While Good Money Week and One World Week might be over, the challenges remain…!
Readings: Isaiah 65: 17-23 and Matthew 25: 34-45.
Today’s talk has been wonderfully preceded by Jan talking about St Francis and Paul challenging us about whether God is really thankful for the ways in which our harvest offerings, and all our food, are created.
There are no shortage of things I could focus on today:
Yesterday was the UN’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty;
Today is the start of both Good Money Week and One World Week;
And tomorrow is the start of Christian Legacy Week.
The great thing is that all of these are fundamentally linked, as we will explore.
So today’s focus is going to be our money, whether we have a lot or a little. As we look at the ways in which we use our money, I’m the first to admit, even if I’ve been grappling with these issues for some time, there is always more to think about, and to change.
I’m more and more aware of how the everyday decisions I make impact other people, most of whom I have never, and will never, meet. But, if my actions make their lives worse-off, I’ve got to do something about it.
I love the reminder, “Take care, there are people in your shopping basket.”
Some months ago we attended a lecture by Dr Eve Poole entitled The 7 Deadly Sins of Capitalism. One thing that particularly struck us was the challenge: if St Peter at the pearly gates asked you to show him your bank statement, what would it tell him about what you believed?
Take a moment to think about that…. What does your bank statement say about what you believe?
Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want. If that’s the case, what does your voting record say about your vision for the world – and is that vision in line with God’s vision?
Our readings today ground us firmly in that vision – we are serving Jesus and bringing God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.
You might think and pray hard about your financial giving, whether that is to the church or to your favourite charity. That’s likely to be around 10% of your income (and often a lot less if we’re honest!).
But what about the remaining 90% – how much thought do you give to how you use that? Does only the 10% belong to God or is everything you have God’s? What if you can use your 90% to more effectively bring about God’s Kingdom of justice and equality and to serve Jesus?
We all know the command to love our neighbour as ourselves, and we know that our neighbour is not just the person who lives next door to us. But if our neighbour is anyone we come into contact with, either directly or indirectly, how do we love them if the things we spend our money on are supporting unethical business practices such as worker exploitation, tax evasion and damage to our environment?
We are a society of consumers and it is extremely difficult to live without spending money. Some of us have lots of money (at least relatively speaking), and others have a lot less but we all have to use money and can put thought into how we become more conscious consumers. Sometimes, things that have an apparently low cost to us, come at a very high price for our neighbours near and far, now and in the future.
A lot of my inspiration has come from the life and teachings of St Francis. St Francis’ insight into God’s peace took him down what he described as ‘the way of simplicity and humility.’
These days it is increasingly difficult to live simply. Martin Luther King said by the time we’ve had breakfast we’ve depended on half the world. But if we’re not careful we have exploited half the world as well, unless our coffee is fair trade and the electricity for the toaster is from a green energy supplier, and the toaster is made by workers who are allowed to form trade unions, and the muesli is locally grown and organic and the bag it comes in is bio-degradable … and so on and son.
Living simply is a lesson in humility, because the deeper we go into trying to ‘tread lightly on the earth,’ the more we realise how much further we have to go before we’ve arrived. There is no room for self-righteousness. We won’t have arrived until everyone else arrives with us and embraces the vision of living simply together.
Gandhi put it best when he called for human beings to live simply so that others may simply live.
One of the most significant marks of St Francis’ spirituality is his acute sense of the presence of God in creation and in human history. Every being, and even everything, is a gift from God. Everything speaks to us of God and sends us back to God. The universe in its unity and its diversity is a sacrament of God. For St Francis, it is impossible to love God without loving the things God has made.
How often do we really think about what it means that our earth is God’s creation and how does that realisation affect our actions and the way we use our money? Do we stop to think, before we make a decision to buy something, what resources have been used to create it, who was involved in its creation, and what is the impact of using it on our environment? Consumerism thrives on ignorance. If we knew the answers to these questions, it should have an impact on the choices we make. Can we really allow ignorance to be our excuse for poor choices?
The first challenge to us when trying to be a “conscious consumer” is to ask the obvious question – do I really need to buy this?
