Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 22, 2019
What’s Your Net Worth?
Rev. Roger Wohletz
What’s your net worth? It’s actually easy to figure it out. Net worth is a concept used in financial planning and asset management. If you google “net worth,” you find all sorts of calculators to help you figure it out. Basically, your net worth is your assets minus your liabilities. You add up all your assets, like the value of your house and possessions, the amount of money in your checking and savings, as well as the value of your stocks and retirement savings and then subtract your liabilities, your mortgage, all your debts and any liens on your property. You may end up with a positive net worth, where your assets are more valuable than your liabilities, or you may even have a negative net worth, where your debt load is higher than the value of all your assets.
There is some psychology, though, behind the concept of “net worth.” Notice the assumption built into the phrase. Your worth, your value, is based on money. If your net worth is high, then you seem to have more value. If your net worth is low, or even negative, then you have less value. That’s how society often values people — your worth to society is based on your ability to produce and accumulate wealth. The more you have, the more you do, then the more important and valuable you are.
That’s certainly how the people in Amos’ day viewed each other. Amos was a prophet called by God to preach to the northern kingdom of Israel in about 750 B.C. During Amos’ day, Israel was going through an economic boom. Their main economic and political rivals, Egypt to the south and Assyria to the northeast, were distracted with internal problems and fighting other enemies. This left Israel free to expand and grow. It also brought in lots of money to the kingdom through trade.
But not everyone benefited. Like the divide between rich and poor today, a small number of rich merchants controlled most of the nation’s wealth. And these merchants weren’t satisfied with what they had. They wanted to cheat the poor out of what little they had to get more and more for themselves. Amos warns them, “Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end.”
In our text, he lists out their abuses. The rich merchants were just going through the motions of being religious. The new moon was a religious holiday in ancient Israel, when no buying or selling could take place. They would observe the new moon holidays and the weekly Sabbath, with its worship and sacrifices, but their heart just wasn’t in it. They couldn’t wait for the religious celebration to be over to start business again. (Kind of like us looking at our watches in church, hoping for the service to end soon so that we don’t miss much of the football game.)
Then when the merchants got back to business, they stole and cheated. They used dishonest scales. The poor would get more and more in debt, until to avoid starvation they would have to sell themselves or their children into slavery, sometimes for the price that a pair of sandals would bring.
In the eyes of the rich merchants, the poor had little value. Their net worth was nonexistent. The merchants didn’t look at them as people who were valuable and worthy to God, but as objects to be used and discarded.
Sadly, this is the attitude that our society has to the most vulnerable among us – the unborn, the disabled, the terminally ill. If you are “unwanted,” if you are not able to produce, if you are incapable of taking care of yourself, if you are seen to be a burden to society, then your net worth is nonexistent and you become an object to be discarded. That’s the ethics that pervades our society’s attitude towards abortion and assisted suicide.
In 2008, a woman living in Oregon named Barbara Wagner was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her doctor told her about a chemotherapy treatment that would give her a small chance to survive the cancer. She decided to try the treatment. But a little while later she got a letter from her medical insurance, Oregon Health Plan, the government run Medicaid program for the state of Oregon. The letter stated that Oregon Health Plan would not pay for her chemotherapy, but it would pay for her to have doctor assisted suicide. In a news story about her situation, Wagner said, “To say to someone, ‘we’ll pay for you to die, but not pay for you to live,’ it’s cruel.”
In states where assisted suicide is legal, including our own, there is pressure on the poor who have chronic and terminal illnesses to kill themselves. For the government, for insurance companies, and sadly, for some families, it is cheaper for these people to die, than to live. Their lives are considered to have no net worth, no value, to society.
But what is the net worth of an unborn child? What is the net worth of a person confined to a wheelchair? What is the net worth of someone dying of cancer? What is your net worth? John 3:16 answers that for us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
You are worth so much to God that he was willing to give up his only Son to save you. We talk about “love” as a feeling. We talk about “falling in love” or “no longer loving someone.” But Scripture doesn’t view love as a feeling. Love is an action. That’s what John 3:16 is about. God’s love isn’t just some warm fuzzy feeling he has toward us. God’s love is action.
God’s love means sending Jesus to be born as a helpless infant to Mary and Joseph. God’s love means letting Jesus go hungry in the Wilderness, weeping over the death of his friend Lazarus and being abandoned by his followers. God’s love means having Jesus being whipped, beaten, and nailed to a cross. God’s love means having the Father abandon his beloved Son as he slowly dies in agony. That’s God’s love for you.
That means you are worth more to God than all the money in the world. God’s love sent Jesus to save you before you had done anything to serve him. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Paul says in Romans 5:8. You were worth everything to God even before you were baptized, before you confessed your faith in the creed, before you put money in the offering, before you even brought a covered dish to a church potluck. You are worth everything to God, not based on your works, but based on your identity as a child of God. You are worth everything to God even in your sin, no matter what you have done or failed to do.
Your life has value. Your life has a positive net worth, a worth that can’t be expressed in terms of money or productivity. It doesn’t matter whether you are making a name for yourself or whether you cannot remember your name, you are worth everything to God. Your worth is not based on your ability to produce, on your ability to earn a paycheck and pay taxes. Your worth is based on your identity. You are a beloved child of God, a child whose salvation has been won in God’s love sending his son to die and rise for you, a child who has been given the gift of heaven in the waters of baptism.
And that means that all human life around us also has value. The unborn, the disabled, the poor, the homeless, the foreigner, the terminally ill – all of their lives have value and worth, not based on their productivity, but based on their identity of also being children of God. It is easy to be like the merchants in Amos’ day, to rank the value of people, to say that some lives are more worthy or valuable than others.
But God doesn’t do that. God doesn’t use calculators on the internet to determine a person’s net worth. Instead, God says to you, and to all people, “Your life is precious to me. So precious that I sent my Son to save you.” Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.000000000000