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Riches For Our Enjoyment

Sermon - 10/07/07
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

1 Timothy 6: 3-10, 17-19

Janet Anderson shared with us last Sunday on our stewardship theme, and quoted a very familiar text -- "the love of money is the root of evil".  And she pointed out, as people often do as they quote that correctly, that it is the love of money that, not money itself, that is the root of evil.  So now my question for you this morning, Bible students, is where does that verse of scripture come from?

If you check your bulletin, it might give a clue.  First Timothy!  You'd think after 16 years, you'd figure me out J.

Well, there's a lot more in that passage than just that one verse that is worthy of our consideration.  So I thought this morning that I would use it for our reflection.  After a long list of exhortations and instructions on the godly life, the write comes to this conclusion at the end of the letter:

Teach and urge these duties. 3Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, 4is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, 5and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. [The New International Version there, translates ". . a means of financial gain.  It sharpens it a little bit further.]  6Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. [The image there is that of wandering away from the path into the brambles, the blackberry thorns, piercing yourself as you do]

17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

 

A cynic might say that there are two kinds of people in the world -- there are the rich, and there are those who want to be rich.  This text addresses both.  To the rich it says 'put your hope in God', not in your wealth.  Be rich in good works, generous and ready to share.  And then to those who want to be rich, it says beware of your temptations that will lead only to ruin.  For the desire of wealth will lead you away from your faith.  Love of money produces evil, it grows into evil.  That's what it means -- it is the root of evil.

So if those are the only options, wouldn't it better for us to be rich?  The text has nothing good to say about those who want to be rich, at least those that are rich can do good things with their wealth.  So I'm ready, God, lay it on me! J.  'O Lord, won't you provide me, give me a Mercedes Benz', right?  Janis Joplin.  'My friends all drive Porches, I must make amends' J.

If you play the lottery because you have this fantasy of being rich (and of course in your benevolence you'll share half of your winnings with your church, right?  Or maybe bestow them upon your Pastor J), here's an idea:  the next time you get that urge, just give the money that you would pay for that ticket to the church instead.  Believe me, putting it into the offering is a much better investment and use of your money.

So, are those the only two options -- to be rich and generous or to envy those who are, and dream of winning the lottery?  Of course not.

Scholars tell us this text was written probably late in the first century by someone in the name of Paul, when those early Christian communities were coming the realization Jesus wasn't coming back any day soon.  Therefore, they had to figure out how to live in this world without being of it.  Without giving in to the ways of the world.  To live differently.  

And so this offers to us a third possibility, a third way of neither rich or wanting to be rich, but a way of godliness combined with contentment.  We brought nothing into this world, we take nothing out of this world.  Therefore, all we need is our clothing and food.  Right?

A little silence here J, let us think about that for awhile.  Well, you know, if that's what we believe, if we take this seriously, then let's take the offering, just put in your wallet, your car keys, your credit cards, your house key, you know, you don't need any of that stuff.  

Didn't Jesus tell the rich young man to 'go and sell all that you have, give it to the poor, come and follow me'?  Why is it that people who take the Bible literally never assume that text is speaking to them?

Most of us, I think, would affirm that contentment is a good thing.  And in fact that we don't have to sell everything in order to follow Jesus.  That we can live in this world content with what we have without desiring to have more, more, and more.

But you know what?  It's hard, isn't it?  The system is stacked against us.  I mean, think about it -- there's a billion dollar industry out there that has 1 purpose.  And that is to convince you not to be content.  To desire more, to buy, buy, buy.  That's the basis of a healthy economy.  That's what makes those things go around.  The pursuit of happiness takes VISA and MasterCard.

Case in point:  how man of you had a cell phone in 1987?  Not many.  How many had a cell phone in 1997?  A few.  How many have one today?  Aha, that's what I thought (most everyone).  And the question would be:  does that make you a happier person?  Is life better than it was 20 years ago?  People can now reach you any time you want.  You might be making a big, important fund-raising speech, like Rudy Giuliani, and you take a call from your wife!  Isn't that wonderful, so warm and touching.

I've got the best [cell] phone, this wonderful little phone, flip-phone, that has all these features, has a calendar, loads of games, useful things to make my life more efficient, and besides all that, has this ring tone [Dan proceeded to play his ring-tone -- a replay of Jerry Allen calling the Kenny Wheaton interception against the Washington Huskies in 1994!].

If you've ever called me and wondered why I didn't answer the phone, it's because I had to wait for Kenny to score!  Against the Huskies!

Life doesn't get any better than this, what else do you need?  Well, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, thinks that he can do better.  My son saved up money for months, sold everything he had of value, so that he could be among the first to get Apple's iPhone.  I resisted.

He showed me all of those wonderful, cool features of how you can browse the Internet, it's an iPod that holds thousands of songs, it holds movies -- he has an entire season of The Office T.V. show on his iPhone!  And not only that, but it also . . . . . . makes telephone calls J.  I resisted.

And then Steve Jobs dropped the price by $200 and added even more features.  I resisted.

And then he sent me a $100 certificate.  And like Eve, I gave in to the temptation of the Apple J.  Resistance is futile.  Now if I can just get Kenny Wheaton to score a touchdown on it, I will be content in life.

And so our high ideals to lead a content life are brought down to earth by the realities of the free market, and its tantalizing temptations to entice us, to lure us, to deceive us into thinking that we can buy a piece of happiness.  Or at least a piece of the Apple at $161 a share, my son tells me.

How can we possibly hold out against such a constant barrage to buy, to accumulate more stuff in our life?  

If in fact we truly lived the way this text suggests to us, to be content with nothing but food and clothing, it would be un-American.  Our free-market system would literally collapse because it depends on that desire to consume more.  So I don't think that's going to happen any time soon.

