Paved with gold

I started with a joke last week, so I thought I’d try another one this week.

There was a very rich man who was deeply trouble about not being able to take his money with him when he died.  So, before he died, he loaded his briefcase with two gold bars and left strict instructions to have the case locked and handcuffed to his wrist and the key sewn into his grave clothes pocket. His family carried out all his orders correctly, to the letter.

When – finally he died and went to heaven.  He arrived at the pearly gates with the briefcase still attached to his hand.  St. Peter looked a bit perplexed and asked, “What do you have in your suitcase?”  Very proudly, the man tooke out the key, unlocked the case, opened it and showed St Peter his two gold bars.    St. Peter said, “aw, isn’t that sweet! You brought some pavement with you.”

If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?

May I speak….

It might surprise you but the Bible talks more about money and possessions than Jesus talked about love and heaven and hell combined – a total of 2,350 times.   You might have thought that Jesus was more concerned about prayer and faith and discipleship .. but perhaps Jesus understood more about real human life than we sometimes give him credit   – perhaps he understood that for most people money is a problem. 

According to one report for the government two thirds of the UK population are in debt and one third have no idea how they will pay their debts off.  The average Credit card debt is now over £2,500 and rising.   Perhaps that’s why Jesus calls it ‘dishonest’ wealth – because money traps us dishonestly and catches us out, and because we don’t like talking about it.

To tell you the truth, I don’t understand money – I never have.   Once upon a time money was a piece of gold or a piece of silver and each coin had a value – now it’s a piece of copper or zinc, or just a piece of paper and it has no real value whatsoever… it only has the value we give it. 

In fact even gold or silver only have the value we choose to give to them… a starving person in the desert would rather have a bag of apples than a bag of gold coins. 

Without wanting to sound too much like a communist anti-capitalist – the whole financial structure of the world is built on a lie … money.  If tomorrow our national computers went down, the electricity generating stations failed, our water became infected and there was chaos on the roads – then all our money stuck in the banks because the cashpoints don’t work would be meaningless and our notes or coins stashed under the mattress wouldn’t be very much use to us either we’d be better off with a tin of baked beans  … and yet we have no alternative.

What’s more the value we put on things is pretty arbitrary as well.   Why does an average nurse in a hospital get paid about £30,000 a year and the boss of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary gets paid £85 million a year?   What can that possibly mean? 

Why does the average qualified social worker working in a child protection team earn about £35,000 a year and the average salary of a financial adviser is about £80,000. 

If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?

And talking about true riches,  last Friday children and adults went on marches to highlight other riches – the environment, the polar ice-cap, the Amazon rain forest, the atmosphere, because unlike money which we can just print more of when it runs out, creation is finite and can be destroyed for ever.  

So what are we looking for –  what should we be taking in our briefcase to the pearly gates?

Now I could list some good things like love, joy, peace, honesty, truth, sincerity and close the sermon there – that would be a good sermon –  but instead  I want to do something a bit different.  I want to look at this morning’s other readings – the prophet Amos telling us not to cheat in business and to treat the poor fairly,  and the writer of the first letter to Timothy telling us to respect the king and government and leaders to pray for them and obey them.

How do these two readings connect with the Gospel and with dishonest money?

Well, I think the answer is the one word ‘mediator’. 

There is but one Mediator between God and humanity, Jesus the Messiah.

Some people interpret that to mean that humans can’t pray to God without Jesus – but that’s not quite what it says  – and certainly not what I believe.  The whole Jewish people prayed happily to God long before Jesus was born, and – just to complicate things – St Paul uses the same word in Galatians and tells us that Moses was their mediator between them and God when he gave them the law.

And there’s something strange about the sentence as well – the epistle seems to stress that the mediator is Jesus the Messiah the human – whereas right at the beginning of time it was the Logos – the second person of the Trinity – long before Jesus was born on earth – who was mediating between the Father and creation.

So what’s going on?

Well, I think what is going on is that Jesus – the man Jesus – mediates between humanity and divinity in his own body – and that has never happened before.  There was no one in the Old Testament who was both human and divine and held both together – and we believe that there has never been any one since.

So I think the word ‘mediator’ – mesetas in Greek, from the word ‘mesos’ – which just means middle –  is less of a telephone line controlling communications between two distant points –  humans and God, and more like the middle bit where two things meet and join and intermix and become one.   

As what has Jesus being the ‘mesetas’ – the mixing point to do with money and true riches?  

Well I think it means that for God the true riches – the whole point of everything – was to join together of heaven and earth – what St Paul calls God reconciling the world to himself. 

And what that means,  is that it is all about relationships – the real thing of value is how we mix and mediate.

To put it simply if we are to follow Jesus’s example, – serving God and not mammon, wealth, – then we need to be good ‘mixers’ as Jesus was  … as St Paul wrote : God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

We need to work on our relationships.

We need good and honest relationships in business and trading as Amos tells us –  and we need good and honest relationships in our political and social world – as the writer of the first letter to Timothy tells us. 

Because … if our relationships between workers and traders and buyers are wrong and unjust – then everything will be wrong. … and if our relationships between our governing parties and all in authority over us are wrong and unjust – then everything will be wrong.    And if our relationships between one another in our families and this church are wrong – then everything will be wrong – and if our relationship with God is wrong – then everthing will be wrong too.

Just as Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters, that we cannot serve both God and wealth – so it’s blatantly obvious that we cannot serve justice and honesty and truth and also serve injustice, dishonesty and lies at the same time  – it is just not possible.

If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?