Money Can’t Buy….Pastor Donna Doutt – April 7, 2019
Last week’s message focused on the prodigal Son. A scriptural story with money at the root of that family’s issues. The youngest son, contrary to Jewish family tradition forced his father’s hand to give him his inheritance ahead of time. The father, in an attempt to affirm his son generously gives him what he has asked for, one third of his estate. But as often happens, the young man was not a good money manager. He blew it all on wild living and had to come humbly crawling back home broke and starving.
Much to his surprise, the father didn’t chastise or shame him. Dad didn’t say, “I told you so!” Instead, as a reflection of joy for his son’s safe return home. Dad throws a party. The oldest son strongly objects to this celebration. They father gently scolds his son, by saying, “Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”
Money can’t buy happiness when your heart is broken as a result of an estranged child. Money can’t buy family love. The presence of this man’s returned son is priceless.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Money often costs too much.” In today’s scripture, as we continue our walk to the cross with Jesus, we see a prime example of that quote. At the end of this story, we see the desire for money is going to cost Judas too much.
In our scripture reading today, we see Mary, sister of the raised Lazarus, as the ideal disciple. Surely Mary is grateful to Jesus for bringing her brother back from death. No amount of perfume oil could equate to the cost of her brother’s life. Money can’t buy return from death. Only God could possibly make that happen. Mary, sister of Lazarus, was a believer of unwavering strength and faith. We know from our other Bible stories that nothing…no housework, meal preparation…nothing can take the place of that precious time spent at the feet of Jesus. Money can’t buy precious time with loved ones.
Although she often is silent in His presence in this story, she appears to be more astute than Jesus named disciples. I am very often frustrated on behalf of the disciples’ failure to perceive the warnings that Jesus presents to them. But Mary, even though she has not been traveling with Jesus and the disciples, seems to be more aware that Jesus time on earth is coming to an end than those who are closet to him physically.
But there’s a dark side to this story too. George W. Stroup, a professor Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, writes about this scripture. He reminds us that this “story is not only about Mary’s preparation of Jesus for his death, but also about Judas Iscariot’s objection to what he considers a waste of money that could have been better used if it had been given to the poor.”
But we all know, don’t we, that Judas isn’t really concerned about the poor? What he’s concerned about is how much is in the common coffers, because he’s Jesus “treasurer” so to speak, and he’s dipping into the communal funds for his own purposes. Oh woe to you, Judas! Money can’t buy happiness. Money can’t buy power. Money can’t buy God’s love. Money can’t buy your way into heaven. Money is going to cost Judas his life.
Like the story of the widow’s mite, the women who gave all she had, we see Mary pouring out this precious perfume. She knows you can’t take it with you! She becomes a witness to the costly death of Jesus.
We hear Judas chastise Mary for pouring out her precious balm on Jesus’ feet. Jesus says, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Money can’t buy happiness if there is no Jesus in your life.
As a good disciple of Jesus, Mary has heard and seen Jesus’ extreme generosity multiple times. He creates not just one cask, but gallons of wine at the wedding in Cana; with 12 loaves of bread he feeds 5,000! And as Jesus was in the boat with Peter, they captured so many fish their nets were breaking. His generosity for all those he encounters has set the example for Mary to follow.
Yes, Mary could have fed many of the poor with the proceeds from the sale of that perfume, after all it was worth a year’s wages! But she didn’t. She picked her priority, and that priority was Jesus. “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Money can’t buy Jesus life. Her generosity was in the moment. Her generosity was given with the right attitude.
John Wesley’s theory of Holiness of Heart recognizes that her gesture of love demonstrates that an act of service to one person can be an inexplicable extravagance to another. Mary also models that we can love both Jesus and the poor. Later in our Biblical texts, Paul will write in 2 Corinthians 9:7-9, 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9 As it is written,
“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness[a] endures forever.” (NRSV)
Mary, sister of Lazarus, was her own woman. She was a cheerful giver. She could look to the future with no regrets. She knows money cannot buy happiness.
As I was preparing how to approach this scripture, considering how money impacts our lives, I did an informal Facebook survey. I simply ask people to complete this sentence: Money can’t buy….WHAT? Thirty-three people graciously answered my question. Some answers were very straightforward. Love, happiness, peace and serenity were the most common responses. But I also saw deeply meaningful responses. From a grandmother whose six-year old grandson was hit and killed and few months ago, she answered, “Money can’t buy answers to difficult questions.” A friend of mine who struggles with alcoholism responded, “Money can’t buy the answer to what creates the hole in your soul.”
