we each might reflect a little bit about our relationship with money. At one level, money is merely a medium of exchange usually in the form of coins, banknotes and promissory notes; and wealth the abundance of said money and possessions. Money and wealth though carry a significance, influence and power that extends well beyond pounds and pence. The writer of Ecclesiastes may be a little over the top in saying, money answers every call, since it is generally agreed that ‘money can’t buy you love’. It nevertheless emphasises the essential nature of money in our world in which it is almost impossible to live without it.
Our New Testament text warns not against money but against the love of money. If our relationship with money is an intoxication rooted in its acquisition for its own sake or for ill-use rather that for the good it can do for self and others, we are headed towards trouble. Such material love is a root of all kinds of evil. The ‘get rich quick or die trying’ ideology of Rapper 50Cents, does not come from God’s money guide. We have seen the movie, we know how that story ends: it ends in injuries, deaths, family and community distress. It ends in our children ruining and losing their lives in county lines drug dealing. This danger of falling in love with money is not only an entrapment for individuals, but for groups, corporations, nations and continents. When we love money over fellow human beings we dehumanise for profit, we deface the image of God in the other in favour of our first love, money and wealth. The call to us is to root our affections in love for God, and neighbour then money and wealth become our servant not our master or tool of oppression. The root of a tree determines the quality of the fruit the tree bears. Infected roots bring forth infected fruits.
Our Old Testament text offers an example of how money can be routed prophetically. We don’t know where Jeremiah got his wealth, but he clearly had some. Enough to purchase a piece of land in his war torn country as a sign that he believed that good would eventually return to Judah after the ravages of war, occupation and forced exile. What’s more, Jeremiah was in prison when he made the transaction; locked up by the king for saying, ‘thus says the Lord’. It required a leap of faith to see beyond his present personal and national circumstance and to invest prophetically for a future not many could have envisaged…a time when God’s favour would return and ‘Houses and fields and vineyards shall be bought again in this land’. Prophetic speculation we might call it. Even in times and situations which are less than ideal, money can still be put to good and sometimes prophetic uses.
I am so excited by the work your neighbour Glasgow University is doing to interrogate the historic roots of the money that funded them. They discovered the institution received significant financial support from people whose wealth was derived, in part, from slavery, and as an act of restorative justice have entered into an understanding with the University of the West Indies to raise and spend £20 million pounds over the next twenty years to support the descendants of enslaved Africans whose ancestors were exploited and used to create some of the wealth that has helped Glasgow University to be what it is today. There’s something prophetic about this action, and I for one would love to see more like it.
I believe that if there is a group of people in the world whose relationship with money should be discerning it is us the followers of Jesus. We know that money rooted in exploitation and greed feeds undesirable ends. We know that even in adversity our money can help point a prophetic way forward towards restoration and flourishing for that which was wasted. Just maybe our world would benefit from a demonstration of godly relationship between the r-o-o-t and r-o-u-t-e of money. Individual Christians and churches and Christian societies could prayerfully consider how best we can model this. A people set free from the worship of the idol of money to live in worship and praise of the one and only Creator, can humbly show to the world how money can be used for good. Ecumenically, as the people of God together, the Church of God here in Scotland, the United Kingdom, and around the world we own millions, indeed billions; were we to examine the roots of the money we have God will give us wisdom of the most useful routes our money might go to give glory to God and benefit our fellows.
By way of a personal doxology, I am a descendant of enslaved Africans who endured the Transatlantic Slave Trade, chattel plantation slavery and colonialism. I am also a follower of Jesus in whose name we meet today. I am committed as one of the people of God, all made in the image of God, members of the one holy catholic church, to go forward in a spirit of reconciliation, restitution, reparation, justice and love to repair our broken world and point to God in Jesus Christ who offers salvation from sin and sin’s consequences. In the name of the one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.