Looking to God or Looking at Money?

Scripture  |  Matthew 6:19-21  |  Matthew 6:22-34

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be, also.” It’s one of the most familiar sayings of Jesus, and the theme of our whole series this fall. The saying comes from this passage in Matthew, where Jesus is trying to teach his followers what really matters - and how to live and have and do what really matters. 

Hint: it’s not based in the things people usually focus on here on earth.

Jesus starts out with an odd little saying, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” That may sound strange to our modern ears, but it made perfect sense in Jesus’ day. As one scholar explains, “in the ancient world the eye was considered to be a source of light that illumined reality.” Rather than light coming in from the outside, light comes from the inside. So how you see depends entirely on the spirit within. [Thomas G. Long, Matthew (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 74.]

If one’s eye is healthy – that is, if one essentially has a generous spirit and sees the world in a benevolent light – then one’s total life will be abounding. On the other hand, if one basically sees the world in a pinched and selfish way, then one’s whole existence… will be begrudging.

In other words, what you see is what you get. 

You know that saying, “Some people see the glass as half full, and some see the glass as half-empty”? What’s really funny to me is how easy it is not to even notice you have a glass to begin with. We don’t even see what we have in our hands.

I’m fascinated by studies that examine what people see, and what they miss. The most well-known is the gorilla experiment. It’s a “selective attention test.” Subjects are asked to watch a short video of six people passing basketballs around. Three people are in white shirts and three are in black. Your job is to count how many times the people in the white shirts pass the basketball. 

The thing is, in the middle of the passing, someone dressed in a gorilla costume “strolls into the middle of the action, thumps its chest, and then leaves.” 

Half the people in this study didn’t see the gorilla. At all. In their eyes, it simply wasn’t there.

You will see exactly what you are looking for. 

But if that’s true, why do we go looking for trouble? 

Then Jesus goes on to make a second point: “No one can be slave to two masters,” Jesus says; “You can’t serve God and be a slave to money.” 

Guess what? Being a slave to money is looking for trouble. And the way it entraps you is worry. 

Now, what’s curious about this is that having more money doesn’t mean worrying. Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy conducted a four-year study of wealthy people – 165 households with an average net worth of $ 78 million. Let me say that again – an average net worth of $ 78 million. 

“The respondents turn out to be a generally dissatisfied lot,” the study revealed.

Their money has contributed to deep anxieties involving love, work, and family. Indeed, they are frequently dissatisfied even with their sizable fortunes. Most of them still do not consider themselves financially secure; for that, they say, they would require on average one-quarter more wealth than they currently possess. (Remember: this is a population with assets in the tens of millions of dollars and above.) One respondent, the heir to an enormous fortune, says that what matters most to him is his Christianity, and that his greatest aspiration is “to love the Lord, my family, and my friends.” 

He also reports that he wouldn’t feel financially secure until he had $1 billion in the bank. [Graeme Wood, “The Secrets of the Super-Rich,” The Atlantic, April 2011, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2011/04/secret-fears-of-the-super-rich/308419/. Cited by Mike Slaughter, The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016], 17.]

Exactly how much is enough to make you stop worrying? Is there ever enough?

“Don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink… or about what you’ll wear,” Jesus said. “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”

It isn’t that there’s never anything to worry about. This isn’t meant to be a platitude, “Don’t worry; be happy.” Jesus takes people’s lives far too seriously for that. 

There are genuine challenges people face that are frightening. When life is out of control, of course you worry. 

This weekend our 7th and 8th graders had a lock-in. They had a blast – you should see the video of them playing “Hungry Hippos”. But they also did serious things, like a poverty simulation. As they tried to work through tough decisions with limited resources, it was eye-opening. 

Afterwards they described their feelings: they felt lonely, angry, dejected, betrayed, and desperate. It was traumatizing. 

  • It wasn’t bad at first, but it got worse. 
  • We were deprived of child support.
  • We sold stuff, so we had hope.
  • Sometimes so desperate, I didn’t think clearly.
  • I feel bad that I can’t help my family make money.

I don’t ever want to minimize the worry people genuinely feel. Sometimes the world feels scary and overwhelming. It is not my place to say “Now, now, it will all be fine.” 

But Jesus says to focus on God and not money, even in scary times. Is that even possible? 

Of course it is. Of course. 

Mike Slaughter is the pastor of the Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, outside of Dayton. In his book The Christian Wallet, he tells the story of a church member named Jason. Jason is hardly dealing with poverty – far from it – but the financial stress he faced was very real and very scary for him. 

Jason “is an investment realtor… who also manages a team of medical insurance professionals.”  He’s married to a woman named Sarah, a second marriage for both, and they have a combined total of seven children ages eight and nineteen. When they married they bought a big, new, beautiful 5500-square-foot house in a suburb of Dayton. 

Looking back, Jason says, “Our attitude was all about us. We wanted to show everyone that we had made it. In retrospect, I have no idea why that felt so important to us at the time.”

Then their income went south. Jason’s medical insurance business was affected by the Affordable Care Act. Sarah had to change careers. They made $100,000 less on an annual basis than they did when they bought the house. That house – their pride and joy - wasn’t a blessing anymore but a burden, an albatross around their necks. 

Worry doesn’t begin to describe what Jason and Sarah were feeling. More like sheer panic.

Then they took a good, hard look at their new reality. They began to make changes. They took a class through their church called “Financial Peace University.” Jason realized that “he had to stop making his life all about making money.” They created a new budget, committed to living more simply, and worked on paying off debt. 

They sold everything they reasonably could – and downsized into a smaller house. What he thought was his “dream house” seems ridiculous to him now, big enough to “house twenty to thirty people, and I had been using it for a single family.” 

He’s frugal now, in a way he never was before. But he’s also more generous than he’s ever been in his life. 

Jason says he used to pray for abundance. Then his prayer switched to “Just get me out of this mess.” Now, it has become, “God give me exactly what I need,” and God does.

The irony in all this? He is happier than he has ever been. Ever. “Even when I had tons of money,” he says, “my stuff owned me.” [ Slaughter, 19-22.]

No one can serve two masters, Jesus said. You can’t serve God and money.

But if you seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness first? 

Then all these things will be provided for you as well. 

As a wise preacher describes it:  

The rent is still due,… and the… store still expects payment for jeans and coats, but we have seen this other world, this world of God’s gracious and tender care, and it promises to overthrow the power of anxiety. We will still wonder if we can make the checkbook balance this month, but there is nothing in this world that can take away what God provides – dignity, a sense of worth, the confidence of being treasured in the heart of God.
— Long, 76.

What you see is what you get. So let me ask you this:

What is it you’re looking for?

Rev. Karen Chakoian
First Presbyterian Church
Granville, OH