Thursday, 14 April 2011 00:00

"Tempted by Money", April 10, 2011

“Tempted by Money”
Luke 22:39-48
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
April 10, 2011
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

The story of Judas

My name is Judas. A name that has become synonymous with unfaithful, miser, betrayer. Who names their children Judas these days? I was named after one of the greatest leaders in Jewish history, none other that Judas Maccabeus—a warrior/priest who just a few generations ago lead the people to victory over their Syrian overlords.  They called him a Messiah. I was born to look for a Messiah, maybe even help out the next one. I saw in Jesus what everyone saw.  He was the next Judas Maccabeus. The deliverer. The Romans had replaced the Syrians as our outside foes. They had manipulated our religious leaders. We needed a revolution. That’s what I signed up for.

And Jesus had flashes of it.  The way people flocked to him.  They were hungry for new leadership—hungry for restoring holiness, righteousness, fairness.  I loved it when he used the poor and outcast as object lessons.  Eschewing religious customs, he touched lepers, welcomed women into his inner circle, declared that we ought to be suspicious of authority figures.  I loved it when he said we are to be as wise as serpents and gentle doves.  He had that way about him. We all knew he was gearing up for the revolution. He even went into Jerusalem like the military messiah. The whole crowd surrounded him and declared him as such.  Then he went and turned over the tables of the money-changers on the temple steps.  That’s a more provocative move than preaching.  People love their money more than their religion.  Some people were scared, but most of us were thrilled.


We were ready to take the next step.  But he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.  He went back to his teaching and healing and gentleness.  E returned to talking in those maddening riddles: “he who seeks to save his life will lose it, and she who loses her life will save it.”  That’s not how it gets done.  I had followed him for three years and I didn’t think I had another three years of living on the run in me.  So, I forced his hand.

Now, Luke and John tell you Satan entered me, forcing me to do what I did. Now there’s a plea I’d love to cop.  “I wasn’t responsible, office.  The devil made me do it.”  It’s never really that simple, let me tell you.  Take it from one who’s been there: the satanic forces are around us, all the time, but it’s pure self-deception to blame them for our misdeeds and wrong decisions.  Sorry, I get carried away sometimes.

Some people said I did it for the money.  Think about it, though.  Would a guy like me spend his time following a prophet and a starving ragtag bunch of Galileans around if I was in it for the money?  No, the money, thirty pieces of silver, was about the authorities taking me seriously.  People listen when you are selling information.  It also takes them off the hook.  It was a ruse, to let them think I had changed sides.

When they arrested him, then he’d have to declare himself as the Messiah.  He’d decry the corruption of the system, the people would rise up and there would finally be peace in the land.  That’s what we signed up for right?  Isn’t it?

But it didn’t work out as I had planned.  I never thought Jesus would let it get to this.  I thought the other disciples would rise up, the people would rise up.  Instead, Jesus and Judas were crucified. It was never about the money.  It was always about the movement.  Funny, Jesus said it was always about the movement, too.  That it wasn’t about him, it was about people taking up their own mantle of Godly authority and using it for good.  Honestly, that’s what I thought I was doing.

One of the last things he said before he died was “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  Was he talking about the Romans, the priests, the executioners, the crowds, or was he talking about me.  I wonder.  The question haunts me still.

The sermon

Judas was tempted to sell out Jesus, perhaps in order to spur on the revolution he was anxious to see.  But Judas was wrong not only about selling Jesus out.  He was wrong because he was doing it all by himself.  Whenever we do something that benefits only ourselves, then we are in real spiritual trouble.  Judas did not have the backing of his community.  When we work by ourselves, we are often weak and ineffective.  But when we pull together and work together, then amazing things begin to happen.

Throughout the season of Lent, we have been looking at our temptations. We have looked at the temptations in the wilderness of our lives. We have looked at the temptations of Religious authority and political authority. We have even looked at the temptation of revenge. Today, we look at the temptation of money. We don’t do this only because it’s just about tax time. We don’t do it because it’s the time when our legislature is in a fix about funding and spending. We don’t even do it because it’s commitment Sunday and we really do need to know how much we will have in our budget in the coming year.  We look at the temptation of money because it is a spiritual issue that all of us confront.  We are tempted.  We worry about whether we will have enough.  And we put our trust in it, making it a demi-god.  We are tempted to make money our focus, our savior, our deity.  Our response to that temptation makes all the difference.

Money is a tempting commodity these days.  Our elected officials have been apoplectic about how to cut spending without raising revenue—as if raising money for needed programs and services is the root of all evil.

