Your Money or Your Life?
Speaker: The Rev'd Emily Griffin
It’s one week after Easter, and they’re still inside with the doors locked – the disciples, that is. At least Thomas has an excuse. He wasn’t there on Easter night when Jesus showed up, showed them his hands and side, repeated his message of peace. He wasn’t there when Jesus gave them their marching orders: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” “Send” sounds like an action verb to me. In John’s Gospel, there’s no 50-day waiting period between the resurrection and the receiving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost as there is in Luke. The disciples receive the comfort and the power of Holy Spirit right then and there on Easter night. And yet, one week later, they’re still in the same spot.
They might not be afraid of the authorities anymore, but beyond that – we have no indication that their behavior has changed. They may have been sent, but they didn’t go anywhere. No wonder Thomas doesn’t buy their story. He says it’s because he needs to see for himself, and I’m sure that’s true. But there could be another reason. If the disciples had truly seen the risen Christ, had seen proof that love is stronger than death, shouldn’t it make a difference – not just in their beliefs, but in their lives?
Say what you will about the believers as Luke describes them in today’s reading from Acts; you can’t accuse them of all talk and no action. We’re told that they sold their land, even their houses, and brought the proceeds to the apostles – “and it was distributed to each as any had need.” I know it’s a cliché - but talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Perhaps this was why the apostles could testify to the resurrection with such power – because it made a difference not just in how people thought or felt, but in what they did for those in need.
Of course, not everyone was equally on board with this notion of rejecting private ownership. Imagine that. Just a few verses later, we read about a couple who sell some property, secretly pocket a portion for themselves, and then bring the rest back to the church as if it were the whole amount. This experiment of common ownership didn’t last long, but I’m curious as to why it ever emerged in the first place. What relationship is there between resurrection and how we spend our money?
Well, according to the Jesus we read about in Luke, wealth is not an automatic sign of divine approval. For all that money makes possible in terms of meeting the needs of others (and yes, it is extremely useful for that purpose), it is also a spiritual danger. Wealth can blind us to those who need us the most – or at least, distort our view of them. We begin to see fellow children of God solely in terms of their weaknesses and deprivations and, in the process, lose sight of their strengths. When we don’t live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same doctors or frequent the same stores, when we rely on television to tell us what we need to know about poverty, authentic interaction is harder to come by. And even when we do interact, wealth can skew things. It can introduce fear and shame into places where they don’t always need to be and objectify everyone involved – rich and poor alike - so that no one feels truly heard or seen.
Wealth can also give us a false sense of security and warp our sense of self-worth. We begin to believe that we are what we achieve, that life somehow owes us protection from vulnerability. You’d think that the pandemic would have cured us of these illusions, but I’m not so sure. We don’t want to be the fools in Luke’s parable – you know, the ones who spend all their energy storing up things in barns when their lives are demanded of them that very night. When our time is limited (and let’s face it – it’s limited for all of us), we want to remember what lasts and what doesn’t, what we can take with us and what we can’t. We want to remember what Jesus taught us - that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” but wealth can make it too easy to forget. And so, we end up settling for a version of life that’s not worthy of the name – a “life” that exaggerates fears of scarcity and, if we’re not careful, can make us frantic, stingy, petty and small. Wealth enables survival, sure - but abundant life, life that banks on the power of love over death and acts accordingly – that can’t be bought.
Now back to our Gospel reading for today. We’re told what John sees as the purpose of his book – i.e. “that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The point isn’t believing for the sake of belief; as Geoffrey often says, the point is life. When we trust in Jesus, the One God raised from death to new life, when we trust him with our lives and futures, our death grip on wealth loosens a bit and we’re freer to find better uses for our time – because we’re no longer forcing money to serve a purpose it was never designed for. We’re freer to widen our circle of those whose needs matter to us, of those we’re willing to sacrifice for. We’re freer to belong to and draw from a community that is so much bigger than us – and let it influence not just how we think, but how we act, how we save, how we invest, how we give and yes, how we spend. We’re freer to go wherever the risen Christ may send us and to claim the Holy Spirit’s comfort and power right here and now. In the Name of the One who came so that we might have life and have it abundantly, Amen.