But what can happen is that small groups of people, Godly folk in communities of faith, can live differently within the larger system.  Can live by a different standard.  What Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, calls the 'economy of Jesus'.  Neither wealthy or envious of wealth, but a community of disciples who live with contentment for what God provides.

So how do we do that?  How do we break that hold that our society has on us, that money or the love of money has on us?  There are four clues in this text:

First of all to hope in God, not in wealth.  I gave the example last Sunday of  Ralph Doudera, multi-million dollar financial advisor, manager of other people's money, who lost faith in the market during that stock market crash, and that in turn started him on a spiritual journey.  And through the intense study of the teachings of Jesus on wealth, discovered an entirely different way of life.  As a result, he found true contentment -- not in what he earned, what he saved, what he consumed and acquired, but in what he gave away.

Suddenly that teaching of Jesus, that on the surface doesn't make sense -- those who would save their life will lose it, and those who lose it for my sake will save it -- suddenly it made sense.  As he lost his wealth, as he literally gave much of it away, he found true happiness for the first time.

The hope in God does not mean to blindly trust that God will provide everything for you and therefore you don't have to do anything.  Lord knows that we have enough folk that come into the church office who are stranded and desperate because they just thought God would provide everything for them, and make no attempt to provide for themselves.  That's a misconception.  That's not hoping in God, that's hoping in luck.  God has nothing to do with it.

Hoping in God means that you continue to do what you need to do in order to make it in this world, but you do so with a different orientation.  A different focus.  To trust that living a life that is free from consumerism and materialism and greed, that you will be a happier and healthier person.

Second, to be rich then in good deeds.  Earlier this week, I was in my car just long enough to hear part of an interview on National Public Radio (NPR), I never heard the man's name.  Evidently a man from Britain who was working in Cambodia with children.  Spent a year there working -- that was his passion.  His job, from what I was able to piece together, was to provide transportation for entertainers.  It was a nice job, paid him well, enabled him to do this work in Cambodia, travel back & forth.  After a year, he decided he needed to make a decision, he needed to make a choice between his job and his passion, his calling.  And on the day when he decided that he was going to make up his mind, two things happened.  First a typhoid epidemic broke out among the children, and he found himself literally working fervently to save the life of dozens if not hundreds of children.  And secondly, he got a phone call from his job.  One of his customers was irate.  A big name entertainer (who he would not name), was irate because the private jet that he had arranged to provide for him, did not have the amenities specified in the contract.  

Amenities on a private jet, or children struggling for life.  Which will it be?  Suddenly the choice for him became crystal clear.  

I'm always impressed by those kinds of stories of people who literally have a choice between the cushy, good life, and a life helping people for minimal pay and how frequently people choose the latter.  It's not secret among non-profits that they can pay their employees less, not just because they have less money to work with, but because their employees are willing to work for less pay.  Because they believe in the cause, they feel good about the work that they are doing.  So to be rich in good works.

Third, to be generous.  To live generously, always ready and willing to share as needed.  Does it bother you to drive by people standing on the street corners with their signs?  Does it hit your conscience?  We don't want to give money, because we don't know how they're going to use that money.  Buy a case of something healthy or nutritious, a drink, some food item, a snack, try giving that out the window.  It does good for that person, and it does good for you.

During our annual stewardship campaign, we hear all the reasons of why we should support the church, whether it's just to give until it hurts, or because we feel good about all the ministries here.  Michael in the first service talked about all those other appeals that we receive, that we're overwhelmed with, all the causes that we have to choose from.  I want to make a suggestion to you that during this season you also make a pledge to another cause.  United Way, NPR, American Cancer Society, whatever.  Why?  Because in doing so, it teaches us to be more generous.  To be giving.  Hopefully we'll give the largest share to the church, but also to share with the community.  It helps us to build that habit of generosity. 

You may have noticed that we do a lot of charity here.  Our Helping Hand ministry, our Good Samaritan ministry, our trailer ministry, the Fish Barrel, Food for Lane County, and on and on and on.  I'm convinced that the reason we do that is not just because it does good for those people we serve, but also because it does good for us.  It makes us better people.  It's good for our soul when we live with an open hand.  We are happier, more content.

Fourth and finally, if we wish to live a life of contentment, we need to learn to enjoy the simple pleasures that are free for all to share.  The text says that God 'richly' provides us everything for our enjoyment.  Not just to feed us, but for our enjoyment.

When the kids were little, we had sort of a game called "Rainbow Alert!".  Whenever we'd see a rainbow, we'd shout out 'rainbow alert!'.  And everybody would run to the window and behold this beautiful thing and we'd applaud.  Frequently I'd get to the office and I'd have to call home because I saw a rainbow on the way to work -- rainbow alert!

When we bought our new home in 1999, it sits on the Northwest slope of a hill, and we have a nice view of the sunsets.  That first summer in that home, it seemed like every night we were just sitting there in front of our living room window enjoying the sunset, watching it change and go through all of its colors.  It was better than anything that was on T.V.

Remember what Jesus said:  'Consider the lilies, how they grow.  Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like these'.  I think that's why so many people enjoy the wonderful work that Mildred does out in our floral beds, our floral ministry.  It helps us enjoy the wonders of this world.

When you see yourself surrounded by the riches of God -- family, friends, relationships -- what can money provide that is any better than this?

Hear now the final conclusion of our author to us:  when we live such a life of contentment, sharing generously, rich in good works, we build a foundation.  We store up for ourselves a treasure for the future.  And we take hold of the life that really is life.  

This is the life to which we are called in Christ.

 


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