March 7, 2021

Money makes the world go round

Passage: Exodus 20:1–17, 1 Corinthians 1:18–25, John 2:13–22

Money makes the world go around
...the world go around
...the world go around.
Money makes the world go around
Of that we both are sure...
*Rasberry sound* on being poor!
Money money money money Money money money money Money money money...
When you haven't any coal in the stove
And you freeze in the winter
And you curse to the wind at your fate.
When you haven't any shoes on your feet,
Your coat's thin as paper,
And you look 30 pounds underweight
When you go to get a word of advice
From the fat little pastor,
He will tell you to love evermore.
But when hunger comes to rap,
Rat-a-tat rat-a-tat at the window
*Knock knock* (at the window)
Who's there? (hunger) oh, hunger!
See how love flies out the door...
For, money makes the world go around
...the world go around  ...the world go around.
Money makes the world go 'round
It makes the world go 'round!

For you film and musical fans, you will recognize these lyrics from for the movie musical Cabaret. This scene with Joel Grey and Liza Minelli, I think, is one of the best musical scenes ever filmed. Funny, full of pathos, disturbing, lyrics that were profoundly pertinent and yet had a deeper meaning, and a scene that is choreographed exquisitely.

It is no wonder that both Liza Minella and Joel Grey won Oscars for best actress and best supporting actor.

In fact, Cabaret holds the records for most Oscars (eight) without winning best picture. By the way The Godfather won that year.

Cabaret is a film about the Kit Kat Club in Berlin in the 1930’s and the film took on all kinds of controversial things for a 1970’s film like corruption, sexual ambiguity, false dreams, Nazism, the decadence of Pre-war Berlin , and anti-Semitism.

And the song “Money makes the world go round” was a very poignant piece of music if you know the economic setting of Germany in the early 1930’s.

After World War I, Germany was basically destitute. Not only had its economy and been devastated by the war, it was levelled huge reparations to be paid to the Allies.

Unable to pay the money Germany just literally printed enough money to pay its debt causing one of the worst cases of inflation in human history.

In December of 1923, it cost 200 billion marks to buy a loaf of bread. Banks went under, the savings of Germans were worthless. Wages were worthless.

The Allied powers intervened, and things got better, but when the stock Market crashed in America in 1929, Germany, dependent on foreign countries and markets crashed too. There was a ton of unemployment and poverty.

Some historians say that this was part of the rise of Hitler. Miserable and impoverished people were looking for any way out.

Money has a huge impact on lives. Money is a medium of exchange. We sell our services and products for money and then use the money to buy products and the services of others.

Money is the means by which we transfer resources between people.

In fact, there are those who argue that money and banking services are so necessary to the functioning of a society that it should be a public utility and a non-profit.

Why should banks make hundreds of millions of dollars when banking and money is an essential service?

And when the U. S. Banking sub-prime mortgage crisis hit around 2007, and banks and financial institutions were going under in the States the United States Government had various programs to stabilize financial institutions including spending about half a trillion dollars to purchase toxic assets to keep financial institutions going, because financial institutions are necessary.

Money is the medium by which we work and get paid, buy food and clothes and utilities etc.

And while the love of money, or greed according to one biblical proverb is the root of all evil, money is a pretty important thing.

And Jesus talked a lot about money, and used money a lot in his examples. The Lost Coin, the widow’s mite, the parable of the talents, the parable of the hidden treasure, the parable of the pearl of great price. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus knew full well what poverty was like.  Galilee and Judea where Jesus went back and forth between were full of poor people.

Like Germany after World War 1 and in the dirty thirties, the vast majority of people were impoverished.

There were wealthy people. The very, very few were wealthy and they tended to be tremendously wealthy and the vast majority were poor.

Jesus noticed these inequities and there are lots of scriptures that talk about the leveling out of inequities. The song of Mary has these words:

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

But today, we are not going to try and deal with everything that Jesus said about money, but deal with one of the more interesting stories about Jesus. And that is the story of Jesus in the temple.