The Listening Posts presented this year indicated many times the concern for the financial health of our church. It’s no secret that it has been an expensive year in the life of our congregations. Each one of our churches has suffered leaking bell towers and needed roofing repairs. We are experiencing diminished numbers in attendance. Yet we can rejoice in successfully mounting campaigns to work toward repair of our physical repairs. But what about the “hole in the soul” of our church?
I ponder our Psalm today. This is a song of King David planning for the restoration of the exiles returning to Jerusalem, or possibly, simply the dreaming of return. He presents this as a plea for God to continue the work of restoring Jerusalem. He wants the sadness of the exiles replaced with joy. The Israelites are not crying for what is lost, but they are nostalgically remembering “the way it was”, and looking to the future with joy. They are showing positive exuberance for the future.
Rev. Kimberly L. Clayton writes that, “Communities and cultures can carry a sense of ‘collective nostalgia.’ Church are not exempt either. As members wistfully remember easier, better days when God was doing great things for them.”
That’s what we often hear in our gatherings together. We do have collective nostalgia. We talk about the hundreds at Sunday worship, the great number of Sunday Schools offered, the children and programs that came before in the “boom” days of our congregations; “better days when God was doing great things for us.”
Yes, the Israelites of the Psalm were overjoyed to be restored; “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for the us....’”
Have we forgotten that the same God that was doing great things for us “back then” in the great years is the same God that is still doing great things for us now?
Admittedly, we are struggling. We struggle with building issues, loss of membership, death of our older saints, inattentive generations who would rather have Sunday to themselves. All these add up to low funds. Times have changed. There’s no doubt about that. But God is still at work here.
Every member of this church should have received a letter this week encouraging a renewed financial commitment to the church. I know…I know….here we are asking for more when we just had to ask for help with building repairs. But let me say it again, God is still at work here.
Money can’t buy our way into heaven. Money can’t fulfill every spiritual or emotional need that we have. However, money can assist us in doing God’s work. Here and in each one of our buildings.
Money can’t buy love, but we can show love through our ministries here in our church and community.
Money can’t buy happiness, but we can provide spiritual joy here through scriptural study and our worship experiences.
Money can’t buy forgiveness, but we can provide spiritual salvation opportunities and encouragement.
Money can’t buy the answers to your difficult questions, or fill the hole in your soul, but we can be here to support each and every one of you who is seeking.
I recently read a story about a group of pastors gathered together at a stewardship conference. The storyteller relates that when the presenter spoke about offering a gift directly to God, the clergy began to yawn. Then he pulled a $100 from his wallet, set it on fire in an ashtray and prayed, “Lord, I offer this gift to you, and you alone.”
The reaction was electric. Clergy began to fidget in their chairs, watching that $100 bill go up in flames, just as sure as Mary’s perfumed balm was poured out onto Jesus’ feet. What a waste! One participant whispered it was illegal to burn money. Another murmured, “If he’s giving money away, perhaps he has a few more.” The room was tittering with nervous laughter.
“Don’t you understand?” asked the speaker. “I am offering it to God, and that means it is going to cease to be useful for the rest of us.” It certainly caused an awkward moment.
There are multiple reasons for giving to churches. Many people want to designate a gift for its impact; perhaps to see their name on a plaque, or to get a bigger tax deduction. Many churches focus only on what is useful, practical, and cost effective. But then we really start to worry when resources are low. Sometimes, we discover our heart and enthusiasm for ministry is diminished if the budget is our first concern.
Let’s remember our returning exiles in our Psalm from today. Even in their joy, they don’t stop planning for the future either. They sing, “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”
Indeed, times are tough for churches. Our ministries can’t go forward without buildings, staff, or programming. Let’s not get lost in our nostalgia of what was. This will be a pivotal year in the life of our churches. Let’s be like those Israelites, put “what was” behind us, “sowing with tears, but reaping in joy.” But it begins with you. Let’s be like Mary. She could have bought new clothes, new dishes, taken a trip. But she chose to sacrifice her best possession for Jesus.
Giving is a great privilege, not a heavy burden or joyless duty.
Money can’t buy salvation. Money can’t buy happiness. Money can’t buy love. But what price Jesus?
 George W. Stroup. Feasting on the Word, Year C. vol. 2. P. 140
 Kimberly L. Clayton. Feasting on the Word, Year C. vol. 2. P. 130