It’s not the root of all evil.  The love of money is the root of all evil.  The lifting money up to an idol.  The elevating it to a sacred cow.  Spending more time thinking about money than thinking about justice and reconciliation and God’s work in the world, that’s the root of all evil.  And the church is the antidote.  It’s not the antidote in that we will stop thinking about money. It’s the antidote because it is the church’s responsibility to point out injustices in the system, to advocate for the poor and needy.  Think about this.  The top 1% of the US population made 25% of the income in the past year.  But not only that, this same 1% controls 40% of the wealth.  And at leas tin the state of Minnesota, it paid the smallest proportion of its income in taxes.  The middle class is disappearing. According to ABC Missionary Dan Buttry, CEO compensation is up 27%. That's why we have to cut back on all these pesky workers' benefits. The income transfer from the poorest sectors of our society to the wealthiest continues and has been the norm for the past thirty years. What’s really happening in our national and state budget battles are about who to take care of, the rich or the poor. It’s really that simple.

Jesus was always advocating for the poor and the infirm and the outcasts.  And as a church, that is what we do, too.  Through our participation in programs like Meals on Wheels, Loaves and Fishes, befriending refugees, striking workers, poor people in Leon, Nicaragua, and using this wonderful building to help facilitate that ministry, we do our part to bring hope, beauty and power to a community and world in need.  We offer not only a prophetic voice, but also a compassionate presence alongside all those in need.

It’s Commitment Sunday, when we commit to give of our investments of time talent and treasure to the furtherance of God’s work through UBC. We have heard people speak in church these past few weeks about how much UBC means to them and how they are committed to giving of themselves to support the mission and work of the church.  I know it’s been talked about already, and I know most of you have already filled out your green pledge cards and your ministry commitment forms.  The information on those forms really help us to make budget and programming decisions for the coming year.  And if we get them all filled out, and we commit to raising enough money, then you won’t have to hear about it in church again!  Isn’t that good news?

As we approach the coming fiscal year, there are a few things to consider. First of all the economy is doing a little bit better which means that we will have a little bit more income to spend from our invested funds. It’s still down from a few years ago. Some of us are still having trouble making ends meet, although perhaps not as many of us as a year or so ago. Another consideration is that our rental income is expected to go down.  There are two reasons for this. The first is that Gracepoint church has decided to no longer have their worship or office space here. Also, the Minnesota Lisu Church of Jesus will begin meeting here in June. We plan to subsidize this new congregation of Lisu refugees by offering them worship and office space without charge. Finally, we are exploring correcting a design flaw in our great building by creating an enclosed back entrance to the church which will not collect water and falling ice from our roof. Preliminary estimates of the cost of this project is over $30,000. We have lost some key people in this past year. And we are their legacy. The way we carry on this church without their physical presence is a testament to our commitment as a part of the living breathing body of Christ.

Think of your giving as an investment in the antidote to the temptations out there in the world.  I know we come here to recharge our batteries.  We come here to experience great music, fine seminary interns, a beautiful building and committed staff.  We come here to bathe ourselves in prayer week after week, raising up to God what is deepest on our hearts, and trusting that our words do not fall on deaf ears.  We find joy together as we dream what God has in store for us.  We weave our stories together and discover our place in the world.  This place, these people are a good investment.

Kim and I have been blessed to be a part of this church for ten years now. You have embraced us, nurtured our family, have been patient as our children have grown. We joyfully write our first check of the month to UBC. And it’s always been at least a tithe (10%) of our income. There are plenty of things to spend our money on, but putting God through this church first helps us to keep our priorities in line. It helps us not to be so tempted to spend on frivolous things. But mostly, it’s an investment in this community of faith which supports each other, offers beauty and hope and encouragement. It’s an investment in the courage I see nurtured here week after week.

You know what, Judas wasn’t tempted by money. He was tempted to do alone what can only be done by a collective of committed people.  And we’re tempted that way too.  But together, we can and we do dream bigger and work better.  We become channels of grace and we speak and act with prophetic vigor and holy optimism.  Clarence Jordan once said, “Faith is not hope in spit of the evidence. That’s not faith, that’s foolishness.  Faith is action in scorn of the consequences.”

Judas is a part of our story.  So is Pilate, Herodias, and Dives.  But so is Abigail, Hosea, Amos, Deborah, Paul, Bathsheba, Ruth, Jeremiah and Jesus.  But they are not the only ones woven into our fabric.  We have the stories, of the youth, of our refugee resettlement commitments, our advocacy of women in ministry and leaders, our support for Seminarians.  Take some time to look at this fabric up here.  Remember our stories.  Together it makes a beautiful tapestry.  And it is only possible because dedicated people have committed themselves to make it that way.

So add your own piece to the fabric of our collective lives by completing the commitment cards and ministry commitment forms.  Be ye not tempted by money. But be freed to imagine and implement the ministry to which God has called us.  The ministry that continues to weave a story of beauty, power, challenge and blessing, not only to those gathered here, but to those we all touch.  This is what it is all about.


© April 10, 2011

Minneapolis, MN