Half way through the 1972 movie Cabaret Joel Grey and Lisa Minnelli sing The Money Song. It starts with, Money makes the world go around
The world go around, The world go around
Money makes the world go around, It makes the world go 'round.
A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound A buck or a pound, A buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around, That clinking clanking sound
Can make the world go 'round.
It is a truth many people believe and live by. In fact, the reason I mention it at the start of this sermon is because my bet is that most of us will be thinking about this section in chapter 5 long after we stop thinking about what James writes just before it.
Wealth is one of those recurring themes we have seen in James. It is here linked with another theme in 4:13-17 which we might summarize as our plans. There are two distinct sections but they are linked to what has gone before as well as to the future work of those who follow Jesus. They are also linked to one another.
They are tied to the past as it counters the selfishness that threatens God's people. There is a pride we are guilty of when it comes to our time. There is pride involved in our wealth. In fact, this isn't the first time in this letter James addresses these issues. Past concepts and themes that are recounted here is the warning about being double minded when asking for God's wisdom. Pride stands in the way, paves the way for wishing people to be warm, and fed when we have the money to make it happen and don't help. It is toward the end of the letter so we may expect James to become a bit more pointed in his teaching, and he doesn't disappoint us.
Now Listen! Is how each of these sections begins. This phrase is not unlike the times when your mom or dad used your whole name. James is getting down on our level, staring us right in the eye and using our full names. He has used 10 imperatives just before this and he's not going to have us walk away and claim, "I didn't KNOW what you meant."
Did you see the quotation from Jon Bon Jovi before worship? It says, "Plan out your future but do it in pencil." The issue isn't with planning. Jesus reminds us that someone doesn't go out and start building a tower before they figure out what it costs. The issue is with the idea that we'll go and we'll do such and such.
If you don't know it by now there are no guarantees in life. Ryan and Renée are dealing with that with a tragic, untimely death of a high school that was very important in their lives. Barbara Sue Manire has a unique tombstone. Her daughter told reporters, "Mom always wanted a parking meter on her grave with the words 'time expired.' She died exactly on her 64th birthday, so my brother had special stickers made that read: "64 year time limit with a parking meter on it. 2
Many of us have done the same over the years. In fact, there are those who often used the phrase deo volente to express "God willing" as they wrote and made plans.
In 1871 Emerson wrote, "Next Friday, you know, my college life begins, Deo volente, and I hope and trust will begin with determined and ardent pursuit of real knowledge..." God willing, recognizes our responsibility and God's ultimate control. God willing frees us from the anxiety changes bring. God willing opens us to the mid-course corrections that others face with bitterness, screaming, pounding the ground in a tantrum and the like. Instead we can simply believe and rely on God's presence and goodness as we bend to His will.
Now Listen! Also marks the second section that deals with wealth. If you haven't heard me say it let me make it clear that the Bible is NOT against wealth. It is against the love of money as a goal and the misuse of it. It is a concept that had been present in Israel since the time of the prophets. In his commentary on Amos, Dr. Hubbard says, "Luxury without conscience, indulgent selfishness without spiritual or moral concerns—that is a passport to judgment." 3 Here James paints the same picture. There is a pastor story about a bank that sat next to a church's graveyard. Painted on the wall of the building was, "You can't take it with you but you can sleep next to it."
James wants those who are wealthy to understand that money is fleeting. Has anyone lost any money in their investments over the last couple of years? Do you recall the 10% plus interest available on CD's a decade or so ago? Today a Jumbo, $100,000 5 year CD will net you $19,193.16 if you don't touch it, that's 3.5% at e-loan bank.
James wants us to understand the source of one's money matters as well. James is concerned with those who cheated their workers out of their money. The Old Testament demanded an employer pay their laborer's daily and several other stipulations which had a history of being ignored by some. You may not know the name John G. Bennett Jr. but he was a man who stole millions of dollars from Harvard, Princeton, and Wheaton, various churches and even Chapel of the Air who wrote our 50-Day Spiritual Adventures, with his scheme. Those who were cheated were hurt badly. It crippled and put some ministries under entirely but James tells us "The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty (v4)".
Many of us have been victimized by such situations, sometimes with the name of Christ attached and often times not but it is important to know that we have a voice that reaches the ears of God on High.
Pastor Rod Cooper writes of being raised on a farm. "We raised pigs. We raised about a thousand pigs a year. In one field we had two or three hundred little oinkers running around. Every day, at four in the morning, as I'd walk into the field to feed those guys, they'd scatter. Once a little pig came up and began to chew on my foot, so I picked him up and began to pet him. Soon he wanted down.
I said, "No, I'll let you down when I'm ready." At that moment, he let out a squeal such as I had never heard. In about two seconds, thirty mama pigs weighing five to six hundred pounds each were headed my way. I put him down and headed for the fence. I barely made it over, and all the mama pigs were snorting and walking back and forth, daring me to come back over and bother one of their kids. I look back at that and realize the little rascal wasn't intimidated. He was out of control, but he wasn't intimidated. Why? Because one squeal away he had resources."
Do we realize that when defrauded we are one squeal away from a loving God who hears us? Do we believe that or do we act like it's all up to us?
James is also concerned with an attitude of self-indulgence seen among the wealthy. I don't know what self-indulgent looks like to tell you the truth. I imagine it is different for each of us. For some a new car would equal that and for others a nice vacation. Still others may claim it's having a certain amount of money stashed away. As a follower of Jesus it is a concept to be aware of and guard against. One guide is that self-indulgence keeps us from doing what we know is right. It ties us to the excuses and world's understanding of wisdom.
Here's our word of hope for today. When we listen to God using our whole name to get our attention the setbacks to our plans won't derail our lives. This is because our lives are all subject to deo volente—God willing. The money we have, little or not, has a telling affect on our eternal situation. When we recognize and admit it is God's money and not ours we find ourselves more free to live lives of faith. The corollary is also true, when we believe it is ours and ours alone we come dangerously close to a place of denying the power and control of God over our lives.
1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkRIbUT6u7Q accessed August 27, 2009
2 Okemah, Oklahoma - Expired Parking Meter Tombstone accessed August 27, 2009
3 Hubbard, David, Amos p.112