Sermon Series: The Economics of Jesus
“Bookkeeping in Heaven”
Sunday, January 10, 2010
I want to share with you some very good news. I got a letter this week from Dr. Clarence Carter who is the Director of the Department of Human Services here in the District. You know that one of our goals here at Foundry is to end chronic homelessness in Washington by 2014.
Dr. Carter wrote to express his appreciation for our role in advocating for federal funding for permanent supportive housing in DC.
In the letter he says that we are on target to create enough permanent supportive housing that we will achieve a 49% reduction in chronic homelessness by the end of next year, 2011.
I think this is just amazing. I want to say a word of thanks to our DC Department of Human Services, Dr. Carter, Laura Zeilinger, who heads up the permanent supportive housing initiative and whom we have honored here, Jack Evans, our Council member, our Foundry WIN team and Walk-in Mission volunteers, Sandwich 1000+, everybody who is part of homeless ministries, and, of course, Jana Meyer. This is just amazing.
Breakthroughs happen. This is what I want us to remember, when the Spirit moves, and people open to the Spirit move with the Spirit, breakthroughs happen.
We are beginning a new series on the Economics of Jesus. We have just a few minutes to start to get into it today.
Jesus lived in a money economy. Maybe more people lived off of the economic grid than today, but money was pretty much a part of everybody’s life even then. It is my guess that the Christ could not have come until there was a money economy, but don’t quote me on that.
According to the Gospels, Jesus and his disciples had a treasury. They had a treasurer (John 12:16). They had donors, mostly women, who supported them (Luke 2:3).
They lived and participated in a money economy.
Jesus seems to have owned no real estate. When Jesus is quoted in Matthew and Luke as saying, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head," this is interpreted as meaning that Jesus had no home (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58). But at least some of his disciples did own homes. Mark 1:29 says that Simon Peter and Andrew owned a home.
Jesus did own what may have been an expensive robe. It was valuable enough that the soldiers gambled to see who would get it after he was executed (John 19:23-4).
And Jesus did like parties. He was not an ascetic. The Gospels tell about him attending a lot of parties and some people called him “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34).
Jesus told parables that were pretty sophisticated economically. They sometimes sound pretty capitalistic. You remember the parable of the talents? Three servants were given money to manage by their master. Two of them are rewarded for investing in the stock market while a third was punished for putting the money in a no-interest account (Matt. 25:13-23).
Jesus tells some amazing economic parables.
Listen to this one: There’s a manager who is about to be fired by the owner of the business. So the manager settles the loans people owe the owner for pennies on the dollar, so that he will have people who owe him when he is unemployed. The owner praises the manager for his shrewdness and the point of the parable seems to be that we ought to use our financial resources in this life so that we will make friends who will vouch for us when the decision is made as to whether we get into heaven or not (Luke 16:3-13).
Jesus talked about money and economics a lot, but reading the Gospels and understanding the way Jesus thought about money is no simple task. I hope you will wrestle with the Gospels on the topic of money with me between now and Lent.
One of my favorite teachings of Jesus about money is Matthew 6:19-21.
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.
Wherever you invest yourself, your affections will follow. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What you spend your resources and money on, is what you will come to care about.
I heard Al Gore get this wrong in a presidential debate once. He said, “My faith tradition teaches, wherever your heart is, there your treasure will be also.”
That’s the way you’d think it would be. We spend our money on what we care about, but Jesus says the exact opposite. He says we come to care about what we spend our money on.
You want to own a home? I lived in parsonages for many years and really wanted to own a home and now I do. How many know that it is possible for the home you wanted to own to come to own you?
You want savings. Savings, it seems to me, are a good thing. John Wesley thought so. But our desire to have more and more savings can come to own us.
So Jesus says, “Do not accumulate houses and stock and bonds on earth where everything eventually perishes but in heaven where things are eternal.”
The standard interpretation of this is that we should use our money to do good deeds so that we will get points in heaven. This is part of the meaning, I suppose.
But when Jesus talked about heaven, he wasn’t just talking about where we go when we die. He was talking about the quality of life on earth God wants us to have. Heaven is wherever and whenever we are living the way God wants us to live.
I think what Jesus was really suggesting is that we should invest ourselves in those things that we can not buy: Work we love to do. People. Beauty. Music. Art. Caring. Justice.
All these things are eternal. They never die.
I don’t think it is so much about money exactly. Some people can do the work they love and earn lots of money. Having lots of money has its own problems, however. More of us think we’d like to be rich than would enjoy it if it happened to us.
What I think Jesus is talking about is investing ourselves into intangibles that are eternal. If we invest ourselves into the work we love for its own sake, into people, friends, children, music, beauty, art, compassion, justice, joy, whatever it is that fulfills us and that we love, they will shape our hearts… and we will come to love things that are eternal more than things that are perishable.
People, friends, children, music, beauty, art, compassion, justice, joy—these are things that will still be there when the bubble busts.
You can’t buy love. This is one of the truths of baptism. You not only don’t need to buy God’s love or anybody else’s; you can’t do it.
We invite you to remember your baptism this morning and be thankful.