Should an economic stimulus package favor the jobless or their potential employers? Is shopping really a patriotic duty? How will the recession and September 11 affect year-end charitable giving?

John Wesley (1703-1791) didn't worry about those specific questions, but he knew plenty about economic uncertainty. In his day, Britain experienced rapid urbanization and the beginnings of industrialization. This caused rural economies to collapse and created numerous problems in city centers: overcrowding, disease, crime, unemployment, debt, substance abuse, and even insanity (London established its first asylum in 1781). Meanwhile a small upper class spent large sums to distance itself, literally and figuratively, from the growing problems. This top five percent of the population controlled nearly one-third of the national income.

Wesley, from lower-middle class stock himself, consorted mostly with people who worked hard, owned little, and could never be certain of their financial future. But he preached so widely and became so well-known that his income eventually reached £1,400 per year—equivalent to more than $160,000 today. Still, he chose to live simply but comfortably on just £30 while giving the rest away. In fact, he donated nearly all of the £30,000 he earned in his lifetime. He once wrote, "If I leave behind me ten pounds … you and all mankind [can] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber."

This is the context for his curious sermon on Luke 16:9, titled "The Use of Money." It's hardly a typical stewardship sermon, but it gives an interesting perspective on our current economic season.

"'The love of money,' we know, 'is the root of all evil;' but not the thing itself. The fault does not lie ...

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