You cannot serve both God and wealth.
These are strong words from Jesus about wealth. To be honest, not too many (if any) of us would put ourselves in the category of serving wealth rather than God. Which is interesting because it is our pursuit, accumulation, and expenditure of wealth that determines so much of our everyday lives. I’m not making a judgment—just stating a fact. It makes sense that, given how much of our lives are spent on wealth (or being anxious about our lack of it), there would be an ever present possibility that we have made it our “God.”
I remember making a final visit to the congregation in Maine with whom I was negotiating the terms of my compensation. It would be the first congregation where I would serve as a pastor—the only pastor. It was a congregation about half the size of GUC and with an endowment of over one million. I had already accepted their invitation to serve in this role but, upon seeing their “offer,” felt that we needed further conversation. It was 1989. I was 32 years old. Julia was 2 and Jennifer was 6 months pregnant with twins. Their offer was $17,000 in salary. Of course, a house was provided as well. It was a VERY tense negotiation. Except for one person, everyone in the room was 30+ years my senior. In the end, they agreed to increase my compensation another $1,200. The vote was far from unanimous. One gentleman in the room—George, as I recall— took it upon himself to remind me, for the duration of my pastoral tenure, that I was there to serve God and not wealth.
Beware of us ministers preaching about the evils of serving wealth—we are all too ready to assume the moral high ground. But, if the truth be told, we ministers are no less in danger of serving wealth rather than God. Scarcity (not to mention envy) no less than abundance can co-opt one’s soul.
So, how do we assess our devotion to wealth vs. our devotion to God? The sociologist and theologian, Jacques Ellul, proposed that if we are to remember that money is profane vs. sacred (an object worthy of worship), we must treat it as such. Which means, in his view, that we should treat it with the disrespect it deserves. He proposed that there was no better way to do that than to be reckless in giving it away. Only through abundant generosity will money be prevented from becoming the object of our worship. That’s worth pondering. Such abundant generosity would make it less likely that those who lack basic wealth would become preoccupied with the kind of anxiety that poisons the soul.
There are a lot of proposals circulating among emerging Presidential candidates about taxing the uber- wealthy— such as a wealth tax of 2% on those who make $50M or more in a year. What I find curious about all such proposals, is that it is never suggested that such a tax would be an opportunity for the uber-wealthy to show their love of country and for their fellow citizens. It is never framed as a question of where one’s true loyalty lies.
Do I serve God or wealth? That remains, for ALL of us, an open question.
Prayer: Gracious God, help me remain open to the question of where and how my heart is invested. Amen.