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Ye cannot serve God and Mammon…
Ye cannot serve God and Mammon… This is not a text you find often appearing at livery services or memorials for successful City bankers. But it ought to be. Let’s get rid of the shiftiness and embarrassed sidelong glances at the start. I’ll tell you a true story. A few years ago a very distinguished senior clergyman came and preached for us at St Michael’s. There was a huge congregation of City men. The preacher earnestly laboured his point, thinking to instruct them. He said, Money is important, but it’s not everything. Afterwards he asked me how I thought his sermon had gone down. I said, Well they listened politely. But when you told them money isn’t everything, they switched off. They know that. They are the experts in money. The fact is they spend half their time in boring meetings deciding how to give their money away. So what does this mean, Ye cannot service God and Mammon? Despite the lurid imagination of John Milton, Mammon is not a demon, not a terrible evil – unless you make it so. It is not Mammon, money, which is the root of all evil; but, as St Paul says, the love of money. In the Jewish Mishna Mammon means possessions, property, goods. There is no way, in a world created by God and blessed by God as good, that the things of the world can possibly be evil in themselves. But then, you see, you get Christianity and you get people. And the one thing you can say is that people will misunderstand Christianity. I’ve spoilt my morning already by mentioning that old Puritan Milton. But people mistake Puritanism for Christianity. They condemn the things of the world because they are so guilty about their secret enjoyment of them – rather like my old friend the Methodist Minister in Leeds who kept a bottle of gin at the bottom of his wardrobe in the manse. But what does the Lord say about Mammon, about the things of the world? He says, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. We are not Puritans and we are not Buddhists. The gospel does not say Seek ye the Kingdom of God, for all these worldly things are unreal and don’t matter. The gospel says that worldly things are the gifts of God. But it says we cannot serve them. Ye cannot serve them. Notice this: Jesus does not say Ye must not serve them; he says ye cannot serve them. Thus Our Lord’s saying in today’s gospel is not so much about morality as about logic. You can no more serve God and Mammon than you can be married and single at the same time. If we put our trust in the things of this world, if we make them the centre of our interest we are lost. The Lord’s saying is very plain, severe: …for either he will hate the one and love the other or hold to the one and despise the other. It means simply that the things of this world are wonderful and marvellous only if they are used in the service of God. But this goes beyond rich bankers and the nasty capitalists, usury, hostile takeover bids, surplus value, selling the widows and orphans and going into Rio Tinto Zinc. Mammon means everything that is temporary, everything that is passing; everything in fact that is not God. Some of you have asked for Bible study, for exegesis of the Gospel. Well, now we’re really getting down to this Bible study. We are constantly inclined to serve things that are temporary, things that are passing. And I don’t mean just the things flung in our faces by television adverts. Western civilisation has for four hundred years tried to fashion its way of life without God. Of course, for most of these four hundred years, people have been polite enough to pay lip service to God, to reserve a tiny God- shaped space in their lives and call it Sunday or Matins or praying for world peace. Why, I received a perfect example of this lip service once when someone referred to her Church attendance as a hobby. But it’s not just that the preacher says, wagging his finger, You MUSTN’T have God as a hobby. The truth is you CANNOT have God as a hobby. It’s not possible. And western civilisation since the so-called Enlightenment has tried to have values without God. There has been much promotion of the moral law and of ethics without religion. Men have falsely believed that they can be good without God – that they can create a just and moral order without religious faith. Of course God has been wheeled out at Christmas or Remembrance Sunday, or in a rather shamefaced way at weddings and funerals, as if to add lustre to our cluster of enlightened sensibilities. This programme is called secularisation and it has failed. It is Mammon. It has not failed like something which might have had the chance of succeeding. Secularisation has failed because it was always bound to fail. Because it is based on a deep inconsistency. It is illogical. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. So do we look around at the modern world and despair? Indeed, we do not. For there are unmistakeable signs all over the place that western civilisation is coming to understand that secularisation has failed. People see for themselves the results of a godless morality: social decay and the moral corruption of abortion and eugenics. You can call them safe sex and reproductive technology if you like – but you won’t thereby escape the evil of them. People are beginning to look at the desecration of the public spaces in our towns and cities by crazed material consumption, the glee and vomit of what’s satanically called a night out. They are looking inwards at the decay of our institutions, businesses and public services – because they now realise that a society without God to underwrite its morals, and therefore its business practice, was always bound to end up being strangled by its own regulative procedures. Thus Saturday night in the City pubs and clubs and Monday morning in the City banks, school staff meetings and NHS offices are part and parcel of the same decadence. What’s so cheerful is that it’s not just old gits like me who are coming to see that something has gone badly wrong. Some of the most perceptive and God-seeking people are young. I know. I meet them. A parish priest in the City gets out a bit, you know. We do not despair. We turn again to God. The nice, respectable, secular way of doing things doesn’t work because it leaves out the essential Being of God. And the refined and sophisticated liberal idea that, as it has often been expressed to me, Religion is not true, but it’s a good basis for society and morals, will not work either. Think about it: something that is not true can’t be a basis for anything. Unless you’re a spin doctor – and you know what that leads to. “Such achievements as you can boast in the way of polite society will not survive the faith to which they owe their significance” So what, practically, can you do? You can help me fill this place for a start. This Sunday service is the centre of the universe because it is where we meet God in his Word and in the Blessed Sacrament. It is not a Masonic or a municipal gathering, a sort of AGM with hymns. It is the very place where heaven touches earth, where you can touch and be touched by the Son of God. You can pray. Pray that God will use you to build up his Kingdom. When you leave church, you can make sure that people are in no doubt that God must be allowed to be at the centre of all human activity. You don’t have to tub-thump. If you put God at the centre of your life, people will soon know it without needing to be told in as many words. In short, you can give up the notion of church as the hobby. Remember, you cannot serve God and Mammon. You cannot have God as well. You can have God instead
"Ye cannot serve God and Mammon…"