As a society we have become obsessed with owning stuff but there’s real joy to be found in the sharing economy which is going through a revival at the moment. Here are just a few examples:
Jesus’ earliest followers understood this as highlighted in Acts, “All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had.” This would require a massive change in mind-set to put into practice today, but can we at least let it challenge us to make sharing a bigger part of our lives?
It has been great to see your response to the Traidcraft stall we now have after services. I’ve got a cheque here for £55 which is the difference between the price I pay through the church’s account, and the catalogue price you pay – so thank you on behalf of the church too! Buying ethically produced goods such as Fairtrade and Organic is an important way we can make a positive difference to our world. We have to eat to live, so let’s make sure that what we eat is a blessing not only to our own lives, but also to the lives of those who created our food and to the land it comes from.
Ethical products might cost a bit more, but I justify this extra expense as part of my giving. Also, I find it useful to remember that the cheapest priced items come at a cost, as highlighted by the recent scandal of low milk prices and the fact that farmers can’t afford to stay in business.
And what about the costs that are not included in the price of a product? For example, intensively farmed food may be cheap but ultimately we all pay a high price for its nasty consequences. The polluter doesn’t pay – from the damaging emissions causing climate change and the negative impact on biodiversity, to the downstream cost to public health of over-use of antibiotics as well as the wider social and cultural impacts – producers of intensive food are not financially accountable for the consequences of their farming systems. Is that bargain price really the true price?
Our consumer culture is also a highly disposable culture. We think nothing of buying the cheapest, most convenient thing – at least for us, and in the short term – something like a plastic spoon.
But are we really caring for God’s creation when it ends up here?
So is investing in ethical goods the end of the story? I’ve found that this is only the beginning, and there are so many more aspects of life that can be a force for good if we only engage our brains a little more.
Thinking back to the challenge from St Peter at the pearly gates – the first thing he might look at on your bank statement is which bank is it from? Banks don’t just hold your carefully earned money in a benign way – they are investing it to earn us (and more often themselves) interest. (The Bible talks a lot about the dangers of interest, and in fact it is forbidden – but that’s a talk for another time…) Do you know what your bank is investing your money in? Apparently we change our spouses more often than we change our banks, but maybe this morning you could consider how your money can work for good, while it is waiting for you to need it.
What about your pension provider, if you’re lucky enough to have a pension? Or your insurance company? You might think of insurance as just being a necessary evil and look for the cheapest available policy. But do you stop to think about what your insurance premiums, and your pension are being invested in? If you have switched to a sustainable energy supplier because you want to reduce your carbon footprint, wouldn’t it be ironic if your pension provider or insurance company was investing in a fossil fuel company who is fracking our beautiful countryside?! What about choosing a company that makes your money work for good?
And, as Christian legacy week is about to start, what about thinking about how your money will be used after you no longer need it? You might only be able to give a little bit away during your life, but you could leave a wonderful gift to your favourite church or charity if you included them in your will. It comes at no cost to you but can help to create a better future. I understand that Andrew Shackleton left All Hallows a generous legacy – can someone share how is that continuing to bless us?
The theme for this year’s One World Week is “Hope in Action” – inspiring a culture of hope to build a more equal and peaceful world. Our reading from Isaiah reminds us that God is recreating our world. The Lord’s new creation will be one where there will be no more crying or sorrow and people will enjoy the fruits of their labours. And we can join in God’s work of re-creation with our whole lives, including our money. Even if we don’t have much money we can still be a force for good by boycotting unethical companies and publicly questioning their practices, as well as campaigning about issues of trade justice and inequality.
When we’ve got past St Peter at the pearly gates, let’s make sure that God can say about each one of us, “Whenever you did these things for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” What better way is there to “act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with our God” than to do so with every aspect of our lives.
As consumers we have a great deal of power in our pockets. I’m not trying to make you feel guilty but rather to empower you to use your money for good – go and be conscious consumers! And remember…
…“While money may make the world go round, deciding how we spend it might just save the world!”
As we let these things challenge us, let us pray:
God of hope, thank you:
For the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus,
For the hope that you are making all things new,
For the hope that another world is possible and is on its way.
For the hope that is sustained through action.
Thanks be to God. Amen
(Talk by Lydia Groenewald. For more inspiration about how to be a “conscious consumer” see Lydia’s blog: LowCostHighPrice.org)