Scripture Reading: James 1:1-11
Sermon: “Wisdom For Wealth In A Whacky Wall Street World” Pastor Todd Buurstra
Our nation’s financial world is a mess. While capitalism and Wall Street are great systems, there’s been some kinks lately. I mean we bail out Wall Street and the Wall Street bosses bonus out! Wall Street has been a whacky world, of late. And it’s not just Wall Street, why our national debt is $1.4 trillion, on top of a $14 trillion dollar pile. If we stacked 14 trillion one dollar bills, we’d need four piles that reach from the earth to the moon. And the tax cut deal, while it may be necessary now, will only make things worse in the future. We live in a world where we skip to the bank to mortgage our grandkid’s world—we splurge so they pay.
James, Jesus’ brother, lived in a financially whacky world, too. While some Jews in Jerusalem, where James was the mother church’s leader, were rich, the Christians tended to be poor. Christ-followers were the have-nots living in the hovels in the shadows of the shiny temple where the haves worked and frequented. As I said on Stewardship Sunday, Jesus-lovers had less family and economic support, Jewish mothers said, You’re dead to me because Jesus is a false Messiah. Bosses said, I fire heretics! So many Jewish Christians had to beg off temple pilgrims and wear hand-me-downs. Indeed, deacons were invented to care for the many poor!
To our whacky wall street worlds James reflects on his brother Jesus’ wisdom. So here the Holy Spirit teaches us a wise reaction, a wise request culminating in a wise review of money.
First, a wise reaction to financial trial. Now I would have a less perfect reaction to our indulgence than Jesus’ brother had to their poverty, and I think it harder to deal with their poverty. My reaction? Allow me a personal moment. Hearing the talk about the bi-partisan debt commission’s proposal to begin to get our national debt under control, I get angry. To people who say, don’t cut my benefits! Or don’t increase my taxes, my reaction is SUCK IT UP. The retirement age bumped to 69 in 2075 (when it probably should require me to work till 69), I say, SUCK IT UP! $.15 gas tax, when it probably should be $.30, I say, SUCK IT UP! I mean, do we want to stick it to our grandchildren?! While politicians take cover from thrown tomatoes, the church should step up to write our congresspeople, Reduce my benefits; increase my taxes because we love our grandkids! Don’t go blaming the lazy or the rich, do what Jesus would do.
But James spent more time closer to Jesus so he’s wiser than me. Instead of my hissy-fit James tells Christian beggars with their hands out to temple pilgrims, not suck it up, but, consider it nothing but joy. What? You mean a wise reaction to my taxes increasing and my benefits being reduced is Yay!? Yes, joy because the testing of your faith produces endurance. And isn’t endurance exactly what we need? Instead of demanding our silver platter now, Jesus wants to build character. Or would you rather Jesus reply, Say yay to having to beg? No thanks.
From that wise reaction Jesus guides his brother to a wise request. After all dealing with wealth, be it Jerusalem’s poverty or America’s riches, is difficult. So the Holy Spirit prompts James to call us to request wisdom for handling wealth in faith. Honestly, having never been in a beggar before, I don’t know what kind of wisdom God gave poor Christians with their hands out. But this is what I know, James’ nickname. The early church called James old camel knees. You know why? He spent so much time talking to his brother for his people. What did he pray? Was it: Jesus, How do I help them trust you to take care of them? That this offering that Paul is taking up will come through? That they can share even their little. Give me confidence, Jesus, I’m going out to the begging lines to talk to them right now.
I really don’t know, but I do know that a few more calluses on our knees would help us make wiser requests regarding our wealth. This lead article calls it, frugality fatigue. It says, “per capita retail sales are now back up to where they were in the fall of 2008.” Oh boy! Maybe rather than praying, Lord, give me more money, a wiser request would be, Jesus, help me fight the urge to splurge and live within my means by the 80-10-10 rule: the faith to give 10%, save 10% and live on 80%. This takes great wisdom through great faith. Jesus, make us wise.
If we make wise reactions and ask God wise requests regarding our wealth, then we will have undertaken a wise review of wealth. What strikes me about these verses is the view that God levels the economic playing field, whether that be over time, or in the end. The comfort for James’ people is that they won’t be poor forever. And there is surprising comfort that we rich will be brought low. I mean when we think of a wise review we usually think of maximizing profits and minimizing risk. But the wise review here seems to be the perspective that there are no pockets in coffins, and you can’t hold on to it forever even to the end of this life.
I think of Ray, vice president of my home church who talked to a few of us young adults about Amway. Ray would say things like, It feels so good to drive a Cadillac down the road. What would you do if God gave you a $1M?… Well, Ray continued to pursue his dream of becoming rich. But with one bad deal at 60 that was supposed to set him and his bride Betty up for a cushy retirement, Ray lost so much that he ended up having to work until 80. I think about that now and wonder how it might have been if Ray were satisfied at 55, if Ray had been content to buy less bling for Christmas, and instead promised to take each kid out to dinner. With 9.8% unemployment more of us need to be content to give the present of presence this Christmas. For in the end the ground before the judgment seat is level, and the price for a heavenly mansion is Jesus’ blood not your bank account. That wise review puts our money in perspective.
So, to sum it all up in one thing, I believe that Jesus’ brother calls us to ask God for wisdom to deal with our wealth, or lack thereof, in this whacky Wall Street world.
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