Once upon a time, there was a preacher.
A real radical, hard-line, fundamentalist type. An adult video store was opening up in town and he was determined to stop it. He rallied the congregation. He preached on the sins that would come from this place. He even started a prayer group just for this purpose and asked God to strike down this establishment before it could be built. Lo and behold, about two weeks before it was about to open, lightning struck the store and it burned to the ground. The pastor was pretty pleased with himself as was the whole church until they were served with a notice that they were being sued by the owner of the video store on grounds that they were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for the demolishment of the building. The church denied all responsibility or any connection to its destruction and as the case made its way into court, the judge had a real puzzled look on his face. He looked up at the two groups and said, “I don’t know how I’m going to decide this case. From the paperwork, it looks like I’ve got a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer and an entire church that does not.”
Do you “Put your money where your mouth is?”
These people didn’t. Even though they had evidence of God’s power right before their eyes, they chose their pocketbook over God. You’ve heard it said, “Money is the root of all evil,” but the actual quote from the Bible is “The LOVE of money is A root of all KINDS of evil.” And there’s a difference. It’s not money itself that is evil. It’s our elevation of it. It’s putting the pursuit of it above everything else. That’s what gets us into trouble, when we elevate the material and downplay the spiritual. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you go to 1 Timothy 6:17. We’re going to hear the rest of the story. This letter is from a group of letters in the Bible from the apostle Paul called the “Pastoral Letters” because each one is written by Paul to help Timothy and Titus lead their churches. And in this first letter to Timothy, Paul gives advice on a wide number of topics. It’s kind of like a mini booklet on “How to Run A Church.” He talks about everything from worship to qualifications for being a deacon to how to treat the elderly, but today we’re going to focus on his teachings giving. In this passage, Paul is offering advice to Timothy on how to preach about “true wealth” and how we confuse material wealth and spiritual wealth. As you read this passage, listen for how that challenge speaks to you.
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Have you ever found yourself saying, “If I had a million dollars?”
What would you do with it? We’ve all probably daydreamed like that before. In fact, there’s a whole song on it by the group Barenaked Ladies called, “If I Had A Million Dollars,” and it’s one of their most popular songs. It’s basically just a list of things they would buy, but my favorites are a llama or an emu, a K-car (a nice reliant automobile), and really expensive ketchup to go with their Kraft dinners. Like the band, most of us would not only buy things for ourselves, but we would do nice things for other people, too. There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming about what we would do with a windfall of money or even splurging on ourselves once in a while. The danger, as Paul writes to Timothy, is to put our hope in wealth (or anything else for that matter) over God. It’s to make the mistake in thinking that a car or a title or a hot-looking spouse will bring you long-lasting happiness. There’s nothing wrong with having a nice car or being rewarded for hard work with a good job or having a hot-looking spouse for that matter. But if your end goal is to achieve happiness through those things, you’ll end up being disappointed, because none of it lasts. Someone always has more. Someone has a better job, a better car, a better everything! You simply can’t keep up with the Joneses, because the Joneses always have more.
But you already know this.
In your head, you know this to be true. It’s logical and from experience you have seen it for yourself. And yet we keep making these mistakes. We’re not talking about this today because you need to know this. We’re talking about it because in the hustle and bustle of life we often forget. Worshiping together is about being the community of Christ in the world and the family of Christ for one another. We need to take time once in a while to remind ourselves of what is truly important. In these crazy, wacky, and wild days, I keep hearing stories on the news of pastors and churches who are a constant embarrassment to all that it means to be the church today. People insisting on worshiping in person, accusing those who don’t agree with lacking faith, acting recklessly and without thought, and then saying they trust God as the reason for their actions. Do these people think God really is the one telling them that we need to sing in church, in front of a crowd of people, or it isn’t church? Or is that just something personal? Do you think God is saying we have to worship in person because otherwise it doesn’t count? Or is that the short-sightedness of people who can’t adapt to a changing world? Why couldn’t God be speaking through our local health officials to offer us protection and advice to keep us safe? Instead, health officials are quitting because their lives are being threatened for trying to do what’s right. Sometimes we bring up topics in worship that should be no-brainers, because sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes we forget. And with so much added stress because of the pandemic, it’s natural for us to shift priorities, but I hope you will keep in mind the one priority God asks of us all. “Love God, Love Your Neighbor.” As Jesus himself told the law expert, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Everything rests on how we do these two things – loving God and loving our neighbor.
