Luke 12:13-21; Mark 4:26-29
Last week we began our three part series called “Earn, Save, Give” which is based on John Wesley’s advice that we “earn all we can; save all we can; and give all we can.” Wesley was the organizer behind the Methodist movement in England in the 1700’s and he saw that people were suffering deeply because the poor kept getting poorer and the rich kept getting richer. So he took a cue from Jesus and taught people how to think about and manage their money so that they could be freed up to worship God in this world instead of being in debt and in prison to their lack of money.
As we look out at our world today, we see the same things happening. So Wesley’s words still have bearing on our lives today as we seek to follow the Gospel. Last week we talked about earning all you can, a large part of which is to get out of debt. This week we are going to be talking about saving all you can.
The main part of saving all you can is not spending your money on things that won’t last. In the gospel of Matthew it says not to buy things that moths and rust can destroy, but to put our treasure with things that will last. Wesley actually put it a bit more bluntly. He said, do not throw your money into the sea. Wesley believed strongly that there are thousands of ways we throw our money away— he lists things like elegant food; liquor; expensive furniture and paintings and home decor and tools. There’s a Menards billboard that I think says it all. It shows a picture of a beautiful home and deck and then it says, “Invest in your home;” which sounds like a financially solid idea— people are always talking to us about investing wisely. But the trouble is, we can spend millions of dollars at Menards and in five to ten years it’s out of style, or you’ve decided you don’t like the color that you chose, or the appliances need replacing and aren’t worth anything at all. Because of course Menards doesn’t care about our investment, they care about selling their products. But they make sure to use language that entices us into justifying our purchases.
Wesley may not have known the science behind consumerism; he may not have known that it satisfies the same area of the brain as other addictions, but he did know that the more we buy, the more we want to buy. He said, “Who would spend anything in gratifying these desires if we considered for a moment that to gratify them is to increase them?” Feeding our desire to buy anything, just makes our desire bigger rather than smaller. So by spending money on things that won’t last, we expand our craving for those things, we don’t lessen it.
Think of our first Gospel lesson this morning. A man’s harvest is plentiful, so plentiful that after he has filled his barns, he finds that he has too much leftover. So he decides, as he is dreaming of all his wealth, to create new and better barns to fill with all that he has. But the Bible is clear about these situations— that provisions are to be made for those who have nothing; that a part of every field should be left for those who have nothing to come and glean; that excess is meant to be shared, not hoarded. The man doesn’t know when he has enough. He has earned all he can; he has saved all he can; but then when there is so much he doesn’t have room for it, he has forgotten to give all he can. And he is called a fool.
The Gospel from Mark makes it even clearer why this is so foolish. It reminds us that we do what we can do, but it is God that gives the harvest. It is God that makes the crops grow while we are sleeping; everything we have comes from God; while we are paying no attention, God is bringing a harvest. It’s not that there isn’t enough. Despite our efforts to control the abundance of this world, God has provided. There is enough food in this world when we care enough to distribute it wisely. There are enough resources on our earth, when we care enough to be good stewards of them. There is enough money to take care of all the needs of all of our families and neighbors and friends when we give generously of ourselves. Our economy doesn’t have to be built on the backs of some to feed the stomachs of others. We can all work hard, find rest, and still be fed. And it starts right here, in the ways we practice using our money in our homes; in our places of work; as consumers in the marketplace, or choosing to be non-consumers as much as possible; even in the decisions we make about where to put our money after we have died. Wesley was even clear about not leaving money to kids who will waste it away— put your money instead in the places you see that bring life and life abundant.
Osceola McCarthy wasn’t known for her wealth. Born in 1908 in Mississippi, Osceola’s mother was a cook for a family in Hattiesburg. But when she was young, Osceola’s mother taught her about saving her money and so when Osceola got big enough to iron, she began to iron other people’s clothes and put a little bit of her earnings into a savings account at First Mississippi National Bank. She had to quit school in 6th grade to take care of her aunt and never went back. She never married, never had children of her own, never owned a car. She washed and ironed people’s clothes for 74 years and no one outside of her church had ever really heard of her until she established a scholarship fund at the University of Southern Mississippi with $150,000 that she had saved over the years. She set up that scholarship fund in a school that wouldn’t have even admitted her in her youth because she is African American, and yet she wanted students who came after her to have a chance at something she never had a chance at— an education.
In a Star Tribune article in 2016, Chris Farrell, a Financial Advisor, said, I think we need to emphasize to young people that personal finance isn’t about asset allocation; it’s about freedom and choice over a lifetime.
John Wesley knew that earning all we can brings financial freedom; saving all we can makes sure that we are not throwing our money away on things that don’t last, feeding our pride instead of making sure that we are not indebted to others; and giving all we can reminds us daily that we are freed up to follow Jesus rather than our own selfish and narrow ways; to trust in what God is doing rather than in what we are doing. Margot Starbuck was feeling challenged in her faith to simplify her life and focus more on God. She decided to get rid of 1,000 things that she didn’t need, and to involve her family in on it. At first her kids grumbled while her husband was gleeful about getting rid of their toys; after a bit of time it was the kids who got into it, finding more and more things to give away and her husband ran out of easy things and began grumbling. It was a challenge for all of them, but at the end of it, they were amazed at how much lighter they felt and how little they bought during that time. “As a person who follows Jesus,” Margot shared at the end, “I am now liberated to respond to his voice because I’m less tied to what I own… releasing physical objects from my home has had the spiritual effect of putting me in proper relationship with the ones that remain… “Enough”— which used to seem so elusive— has come into clearer focus, and I’ve seen the Provider more clearly and have felt freer to meet the needs of others.”
Jesus said that our heart will be where our treasure is. It’d be nicer if he said that our treasure would be where our heart is, but he knew us better than that. When we earn all we can, save all we can, and then give all we can, we are freed up to follow our hearts’ desire to make a world of difference, to serve God in all that we do, and to live into God’s gracious, generous image that we are created to reflect.
Earn.Save.Give. by James Harnish John Wesley’s Sermons, An Anthology, edited by Albert Outler and Richard Heitzenrater Chris Farrell’s article in the Star Tribune, January 9, 2016