Sometimes I think God should have given ministers an extra ear. We get engaged in so many conversations. Across the years, most of those conversations get lost from memory because of sheer volume. Unlike your laptop, my memory isn’t measured in terabytes or even megabytes; maybe kilobytes. I forget a lot. But some conversations get lodged in the memory so deeply that even acid wash couldn’t destroy them. In the summer of 1975, I was serving on the summer staff of First Baptist, Branson, preaching in campgrounds and interning with the other two staff members. One of the church members, a successful CPA in town, paid me a visit. He was not an old man but old enough to be my father. He didn’t come right out and say it, but the gist of the conversation was that I should rethink my decision to be a minister. He bragged about all his money and all his stuff. And then he said this: “John, the only thing that really matters in life is money. Make as much of it as you can.” I was so taken aback by those words out of the mouth of a Christian that 43 years later I still remember them.
I wonder if the devil ever crouched on his shoulder and whispered in his ear, “I can give you the biggest house in town, the hottest car, the flashiest boat, the most expensive vacations, and all the money you’ll ever want in exchange for your soul and the souls of your wife and daughter.” And I can imagine him responding, “Sounds good. I’m all in.”
Hmm. Money talks. And we’re talking about money this month at the church. In worship and Connect Groups we are doing The Money Challenge. We inhabit a world of money and things. They don’t just speak to us in our culture; they shout. As followers of Jesus, it’s crucial that we get God’s mind on these things. That’s where we’re going with The Money Challenge. Between worship and Connect Groups we are learning theological principles and practical ways we can handle financial matters with the mind of Christ.
No one spoke more about money than Jesus did. Money-talk even made the Sermon on the Mount. I invite you to open your Bible this morning to Matthew 6:24. In this point of his sermon, Jesus is encouraging people not to get tied up knots about money and stuff. “The birds don’t,” said Jesus. “The flowers don’t either, and God provides for them in ways that would make rich King Solomon feel like a pauper. Seek God’s kingdom first. Before you get caught up in chasing the dollar and things it can buy, chase God, chase a right relationship with God and with others.”
Jesus knows us. He knows how glittering things and a pile of cash gets our attention and competes for our worship. In our text, Jesus calls this competitor by name. Hear the word of the Lord … (read the text).
The name Jesus gives to that competitor for our worship is Money. A transliteration of the word produces Mammon—an Aramaic word that represents money and the things it can buy—things like gain and success, merchandise and phony friends. Mammon is morally neutral. It’s not good and it’s not bad. It just is.
Mammon is money and things personified. A lot of us personify things because we get attached to them. I’m not ashamed to admit I got a little weepy when we walked out of our 22-year house this summer to move to a different one. We get attached to things—even name them. There’s that car insurance commercial with the lady who named her car Brad. She wrecked Brad and her lousy insurance company won’t replace him. “How am I going to replace Brad?” she asks. Maybe you’ve got a name for your car: Old Blue or Bucket of Bolts or Speed Demon. Davey Crockett named his rifle Old Betsy. Nothing wrong with personifying things.
There’s much wrong with deifying things—making things the master and lord of our lives. That’s what Jesus is getting at in our text. “You can’t serve God and Mammon. You’ll either love one and hate the other or be devoted to one and despise the other”—making clear you can’t serve both; you’ve got to choose one. Which one will it be? Jesus is calling us, here, to do a little idol inspection in our hearts.
And as we do that inspection, it struck me that maybe it would help if we could hear from Mammon. Hear his side of the matter. Money talks, right? Well, let’s give Money breath this morning and hear him out. May I introduce you to Mammon?
Thank you and good morning. As the preacher said, my name is Mammon. That’s my Aramaic name. Here in America, you can just call me Money. And I appreciate the opportunity to speak for myself.
The only time I get invited to church is during the offering or when somebody’s selling something in the foyer. I never get the floor. Maybe that’s because some believe I am evil. Let me set the record straight: I am not evil. Here’s a cold, hard fact: you need me. Try living without me and see how far you get. I keep your lights on, your furnace going, and your water running. I am the roof over your head, the chair you sit in, the television you watch, the car that you drive, the lawn you mow and the mower you use. I am the food in your cupboards and the clothes on your back. You need me. You can’t live without me.
