Merciful and everliving God, Creator of heaven and earth,
This week we continue to explore John Wesley’s sermon entitled the “Use of Money.” As I wrote last week, this particular sermon was his second most preached sermon. He preached on Luke 16:9 at least 27 times between 1741 and 1758. Often it was under the title of “The Mammon of Unrighteousness.”
Last week I wrote that Wesley thought that the practice of “three plain rules” was the sure route to faithfulness concerning money and wealth. The three rules are: gain all you can; save all you can; give all you can. We will this week look at what Wesley had to say about the first of these, gain all you can.
Wesley believed that on this particular rule, gain all you can, the follower of Christ, “met [the children of the world] on their own ground.” However, immediately Wesley qualifies this statement by emphatic negatives: we should not pay more than it is worth, it should not be gained at the expense of life, and it should not be gained at the expense of one’s health. Wesley pointed to some very dangerous occupations at the time, like dealing with arsenic or other harmful minerals, or breathing air contaminated with the steam coming off of melted lead. This concerned Wesley considerably as the industrial age brought more and more people from the land into the smelting plants of England. But it wasn’t just factory jobs that Wesley thought were dangerous to one’s health and well being. Wesley claimed that jobs requiring many hours of writing were bad for the health. We can only assume that Wesley would be horrified state of clerical workers chained to computers across the planet in the 21st century.
Wesley also preached that gain all you can did not mean that one should endanger one’s mental state. For Wesley one was not to gain wealth at the loss of our mortal souls. Wesley also recognized that we had different traits that made us suitable for particular jobs. Wesley wrote of himself “I could not study to any degree of perfection either mathematics, arithmetic, or algebra, without being a deist, if not an atheist.” Yet, others he said could do so without any apparent harm. I think I can see that in myself.
A third condition Wesley placed on to gain all you can is that we could not in any way harm our neighbor in order to gain all we can. This would stand directly against the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves given to us by Jesus. Wesley condemned those who over-billed for services as well as those who sold their goods at prices under the market price in order to ruin another’s trade. Modern market competition most certainly would have grieved the soul of Wesley.
An element of this concern for the neighbor’s well-being is related to gain by hurting the health of the neighbor. For Wesley this was particularly aimed at the distillery business which sold distilled alcohol products for no other purpose than to make money. I am certain that Wesley would find many similar instances in our current economy where companies make great profits from the sale of products that ultimately harm our health, and their only purpose for doing so is to make money to feed voracious greed.
Finally in this same respect we should not gain all we can at the expense of the soul of our neighbor. Wesley argues that any venture which benefits the soul of the neighbor is good, however, if any venture is sinful in itself, or leads to sinful behavior, those so employed in such ventures should be fearful of the day of judgment when the Lord comes.
So to Wesley it was Christian duty to gain all that one can within the boundaries he set above. It is our duty to gain all we can through “honest industry”; being diligent in our care of ourselves and others. He also warned of wasting time, for every business should keep us fully employed “every day and every hour.” I think that for Wesley every gain, in health, spiritual, and wealth was for the glory of God, and anything else was wasted time lost to the work of Satan. In the 18th century Wesley saw the hand of Satan in such activities as “taverns, vitualling-houses, opreahouses, playhouses, or any other places of public, fashionable diversion.” I feel certain that Wesley would be quite dismayed at the abundance of such “fashionable diversion” available in the 21st century.
Next week we will reflect on what Wesley had to say concerning save all you can. I can assure you that we will be challenged by Wesley’s thoughts.
Albert Schweitzer in Out of My Life and Thought wrote on his thinking about Jesus:
Today Jesus does not require men to be able to grasp either in word or in thought who He is. He did not think it necessary to give those who actually heard His sayings any insight into the secret of His personality, or to disclose to them the fact that He was that descendant of David who was one day to be revealed as the Messiah. The one thing He did require of them was that in both thought and deed they should prove themselves men who had been compelled by Him to rise from being of this world to being other than the world, and thereby partakers of His peace.
As I studied and thought about Jesus, all this became certain in my mind. Because of this, I concluded my Quest of the Historical Jesus with these words: “As one unknown and nameless He comes to us, just as on the shore of the lake He approached those men who knew him not. His words are the same: ‘Follow thou Me!’ and He puts us to the tasks He was to carry out in our age. He commands. And to those who obey, be they wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the fellowship of peace and activity, of struggle and suffering, till they come to know, as an inexpressible secret, Who He Is…” (pp 58,59) [italics mine]
Several things struck me as I read this and at the same time reflected on the lack of peace during the Christmas season. According to Schweitzer, the written word of God tells us that Jesus requires us to “rise from being of this world to being other than the world.” But it is during the ever-lengthening commercial Christmas season that we are less of the “other world” and more of “this world”. That is to say, we are less Christian at the very time when we approach the celebration of the birth of the One we call Savior and Lord. It is the time when we are less in the peace of Jesus, and more in the chaos of the powers of the world.
The other thought that I had is how do we come to know the One whose birth we recognize on Christmas day. Schweitzer and scripture says it is through being obedient to the voice that says “Follow Me” that the truth about Jesus is revealed. Responding to this is no easy task, especially at this time of the year. As we rush about seeking the best bargains, and gorging ourselves on them, we spend less and less time “in the fellowship of peace and activity, of struggle and suffering” so that Jesus might be revealed to us.
So my prayer for you these “holy days” of Advent and Christmas is that you can rise above the world, and be of the “other” world, where Jesus reveals Himself and offers His peace as you travel with Him in a “fellowship of peace and activity, of struggle and suffering, til you know….Who He Is.”
On Thursday, November 22, we celebrate another Thanksgiving. It is a time that many of us might celebrate with joy as the family comes together from near and far to eat ourselves into oblivion and gather around the television for endless parades and games of football. At the same time, there are many of us who find Thanksgiving a time when at the end of a difficult year, we take solace in what little we might have. Others of us are separated from family and friends by long distances, and some with bullets and rockets flying over their head.
So I think that we should remember back to the foundations of our national holiday, and the foundations of our Christian faith. The early tradition as established by newcomers to the shores of a brave new world, which we know as America today, was not a family event. It was a community event.
It was a gathering of a community that had braved the waters and storms of the Atlantic to seek a place where they could start afresh and practice their faith in the open without persecution. It was a community that was facing the prospect of a hard winter ahead of them, a winter of which they had no experience. It was a community that through the giving kindness of neighbors who were native to the land aided them in planting crops that would give them food for the coming winter, and who helped them stock up and find a means to provide for themselves in the difficult time ahead. It was a community where some had successful farms, and others were not so successful. Some found a bounty of wild game, and others did not – yet still they shared with each other. It was a community that recognized that all things came from the hand of a God far greater than themselves.
Looking back into our Christian foundation which reaches into the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) that thanksgiving is not a family event, but a community event. Joel 2:23-24 is but one example:
23 O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. 24 The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
This Thanksgiving, while enjoying our own family traditions, let us think like our Father in Heaven, let us think larger, let us think how can we give thanks as a community. I think there are many examples out there for us to follow and participate in. One of them being the effort by the Salvation Army and First Presbyterian Church downtown Winchester. They have a 20 year tradition of remembering thanksgiving is a community event, inviting strangers and family and friends together. Another is C-CAP in conjunction with its many volunteers from our faith communities that together provided more than 600 meals for those in need in our areas.
So thanks be to God. Let Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven