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Sunday’s Sermon: Don’t Worry, Be Faithful

Matthew 6:24-34

Introduction
Petrol
prices up, up, up
: a
barrel of oil has doubled in a year
. Gas and electricity up. Food prices
up. And the official inflation figures? Not up very much at all. Of course,
governments never fiddle statistics …

I paid
my credit card bill this week, and it looks like we’ve just eked out the money
to the end of the quarter[1].
It had been an expensive quarter. I had needed two new pairs of glasses. The vacuum
cleaner had become so unreliable it needed replacing. My car required an
expensive annual service, not least because the garage discovered that the
front brakes were in advanced state of wear.

You
may well be able to write your own version of this – not least if you are on a
limited or fixed income. Financially, things are becoming tighter for many of
us.

And
in a world like that, we hear Jesus telling us not to worry about money, food
and clothing. ‘Don’t worry?’ we wonder, ‘How can we not worry?’

So
how can we receive Jesus’ words today? Is he hopelessly unrealistic, or does
his teaching here help us to face an uncertain and rocky world with faith and
hope? Well, there aren’t too many Christian preachers who will say Jesus is
unrealistic (there shouldn’t be any!). I think he helps us to face uncertain
times with confidence in him. He does so by giving us a mixture of challenges
and encouragement.

1. Loyalty
‘You cannot serve God and wealth,’ says Jesus (verse 24). God versus Mammon:
choose. Mammon seems to have been the god of wealth in ancient Carthage[2].
God versus wealth is a choice of gods: whom will we serve? Who will have our
loyalty? Only one can have our devotion, and to the extent, says Jesus, in
typically colourful Jewish language, that all else will seem like hatred.

If we
are to face financial matters with peace and not worry, the first thing we have
to do is settle the issue of our loyalty. If Mammon is our god, then our moods
will swing more violently than the stock market. If the Lord is our God, then
our trust is in the One called The Rock. God is dependable.

It’s
easy to see the ways in which the gods of wealth – modern-day Mammons – are worshipped
today. Remember Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan when he was first elected to the
White House: ‘It’s the economy, stupid’. But wealth is a created thing: if it
is worshipped in place of the Creator, then it must be an idol, a false god. It
should not command our ultimate loyalty.

Yet
do we get our loyalties twisted, too? In another context, I recently read a
book where the author was saying that one of the problems in certain sections
of the church was that people invited Jesus to be part of their story, when true
conversion was about saying we were becoming part of Jesus’ story[3]. Jesus
is no optional extra to be added to life. Jesus is Lord.

This
is not necessarily a call to take a vow of poverty, although God may call some
to that. We still need money. We should still be sensible with it. Nor is God a
spoilsport: he does allow us to enjoy good things from his creation, just so
long as we remain more attached to him than to things. For times will come when
our loyalty to Christ is tested by our attitude to finance. It may be about a
major purchase, or the expectations we have about our lifestyles. It may be
about what we budget for in our outgoings.

However,
it will be rare to find there is a biblical passage that explicitly tells us
what to do. No verse tells me what quality of car I may drive, how much I should
spend on a new computer or a reasonable amount to spend on a meal out with my
wife.

It’s
more subtle than that. The test of loyalty is a test of the heart. We answer it
by listening to the promptings of the Spirit, seeking advice from others and doing
that most difficult of things, listening to the true motives of our hearts. When
we can discern our motives, we shall know whether our desire is to please the
Lord or serve the idol of Mammon.

2. Value
If you’re anything like us, one of the things you’ll have thought about in the
current financial climate is your major outgoings. What is your biggest
expenditure, and where can you trim? Not having a mortgage, our biggest regular
expense is the weekly food bill. We try to be careful not to buy those impulse
purchases that bump up the bill.

Then
Jesus tells us not to worry about food, drink and clothing! Yet they are some
of our biggest expenses! And don’t worry about how long we might live – even though
our nation spends billions on the National Health Service. Isn’t this advice
financial suicide? It sounds like it.

It isn’t
when you consider why Jesus tells us not to worry about these things. He tells
us to look at God’s care for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. In
God’s eyes, we are more valuable than either of these is. The people who spend
their time worrying and striving after these things are ‘the Gentiles’ – that is,
in this context, those who do not believe in the Lord. (Verses 25-32)

Therefore,
it’s an action of unbelief to spend all our time worrying about money and
possessions. What is it we don’t believe? We don’t believe that God loves us. We
don’t believe that God values us like nothing else on earth.

So stop
for a moment and consider just how much God does love and value us. God is
love, and created everything in love. Human beings are the only part of that
creation to be made in God’s image. In love, God still sought us out when we
turned our backs on him. Ultimately, in love, the Father sent his Son. Jesus
was born in poverty and humility. He died a terrible death and was raised from
the dead to reconcile us to God. God then comes by his Spirit to dwell within
and among his disciples. God wants to be with us; God is with us! That is how
much God loves and values us.