There are a couple of reasons why this is one of the most interesting stories in the bible.

It is a story that is in all four gospels. Besides the events of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, the last supper, the betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection…there are not many stories that are in all four gospels. The feeding of the five thousand, and Simon’s name changed to Peter are two others that come to mind.

So, this is a significant story to the gospel writers.

While the story of Jesus casting out the moneychangers in the temple is in the Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it is near the beginning of Holy Week.

So, Jesus enters Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday and shortly after that he enters the Temple, overturns the tables of the money-changers and call the Temple a den of thieves. This event in Mark and Luke is the catalyst for the chief priests and the scribes to try and seek out and destroy Jesus.

However, in John’s gospel, the story is at the beginning of the gospel. After Jesus calls the disciples, there is the wedding feat in Cana where the water is changed into wine, metaphorically talking about the wine of Jesus’ love and inclusion, replacing the Jewish rites of purification and separateness.

Then comes the story of Jesus in the temple. It is a fuller story in John’s gospel than the other gospels. Here Jesus makes a whip of cords and drives out the animals, both the sheep and cattle. He turns over the money changers tables as well and told the people selling doves to take the doves away.

And in John’s gospel it doesn’t end with the scribes and pharisees trying to destroy him. In John’s gospel it ends with the Jews asking what sign Jesus has for doing this. And Jesus replies about himself. Destroy this temple and I will build it in three days.

It has a different place in John’s gospel, and it leads to a conclusion that just as the previous story, that this is about transformation.

The wedding is about transforming relationships, and the water changing into wine, is about transforming our understanding of that which gives life. It is not the law, and the institution of Jewish holiness that gives life, it is Jesus himself that gives life, and we are not connected to God primarily through our tradition and ritual but through relationship.

And so, one can read this story of the temple as Jesus replacing the temple, it is not the institution that gives life as much as it is our relationship with Jesus that gives life.

So, this story too is about transforming our relationship with God. We do not access God primarily through sacrifice, institution, ritual, or liturgy, but through relationship and prayer.

But this story also transforms our understanding of the faith community,

Here the faith community puts the emphasis on sacrifice. Buy a sacrifice so you will be acceptable to God. And the understanding of the Jewish faith community and especially those of the leaders like the scribes and the pharisees is that a lot of people are not clean enough, or good enough. Even the ones that are clean enough and good enough have to buy sacrifices to make them acceptable. What about the criminal, the poor, the stranger, the foreigner, the sick, the disabled, the women, the children, those of other faiths and the different?

They are not even good enough for a sacrifice.

Jesus drives out the animals and overturn the tables of money and tells them to get the doves out.

Why? He is doing away with the whole system of being good enough.

Instead, Jesus comes to the not good enough with love, forgiveness and acceptance. Jesus comes to every person as a child of God and says God loves you.

Once we reclaim our understanding of who we are and whose we are, then Jesus will gently say to us: “Now that you know you are a beloved child of God, there is a way to live as God’s child that gives you life.”

It is not that Jesus doesn’t care how we live, it is that Jesus doesn’t stop loving us, even when we are not our best selves.

And so, Jesus is transforming our understanding of community. Community is not about keeping away the sinners and the broken and the different. Community is about forgiving, including, healing and restoring all of us, and we are all broken. Community is not only accepting each other as child of God, but teaching each other how to live as a child of God.

Now some scholars focus on what they might call the righteous anger of God. They talk about Jesus being upset by the cheating, and the fraud.

They encourage us maybe, to get in touch of our feeling of anger sometimes, anger when we are hurt… or anger when we see others hurt… 

And use that anger to do some good in the world and to make changes, especially when we see exploitation.

And in particular the temple exploited the poor.

Maybe when Jesus talked about the widow’s mite, and said that she gave more because she gave her all, maybe Jesus wasn’t commending that, and using it as a stewardship sermon to say that we should give more.

Maybe Jesus was pointing out the exorbitant expectations of Jewish religious authorities who would bleed a poor widow dry, a widow who isn’t even allowed in to worship because she was not a man.

