We read the Gospel as if we had no money,
and we spend our money as if we know nothing of the Gospel.
John Haughey – Virtue and Affluence: The Challenge of Wealth
Money is an emotionally-charged issue. Our feelings about money run deep. It is extremely difficult for many of us to speak openly and honestly about money. What we earn is often our best-kept secret (sometimes even from our spouse), assisted of course by the fact that many of us from a young age were taught that it is impolite to ever ask someone about their personal financial matters. Financial matters are deemed private. Yet, there are few other areas of our private lives that are as publicly influential.
This hesitancy to speak openly about money is equally prevalent among Christians as it is among any other group of people. This may not surprise us, but it should disturb us on at least two accounts.
First, it perpetuates the false belief that faith and finance have nothing to say to each other – as if they were meant to live in blissful independence of each other, seemingly replacing the old slogan: Politics and religion don’t mix.
Second, it differs remarkably from the testimony of Scripture and above all the example of Jesus, who it seems, couldn’t speak enough about money-matters. In fact, outside of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God, he spoke more about money-matters than any other topic.
“In the Old Testament, the subject of the poor is the second most prominent theme. Idolatry is the first, and the two are often connected. In the New Testament, one out of every sixteen verses is about the poor! In the Gospels, the number is one out of every ten verses; in Luke’s Gospel one of every seven, and in the book of James one of every five” (Wallis 1994:149).
The fact that Scripture is saturated with references to money-matters and that Jesus speaks about issues of wealth and poverty constantly throughout his ministry makes money a central concern of Christian spirituality. By Christian spirituality, I simply mean “living with Jesus at the centre” (Nouwen 1988:5). To live with Jesus at the centre is more than a commitment to a particular kind of lifestyle, it is the acceptance of and trust in “another reality” (Willard 1988:67).
Another reality that “celebrates a divine reality that pervades every aspect of our existence, where the harmony intended for the universe can already begin to be experienced” (Wink 1998:13).
To live with Jesus at the centre means that we accept and trust that the world really is the way Jesus described it to be. It means that we adopt Jesus’ operating assumptions about the nature of the universe. This means that vulnerable love, humble service, sacrificial generosity, bold gentleness, deep truth-telling, open and inclusive community, measureless mercy, justice for all, especially for the least are the truest expressions of God’s character, the construction of the universe and the core image of the human person. Christian spirituality calls us to live into and out of this reality. And this is the reality that we are called to honour in the relationship we have with our money.
Sadly the Church has a history of only speaking about money when it needs money itself. This has often been combined with the motivation (manipulation!) that “giving to the church is equal to giving to God”. Giving to God involves giving to the least — as Jesus said, “what you do to the least of these you do to me”. So to the extent that the Church (like any other group, organisation etc.) is being good news for the poor is to the extent that our giving may be equated to giving to God.
Just as the Gospel invites, commands, calls and reminds us to be more loving, truthful, gentle, fair etc. so the Gospel invites, calls, commands and reminds us to be more generous. Generous in creative and thoughtful ways that aim to partner God in sharing good news with the poor (all the vulnerable of the world) by healing this world of its injustice.
Live generously, Alan
You will further recall that at the Conference 2013 we focused on the theme: “TOGETHER a transforming discipleship movement,” and I am pleased with the reports of serious engagement of this theme around the connexion. This must be pleasing to the Lord. Resolution 2.36 on page 96 of the Yearbook 2014 further reads:
“Seeing that prayer is the heart of the life of discipleship, Conference resolves that Lent 2014 be set aside as a focused time of prayer for repentance which leads to discipleship and also about the social ills affecting our people at this time.”
My dear sisters and brothers, I urge you to take this request very seriously. I know that some local churches have already made some plans in this regard. This is not additional to your plans, but an integral part thereof. Please encourage all Methodist people to use this time for lament for ourselves; our communities and the whole of creation. Let us use the time to listen each other’s stories, asking God to open our hearts to each other’s pain, fears and hopes. May the God of Life help us all to be fully human – working TOGETHER against violence, hatred, abuse and lack of care for the vulnerable. We are a praying movement.
Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa: Ziphozihle D. Siwa