Using Worldly Wealth

Heritage Presbyterian Church

September 18, 2022
15th Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture readings – Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1 and Luke 16: 1-14

Back in early 2016, three couples in three different states split the largest lottery jackpot of all time – $1.586 billion dollars.   Even with various federal, state, and local entities taking their cut for taxes, each couple netted a cool $328 million dollars.  That is an almost obscene amount of money.  The “winning the lottery” ideas we have are somewhat skewed when we consider that kind of money.  Most of us list quitting our current job, taking care of family, building a new house, taking an around-the-world vacation, living on our own island, owning vacation houses in various locations, and (of course) giving a big chunk to the church as the first things we would do.

But have any of us ever truly considered how wealthy we already are?

Even if we only earn minimum wages, we are still far richer than most of the people on this planet.  If we own our own home and car, we are richer than most of the people in our country.  If we can afford to retire and live on our own, we are still richer than most retirees in America.  

It’s all a matter of perspective.

To live as if we have endless wealth when we actually don’t is a fool’s game that will not end well.

To live life and live it all the way up – as I sometimes say – is to be truly wealthy, no matter how much money you have – or don’t have – in the bank.

There’s more to wealth than just money.

The older I get, the more I believe this.  My wife and I have worked very hard for most of our lives, and we have saved and planned for our future.  Although it is not quite within reach yet, we are hoping it will be in the next few years.  Until then, and perhaps even beyond then, we will continue to use our personal wealth to enhance the lives of others that we care about.  

Again, there is more to wealth than just money.

Our grandson, Logan, is wealthy.  He has four living grandparents who think he’s the most wonderful thing going.  Each of us sees him often, we each love him in our own way, and we each treasure the time we get to spend with him.  Each of us were also wealthy in family when we were children.  None of the four of us were raised in big houses or with servants or fine clothes or the best schools.  But we never lacked for love, and we never lacked for attention.  We learned that legacy early in our lives, and we are passing it on to our grandchildren.

I wonder if you are similarly wealthy.  I certainly hope so.

We are wealthy in the places in which we live.

We don’t have a mansion or a vacation home in the Swiss Alps.  And we don’t live in the wealthy parts of town; in fact, some of us live in those “other” parts of town that only have streets, lawns, apartments nearby, and various condos that rent for more than they should.  The garbage is regularly picked up, and the only smell in the air is either from backyard barbeques, someone mowing their lawns, or blooming flowers from various gardens around the area.  Within walking distance, we can find grocery stores, pharmacies, a few stores, restaurants, and maybe even a bus stop or two.

There are places right in the greater Houston areas that do not have any of the things I just described.  People living in those areas might envy our areas; however, many in those same areas are NOT living under bridges, or in make-shift tents on the sides of the streets, roads, and even highways.  They might not think of themselves as wealthy, but they are ahead of the lowest members of our society.

I wonder if you are similarly wealthy.  I certainly hope so.

We are also wealthy in the types of government that we have at the local, state, and federal level.  I know that statement either makes you either sigh, roll your eyes, or even choke back a giggle; I don’t blame you, but again – it’s all a matter of perspective.

If you live in a country in which a few religious nuts get to tell you what to do – or else, you might envy our various governments.  

If your government regularly attacks the civilian population with heavy weapons or if that government has the population so cowered that they voice no opposition at all, you might want to select our various governmental choices – no matter how frustrated we get at each level.

If elections regularly cannot pass international scrutiny, with 99.5% of the vote going to the already entrenched and established leaders, you might wonder what all the fussing is about in our own upcoming elections.

And if the rule of law is only a pipe dream of yours – because justice has been denied for too long to dream anything else, you might look at our system and wish you had something like it.

You may not agree with me, but I also believe we are wealthy in our governments.  

So, Christians, with all this wealth, what is our duty?

I absolutely struggle to apply any lessons from today’s Gospel reading.  It almost seems that Jesus is teaching a lesson that it’s okay to cheat the boss if you are truly clever about it.  (After all, he’s wealthy and he can afford to lose a little of those obscene profits you helped him acquire.)

That can’t possibly be what Jesus wants us to remember, is it?

I think this is where our knowledge of worldly wealth comes into play.  

No, Jesus is NOT telling us to cheat those who can afford it.  But he is pointing out that as Christians, we simply cannot live in a cocoon believing that nothing will bother us because we trust in Jesus.  We cannot use our own fortune, funds, and freedoms to only enhance our own lives.  We must not care only for ourselves.  We have a duty and a responsibility to do more.  

Jesus cautions us that a world exists around us that will cut us down in a second; it’s a “dog-eat-dog world” that will devour the innocent first; it’s an “every-man-for-himself” world that doesn’t care how kind you are; it’s a “look-out-for-number-one” world that will step right on your kind, Christian head to get ahead.  

We must live in this world; we cannot avoid it.

But we can still learn from it.  Jesus tells us in this parable to learn from the world, AND be shrewd about it; however, that’s not the end of the message.

He goes on to tell us, “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for ourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” In other words, care for others in this life, give them a break if possible, and do the good work we are called to do; in using our worldly wealth in this way, we will be welcomed one day into eternal Heavenly dwellings.

I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.  Use our wealth now, use it for good and use it shrewdly, and we will be welcomed into Heavenly homes one day.

Or…we could just go through the motions of faith.  We could pretend to care for others and serve the Lord.  We could observe the Sabbath in our actions but not in our hearts.  We could pretend to love others, while actually plotting their destruction in our hearts – or worse!

We could do the things SO often done in the world, and we would be just like those Jeremiah warned until the very end.  They used their worldly wealth to take care of themselves, and Jeremiah’s warnings fell on deaf ears.  The Lord told them:

  • “Is the Lord not in Zion?  Is her King no longer there?”
  • “Why have they aroused my anger with their images and their worthless foreign idols?”
  • “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.”

It would seem that the Lord has a dim view of worldly wealth that is used for selfish reasons…even if it is done by a group of prosperous, wealthy folks known for centuries as the “people of God.”

Their wealth didn’t save those ancient Israelites of Jeremiah’s time.  It won’t save us either.

Look within, Christians, and examine your own hearts.  

How wealthy are you? 

And what will you do with your worldly wealth?