A World of two Kingdoms

Different rules apply in different kingdoms. Our government is finding that out the hard way. Britain cannot benefit from the European Union without being subject to at least some of its rules. You know that when travel abroad, you have to prepare so that you can comply with the rules and conditions of the country you are visiting. You will need to have access to their currency, apply for a visa if required, carry a passport and abide by their laws. If you drive a car in France, then you need to carry a breath test kit, a warning triangle, a full spare set of bulbs and a high vis jacket for each passenger in the vehicle. The list of the necessary compliances for each country in the world is a very long one indeed.
Jesus often speaks in terms of two kingdoms: the one which belongs to this world and the kingdom of God. It comes out most clearly in an answer to a question about paying taxes: ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’ (Matthew 22.21 AV) But these two kingdoms over-lap. Jesus talks of the kingdom of God being ‘at hand’(Matthew 4.17) and ‘within you’ (Luke 17.21) The kingdom of God is there to be grasped by following him, but at the same time we still live in the ‘real world’. Taxes, mortgages, rents and utility bills must be paid, and food put on the table.
The challenge that Jesus offered to those who heard his ministry was to decide on the kingdom to which they ultimately belonged; the one to which they gave their first allegiance. He does that in a particularly interesting way in the parable he tells in Luke 16, (1-13) our gospel reading for today. It is often called the parable of the dishonest steward or manager. The manager for a rich man had been caught fiddling the books. He is about to be sacked. So, he decides to make friends out of his bosses’ customers by altering the amounts they owe in their favour. Eight hundred gallons of olive oil quickly becomes four hundred and a thousand bushels of wheat becomes eight hundred. This means that when he has lost his job, he will have friends to go to.
At first, we may well ask why Jesus is seemingly supporting such sharp practice. But we have to remember that this is a parable. Jesus is taking a snapshot of real life; of the kingdom that is planet earth and using it to teach something about the kingdom of God. ‘For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use ‘worldly wealth’ to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’ (Luke 16.8-9) In other words, Jesus suggests that we use our money and possessions while we are in this world in such a way that when we are chucked out of it as we will be at our deaths, we will have a place to go; we will have friends in the God’s kingdom which is eternal.
It all comes down to deciding about which kingdom we are in; which one are we serving. Jesus says: ‘No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other…You cannot serve both God and Money’ (Luke 16.13) For those who remember their bible verses in the authorised or King James translation of the bible, you will know that last phrase as: ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’ Our modern translations use words such as ‘money’, ‘worldly wealth’ and even ‘dishonest wealth’ to translate a Greek word ‘mammon’; a word borrowed directly from the Aramaic that Jesus would have used in speaking to the crowds. It’s a word that gives to money, wealth and possessions a sense of emotional attachment; that they are more than just inanimate objects but things which have the potential to exert power and to become idols. Jesus warns against us becoming servants of the currency of this world; against making it an end in itself. It is not that money and wealth are to be thought of as evil in themselves but when they gain our love, our allegiance, then we are investing in the kingdom of this world rather than in the kingdom of God. As Paul puts it in his letter to Timothy: ‘The love of money is the root of all evil.’ (1 Timothy 6.10)
In the parable of the dishonest steward, Jesus asks which kingdom are we investing in? We live in the kingdom of this world and are citizens of the United Kingdom but that is not forever. The time will come when we cease to belong to either; like the dishonest steward, we will be sacked. Do you want to be welcomed into eternal dwellings? Do you already have citizenship in the kingdom of God; not by your own merits and efforts but through the grace of God shown in Jesus’ death and resurrection. If that’ you, then you will need to heed Jesus’ words and invest in that kingdom. Use mammon; worldly wealth not for your own ruin and corruption or for the exploitation of others as Amos warns in our old testament reading today, (Amos 8.4-6) but for the building of the kingdom in this world as it is heaven.
It is reasonable that if we have money that we spend some on ourselves rejoicing in God’s provision providing a welcoming home, a means of transport, the refreshment of holidays and some hobbies. Yet, if we are serious about following Jesus and being members of the kingdom of God while we live on this earth and in the world to come that we invest that kingdom astutely so that we will be welcomed there.
What does that mean to be trustworthy in handling worldly wealth? In handling mammon? It means I think to consider both kingdoms when we sit down with our back statement or log in to internet banking. Invite Jesus to be part of your thinking at these times. Prayerfully consider what you need, what is reasonable to sustain yourself and your family and what might be sensible to invest in the kingdom of God; that kingdom which is eternal where most and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6.19-20)
Using money to invest in the kingdom of God is in part about supporting the work of your local church congregation with regular proportionate giving. But it must also have an eye to the poor, those in greater need than yourself whether here in your own family, community and town or the wider world. When we give to support Christian Aid, or another Christian charity or the Wrexham Food Bank or the Night Shelter, we are investing in God’s kingdom. We are building capital for ourselves in heaven as well as blessing people and making the heavenly kingdom a reality on earth.
Many of you are aware of the development of Hope Street Church in the former Burtons shop in Wrexham. Our diocese and the Church in Wales are investing considerable sums of money in this initiative. Some of you will have your questions and doubts about such an enterprise. That’s fair enough. It should receive due scrutiny. Pray that it will be of God. If it is, it will flourish, if not, it will wither. What we should not do is simply to say it’s too much money, for it is surely a bold investment in the kingdom of God, using mammon for godly ends.
Which kingdom is most important to you? This world or God’s Kingdom. Be sure that you use your worldly wealth to further the purposes of the kingdom closest to your heart.
Trinity 14 22.09.2019

Rev Jonathan Smith

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