The Cure of Greed

18th Sunday after Pentecost
Amos 8:4-7

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, in 1908 the board chairman for the Bemidji library wrote to Andrew Carnegie requesting funding to build a new library. In 1909 Andrew Carnegie then gave the city of Bemidji $12,000 to fund the new library and the building has been on its current site ever since. Recently there’s been a campaign to save the building which has fallen into disrepair. Who was Andrew Carnegie and why did he give Bemidji money for a library? Andrew Carnegie is often described as one of the richest people in American history. He started a steel company right during the industrial revolution that quickly became one of the most profitable business endeavors in the world. What is really interesting is a “note to self” that he made early on, when he was only 33 years old. This is what he wrote: “Man must have an idol – The amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry. No idol more debasing than the worship of money. Whatever I engage in I must push inordinately therefore should I be careful to choose the life which will be the most elevating in character. To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest time, must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery. I will resign business at Thirty five, but during the ensuing two years, I wish to spend the afternoons in securing instruction, and in reading systematically.”[1] Well, obviously he didn’t retire at 35 and although he was later known for his philanthropy building over 2,000 libraries and such, a former steel worker once said, “We didn’t want him to build a library for us, we would rather have had higher wages.” Steel workers worked 12 hour shifts on floors so hot they had to nail wooden platforms under their shoes, every 2 weeks work a 24 hour shift and live in crowded housing and most died in their 40s. Andrew Carnegie might have recognized that money can easily become and idol, but he didn’t know how to root it out of his heart.

What about you? What about me? Are we affected by the idol of money? Are we affected by greed? What we’re going to take a look at today is this disease of greed. 1. It infects every human heart, 2. It destroys our relationships with others, 3. It destroys our relationship with God, and 4. The only cure for greed.

First, it infects every heart. Notice what God says, “Hear this.” The prophet Amos worked at about the same time as Hosea. He served the northern kingdom of Israel that was on the outside quite successful at this time – they were enjoying peace and prosperity, the borders were enlarged, business was good, but spiritually they were a disaster. Not only was idol worship a norm, not only was immoral living predominating, even those who claimed to have some respect for God were filled with greed. The kingdom was on the verge of major collapse and in several short years it was going to be totally demolished. But the problem is, no one sees it. No one knows. So God points it out: “Hear this.”

You see, greed has an incredible ability to blind us of its grip on our hearts. Nobody thinks they’re greedy. I’ve never had someone come in to talk to me about their struggle with greed and how it’s destroying their life, their family, and their marriage. Why not? We tend to relate or compare ourselves within the society group that we are a part of. My in-laws were missionaries in Africa for several years. One of the things they talked about was when Americans would travel over to Africa in the Peace Corps or in some other mission work they would just be appalled that people could live in such primitive conditions. What we tend to do is relate ourselves to the people around us. Ok, I have some means, but I’m certainly not as rich as that person. As long as I can point to someone living more lavishly than me, I can claim that I’m modest in comparison. In fact, I once read a survey that most Americans think of themselves as “middle class” and only 2% of Americans would classify themselves as “upper class.” Each one of us should make the working assumption that greed could very well be something that I really struggle with. It infects us all.

Second, it destroys our relationship with others. That’s what was happening in Israel. Their greed blinded them not only to its grip on their hearts but to the conditions of their fellow human beings. “You who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land…skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.” They totally ignored other people, they skimped, boosted, cheated people out of their money and when they did make a sale they sold the dirt off the floor with the wheat and when they poor people couldn’t pay, they sold them! Even for a pair of sandals!

Their attitude is get ahead no matter the cost, get more no matter what it takes, make more money no matter who you step on our abuse to get it. A skewed relationship with other people really flows from something deeper: a skewed relationship with God.

Greed destroys our relationship with God. Notice what they’re saying: “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?” In other words, when will this God stuff be all over so we can go back to making more money?! Here’s the root of the problem. Something else other than God has taken over first place in their hearts and clearly its money. Jesus said in the gospel, you can’t have two masters, either you will hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Everyone has to worship something, everyone needs to have something as number one in their heart, everyone has to live for something. And if it’s not God, it’s something else. Clearly, the Israelite merchants here are living for the love of money, greed has taken over their hearts. So how do you know what you really worship? Our money has a way of showing us what it is that we really worship. What do you find it easy to spend money on? Where does your money effortlessly stream? If you’re a spender, if you find it easy to spend money on designer clothes or on your physical appearance, perhaps human approval is an idol in your heart. If you find it easy to spend money on entertainment, perhaps that’s your idol. If you’re a saver and you find it easy to save your money in a bank account, you may really be spending everything on a need to feel secure, protected, in control in this chaotic world.

Well, what’s the answer? What’s the only cure for greed? “The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: ‘I will never forget anything they have done.” There is no higher oath than when God swears by himself, he has nothing higher to swear by. He will never forget their greed, he will never forget our greedy, idolatrous hearts. God doesn’t ignore our greed, He doesn’t forget our greed, He doesn’t brush over our greed. He deals with it. But wait a minute pastor! Doesn’t the Bible say, “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”? Doesn’t God forget? The truth is God doesn’t forget and God does forget. That paradox can only be solved in one place: the cross. On the cross God didn’t forget our sin- he dealt with our sin, he paid our sin, why? So that when it comes to us he could forget our sin once and for all.

Our love of money cannot be removed, it can’t be repaired, it can’t be reformed, it has to be replaced with something else and the only thing that will cure us from greed is the gospel, the love of Christ. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus gave up his treasure in heaven in order to make you his treasure. He made you His treasure so that he might be the treasure of your heart. The grip of greed loses its grip on our heart as the gospel grips us more and more.

You see, you don’t have to find security and control in money, the cross of Christ proves God’s unending care for you. Money won’t spare you from catastrophe or tragedy in the world, only God can do that. Money can’t give you the significance and approval and status you really seek, the cross of Christ proves that God loves you more than you will ever know and with His love you have all the significance you need for life.

The true cure for greed isn’t rooting it out. Andrew Carnegie recognized the idol that money can truly become, but he couldn’t root it out. Greed can only be replaced, replaced by the one who though rich, became poor for you, so that you could be truly rich, eternally rich. Amen.

Don’t sit down with a calculator to give your money away, sit down with a cross.

[1] Quoted from “Andrew Carnegie” written by Joseph Frazier Walls