No amount of money, power, or fame will bring you peace.
It’s about how we use what we have that makes a difference. No matter how much or how little of it we have, it’s how we use it that will change the world. I’m hoping we will really pray about how we can use the resources we have, both individually and as a church, to make an impact on our community, our neighbors, and everyone we meet. For some who have lost jobs, who are having to take a cut in pay, who are having to worry about critical needs, by all means take care of those things first, and leave it to those who can to take this opportunity to do more. And if you are in that category of people who can do more, I hope you will pray about it. Not just for our church, and not just through money, but with your time, your talents, and your service. You don’t have to be rich to make a difference. I have some friends who are taking time to volunteer as polling place workers. I know Julia’s mom has been making masks for those in need especially early in the pandemic. She even gave a bunch to the church which we sent out to those who might need it. On our Wednesday Night Social Hour, Andy was telling us about how his wife Naomi was helping out with the Bay District’s Virtual Choir and creating sound tracks for the musicians who will be taking part. We can all find ways to love God and love our neighbor. As a church, we are very well off. We don’t have a mortgage. We don’t have any loans. And we have a very nice nest egg saved up of over $400,000. I mentioned in our monthly newsletter and in one of our sermons last month that I would like us as a church to do more. With our resources, we could certainly think of ways to make a difference in our community, to truly love our neighbor. But how else might we creatively help one another? Cassie thought it would be a great idea to have one of those neighborhood pantries. Not a full food distribution, but like a little library but for canned goods and dry sealed products. All it would take is a little space and a little bit of maintenance. I love this idea. What are some other ways we could creatively use our resources, not just our finances, to love our neighbor?
In these troubled times, it would be easy to hunker down and hole up.
During a crisis, people have a tendency to go into a hoard mentality and turtle up. They withdraw and tend to be more fearful about giving and being generous. And while we should be physically keeping our distance and wearing masks, that doesn’t mean we have to stop being the church. There’s a whole world out there that needs Christ, especially during this time. As we talk about giving, I know it’s a challenge, but now more than ever is when we should be generous. Now more than ever is when we need to challenge the status quo. Because now more than ever is our chance to truly be the hands and feet of Christ. That doesn’t mean you should give up food and rent. It means that if you have the means (and not all of us do), then this is the rainy day we keep waiting for. I had a cousin Matthew (second cousin actually) who had every economic advantage in the world. His family was pretty well off so when he turned sixteen, they bought him a new car. When he graduated from high school, they paid for him to go backpacking across Europe. My uncle even bought a camper just to take Matthew and his friends to concerts all over the country. But maybe when he started collecting guns was when someone should have noticed. I remember his parents talking proudly about Matthew’s gun collection. But for me, it seemed odd for a 21-year old to have that much of a fascination with guns. One day, the neighbors heard gunshots coming from Matthew’s apartment and called the police. When they came to the door, Matthew walked out with two loaded weapons and when the police told him to put the weapons down, he instead raised them toward the police and was shot down dead. “Suicide by cop” as they called it. Intentionally creating a situation where you would be killed. We tend to think having money solves all of our problems. Or fame. Or influence. But it doesn’t. I don’t know if Matthew having a church community who loved him would have made a difference, but I do know that having money didn’t prevent this tragedy from occurring. Money. Influence. Fame. These are not the things that will bring you deep and lasting happiness. Invest in those things that truly make a difference. Faith. Family. Friends. Make sure you keep in mind what really matters in life.