And I can add a lot of extras to your life. Get enough of me and I’ll help you impress your friends and gain status in the community. I can help you appear powerful and important—which some people are really into. And if you have what you think is enough of me, I can give you peace of mind. Admit it: you like me and you all want more of me.
Which brings me to another cold, hard fact: some of you like me so much that you serve me. Listen, I have no desire to be your master. I find it amusing that people are so taken with me. Some of you, like that man the preacher mentioned, put me on a throne and serve me as if I were God. That man was one of my most loyal servants. He even quoted Mammon 3:16 – “The only thing that really matters in life is to make money. Make as much of it as you can.” He’s one of my bolder servants.
Others of you serve me but a little more on the sly. You’re not so bold about it. You waffle. One day I’m your master. The next day Jesus is. Sunday you chase Jesus. Monday through Saturday you chase me. You can’t make up your mind. You think you’ve figured out how you can serve God and money. But you can’t. And don’t get mad at me for saying that. I didn’t make that rule; Jesus did.
So, who are you serving? God or me? Like I said before, I have no interest in being your master. I couldn’t care less who you serve. But some of you are serving me. Maybe you never made a public profession of faith in me. Maybe you’ve never stood up in a meeting and said, “I love Money.” But your life speaks louder than your words. Want to know how to figure out if you’re serving me? Want to inspect your heart a little this morning? Then check this:
If you are not content with what you have then you are serving me. You’re always chasing bigger and better and newer. And when you can’t get what you want, you start to resent the things you have. You’re embarrassed for someone to see your house or ride in your car or sit on your worn out couch. If you’re not content with what you have, you’re serving me.
If you measure a person’s worth by what he or she owns, you’re serving me. Without even trying, I have a knack for making some people first-class snobs. People who serve me are people who love to show off their wealth the way a peacock fans its tail. “Look at me. I’m somebody. Notice me. I’m important.” Just cracks me up to see people act that way. And like wolves, they tend to run in packs. They want to be sure that they don’t associate with someone of a lesser economic class. Yes sir, they think they’re something. But I’ll tell you this: they’re shallower than a bird bath. And usually these very same people look down their nose at those who don’t have as much as they do—the servant class, you know. Well, these well-heeled snobs are servants too: they serve me.
But there are still others who serve me—like those who covet what others have. Covetous people are consumed with things. They constantly compare what they have with people who have more. And man, do they get resentful! They resent the fact that others have more or better stuff than they do, and they resent those people for having the stuff. They think like this: “I can’t believe Joe and Marsha have a house like that. Why don’t I have a house like that? I deserve it more than they do. It’s not fair. I hope their roof leaks, and I hope their air conditioner breaks down in July.” Coveters are a very large part of my flock.
And so are those who get themselves into financial bondage. I don’t understand why some of you refuse to live within your means. You’re upside down in your cars. You’re maxed out on your credit cards. You sweat your mortgage or your rent every single month. It’s bad for some of you, isn’t it? You can’t say no to anything that turns your head. I’ve known packrats who resist shiny things better than some of you. And here’s an irony you know all too well: now that you have all that stuff, you hate it, don’t you? You hate it because you can’t pay for it. You hate it because you have creditors breathing down your neck with threatening letters and intimidating phone calls. You hate it because these problems fill your marriage with blame and resentment—“You spend too much money.” “You don’t make enough money.” Blame and resentment. And you know why you’re in this mess? Because you chose me, Money, to be your master.
And there are others who have chosen me as their master—stingy people, closed-fisted misers who won’t share with God or with others. Let’s talk about giving to God for a minute. These people give God nothing or give on the cheap. God asks for at least a tithe. Tithe means tenth. You make a hundred bucks; God asks you to give back a minimum of ten, and most of you don’t do it. God says you can keep ninety. He just asks for ten. And God doesn’t ask a tithe because He needs your money. God asks a tithe to check your heart. “God’s asking too much!” some say. This one has always stumped me. How it is that religious people who claim to love God and trust their lives to him, can’t find the faith or the will to give God a simple tithe of their income? What really puzzles me, and maybe you can help me understand this, is that God gives you everything you have; he asks for so little in return; and some of you won’t give it: “No! It’s my money! I’m going to spend it on me!” If you won’t make a way to tithe your income to the Lord, or at least begin working toward the tithe, if your stingy with God and others, then you’ve made me your master.
