Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Monday, September 30, 2013

Stewardship Sermon #1: Beware of the Money Trap

Stewardship Sermon #1: Don’t Get Caught in Money Trap (Luke 16:19-31)
Sermon by Fred Vergara. St. James church, Elmhurst, New York, 09/29.2013

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) A story is told of a man who died. As was the custom in that place, the body would be embalmed to allow for a wake before burial. As the embalmers were doing the procedures, they noticed that the man had no heart. His breast was empty. So they set out an investigation and tried to look for a possible place by which the heart had gone into. Alas, they found a chest of silver and gold, and on top of that treasure was found the heart of the man. Brothers and sisters, where is your heart?

The gospel this morning(Luke 16:19-31)  tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This is a story in contrast: the rich man and the beggar; the selfish and the needy; the extreme abundance and the extreme scarcity; Lazarus was not only poor, but sick and unable to lift himself. He was laid at the gates of the rich man’s house. The dogs which licked his sores probably also stole the little bread he got for himself. Enduring the torment of these dogs only added to the poor man’s misery.

The rich man treated the beggar with indifference. He did not lift a finger to help. He did not share a portion of his vast wealth to alleviate the plight of the poor man. But alas, when both of them died, there was a reversal of fortunes. Lazarus went to heaven but the rich man went to hell. It seems that in God’s economy, those who hold on to their earthly possessions without sharing them, will eventually lose their wealth but those who give generously of their possession will eventually be rewarded in the afterlife.

There are three lessons we can learn from this parable:

First lesson is that wealth is not necessarily a sign of God’s favor. Neither is poverty a sign of God’s disfavor. That some people are rich and others poor is simply a matter of fact. Some get rich by hard work, others by inheritance; some by honest gains others by dishonest means; some by earning and saving and others by sheer luck.

The Bible says that God will “supply all our needs according to his riches in glory.” This promise must be understood in the context of “seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” You give your heart to God as God supplies all your needs based on the gifts He has given you: wisdom, knowledge, blessings. God will indeed supply your need but you must be careful about your greed or else you will fall on the money trap, like this rich man in this parable.

In Africa, one of the ways by which the hunters trap the monkeys in the jungle is by putting peanuts in a jar. The jar has an opening which is just enough for the hand of the monkey to go through. When the monkey sees the peanuts in the jar, it inserts its hand into the jar and grabs a fistful of peanuts. But when it lifts up its closed hand, it gets trapped in jar. Now what the monkey should do to liberate itself is to let go of the peanuts, but it won’t, so the hunters are able to catch the monkey. The rich man in this parable was trapped into hell because when he was on earth, he was not able to let go of his possessions. His possessions possessed him.

Second lesson is that it is not necessarily money itself but the love of money that is the root of all evil. God delights that we will prosper and be of good health even as our souls prosper. Everything that is good is God’s gift but let us be careful not to be obsessed with the gifts to the point that we forget the Giver. Jesus said that a servant cannot serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other. You cannot serve both God and money. But you can use money to love and serve God.

The late Cardinal Jaime Sin, one of the most loved Roman Catholic archbishops of Manila once said, “money is the manure of the devil but in the kingdom of God, it can be a good fertilizer.”The church ministry is enhanced when there is fund to do it. Today, we start our campaign for annual pledge.Let us respond with grateful hearts for what God has given to us, but supporting the ministry of the church.

I often equate managing a church with managing a city. The city must provide services but in order to do so, it must have revenues. That is why it is necessary to pay taxes. In the church we have no taxes; we have no IRS to enforce the income tax return. What we have is a moral and spiritual persuasion. What we have is an ethical volunteerism to pledge our support for the work of the church. It is not forced upon us, it is however incumbent upon us to give thanks to God for the blessings that we receive. Here at St. James, I encourage you to pledge for the support of the ministries by giving a portion of your blessings.

The third lesson we get from this parable is that there is life after death and then there is judgment. The Bible clearly says, “those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” Some scholars believe that this parable is also a prophecy of the next life and those who have been comfortable on earth and remained blind to the suffering of their fellow human being will suffer judgment at the end.

The name Lazarus means God is my help. Despite a life of misfortune and suffering, Lazarus did not lose hope in God. His eyes were set on a treasure stored up for him in heaven. The rich man, on the other hand, could not see beyond his material wealth. He not only had every thing he needed, he selfishly spent only on himself and hoarded the treasures that could have helped people like Lazarus. He was too absorbed in what he possessed. He lost sight of God and  the treasure of heaven because he was preoccupied with seeking happiness in material things that are temporary and doomed. He served wealth rather than God and in the end the rich man became the beggar! As he was begging for a drop of water, he realized the evil and vanity of his ways, but it was too late. There was a wide gap that separate between him and Lazarus, the once poor Lazarus who is now the one experiencing the eternal bliss of heaven in the bosom of Abraham.

 Let us pray: Lord God, you are our joy, our treasure and our life. Make us rich in the things of heaven and give us generous heart that we may freely share your blessings. Set us free from selfishness and insecurity. Help us to understand that all good gifts come from you and that we are merely stewards of your bounties. Help us to use your gifts for the building of your kingdom that will not pass away. Deliver us from the money trap and lead into the fulfilling of your will.  Amen.  

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