Money: We Can't Take It With Us, So Why Do We Try?

Text: Matthew 6:24-34

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

We Americans are pretty naïve when we think that we do not worship idols anymore.  You see, we often think that only primitive people worshipped idols carved out of wood and stone.  We think that we are too sophisticated and modern to dabble with such foolish ancient mystical practices. 

But let us not be too arrogant.  Can you imagine those same so-called primitive people looking at us today, and instead of seeing us obtaining security, power, and comfort from carved pieces of wood and stone, they instead see us finding security, power, and comfort from thin green pieces of paper with faces and numbers on them.  What would they think about us finding security, power, and comfort from tiny squiggly numbers on a tiny electronic screen? I don’t know about you, but worshipping an idol made of stone or wood seems a little less crazy than worshipping green paper or tiny numbers on an electronic screen. 

Dear friends, just because we do not have idols made of wood and stone in America does not mean that we do not have idols.  In fact, in America, the most popular idol that we fear, love, and trust is Mammon.  Yes, Mammon: M-A-M-M-O-N. 

But what is Mammon?

Mammon is an ancient word that means ‘money-god.’  It is a Syriac word given to an idol that was worshipped as the god of riches.  Jesus, in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, uses this very same word; however, in our English translation, we often translate it as ‘money.’ 

Now, to be perfectly clear, money, property, and possessions are not sinful.  Again, please hear this loud and clear; they are not sinful.  However, when money, property, and possessions are feared, loved, and trusted, well… they turn into the idol of Mammon.  In other words, when money is used to serve our neighbors and us, it is perfectly fine.  It is a possession that we use as a tool.  However, when we begin to serve money, and when money begins to possess us, well… it then becomes the idol of Mammon.  It becomes a god to you and me. 

Perhaps you and I would like to think that we do not worship Mammon.  But truth be told, this love of Mammon clings firmly to your human nature all the way to the grave.  Bluntly stated, there is not a single person in this sanctuary that is free from the worship of Mammon.  Whether you have all the money in the world or not a dime to your name, you have a deep affection for Mammon.  The reason is; the world considers Mammon as the only thing that is important in this life.  The world believes that Mammon is what your soul and body must depend on to exist.  And so, the love of Mammon is not a rich person’s problem; it is a human problem.  It is your problem, and mine too.    

But here is the catch, even though we all worship this idol of Mammon, we pretend that we don’t.  We cover our thirst and desire for Mammon with pious justifications.  Instead of admitting that we covet possessions and strive after money to feel secure, powerful, and comfortable, we say that we are planning for financial stability, saving for emergencies, and earning money to plan for our future retirement.  We cover our greedy hearts and coveting eyes with mature and stoic-sounding phrases.  We want to sound like we are doing a bunch of great virtues with our money, property, and possessions, but in reality, we often are bowing before Mammon – as it steals away our our fear, love, and trust.

We must keep in mind, though, that Mammon does not only steal fear, love, and trust, but it also enslaves you.  That is why Jesus says that you cannot serve two masters, in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew. 

You see, Mammon is different from the other sins that we commit.  For example, when we go the way of gluttony, we eat and drink too much.  It is a sin of overconsuming.  And when we go the way of lust, we use our bodies and other people’s bodies to satisfy our passions.  It is a sin of wrongly satisfying our passions.  When we go the way of arrogance and pride, we use possessions and people to fulfill our thirst for honor and praise.  In other words, with these examples, we use people, things, and ideas to serve ourselves.  We consume, devour, and take.  However, mark this: it does not work this way with Mammon.  Mammon does not allow us to consume it.  It does not allow us to take from it.  No, instead, Mammon demands that we give to it, which is why it enslaves us. 

Now, please do not miss this point.  Let me explain why Mammon enslaves you and me.  Early in life, most people never have enough money, property, and possessions - Mammon.  And so, they work and work and work.  They save and save and save.  They buy vehicles, they invest in a pension plan, they buy a house, they acquire stuff, and so forth.  By middle age, most people have an adequate amount of stuff.  But then, Mammon says,

“You need to have more stuff because you are going to retire soon, and then you might not have enough stuff.”

And so, people work and work and work some more.  By the time of retirement, people can have so much Mammon that they feel crushed by the weight of trying to manage all their Mammon.  They realize that they are enslaved to Mammon - spending all their time maintaining and servicing this Mammon.  It is one big burden.  And so, they try to downsize and get rid of Mammon in that last stage of life while also simultaneously working part-time to make sure they don’t run out of Mammon.  And in the end, after death strikes, people who cling to Mammon typically die with boatloads of money, which means they are more profitable to society in their death than they were alive. In other words, in death, the money, property, and possessions may be released from the grip of Mammon to be used by family and friends in true need.  Too bad these enslaved people did not help their family members and friends when they were alive, but then again, that is what Mammon does to a person.  Mammon locks all wealth up and makes a person its slave by telling them to collect more stuff.  Lord have mercy!   

Dear friends, this is how Mammon works.  It tells us that it cannot be spent or used for ourselves or other people but must be saved.  It tells us that the more Mammon a person has, the more secure, happy, and unafraid a person will be.  Mammon tells us that if we have it, we will have peace like we are in paradise.  But this is the big fat lie of Mammon.  Money, property, and possessions are not meant to be served by us as if they are a precious god.  Instead, money and possessions should be a tool to be used by us because they are not gods.  Money, property, and possessions serve our neighbors and us. 

Dear friends, listen up!  You can never truly possess Mammon because it will always possess you.  Mammon demands that you protect money, serve property, and get more possessions.  Mammon demands your love, attention, service, devotion, and attention because it is an idol – a false god.  This is why Jesus says that you cannot serve God and Mammon.  Jesus is right!   Mammon won’t let you serve anyone else except itself. 

Dear friends, it is so very important for us not only to recognize the idol of Mammon in America but also to confess our ungodly loyalty to Mammon, saying:   

“O Lord, forgive us for fearing, loving, and trusting in Mammon and not you.!” 

Baptized Saints, it is also so very important for you to hear this too: unlike Mammon, your God lets Himself be used by you.  Yes, unlike Mammon, that demands your love and never gives you anything in return, your Lord did not come to be served by you but to serve you by dying and paying the ransom for your sins.  Unlike Mammon, the gifts of your Lord Jesus are meant to be enjoyed, received, and consumed – not for sinful gain but for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  These gifts include not only His Word and Sacraments, but it also includes the daily bread that He bestows on you.  Think about it for a moment; the Lord gives you and me food, drink, clothing, shoes, a house, home, land, animals, goods, and so forth.  These are not given to you and me so that we can turn them into Mammon by shoving them away into a secure safe, never to be enjoyed!  As they say, you can’t take it with you.  So why do we try? 

Today, let us pray:

“O Lord, deliver us from the temptation to turn your daily bread into Mammon.  Lord, free us to use your gifts, share your gifts, and rejoice in the gifts that you give to us.  Teach us to be faithful stewards of your gifts for the present day and the days to come.  Help us to use what you have given us for our needs and the needs of those around us, for You, O Lord, are not like Mammon, but are the True God who lets Himself be used and serves His people.” 

Baptized Saints, you cannot have two masters.  Why?  Because Mammon is not real, it cannot bled for you but only it takes from you.  However, you only have one Lord who is real and bleeds for you.  Yes, your Lord Jesus gives you all good things – including daily bread.  So, abide in this Master and receive His gifts with joy, because He constantly gives to you.  

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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