Ecclesiastes 9:10, John 10:10, Genesis 1:27, & Colossians 3:23 CEB
Whatever you are capable of doing, do with all your might because there’s no work, thought, knowledge, or wisdom in the grave, which is where you are headed.
The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.
God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.
Whatever you do, do it from the heart for the Lord and not for people.
“Gain all you can” sounds like a simple enough rule, except we can’t forget that we are disciples of Christ, so everything is filtered through Christ’s example. John Wesley, in his sermon “Use of Money,” understands this so as he offers this rule, Wesley immediately adds that gain should be “without buying gold too dear, without paying more for it than it is worth.” What is money worth to a Christian? Do we seek to gain as much of it as possible regardless of the means and the harm it takes to get it? The answer to these questions goes back to our goal of gaining any money. When Christians gain money it is for God and God’s abundance, so all that we do to earn it must be in light of that goal.
In John Wesley’s day, the idea of thrift and industry as Christian virtues was not novel, nor even the concept of economic discipline as part of Christian discipleship. The scripture reading from Ecclesiastes sums up this virtue well: “Whatever you are capable of doing, do with all your might.” This life is the only time and place we have for economic discipline, so we might as well practice it rightly. For much of Christian history, money and wealth were to be turned to philanthropic purposes. Looking at Christians in medieval and Reformation times, the idea that we should gain money solely for our own sake was seen as “tantamount to atheism.” Of course, a view like this was becoming outdated by the early capitalism of the industrial age of the 1700s where the divide between the haves and have-nots was already becoming apparent, and so Wesley became greatly concerned that Christians everywhere were losing sight of the reason why folks should seek economic gain and how we should go about doing it.
What about today? Have we changed that much from the mindset of many in the days of Wesley? As we talked about last week, it is not money itself but the love of it that causes problems, and that love can be seen in what and who we value. Our modern consumer culture tells us, “‘Your value is measured by your position, your paycheck, the car you drive or the house you live in.’” Since culture gauges our value by what and how much we have, we sacrifice much to obtain greater wealth and greater symbols of our success. “In today’s culture – where our self-worth is tied to our net worth, and we base our worthiness on our level of productivity,” so we end up sacrificing our mental and physical well-being for the security that we believe wealth brings, following the myth, “‘A little more money will solve all my problems.’” This is the gospel truth of modern culture, that we should sacrifice all things in hopes of getting just a bit more to be happier and healthier.
Like so many of the gospel truths of culture, this one does not line up well with the gospel of our savior and teacher, Jesus Christ. In John’s gospel, Jesus makes a point of reminding his disciples that he has come to bring life abundant and that our God seeks the flourishing and well-being of all of his children. How can we tell if something is life-giving or life-destroying, from God or not? John 10:10 gives us a clue, saying “The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” When we gain wealth in the right way, it should be marked by an abundance of life, not stealing, killing, or destroying. Wesley acknowledges this as well, insisting that we should not gain money “at the expense of life, nor [...] at the expense of our health.” We are not to destroy ourselves to earn a wage. We are not to harm our mental or physical health for money.
Of course, we can push back against John, pointing out that people in the real world cannot live this kind of fantasy as we all need to eat and live. And yet, Wesley counters us by quoting Christ himself in Luke 12, “The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment” (Luke 12:23 KJV). Fundamentally, what are we? Are we simply bodies that need to be fed and clothed? Is this all our God made us to be, or can we find something more if we scour every inch of our being? We cannot forget that “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.” You and I are not simply meat, we are made in the image of God. We are called to care and tend to all that bear this image of the divine. We are called to bring abundant life to ourselves and to our neighbor as God brings it to us.
As I said before, we have often lost sight of God’s truth in favor of the world’s truth. Consumer culture tells us, “Get more so you’ll be safe, so you’ll one day have enough,” but God tells us something different. God tells us that we are made in the image of the divine and that our lives are marked by loving and caring for our neighbor as part of our service to God. As the words of Colossians emphasize, “Whatever you do, do it from the heart for the Lord and not for people.” What is in the heart of God? To give life abundantly! Just to me? No! God seeks to give life to all people! If I wish to serve the Lord and if I have the heart of God, what must I do? I must also seek the good, the life, and the betterment of my neighbor.
John Wesley adds a final condition to gaining wealth, that we are “to gain all we can without hurting our neighbour.” How anti-capitalist of John! He lives in a day when few batted an eye at children working in factories or where others were maimed and crippled daily by the industrial machines of the age. Then again, we live in a day where few bat an eye at children working in factories – at least as long as they’re not US children. We live in a day where the corporate machines use up people and toss them out broken and bleeding left to turn to alcohol and opioids to answer their pain. How can anyone ask us to consume with concern for our neighbor? This world only has so much, and for me to have, another must lose! Right?
Is that really what we have learned from our Savior? Is this really the answer? We all have to eat and we all need shelter, but there is only so much food and so many homes to go around, so make sure you get enough for yourself and yours first and foremost! I will love my neighbor only if there is enough left over to love them with. I believe we are called to a deeper truth. I believe our God has called us to be good stewards of ourselves and our neighbors, this is how we best serve God. That’s the basic Christian definition of stewardship after all, it’s about “how we care for the things that God has entrusted to us in ways that serve God’s purposes.” Tell me, do any of us want to go before our God when this life is done and say to our God who has blessed us out of overabundant grace and overwhelming love, that we used those gifts only to feed ourselves and those closest to us?
Our purpose in gaining money, like any gift from God, is to serve God in loving our neighbor and loving ourselves well. Now, for this gathered congregation, maybe many of us are thinking that we are retired or we are no longer gaining much wealth, but what about that stewardship, that loving and caring of neighbors? How many of us fight for them these days? How many of us look at how we can ease the burdens of our neighbors? Maybe we don’t. Maybe we say that making things too easy makes people lazy. And yet, there is not a day that goes by that I do not hope and strive to make things easier for my daughter than they were for my wife and for me. That’s what a parent does for a child, so I am thankful for all the ways that God has made things easier for me. On my own, I could never have done enough to be right with God. My mistakes were too many, my sins too great, but God turned around and made things easier for me. God gave me grace through Christ, and now, I can enjoy a gift greater than any amount of money can buy. I can spend the rest of my forever with our God.
Friends, we must never lose sight of why we go about earning money. It is not for ourselves only, for that is tantamount to atheism. It is for God and for our neighbor. Our God is not just a God of ends but also a God of means, so we cannot simply say that we’ve gained an abundance of wealth as we must always strive to do it without harming ourselves or our neighbors. It is not an easy thing to strive for because this kind of economic discipline runs contrary to all the consumer culture myths of our day. At the same time, this discipline is our discipleship, the only way we can serve and love our God without falling head over heels for money. Amen.
 John Wesley, Sermon 50 “Use of Money” in The Works of John Wesley, ed. Thomas Jackson, WordsOfWesley.com (Accessed May 11, 2020)
 Albert C. Outler, “The Use of Money: Sermon 50 - 1760, An Introductory Comment” in John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, eds. Albert C. Outlet and Richard P. Heitzenrater, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 347.
 Abingdon Press, Saving Grace: A Guide to Financial Well-Being (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2020), 38.
 Brene Brown, Imperfection: The Gifts of Imperfection, 10th-anniversary ed., (Center City: Hazelden Publishing, 2020), 129.
 Abingdon Press 2020, 38.
 Wesley 2020
 Wesley 2020
 Lovett H. Weems Jr. and Ann A. Michel, Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance: A Transformational Guide to Church Finance (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2021), 67.
Pastor Paul Grossman