Earn All You Can
A piece of advice given to me as I entered into ministry in 2011 went something like this, “Preach the Bible. Preach Jesus. Stay away from sermons about politics, sex, and money. People don’t want to hear about those things in church.”
It sounds like good advice. I mean, nothing kills a conversation like injecting politics, we know this better than most living where we live.
I get the feeling that you all want to hear a sermon about sex as much as I want to preach a sermon about sex.
And when it comes to money, we traditionally reserve those sermons for an annual stewardship campaign where the sermon serves two functions: preaching the Bible/Jesus, and compelling you to make a financial commitment to the church for another year. It’s like a public radio fundraiser without the different giving level perks.
The problem with the unsolicited advice I received when I entered into ministry is that Jesus talked about all three of those “no-go” sermon topics. Jesus talked about politics, even using political theater throughout his ministry. He told the woman caught in the act of adultery to go and sin no more, turning a moment of infidelity into an opportunity to step into grace, and in our Gospel reading today he address the issue of money, more specifically the faithfulness and responsibility associated with earning money.
The problem with talking about earning money in church is that more often than not these conversations end with confusion. We’re not sure if its OK, Biblically acceptable, to earn money and Gospel readings like ours today do not help any. I read eight different commentaries preparing for today’s sermon and every commentary opened by acknowledging that Luke 16:1-13 is one of the, if not the most confusing parable Jesus told his disciples. But to be fair to Jesus, money is a confusing topic to most of us who do not have a degree in finance, accounting, or economics.
The way we earn money has not changed much since Jesus’ ministry. We go to work, there is an exchange between us and our employer - we work in exchange for cash- and then we go home to our families. And the way money impacts us, our families, and the people we will never meet has not changed either. These impacts are spiritual as well as physical.
Money is often referred to as “the root of all evil.” John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, noted that money was “the grand corruptor,” the “bane of virtue,” and the “pest of human society.” Yet, in sermon #50 titled On the Use of Money, Wesley wrote that money is not profane or evil. So while being “the grand corruptor,” the “bane of virtue,” and the “pest of human society,” money can be used for good purposes. Wesley’s sermon #50 was a response to wealth making its way to those previously on the lower-end of the socio-economic ladder in England during the 1700s. He was not explaining macroeconomics, money management or investing. Instead, Wesley was addressing “the right use of money” to people who previously had very little of it. He went so far as to say that “the right use of money” was “an excellent branch of Christian wisdom.”
I said our Gospel reading is one of the most confusing parables Jesus told his disciples. It is a “gotcha story” that does not end in the manner we expect it will, which makes it even more confusing. The story “jolts our ethical sensibilities” and leaves us scratching our heads.
The manager’s performance was inadequate. The writing is on the wall and the manger knows what’s coming. To ensure his own protection favors are made to those who owed money the the master. The thinking on the part of the manager was, “I’ll scratch your back so that down the road you’ll scratch mine after I get canned by my boss.”
These financial dealings were not to defraud the master, otherwise the manager would have kept money for himself. Instead, these financial dealings were done to secure the future of the manger. When the master finds out what has happened he praised the manager for being clever.
Wesley used this plot twist to highlight that money is used for good and useful purposes. Money itself is not corrupting, rather, the way we earn and manage money can become corrupt and evil.
Money is used for all sorts of useful things.
Feeding our families, and feeding our guests at Community Assistance.
Money buys me too many cups of coffee while at the same time supporting youth mission trips.
Money provides opportunities to travel and see the world, and provides resources to care for the most vulnerable people around the world.
Money itself is not evil. When we look at how it is used, money appears to be quite useful.
You might be wondering what all this has to do with the cover of your bulletin and our new sermon series. Looking at money in this light, being good and useful, Wesley’s sermon #50 frames: earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.
Earn. Save. Give.
We’ll be taking a look at the Bible and money without the sales pitch at the end.
This week we are focusing on earning all we can. Wesley provides a three point framework to consider earning all you can.
1) Earn all you can by honest industry, and use all possible diligence in your calling.
Honest industry, is just what it sounds like. Earn money honestly and not by corrupt means.
Earn by following your calling - each of us is called to something. Clergy are not the only ones called by G-d.
Earning money is great but Wesley is suggesting it must be part of living into G-d’s purposes for your life. When we see our work as a calling it puts our “earn all you can” into a different context from just earning money for the sake of growing one’s portfolio.
2) Gain all you can by common sense. Constantly learning from your own experiences along with the experience of others.
Wesley wrote, “You should be continually learning, from the experience of others, or from your own experience… to do everything you have to d better today than you did yesterday.”
Author and pastor James Harnish wrote, “wise people gain wisdom from others.” Whether is it earning money or going through life, wise people realize quickly that they cannot do either on their own
3) Earn all you can without paying more than its worth
Do not sacrifice yourself for the sake of earning all you can. When was the last time you observed a Sabbath, a day of rest? Some of you might be thinking, I have kids, I’ll get a day of rest in 15 years. Working at your own expense leads to burnout, resentment, and conflict.
Do not sacrifice your soul for the sake of money. We all have principles and we know right from wrong. Is the way you earn all you can inline with those principles? Do not sacrifice others to make a buck. Not their economic status, health, or overall well-being for the sake of your own gain.
How we earn money is a clear and accurate indicator of our priorities. We might speak out in favor of honest work that others should be doing but do we follow the same prescription in our own businesses? We can earn by following the footsteps of someone else but at some point we have to begin living into the calling G-d has place on our lives because what you are called to will look different than what your mentor has been called to. We can preach about Sabbath and ethical practices but if we are not observing them ourselves our true commitments become more apparent.
The shrewd manager was not commended by Jesus for his actions but instead his actions gave light to the connection between earning money and our relationships. Earning money and our economic status are not peripheral to the Kingdom of G-d. This mindset ignores the warning Jesus gave us about serving G-d and money. Because of this warning, earning all you can becomes a matter of faith as money and wealth become spiritual practices that cannot be separated new life we find in Christ.