Our worship is an experience in which the presence of God and the truth of the gospel engage our culture. We come to worship infused with the images, worldviews, and values of our culture. Even those elements of our culture that we do not agree with or do not like "stick to us" and "hang on us" as we gather in God's presence. It is unavoidable! It is sort of like darting into a convenience store to pay for gasoline or a soda pop and coming out smelling of cigarette smoke and fried food. Even if you don't smoke or eat fried corn dogs you still carry the "aroma" on you and it cannot be avoided.

Let's gather for worship and welcome the fresh air of God's spirit. Let's place before Him all the images, worldviews, and values that we have encountered in our walk through our culture and let Him reveal the truth. Let's see our world in a new light - the light of God.

This week someone has tried to convince you of what is truly valuable. Maybe you heard the truth or maybe not. Someone or something may have tried to convince you of what you are really worth. Maybe you heard the truth or maybe not. Come open it up to God this Sunday in worship and see how your experience this week compares to what God reveals.

Matthew 6:19-34

In the news this week we have been given a rare look into the treasures of the Vatican. The museums of the Vatican are filled with artwork by Giotto, Caravaggio, Michaelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael among others. The libraries of the Vatican hold ancient manuscripts of the Bible and other literature – in some cases the only copy of a certain work. The buildings of the Vatican, especially St. Peter’s Basilica are ornamented with gold, silver, precious stones, and fine marble. Some say that it is impossible to calculate the value of the immense wealth in the Vatican, but it has been done. What would be the value of these treasures? According to its official books, all of the artwork and the ornate, grand buildings (including the Sistine Chapel) are valued at $1.29 (or 1 euro). How is that possible? The Vatican can never sell its masterpieces and these treasures are held in trust for all humanity. Add to that the fact that it would be impossible to assign them a market or replacement value because no amount of cash can replace the significance of these treasures. It is the Vatican’s way of indicating that it prizes the religious and artistic significance of the treasures over their financial worth. Just another of looking at it right? Of course, but then why do we often tend to look at such objects in terms of their monetary value?

We live in an age of cash values. The author of the book “Cash Values” (Craig Gay, p. 17) says that money has become one of the most important measures in determination of value in our world. The very idea of what something is “worth” is often expressed in terms of money. This “money metric” has given us what we assume is an objective standard in calculating value and worth. This supposed objective, secular standard enters into our lives at so many levels and we may think that we live in a rational, calculated, and enlightened society than doesn’t give into emotionalism, fanaticism, or subjectivity but in fact we are being seduced by powers and influences that we may not recognize because we are too close to the situation to see correctly.

For example, what makes for a good book these days? Often we are told it is the #1 book on the “best-sellers” list. We are interested in movies or music when they are box-offices hits or win an song title goes “gold or platinum.” What do these mean? How are we determining the value of a movie or music? Have you ever noticed how interested we seem to be in how much it takes to make a movie? We are amazed when a movie becomes popular and we find out that it was made with a budget less than $10 million. Does more money mean a better product? A report came out the other day stating that the average baseball pro makes $2.6 million. First of all, why do we care what they make? Second, has it improved the game?

Outside the sphere of entertainment and sports (which can be a bit extreme) we find the same forces and powers at work. Our rational, unbiased, secular standard of calculation has changed the definition of justice. Often cases that cannot be settled in a criminal court are now settled in a civil court. Justice may not be served but a huge check may be. Politics is influenced by this rational, impartial standard so that we have been told by politicians and spin doctors in no uncertain terms that “It is the economy, stupid.” Two of the key issues facing politicians right now have to do with money – the rising “cost” of health care (notice that it isn’t the quality) and social “security.” And what is it that makes one socially secure? Money! Homeland security is something else, but social security is really about money. Think about the words and images we use when we talk about it: most interesting of which is the social security “lock-box.” Don’t you picture this big huge treasure box somewhere in Washington with a padlock on it. Can’t you se someone going up to it with an iron key and popping the lid open only to see a spider web in it and a moth fluttering out?

Maybe there’s a lesson in that image about this so-called impartial and rational measure called money and the way it lulls us into misplacing our trust, our sense of security, and our devotion. I want to proclaim today that money and cash values are not secular and impartial. It is a force and power that demands our attention and wants to rule us if it were a god – and it often does. This is the word that Jesus proclaims in Matthew 6:19-33 ... [read text]

There are three images here that Jesus is using to open our eyes so we can get beyond the cash values that prevent us from seeing real value and worth. It leads up to his final statement in verse 24 that we cannot serve two masters. Money is more than dollar and cents it is mammon, it is the Almighty Buck that will rule us in place of Almighty God!

