“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where mothsand vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
As a congregation, I have always found you quite accommodating: you’ve put up with me preaching without any shoes on, answered questions in small groups – even fairly personal ones – and watched trustingly as I’ve opened a bag that based on my sermon title might have contained severed heads. But what would you say to me this morning if I asked you to write down on a piece of paper how much money you take home every month and show it to the person sitting next to you?
I suspect that many of you would stare at me as if I had lost my mind. Some of you would have laughed nervously thinking that, surely, I must be joking. A few of you might actually be upset enough at the request to walk right out of this sanctuary and never come back!
Because we all know that you just don’t talk about money! A recent survey conducted in Britain revealed that people are actually more willing to share their most intimate bedroom details with a stranger rather than what it says on their salary slip.
You see, we grow up believing that money is a personal, private matter; something that is certainly not spoken about at dinner tables. And definitely not in church!! But did you know that Jesus talked about money more than he did about heaven and hell combined? If it was important enough to Jesus to talk about honestly and, often, uncomfortably, it’s important enough for us.
In talking about money, I have to start way back at the beginning with the household in which I was raised. My dad was an insurance broker; my mom, his part-time secretary/full-time mother/part-time church mouse (that is, someone who works very hard for the church and is paid peanuts for it).
We were considered to be lower middle class but my mom’s connection to the church meant that we were always helping out others who had less than us. Even though, at times, we had very little.
Most of my dad’s income came from a couple of annual policies from which he received a sizeable commission. It was our favourite time of year as a family; a time in which we all got along. We would go out to Mike’s kitchen for a meal; my mom would always buy me two dresses to update my wardrobe; and books … we would buy books to swap and share and read and reread.
But after a couple of months the mood would change. My dad would spend more time at the bowling club having drinks with his buddies because it was no longer easy at home. And we would have simpler meals – strawberry jam sandwiches for school; sometimes peanut butter sandwiches for supper as my mom cheerfully announced that she really needed to find time to go shopping as there was nothing to eat in the house.
A constant in our lives though was our pocket money. My mom didn’t mess with that. We each had a star chart full of chores hanging on the back of our bedroom door and every day mom would mark off what we had done in order to earn our monthly sweetie money. I even got stars for managing to go the whole day without chewing my nails off!
I started my first job at the age of 16 marking maths book at a Kumon centre. And then tutoring. And even acting as an afternoon au pair to two monsters who liked to lock me in the very narrow space between their security gate and front door.
I also had to put myself through university on academic scholarships because there was no way my parents could afford it. My middle brother joined the army for the same reason. My younger brother didn’t even aim for tertiary education as, by that stage, my parents were going through a really tough divorce and he bore a lot of the conflict and the blame.
About a year after I was married, my mom started out as a junior typist at an Insurance brokerage, renting a tiny garden cottage in a rather unsafe area but determined to build a life for herself. My dad -well, my dad and I haven’t spoken since he told me what a horribleChristian I am and a terrible minister I’d make after we refused to provide housing for him and his new wife.
Anyhow, I taught high school Maths and Life Orientation while I wrestled with my ongoing call into ministry and, in 2009, with Darren and I in agreement and two children in tow I candidates to becomea non-stipendiary, non itinerant minister in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. These are very fact words but they simply mean that I would not get a salary or a stipend from the church or a house to live in but depend solely on my husband to support my desire to preach and teach even in congregations and contexts where people were too poor to afford a minister.
I wish that whenever I look at my husband I could be filled with gratitude at his generosity but I have to admit that the consequences of that decision have been very difficult for us as a couple. It is something that we have fought over a lot. Not the amount of money per say but the power relations that it’s translated into in our household: because Darren is the primary breadwinner there is always extra pressure on him to perform, to do well, to care for our family, to keep the roof over our heads because without his job we would have nothing.
But even though I work as hard as he does, I sometimes feel like he doesn’t see my ministry as a full time job. When a child gets sick or an emergency crops up, I’m the one who needs to deal with it.When he has to go overseas for a meeting, it doesn’t matter what was already in my diary beforehand. And when I have to work a whole weekend he gets resentful having to pick up the slack at home because he has already worked a long, hard week at the office.
And, honestly, because of my past history there is often at the back of my mind a fear of what would happen if he ever decided to leave because – like my mom – I have nothing to fall back on.
Interestingly enough, he feels unappreciated too. That I don’t see the amount of effort that he puts into his job or the stress and strain that he feels like he has to carry alone. That – especially since I started schooling our two boys and my mom has moved in with us – he is on the outside of the family because he has to go into the office every single day while I get to enjoy a lot of time at home.
Adding to all of this struggle are the times when I wonder whether the arguments and the sacrifices are even worth it, when I want to say to God, “What on earth are you doing?”
I get frustrated, for instance, when we can authorise the purchase of a platter for a meeting or the start of a course but we don’t have money left for end-of-year party packs for our children. I get anxious when our conversations are all about keeping the lights on when we are called to so much more than that as church. My heart breaks when I see some of the people who gather at the church with nothing but stories of desperation and despair- only to leave here unseen, unheard, by so many who worship so comfortably on a Sunday. But these are not the kind of things that we talk about because they’re personal and private, and it’s impolite.
I hope that you have started to see, my friends, through my story that these money matters that we think of as so personal and private are not personal at all. They may be secret, unspoken, unacknowledged because they make us feel so uncomfortable:
- about how we see ourselves,
- about how we see another,
- about those ugly thoughts we’re thinking when the person standing next to us has clearly not taken a bath in days,
- or the envy we feel as someone pulls into the parking lot in a car we could never even dream of affording,
- about the questions we have as to someone’s integrity that we would never dare ask to their face only talk about behind their backs,
- about how well or how poorly we are behaving as stewards of God’s resources and children of God’s kingdom.
Money is relational. It changes power dynamics, influences our sense of self-worth, determines our priorities, and, ultimately, impacts every significant relationship we will ever have. Do we really think by not talking about it, we are lessening its power?
No wonder Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
When the love of God is at the centre of our desire, our will, our choices, love flows within and beyond us. When money is what occupies that central place, it is something that we will always hoard and hold onto – with conflict and division and secrecy and dishonesty following in its wake.
This morning, as I have shared a bit of my story with you, I hope that you will be encouraged to look into your own story, to identify the places where money has become a power and a problem, and to talk about it – be it with the friend or partner whose relationship it has impacted, with your fellowship group, or simply with God.
This day, may you have the courage to pray, “Lord, may your love be my greatest treasure.”
Yours in Christ
I should perhaps also add, for the record, that my husband and I are aware of our issues and that they are in fact similar to those that many couples face. Life is full of financial pressures, and relationships are full conflict over those pressures. Yet we choose as a couple not to give in to the conflict or the pressure but to talk openly and honestly about our thoughts and emotions so that we can live and act out of a deep sense of calling and love for one another and for God. The journey may be difficult but we value the opportunities to grow in patience, compassion, and understanding. We would not change a thing!