When
worry and stress come our way, we tend to forget important things. It’s time to
remember that God has placed an extraordinary value upon us. No transfer fee for
a footballer can match God’s valuation of us. He values us by the life of his
Son. No riches or possessions can compare with the Holy Spirit of God dwelling
within us.

So am
I advocating a reckless attitude to money? No – and yes. No, because we should
still plan our income, our spending and our giving carefully. Yet however
wisely we do that, we may still feel the pressure. Then it is time to remember
the great love God has for us, and the enormous value he places on us. A God
who views us like that will give us peace; he will look after us and provide for
our needs.

But
yes, there is a sense of recklessness about this, too, because on top of everything
else, God may challenge us in prayer to do something with our finances or
possessions that may seem crazy. God may lead us to do something that humanly doesn’t
make sense. Then, even more, is the time to remember the value God places on us,
and the immense love he has for us. If God clearly leads us in an unusual
direction with our wealth, we can be sure he will provide. The missionary
pioneer Hudson Taylor
once said, ‘God’s will done in God’s way will never lack the mean or the means.’[4]

3. The Kingdom
If we have an unqualified loyalty to our Lord and we believe he loves and
values us immeasurably, then what should our attitude be? Jesus says that instead
of striving for money and possessions, we are to ‘strive first for the kingdom
of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to [us] as
well’ (verse 33). Put simply, commit yourself above all things to the will of
God and he will supply your needs. Here’s how that happened once for me.

As you
know, I have been to two theological colleges. I applied to my first college at
a time in my life when I knew God was calling me to something, but I didn’t
know what, so I couldn’t ‘candidate’ for the ministry. Trinity College, Bristol offered me a
place. I applied for a grant (this was before student loans), but my education authority
turned me down. The college gave me a deadline by which I could guarantee them I
had the funds for my first year, and I appealed against the decision the
education authority made.

Forty-eight
hours before the college deadline, I learned that I had lost my appeal. What now?
Had I misread God’s guidance? However, it was at this stage that things started
to happen. My parents rediscovered some old funds they had forgotten. A student
who had taken a gap year between A-Levels and college and had worked to save
money for a car gave those savings to me. Her boyfriend also gave me some
money. Two elderly women at church gave me large sums of money. One wrote a
covering letter. She said, ‘It seems that God is asking you to trust him to
supply your needs. He will supply ours, too.’

By the
deadline, I had three quarters of the money required for that first year. I phoned
the Vice-Principal. He said they would take me, and help me with applications
to charities and trusts when I got there. He didn’t know I’d tried that and got
nowhere.

I preached
a sermon at a church other than my own in my circuit where I told how God had
provided for my needs. I didn’t explain that I still needed some more money. Afterwards,
a friend invited me back to his flat for coffee. He explained that he had been
planning a big holiday to New Zealand to see his auntie, but she had since died
and he saw no point in going. He had exchanged his sterling for New Zealand
dollars. However, the dollar had since fallen in value against the pound and he
had held onto the currency in hope that the exchange rates would go back in his
favour. They had worsened, and the money was annoying him. Would I like to take
this annoyance off him? Into my lap he threw two plastic Thomas Cook envelopes.
They contained NZ$2310. At the time (1986) this was worth £741, and I realised
he had originally exchanged £1000.

Later,
a friend at church who was a bank manager set up an account so that anyone
could give anonymously towards my support. With that and other gifts, all my
needs were provided for three years at college.

It all
felt like something out of a paperback testimony. Yet I felt very ordinary. I was.
I still am. I was no superhero of the faith. Jesus meant it when he said, ‘Seek
first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be
given to you as well.’

Conclusion
This morning we are offering prayer for healing during the intercessions after
the next hymn. However, healing is not merely about our bodies. It is about
every aspect of life. Perhaps your fear or anxiety needs a healing touch from
God. If so, then let me invite you – just as much as anybody else – to come to
the communion rail for anointing with oil. Come to declare your unqualified
loyalty to Jesus Christ, and find an assurance from him that God loves you and
values like nothing else, and that when you commit yourself to his will, he
will meet your every need so that you may fulfil his kingdom purposes in your
life.


[1]
Methodist ministers are traditionally paid quarterly, not monthly (although the
latter option may now be chosen).

[4] An
apology for the exclusive language, but Taylor was a man of his time.

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About Dave Faulkner

I'm a British Methodist minister, married with two children. I blog from a moderate evangelical-missional-charismatic perspective, with an interest in the 'missional' approach. My interests include Web 2.0, digital photography, contemporary music and watching football (Tottenham Hotspur) and cricket.

Posted on May 22, 2008, in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Personal, Religion. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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