The first image is treasure. Maybe it is good that social security has been portrayed as a lock box because one of the truths we all learn about treasures and wealth is that they are never secure. There’s always a problem with moths, rust, and thieves. In ancient times a bride’s dowry was a roll of exquisite fabric, but what tragedy when the bride unrolls the fabric only to find it full of holes and worms. In ancient times a family’s wealth could be amassed as coins or precious jewelry, how tragic when a thief finds these wonderful heirlooms and simply takes them away. In a moment the treasure of generations is simply gone. So, it made sense to hide the treasure, to lock it a strong box and maybe even bury the box in a secret location. But even then it could be tragic when the wealth that has been stored and saved for ages is needed and after the box is dug up and opened the metal is crusted with orange build-up and brittle to the touch. The treasure is transformed into trash.
We are so much more sophisticated these days however. Our treasures are much more permanent. We have stainless steal bank vaults with humidity controlled air conditioners. We have encrypted passwords and secure servers to save our virtual treasures that are really nothing more that numbers and lines of credit. Our treasures and treasure boxes are much better. And yet we have hackers and dishonest managers who can steal these treasures away and consume them even better than thieves and moths. Rust is only one force of nature we have to contend with and even if we can guard against it we have to deal with its kin that come in the form of tornados and tsunamis.
Yet, we still store up treasures on earth ... or at least “stuff” on earth ...
One of the signs of our times is the prevalence of TV shows, books, and services that help people with the problem of having too much. Have you ever seen these? A group of people come into a house that is about to pop at the seams because the family has too much stuff. This team helps the people get rid of their excess and it makes for good drama because inevitably someone, an adult, will be crying or upset because they don’t won’t to let go of a limited edition Star Trek Barbie doll that they bought on eBay. And when the potential monetary value of the item fails to be convincing the next strategy is to cite the sentimental value. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The false god named mammon, the Almighty Dollar, demands your heart! It will take your heart and lock it up in a treasure box or a stainless steel vault or a 16-layer secure digital encrypted server. Jesus calls us to give our heart to God and give these things away. Have a lighthearted attachment to the treasures of earth and a whole hearted devotion to the treasures of heaven.

The second image is the eye. The ancients knew more about eyes than we seem to with all of our modern science. They understood that the eye was about more than seeing. We still have that wisdom if we will pay attention to it and it shows up in some of the most uncanny places. Have you ever seen a cartoon where a character’s eyes fill with dollar signs? That’s the opposite of the good eye or single eye that Jesus speaks about. What catches our eye? What symbol of cash values clouds our vision? Money is a spiritual force, not a secular force and it can give us a sort of spiritual glaucoma that keeps us from seeing people and the world the way he sees it. It makes us miserly and stingy. It makes us worry about not having enough to eat, to drink, or to wear. It gives us anxiety about the future because we cannot see the light of God’s goodness and hope.
The Almighty Dollar will cloud your eyes! It will skew your vision so that you see all things through dollar shaped lenses, and such a darkened vision will extinguish the light of the body. Don’t live a darkened, worried life anxious about the future. Let the light of God open your eyes and fill your soul.

The final image is that of a master. Mammon is an Aramaic word. When Jesus uses this word for money he personalizes it. He lets us know that money is not just something we use but that it is something powerful enough to use us if we let it. Maybe we don’t speak Aramaic, but we have ways of personalizing the power of money: Dead Presidents, Benjamins (my name is now slang for money), bread and cabbage (our slang for money is attached to food, the basics of survival). The divine power of money is best reflected in our slang “The Almighty Buck.”
We would do well to pay attention to our slang. It should remind us that the Almighty Buck not only demands our heart and our vision but it also wants us to bow our knees. How much of our energy and effort is devoted to the Almighty Buck and much of it is devoted to Almighty God? Think carefully about this – which master sets our priorities, determines our choices, and schedules our time.

Our master determines what we use and what we serve. If God is our master, then we serve him and others and we use money. If money is our master then we use God and others and we serve wealth. These change our values and it isn’t just an individual problem. We live in a conflicted culture that is divided between two masters. Even if you declare that God is your master and Lord, this week someone has tried to convince you of what is truly valuable. Maybe you heard the truth or maybe not. Someone or something may have tried to convince you of what you are really worth. Maybe you heard the truth or maybe not. Money is still a force in our lives and we encounter it daily. Don’t treat money as if it is just material and secular and so acts as if it is nothing. Treat it as if it is spiritual and powerful and then treat it like nothing! That’s how we break the power of worry and wealth. We need Jesus to teach us how to treat wealth in a godly way -- to use it rather than be used by it.

Trust in God and Give! Jesus your heart, your eyes, your energy and mammon will be left empty-handed. Give your wealth away generously and it cannot control you.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 10 April 2005

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