How’s Your Love Life?

When we meet a friend, it’s pretty common to say: Hi – how are you?

But do we really want to know?

The most frequent, and most desirable answer to that question is:

Good, how are you?

When we meet a friend, it’s pretty common to say: Hi – how are you?

But do we really want to know?

The most frequent, and most desirable answer to that question is:

Good, how are you?

But sometimes, a person will launch into a five or ten minute, detailed account of how they really are….and then, unless we are in a very kind and unhurried mood, we will probably wish that we hadn’t asked.

It would not be as common to meet a person on the street and ask:

So, how’s your love life?

That question takes you into a territory that is most often explored with a very close friend, sitting down, maybe over a beer or a cup of coffee, after a few  minutes of preamble… and probably because you already know that the person has a problem, or is lonely, or looking for a life-partner.

In your concern for that person, you want to find out how they are doing.

What we know from the bible is that if you met Jesus for a beer or a cup of coffee, he might very well ask you: How’s your love life?

But he wouldn’t be talking about your relationships with other human beings, he would be asking about the deep kind of love that lives in your heart that is always aimed in one of two directions: God or wealth.

I had a friend in seminary who liked to keep lists. She kept lists of her favorite hymns, her favorite bible passages, her favorite theologians, and she also kept a list of the ten things that she wished Jesus had never said, and here is one that was always near the top of her list:

From Matthew 6:24:

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.

 Mammon was the name that Jesus gave to money and material wealth –

he taught that those things were not only material things, but that they had a spiritual power – and it is that power that is the most likely thing to separate us from God.

We know that Jesus felt strongly about that, because more than one third of all of his sayings, and stories and parables are about money, material wealth, and the sin of greed. The only thing he talked about more was the Kingdom of God, and so that should give us an idea about how strongly he felt about it.

Paul talks about that idea of the power of money in his letter to Timothy, and especially in the verses that we read today.

The problem with money is that it’s devious – it hides its power, and it is constantly making a bid for our hearts, trying to make us fall in love with it.

When I read this passage from Timothy this week, I was reminded of a book that I found a couple of years ago. The title is “How to Want What You Have”. It was a book about living mindfully – trying to be fully present to each moment, and I think that is the way that Jesus and Paul encourage us to live – to live in ways that focus on gratitude, and spiritual abundance, and the joy of each day.

When we are too eager for money,

when we find ourselves placing that desire above all other values – then we are opening our hearts to fall in love with it,

even though we might never admit that it is true.

So what can we do about that?

How can we break through all the advertising, the rationalizations, and the false gods that surround us in our culture?

How can we  see beyond the seduction of accumulation so that we are satisfied with ‘enough’, instead of always wanting ‘more’?

We have exactly the same challenge whether we have a lot of money or a little bit of money – the challenge is to de-throne it in our lives – to take away its power – and to give the power over our choices back to God.

There are three good strategies for de-throning money, and if they are regular parts of our lives of faith, then we will be well on our way to falling out of love with money – and they are very easy

The first is to talk about money,

the second is to pray about it,

and the third is to have a plan for giving it away.

First – when we talk about money, especially in relationship to our lives of faith….when we acknowledge its power and its dangers, then we can begin to see it more fully for what it is.

In so many places, it is taboo to talk about money in church, and whenever I go to a place like that, I know already that money has the upper hand.

If Jesus talks about money so often, why should we let money have the power to keep itself out of our faith conversations?

I’ve been reading a book lately entitled “The Soul of Money”, and although it is not a specifically Christian book, it hits the nail on the head when it comes to talking about the power of money in our lives.’

The author (Lynne Twist) says that, for most of us, our relationship with money is unexamined in our lives, and much of it is unconscious. She sees a lack of concern to truly examine the power of money as a big problem, because she says that “money can cause us to act in ways that are inconsistent with our core values”, which for us, as followers of Jesus, is the value of love for God and neighbor.

Unless we talk together about our relationship with money, the ways that we manage it….or are struggling to manage it….unless we explore our heart and our lives, we are in danger of being blind to the power that it has over us.

The second strategy is to pray:

unless we bring our financial decisions to God in prayer, we will never be able to de-throne money in our lives.

There is a story that Jesus told in the gospel of Luke about a man who became very rich in material wealth. His land produced so abundantly that he ran out of barns to store it all. And here’s the part of his story that I think reveals his biggest problem : “And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store all my crops?’ Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods….” All those ‘I’s” – he was having that conversation with himself.

And when I read this, I can almost picture God jumping up and down in the background, waving arms frantically, and saying: No! No! Talk to me about what’s best to do, because you are going to die tonight!”

The third strategy – plan to give money away –

because money can be de-throned by using it for God’s purposes –

to build God’s kingdom in the world.

The bible suggests several different guidelines for giving, and one of the most frequent is the tithe – 10% of our income to God (and some would say: then save 10% and live on 80% – an old bit of advice that has come back into favor lately – budget management.

My husband and I tithe…and the joy that comes from that seems to be one of the best-kept secrets in the Christian faith. But we did not become tithers easily or quickly….

It all began one Sunday morning when I was in church by myself while my husband was at home minding two small babies. Consecration Sunday was coming up – the day when each family would make a pledge to the church, and the pastor was talking to us about how to make our decision. He gave us a chart to look at – income across the bottom, percentages across the top – I had never really looked at it before – just glanced in that direction, and pretended that I was figuring it out.

But on this day, I finally looked at it closely, worked out the numbers, and said to myself: OMG – we’re not even on the chart! And I made a decision that morning to plan to give 1% of our income to the church – and begin a journey toward tithing

That was the easy part – the hard part was going home to tell my husband

(who was the only wage-earner in the household at the time) what “we” had decided – hard for three reasons:

  1. he had not grown up in the church and had never heard of tithing
  2. he’s from New England, and frugality is a REALLY BIG thing with him
  3. he worked on Wall Street – where most of the people he knew considered sacrificial giving as a sign of mental illness

But he said OK – and that was the first step on our journey… which has led us, over the years, to great delight and deep joy in giving.

____________________________________________________

We get to choose who will rule our hearts –

and it will be either God or Mammon.

When we decide to talk about money, and pray about it, and make a plan to give to God’s kingdom, then we can gain the upper hand, and evict Mammon from our hearts.

Our lives might even look the same to others,

but inside is all the difference in the world,

because a life of love of money leads to emptiness,

and a life of love of God

is a life of deep joy and wholeness.

It is a life that laughs in Mammon’s face

and turns to the truest satisfactions and peace –

all the good things that have been prepared for

those who love the Lord.

Amen.

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