Book of James: “Loving Money”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “Loving Money”
A Message on James 5:1-6

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept.10, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 5:1-6

 

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. 2 Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. 4 Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

 

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Today we’re continuing our sermon series through the book of James by exploring attitudes about money.

 

I know, I know, your eyes are probably rolling back in your head and you’re thinking, “Oh man, we should have stayed at home today…”

 

Look, I get it. When it comes to money us pastors are just as uncomfortable about the topic as you are, and maybe more.

 

We can stand up here and preach about what the scriptures say about money. We can tell you how 1 Timothy 6:10 says that the love of money is the root of all evil. We can tell you that loving money makes it an idol and that idol worship is one of God’s big “no-nos” in the 10 Commandments.

 

But then come stewardship time we ask you to to pledge money to fund the church.

 

Money is a difficult subject theologically. It seems like it always has been. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we don’t need to talk about it.

 

James writes about it because it was a problem in the first century. We have to remember that what we call the “book” of James is actually an epistle, a letter, written by the brother of Jesus to the churches in existence at the time. James is encouraging the early Christians to mature in their faith, to avoid the hypocrisy of their actions conflicting with their beliefs, and to focus on the things of heaven instead of the things of the earth.

 

Now it is important to differentiate between money itself and the love of money. As I have said before, money is neither good or bad. Money is inert. It has no ability to do anything on its own. Money can be used for bad, and it can be used for good, but by itself it is neither evil or holy.

 

It’s the “love of money” where we get into trouble. It’s our attitudes about money, not money itself, that can create difficulties.

 

Here are a couple of photos of something that happened yesterday. The youth of our church, as well as several adults, gave up their time on a Saturday to wash cars at the Christus Mother Francis hospital here in town yesterday. They didn’t do it to raise money so they could go to Six Flags, and they didn’t do it even to raise money for the youth program or for camp scholarships. They did it to raise money to send to the people whose homes and churches were flooded by Hurricane Harvey. Between washing cars and donations for free concessions (donated by our own Allen Ross, by the way), they raised more than $500 in about four hours.

 

They had the right attitude about money. They knew that money can be used for good, and they raised it to help those in need. They didn’t do it for themselves. They did it to help others.

 

We have seen that a lot the past few weeks, and it has been refreshing.

 

I have quite a few pastor friends in the areas affected by the flooding and even in the areas affected by the winds of the hurricane as it came ashore. They have been working unbelievably hard to help those affected, even when their own parsonages or houses were flooded. They are truly heroes, although they would never tell you that themselves.

 

In the midst of trying to coordinate relief efforts and literally tons of supplies coming into the area, they also have been trying to deal with things that frustrate their efforts.

 

This is Beth Tatum. She is a friend of mine from seminary. She is the pastor at First United Methodist Church down in Sinton, Texas, located west of Rockport and north of Corpus Christi. Her community took quite a wallop from Harvey and she was, and still is, on the front line of relief efforts happening there.

 

Here is a photo she took in Woodsboro, a small town just northeast of Sinton, and which she posted on Facebook. Here is what she wrote to go along with the photo:

 

“Donations just dumped in the Square in Woodsboro. Friends, please stop sending stuff of any sort to the Coastal Bend of Texas. We appreciate your generosity but it’s creating mountains of stuff that will eventually go to waste and cost us to dispose of.”

 

Another article I read by Angelia Griffin (I don’t know her, but another friend shared her post) who talked about the problems with people sending the wrong things to the flooded areas. Here is part of what she wrote:

 

“So here’s where I get to say the really hard thing. Some of the items you are sending are the wrong donations. Just hear me out. I sorted and bagged (and bagged and bagged) hoards of ‘ugly’ Christmas sweaters…heavy winter coats…lingerie…stained undergarments…prom dresses…

“I know your hearts are in the right place and you are rightfully imagining that we have lost everything because many have, but frankly these things do not help us in our current situation. In fact, they hinder our efforts more than a little bit.” [Source: https://angeliagriffin.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/the-wrong-donations-some-tough-words-on-disaster-relief/]

 

Let’s think about that list she provided. Christmas sweaters (even forgetting the “ugly” part). Heavy winter coats. (For the Gulf Coast, where they may get a day and a half of winter a year.) Lingerie. Stained undergarments. Prom dresses.

