2014-05-25 by Jeremy Clarke
25th May 2014
Readings: Matthew 25-31, Ecclesiastes 5:10, Luke 6:22-28
(Names have been changed since this sermon contains personal financial details.)
There won’t be a sermon as such today but rather a few reflections and poems on the subject of money and how we might think practically about what it means for our community.
The first reading comes from Matthew 25-31:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,
29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
The Nickel is one of a series of children’s poems used fundamentally to teach kids about the different sorts of coins, but it is not a simple case of maths. There is a strong whiff of patriotism tied up with it. The other poems show how slippery money is, how active it can be. It has power to do many different things. Listen again to some of the words to describe it: shiny, smooth, megabucks, greases the palms, breeds, compounding, circulation. We see how much it governs political power.
But for most of us money is a source of anxiety. How can we hope to transcend and overcome this worry as is called for in Matthew? How can we free ourselves of the constant fear that interest rates might go up, food prices might go up, someone gets ill and can no longer work, the boiler in the house will go? And on and on. Last week we had a scare with my partner’s job. But what I think added to the anxiety and tension was the uncertainty that came with it. The institute where he worked was sent an email about the closure, no-one from management came to talk to them and HR remained hopelessly oblivious to what was going on. Unseen forces were at work. And because of that fear and gossip hold sway.
A lot of people keep savings for ‘a rainy day’ or to prepare for retirement. Money is a safety net. But when is enough enough? At what point do you think, “That is the right amount of savings that I need”. And at what point do you become rich? Thinking back to Symon Hill’s sermon, having more than you need for a single day may be too much. Perhaps it’s useful to think about the passage from Ecclesiastes here.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 (KJV)
He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NIV)
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.
What is perhaps being hinted at here, is that as soon as you begin to focus and worry about money as the goal in itself, you cannot have space to think of anything else. Your concern is always upon your savings rather than your needs. You may not be happy; in fact you are far more likely to be worried. The focus is “what might I need tomorrow” rather than “what do I need now”. We get richer but we get more anxious too. And what does Luke tell us about the future of rich people?
Turning to Luke 6:22-28:
22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.
23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
24 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
25 Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.
26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.
27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, 28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. 30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. ‘Woe unto you that are rich! For ye have received your consolation.’
And that consolation I would argue is worry and anxiety. But how can we begin to work against this anxiety? Practically? Well this sermon series is part of the process undoubtedly. But the question of how we act, how we shift from an intellectual or spiritual discussion into practical changes must surely be the direction in which we are headed.
Very few people like talking about their money. And yet surely if we are to be accountable in all areas of how we use money we should aim to be accountable and open with what we spend. As such and in the spirit of being open I am going to tell you about my finances. That is, without this wanting to descend into an accounts meeting.
My income varies wildly. I am self-employed as an actor and a teacher. In the last tax year I earned just under £13,000 from acting and £9,500 from teaching. That is the second biggest annual income I’ve had since working. Some years I have earned £13,000 in total. I have been teaching lots this year but trying to reduce it because I do not feel ‘good or ethical’ about the money I earn from most of the students, who I feel are privileged. I am in the process of running more schools workshops in an attempt to develop a new income stream.
My outgoings. I do not own my house. I rent a property with my partner and two friends. I pay £460 a month for my portion of the rent and then about £80-90 in bills. I spend £120 on underground travel to get to and from teaching across the city. We have a weekly grocery shop which I share with my partner. The cost of this is about £65. We also eat out for at least two evening meals a week. I spend about £8 on coffee a week and eat two or three lunches out as well. I am currently saving £75 a month. I have enough savings to keep me going for 6-7 months if I was unable to work. Other than rent, our biggest expense is travelling to the US to see my partner’s family, which is now around £900 per ticket. I make a small donation to the Labour Party and the MS Society per month. I am unable to access a mortgage and will never own a house unless I inherit. I would be okay with this if rental property remained at a reasonable cost. At the moment, unless I get a big break or change careers I think living in London long-term is a bad idea and will become financially crippling.
So, that’s a quick run through of my income and expenses. In being accountable I would say the key issue to resolve is to reduce the tutorial income asap as for me it represents earned income from a source I am unhappy with. It would be good if I could be accountable to someone here about setting a deadline for stopping tutoring. There are also jobs that come up with acting that sometimes it would be good to discuss. For example, should I do this advert for Sky or should I not do this advert for a betting shop. It’s easy to say this now, but if someone does offer me £4,000 for a couple of days work, it might be good to have someone to challenge me on the ethics of that particular job.
I want to propose that perhaps we might consider a system where we each have someone in the church we are financially accountable to who is not our immediate family. Someone who each month we meet with to discuss how we are earning and spending and where we might make differences. One way in which anxiety might be helped is by being open with each other and offering support and challenge where necessary.