The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evensong      20th September 2020
From Greed to Service
Jeremy Fletcher

The Eve of St Matthew
Amidst all the statistics about the rate of Covid infection are the worrying figures about the economy, about its biggest hit since the Second World War, about the recession and its comparison to the crisis if 2008, about the long term effect on our children and their children’s children. Coronavirus has shone an uncomfortable light on our use of and attitudes to money. This then is a time to work out what we have, what we do with it, what it is for, and to ask how some are benefitting greatly from this crisis while others are being wiped out. 
Today is the eve of the feast of St Matthew. Money gets a starring role when the church thinks about him. Tax collectors in the Bible did a necessary job: a contribution to the state could result in state benefits too. Taxes help society when used well: in themselves they are not evil. But any financial system, anything to do with money, opens the way for greed. So the biblical tax collectors added their personal touch, using the force of law and the authority of the state to line their own pockets as well. Matthew, or Levi in the other gospels, did this like any other, and was loathed as a result. No wonder the people who examined Jesus’s credentials as a religious leader were amazed that he sat down to share food and conversation with such people. Tax collectors personified what the collect for St Matthew calls “the selfish pursuit of gain and the possessive love of riches”. 
The call of Matthew from the pursuit of gain to the service of Jesus says many things. It shines a clear light on financial systems which privilege the few at the expense of the many. It reveals greed for what it is: an attack on fellow human beings. It shows that the values of the Kingdom of heaven are not quantifiable in the terms of the FTSE 100. It does not condemn money and buying and selling in itself, but challenges assumptions about what money is for and who should have it and what we should do with it. It says that being number one, the richest, having the best market position, swallowing up competitors and crowing about it to all who will listen is not the way to serve society.
And it also says that Christ is as interested in people consumed by greed and possessions as anyone else; perhaps even more so. He ate with the greedy and possessive, not with the others. He was in the centre of their lives so that he could show them that they could devote their energies to service not possession, to love not greed. There has to be a healthy way of doing business, of using money, of investing and insuring: where a few hundred people can threaten the welfare of millions of others and see that as a normal state of affairs is a sign of a profound disease. Where such people turn their attention to the needs of those who have least is a sign of profound hope. And we are involved. Where we spend our money will affect such things.  
The call of Matthew says that we should look to ourselves, to our own greed and possessiveness. Our financial dealing is a true barometer of our love for God and our love for others. Can we pray that the trans-national financial power brokers will not simply see this crisis as a way to make money, but as a way to enable change? Can we pray that the Government will use the tax system to rebalance the nation, and privilege the ways in which society is drawn together, not forced apart? Can we pray that this crisis will reduce the gap between the richest and the poorest, because the virus has shown what we truly need? 
Thank God that as Jesus calls  Matthew to follow him in the way and to redraw his priorities, so he calls us, within the complex economics of the day, to use our money as disciples and not solely as consumers. Thank God that Jesus sits down with us to break bread and drink wine at the table, and in doing so overturns the kingdoms of this world. Thank God for the call to abandon greed and prioritise generosity. May we hear the call, and follow in the way. Amen. 

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