 

I think this is an example of where attitude matters. Angelia is very diplomatic and points out over and over how people’s hearts are in the right place in spite of what they send, but I really struggle with that. Is a person’s heart in the right place if they are sending stained undergarments to flood victims? Let us just speak the truth that they are just finding a way of getting rid of their junk while at the same time making themselves feel good thinking they are helping people out.

 

I think the apostle James may have been facing a somewhat similar situation when he wrote his letter. Instead of a natural disaster, however, it was people who called themselves Christians but who used the power of money over their fellow humans. Listen to The Message paraphrase of verses 4-6:

 

“All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up. But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons, who stand there and take it.”

 

James is talking about how those with money use their wealth to have power over others. They have cheated and exploited people for monetary gain, which gives them more power, and the cycle repeats itself.

 

It was a very serious problem in Biblical times. Here are a few scriptures that address it:

 

“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)

 

“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.” (Proverbs 14:31)

 

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages…” (Jeremiah 22:13)

 

“If you take your neighbor’s coat as security, give it back before nightfall; it may be your neighbor’s only covering—what else does the person have to sleep in?” (Exodus 22:26, The Message)

 

“You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.”  (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)

 

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9)

 

Do you see the point? It’s not money, it’s the power money gives people over other people that is the issue. And the scriptures make it very clear where God stands on the issue.

 

On January 1, 2013, my wife Pam’s mom and dad lost pretty much everything as a wildfire swept across their land, burning their house to the ground. They escaped with their vehicles, Pam’s mom’s wedding rings, and some medicines. Everything else burned to the ground.

 

The next day they went into the town of Eastland where a Red Cross office had been set up. The Red Cross gave them a pre-loaded credit card with several hundred dollars on it. I can remember going with them to Walmart and helping them buy clothes, shoes, food, and essentials that we take for granted everyday.

 

If they had been given bags of used clothes that included some of the things the people in Houston received (Stained undergarments? Really?) instead of helping it would have added insult to injury. It would not have helped them. It would have helped them at all.

 

I used to be envious of very wealthy people, even to the point of coveting their wealth. (And you know what God thinks about coveting, right?) But the deeper I go into the scriptures and the further I go on my spiritual journey the less I think that. Instead of being envious of them, now I pray for them. And no, I don’t pray that they will give me some of that wealth so that I, too, can be wealthy. I pray for them because I know that wealth can easily develop into an spiritually unhealthy love of money. I pray they can keep a good heart and mind when it comes to money, and that they may discern the best use of it.

 

I keep remembering Luke 12:48 which says “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

 

I find it somewhat ironic that there is a heavy responsibility that comes with wealth. You can be like J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans who has raised $30 million for the victims of the Houston flooding, or you can be an Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickins’ A Christmas Carol who is so greedy he takes the coins off his dead partner’s eyes as he says, “Tuppence is tuppence.”

 

Oh, and if you are thinking that this doesn’t involve you because you aren’t wealthy, think again. By the standards of many places in this world every person in here is wealthy. The average annual wage in Ethiopia is $660. That’s annually, not monthly. Monthly it is about $55. In Madagascar it’s even worse, with annual wages averaging $400 per year, or $33 per month. [https://www.worlddata.info/average-income.php]

 

And we can’t forget the story of the Widow’s mite from the gospels of both Mark and Luke.

 

James reminds us that it’s not about money, what counts are our attitudes are about money and where our hearts are in regards to love of money.

 

Jesus didn’t die just for those who are wealthy. Jesus didn’t shed his blood on the cruel cross at Calvary for only those who had money. He also didn’t shed it exclusively for the poor, either. Love is more powerful than money, big time, and he proved that on the cross.

 

So, my challenge for you this week, is to remember James’ words cautioning us about loving money. Let us remember that it is about attitude and heart more than how big your bank account is. Let us be cautious of using donations as ways of getting rid of our “trash” in order for us to feel good about ourselves. Let us be aware of how as humans we use money as power, especially when we use that power to oppress others.

 

Let us be more like the youth of our church, and J.J. Watt, and less like Ebenezer Scrooge.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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