So I ask you: am I the master you serve?
Honestly, I’ve never seen what people find so attractive about me. Some of you think a lot more highly of me than I do of myself. I know myself. I know that I’m earthbound. I am here today and gone tomorrow. I rot and rust and disintegrate. I am the gold-plated ring that turns your finger green. I am the crumpled up car rusting in a junkyard. I’m those things you have to rent a storage unit to hold because there’s no room in your house. I am the inheritance over which you feud with your own flesh and blood. I am all that stuff buried under a layer of dirt in the landfill. I know myself. And I just don’t understand my great attraction.
And you know what else? I make a pretty lousy master. As I’ve told you already, I don’t give a flip about you. You are nothing to me. I couldn’t care less whether you succeed or fail, whether you get all of me you can or whether you end up hungry and homeless on the street. I don’t care. Don’t take it personally. I’m indifferent about you because I’m incapable of emotion. Go ahead, put a stethoscope up to my chest and try to listen to my heart—you won’t find one. I have no heart. I have no compassion when you’re sick. I can’t comfort you when your heart is broken. I can’t be a companion when you’re lonely. I suppose I can buy you some temporary friends, but like me, they won’t last. And besides, they’re probably not attracted to you; they’re attracted to me. I guess I can buy you some good times, but I can’t buy you lasting joy. I’m make a lousy master.
And I can’t help you with this death thing either. Ever seen a U-Haul behind a hearse? You go out into eternity; I stay here. I am zero help at death. I guess I can buy you enough medicine to keep you alive a little longer, but I can’t keep you from dying. When Death comes knocking at your door, he’ll push me aside as if I wasn’t even there. I can’t keep you from dying. And I can’t get you into heaven. You can stand before God and try to use me for admission, but you can’t buy tickets to heaven. You can say, “But I’m a rich man, an important man. On earth I had it all.” You can try that if you want, but I’m telling you now, God won’t be impressed. You may hold me in high regard; God doesn’t. Don’t you ever read your Bible? “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1). “The silver is mine and the gold is mine, declares the Lord Almighty,” (Hag. 2:8). “For every animal of the forest is mine and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10). God already owns everything, so I don’t impress God in the least. That’s why I’m no help with this death thing. I’m no help with eternity. Make me your master on the earth, and you’ll be on your own come death and eternity.
Why would anyone choose me as their master? But so very many do.
I suppose that’s why Jesus pushes this whole matter about which master you will serve. You can’t serve two masters at once. You can’t serve Jesus and me at the same time. You can’t do it. Plenty of you choose me. And honestly, I don’t get it.
I’ll even be the first to admit that Jesus is much better master than I. Jesus loves you. Jesus has compassion on you. He understands you and went to great lengths to make it possible for you to know him and love him and follow him. He even died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins—including this sin of making me your master. I tend to appeal to your baser, selfish instincts; Jesus appeals to the best, highest, and noblest in you. Jesus is everything I’m not.
Love for me is the root of all kinds of evil;
love for Jesus is the root of all kinds of good.
I can buy you friends who will stick by you as long as I’m in the mix;
Jesus is the friend who sticks with you through thick and thin.
I can buy you happiness for a season;
Jesus can give you joy for eternity.
I’ll deceive you without even trying;
Jesus will tell you the truth, and that truth will set you free.
I can add worth to your estate;
Jesus can add worth to your life.
I can buy you a beautiful casket;
but Jesus can build you a home in heaven.
Do you feel me? Jesus is everything I’m not—a much better master than I’ll ever be. But the choice is yours. I don’t care what you do. Jesus is the one who cares. Jesus is the one who’s all urgent about this thing. And he says you’ve got to pick one master. How’d he put it? “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” You can’t do it. According to Jesus, you’ve got to choose. You’ve got to choose just one. I couldn’t care less. Jesus couldn’t care more. And it sounds like he’s waiting for your answer.
Preached: January 14, 2018
First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR
John Scott McCallum II