Dethroning Mammon: The Limiting Effects of Measuring

March 12, 2017

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Preached by Canon Mark Collinson, using Luke 14.27-33 at Mattins on Sunday 12th March 2017, the Second Sunday of Lent.

27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Last week on the First Sunday of Lent we introduced the concept of Mammon as this powerful love for money and material things that we all experience. We began to question whether we really did need that holiday, those curtains, or a new bathroom, because our desire for these things can very easily eclipse our desire to know the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who satisfies our every need. Today we take another view of how Mammon distorts our lives, and entices us to settle for less than God wants for us.

Mammon makes us measure things. Every manager knows that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Therefore we always want to know ‘how much?’ We measure the size of the economy in terms of GDP. We measure our bank accounts in pounds, our investments in the percentage they have gone up or down; our house in terms of bedrooms. Measuring things allows us to do this wonderful thing called comparison. Am I richer or poorer than last year? Has this week’s budget made me better off, or worse off? Comparing ourselves with others is more popularly known as ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.

Do you realise, we never tend to compare ourselves with someone who is worse off than we are?  I look at my neighbours and I only see that their car is a Porsche, mine’s a VW; their house is bigger than my house, and they seem to go on more foreign holidays than I do.  I don’t tend to compare myself with my neighbour who has a smaller house, ageing 1970s furniture, an older car and stays with his sister if he wants to get away.  That’s because the god Mammon is constantly scratching away at my heart making me feel dissatisfied with my lot in life. Mammon is constantly whispering in my ear, ‘You deserve more than he does’.

The consequence of listening to Mammon is that we limit our whole lives by what we measure. If our goal in life is to have a certain sized pension, or to have a certain sized house, or a certain sized car, then we may be serverly limiting what God wants for us.

There’s a story about a businessman who happened upon an Arab Sheikh late one night who was lost in London and he put himself out of his way and was very kind to the sheikh and returned him to his hotel in Knightsbridge. The Arab was overwhelmed with gratitude and asked the man what he could give him in return. ‘No, no’ said the businessman, ‘Please accept my time as a gift without needing to give anything in return.’ But the Arab insisted and so eventually the man confessed that he enjoyed golf, and he’d quite like to have a new set of golf clubs. He returned home and heard nothing from the Arab for months. It so happened they bumped into each other at a publicity event in Picadilly and the man wasn’t going to embarrass the Arab by asking about the golf clubs. But before he could say anything, the Arab said, ‘Look, I’m so sorry that I haven’t given you the golf clubs yet. I’ve bought two so far, and only one of them has a swimming pool, but I’m finding it difficult to buy a set. The Royal and Ancient at St Andrews simply won’t sell for any price.’

A set of clubs that you play golf with is one thing; a set of clubs where you play golf is quite another. Are we measuring the right things?

Jesus calls us to measure the cost of following him. He says, If you’re going to build a tower, don’t you first sit down, measure the cost, and work out if you’ve got enough to complete it? (I think the same principle is true with Cathedral restorations.) Jesus gives a different example: If you’re going to go to war, you need to work out if you can win it. The same is true if you’re going to be my disicple, Jesus says. If you’re going to measure anything, measure the cost of following Christ.

But look at how much it costs to be a disciple of Jesus. The cost of following Jesus is to carry a cross and to follow Jesus to the cross. He says, ‘You cannot be my disciple if you do not give up ALL your possessions.’ (Luke 14:33).

Hang on. I can just about work out what 5% of my monthly post-tax income is and give that as an offering to God. Or I can even work out 10% and give that. What are you saying, Jesus, if I have to give up everything I can’t be your disciple? No wonder his disciples found his teaching difficult.

St Benedict’s answer was to take Jesus literally. If you entered the Benedictine order you gave up all your possessions and lived only with what was held in common.

Chapter 33 of the Rule of St Benedict says, This vice [of serving the god Mammon] especially is to be cut out of the monastery by the roots….Let no one presume to […] have anything as his own– anything whatever, whether book or tablets or pen or whatever it may be—

Let all things be common to all,

as it is written (Acts 4:32),

and let no one say or assume that anything is his own.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with Benedict’s rule of life, we don’t need to go to such lengths to be a disciple. As Benedict puts it, the key aspect is understanding that nothing we have actually belongs to us, because we give everything, our all, even our bodies and will, to the disposal of God.

The way of dethroning mammon is to recognise that we don’t need to measure what we have, because everything we have we give in service to Jesus Christ. We are called to give our ‘all’, and we go beyond measuring when we give our ‘all’, because you can’t measure ‘all’.

‘All’ means everything. Heart, soul, mind, strength, will, life, possessions everything. Baptism represents a dying to self and anything that says, ‘mine’ and rising to a new life that offers everything to Jesus.

And of course, we aren’t really motivated to give our all to Jesus unless we recognise how much he has given his all for us. All things were created through him and for him; all the fulness of God dwelt in him. But he gave up his all in order to become a finite measurable person living for around 33 years as an average 5 foot, 8 inch, 80kg Palestinian. Jesus the Son of God had ‘everything’, he was Lord of ‘all’ but he gave it up to become like us and to carry his cross so that we can live a limitless, unmeasurable life, full of the fullness of God, who is all in all.

Lent is an opportunity for us to stop measuring the wrong things, and for a few brief weeks, to offer all we have in a yearning for the unmeasurable richness of touching the divine. May it be so. Amen.