Sermon For Sunday, September 29, 2013

1 Timothy 6:6-19

“Content For Ourselves, Restless For Others”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

http://www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle – Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

To see a video of this sermon, go online to: http://youtu.be/75qKavWV5UQ

I have frequently said – and I am sure to the chagrin of many a congregant – that in this work of diversity the easier challenges are those of which the most observance is made and of which much of our success has already come: diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.  Just last Sunday we took a moment to really dive deeper into one of those areas: race.  “Well if those are easier,” you whisper to each other, “I sure as heck hate to think what are the harder tasks of diversity, inclusiveness, and hospitality!!!”

One of the harder challenges is, in fact, around philosophical diversity, such as theological and political ideology.  We live in such a toxic environment when it comes to civil conversation and genuine dialogue and debate around the rich complexity of theological perspectives and political commitments.  That is why we try to model civil conversation here at Franklin Circle Christian Church through our Widening The Circle Forums and in hosting community meetings by our Councilman and neighborhood development corporation.

Well, today’s scripture reminds us in no uncertain terms of one of the other huge challenges to diversity: class, economics, and money.  In the lectionary – which is the cycle of readings from the Bible that we ministers use for preaching schedules – in the lectionary the other scriptures paired with 1 Timothy are equally stark in their assessment of those who are rich.  Amos 6 decries,

Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!  Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

Psalm 146 reminds us, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.  When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.”  And the Gospel reading for today, from Luke 16, is the famous story of the rich man and Lazarus which tells the haunting tale of the rich man who, having received “good things” throughout his earthly life, was sent to the fiery pit of hell and poor Lazarus, who had endured “all manner of evil things” in his lifetime, was comforted in eternity.  It describes the great chasm of justice that seems to exist between the haves and the have nots, the rich and the poor in both this world and the next.

There is a pretty clear charge throughout scripture to avoid becoming infatuated with what we have, the material resources of our world, or risk losing our way in life, our soul, or even our faith.  As is frequently pointed out, the biblical phrase is not “Money is the root of all evil,” but, rather, “the love of money is the root of all evil.”  As helpful as this distinction is, it is a fine, fine line because having money leads so quickly to a reliance upon it, a comfort that comes from it, and a powerful need to protect what you do have of it.  However, the Bible is pretty consistent in its warnings about wealth.  What is so maniacal about this is that even those who do not have money get caught up in the whirlwind of wanting it.  That is why, I believe, the super wealthy and wastefully rich are rarely called out on their over-the-top behaviors because we have made them the hallmark of what we all should aspire to be!  The lure of the lottery, the appeal of winning a million dollars in a minute on television, or the worshipping of movie, music, and sports mega-millionaires is so appealing to those with the least to lose.

I am reminded by professor Christian Eberhart that is also helpful to remember the association of material wealth and politics within the context of the Roman Empire during the first century CE that, for the most part, riches could only be acquired through continuous cooperation with the Roman government.  “Collusion” in the term scholar Marcus Borg so often uses.  Those who were rich, therefore, usually supported a system that oppressed the vast majority of the population for the benefit of only few at the center of the Empire.  Being a counter-cultural movement, early Christians opposed this system and envisioned a more equal distribution of material resources.  This is, for instance, conveyed in the story of how believers shared their possessions in Acts 4:32-37. (1)

On the other hand, wealthy people were appreciated as “benefactors” in early Christianity.  Luke mentions that many women who accompanied Jesus and his twelve disciples “provided for them out of their resources” (Luke 8:3).  Likewise, the apostle Paul drew on the financial support of benefactors for his travels and missionary activities.  It is, therefore, inappropriate to affirm completely that early Christians criticized material wealth.  Instead, of crucial importance is the attitude of the person owning it.  Material wealth can get in the way of putting one’s trust in God, and it can be a hindrance to following Jesus (Mark 10:17-22).  Yet many of the church ministries and services depend on financial resources of those who are willing to share them. (2)

I find the answer to our dilemma in the very first sentence of today’s reading: “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.”  “Godliness” translates the Greek word eusebeia and can also mean “religion,” “piety,” or “devotion.” Godliness has already been recommended to Timothy in 4:7-8: “Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (3)

It appears that whatever our level of material or financial wealth might be, the key is where our hearts lie.  To put it another way, in what or whom do we place our trust.  Contentment in whatever circumstance in life has far less to do with the amount of money in our wallets, flat screen TV’s on our walls, or steaks in our refrigerator than it does with being grounded in something larger than ourselves, whether it be community, the church, or God-in-Christ.  That is why we gather here, because we believe that contentment lies is something greater than ourselves as individuals.

But I don’t think that this focus on individual contentment or piety is the complete answer, because I don’t see scripture leaving it on such an individualistic level.  We must be content for ourselves, yes, but always restless for the well being of others.  This is why I have committed my entire ministry to weaving a deeper personal spirituality with a passion for justice for others.  It is not simply a false dichotomy to pit evangelism and spirituality against social justice and work for equality: it is unbiblical.  In fact, this is where diversity becomes almost mystical, magical: When you gather a group of folks together who are content in their own lives with what they have and who they are, and yet fiercely discontent with the way things are in the world for their sisters and brothers.  In the words of 1 Timothy, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus 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.”

I would invite us to continue this conversation around class, economics, and money at the Widening The Circle Forum on Monday, October 21 at 7 p.m. in the Chapel where the good folks from Mental Health Services, who lead the successful forum on hospitality and homelessness last spring, will guide us through a conversation entitled, “A Culture Of Class.”

Amen

(1)         Commentary, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Christian A. Eberhart, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.  Found online at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1770

(2)         Ibid

(3)         Ibid

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