And I think there is some truth in this exploitation.

Another way that this story is used by scholars is to focus on the phrase, a den of thieves. The reasoning goes that there are many people of faith, Christians today even who live through the week as if God doesn’t exist. They do their business, hurt others, sin, hurt themselves, take the Lord’s name in vain, look down on people, disrespect people, whine about their lot in life, and then they come to worship on the Lord’s day and they put money in the offering plate.

And they think they are forgiven and justified and good to go.

But doesn’t that make church a den of thieves and robbers who only play at church and faith.

Attending church, singing hymns and giving money and saying sorry…there is nothing wrong with those things except when there is no real relationship with God, there is no living as a child of God. I only want to enough faith to know that am I forgiven and safe, but not enough faith to change, repent and live the way God wants me to live.

And Jesus metaphorically comes into the sanctuary today and takes your offering and throws it on the ground, and says “take your measly sacrifice, your sheep, your cattle, your dove, your twenty bucks and take it away. You can’t buy your faith.

You don’t buy love, or forgiveness or faith or relationship with God. It is not a transaction it is a gift.

You are loved… so instead of trying to buy forgiveness and love, what I want you to do is love others.

We make the Lord’s house into a den of thieves when we use money to buy our forgiveness when we are not sorry.

When we use our money to support the church and yet are still racist.

When we use our money to buy our ticket to heaven and yet fail to bring the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

When we use our money to make us feel good, when we treat others badly.

When we use our money to get ourselves into the kingdom, but make damn sure those other bastards don’t get in.

We make the Lord’s house a den of thieves, when we think that people are commodities and have only value if they can help us, or go along with us, or have resources we need, or share our same values, or prop up our egos,   or our agendas.

We make the Lord’s house a den of thieves when we fail to love, to include or to forgive. Because when we fail to love, to include, or to forgive, we rob people of life, we rob people of love, we rob people of forgiveness, and we rob people of God.

Today our gospel text is aligned with the old Testament story of the ten commandments. Please understand the ten commandments is not just a bunch of arbitrary rules God put out there to keep us on our toes.

“Keep them or else!”

They are all about relationships. Relationship with God and how to have a divine relationship. Put Love first for God is love, and don’t put anything else before Love. Don’t use the name of God to get your own way or hurt others. Honour those who taught you to love, and remember to have holy time, separate or sacred time where you focus on love.

And then love one another.

If you love others you won’t treat them as objects you can use for your gain or pleasure.

You won’t hurt them, or steal from them, or lie about them, or be unfaithful to them, or take from them, or even desire what they have.

Because you take from them, hurt them, steal from them, lie about them, be unfaithful to them, or even desire what they have, you are stealing life and love from them.

You are a robber or a thief.

And yet, and yet, most of us can confess that we have taken, we have lied, we have been unfaithful, we have been unkind, we have desired what others have…

Forgive us Lord. Forgive us Lord.  Forgive us Jesus.

I pray it too. Forgive me Jesus.

I have at times failed. We at times have failed. We have kept people away from God. We have commodified people according to their value to us…

And Jesus wants to drive those animals out of the temple of our hearts, and overturn the tables of money and advantage in our brains…

…so that we love everyone.

And you know what Jesus says:

Take your money and instead of trying to buy forgiveness and instead of trying to buy heaven and instead of using money for your spiritual and physical advantage…. …use your money to heal.

I am appalled at how much money is being transferred from the everyday person of this world into the hands of the world’s ultra-rich.

I am appalled by how many of these people are rich white men, and how colonialization continues in the handling of the world’s money.

I am appalled by the systems of this world which uses money to separate, divide, control and exploit people.

There are a whole lot of moneychangers to be thrown out of a whole lot of temples, and not just religious ones.

Use your money to heal.

Money is like water. It is a precious, life-giving resource. Money can be, should be, a tool of love that facilitates relationship and helps us thrive, rather than something that hurts and divides us.

If we use it for sacred, life-giving, restorative purposes it can be medicine.