Here in America, we have an unparalleled access to things. The poor in our society are better off than the rich in some other countries. And yet, we seem to live in a spiritual vacuum. Sadly, our abundance of things has not led to an abundance of faith. In our quest to find the life we've always wanted, have we rejected the very thing that could satisfy us, accepting instead a poor substitute?
To contemplate this question, Rev. Singleton brought us to Jesus' most famous speech, the "Sermon on the Mount." There's one thing about Jesus. Even though he is the Son of God, he is also human, and as such, wholly practical. He taught about things that were very familiar to the people he was speaking to. In chapter 6, the middle of the sermon, he starts out by talking about money, prayer, and fasting.
There's another thing about Jesus. He was never afraid to offend people; even those high-up officers of the synagogue. Jesus had high standards about how we should live. The priests did, too, and made sure that everyone saw their "acts of righteousness." The problem was that their righteousness was all for show. They were more concerned about the admiration of the people around them than their relationship with God. Jesus called them hypocrites.
The sermon today was about money and generosity. Now, please do not click away! This is not the usual "money sermon." There were no promises of a piece of the holy cross if only you send us $10. This sermon was about the relationship our money has with our spiritual health.
Matthew 6:1-5 reads:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
Here, Jesus is talking about money, but also about generosity. Giving money was something that was required under the Old Testament law. It was expected. Jesus was not trying to change the law in this passage, but to change the hearts of the people. His concern was not whether they were giving or not, but the manner in which they gave. Notice the correlation between giving money and getting rewards. Jesus acknowledged that all of the givers were rewarded. But by whom? First, we see the people who are announcing their giving. Jesus says that they do it to be honored by others. He also says that honor is their reward. Then, we see those who are giving in secret. They will be rewarded by the Father - God.
We are called to be generous. James wrote "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27). We have a calling to take care of the poor among us. But how does this relate to our spiritual health?
Merriam-Webster defines "affluenza" as:
the unhealthy and unwelcome psychological and social effects of affluence regarded especially as a widespread societal problem: such as
a : feelings of guilt, lack of motivation, and social isolation experienced by wealthy people
b : extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships
These are definitely what you would call first-world problems! The sad thing is, they are avoidable. People do not have to live this way. The antidote to affluenza is generosity. If you read further in the Sermon on the Mount, you will see that Jesus tells us not to store up treasures on the earth, because wherever our treasures are, are hearts will also be (Matt. 6:19-21). He says that we can't serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24). He tells us, when we pray, to ask for our daily bread (Matt. 6:11), and not to worry about what we will eat, or what we will wear (Matt. 6:25-34). He tells us to give to anyone who asks (Matt 5:42).
Jesus later told his disciples that they had to deny themselves. He asked what would it profit someone to gain the whole world, but to lose their soul? (Mathew 16:24-27) What, indeed? It seems that this, in fact, is what we have done.
What has God blessed you with? Money? Possessions? Time? Talent? Skills? What are you doing with your blessings? Are you storing them up, keeping them for yourself, making sure you don't lose them? If so, what good are they? Our gifts were meant to be shared. Proverbs 11:25 reads: "A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed." Paul writes in his letter to the Galations: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galations 6:7-9)."
So, the secret to independence is generosity. We can become slaves to our possessions and our social status. If we have to worry about how the world sees us, we won't have the time to spend with God. We will be tied to a life of affluenza, which doesn't bring independence, but isolation and overwork. Now that you know, break free! Find independence for your soul.