September 29, 2019
Godliness with Contentment 16th Pentecost
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 1 Timothy 6:6-19 Sept. 29, 2019 Luke 16:19-31
If I had to name ONE thing that describes what Christian Faith is all about, I would have to say IT’S ABOUT LIVING THE GOOD LIFE! Really! Think about it—all of the concepts and components, all the principles and promises, all the encouragements and examples point in the same direction: how to “live large” in every aspect of life! After all, Jesus did say “I have come that you might have LIFE—and have it more ABUNDANTLY!
Christian faith is NOT (as it is often portrayed) the WET BLANKET of every life situation. It is God’s plan for living life to the fullest, and sometimes warns us about things that (though they LOOK cool) reduce life’s joy. (The “thou-shalt-nots” are there to keep us from ruining our own party!)
When Jesus told a story about God’s word being like seeds that are dropped into various kinds of soil, he was encouraging us to see what kind of soil we are and to then become richer soil. Why? Because rich soil produces a bigger crop—life lived more fully and deeply!
Our Scripture readings for today are a perfect guide to how to take hold of life. The Psalmist encourages us to trust in God’s generous protection and provision. Paul warns Timothy about some things that take away from the full life, as he shares an idea about how to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” Then Jesus tells a story about a man who had a lot of material blessings, but failed to see his connection with a poor man. (This is a man whose greed was his undoing!) Let’s take a look as we listen prayerfully for God’s word.
Pierced with Many Pains
Paul tells Timothy, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment.” Funny, but we don’t hear too much about contentment these days. For us, it’s all about “Going for the gusto” and “accumulating” and “having it all.” There has been some talk lately about a vague fear that seems to be permeating our society—especially young people. The acronym is FOMO, and it stands for Fear Of Missing Out. One of the reasons kids look at their phones so much is that they are afraid that they will miss a photo or a story or something exciting that everyone else receives—and they will be missing out. The only change from the old days is the particular technology that is being employed. I suspect each generation, in its turn, has suffered from “Fear Of Missing Out!”
Paul warns that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. He says, “In their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many pains.” Chasing money = pain! Wanting to be rich traps us with senseless and harmful desires. It’s what happens when I focus on what I don’t have, leading to ENVY of others. This subtracts from my enjoyment of life!! Paul says, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”
If love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, how does that affect us? Well, evil can be described as those things that detract us from Abundant LIFE! Greed creates a disconnect from the people that God intends to be a blessing to us. Excessive desire for money indicates a lack of MEANING in our lives.
Years ago, Victor Frankl, a survivor of a Nazi Concentration Camp, wrote a wonderful book about his experience. He discovered that, in the midst of horrible deprivation, it was possible to experience JOY and GRATITUDE! It is called, Man’s Search for Meaning, and it is helpful in the quest to put together a life of Significance and Depth. I highly recommend it to you!
William Willimon has something pithy to say about meaning: “All across the globe, people think they will find meaning through what they buy or aspire to buy. As one Church of England report puts it, ‘Where previous generations found their identity in what they produced, we now find our identity in what we consume.’” Christians have not escaped the consumer culture, but it’s imperative that we RESIST it!
For me, personally, some of my most clarifying moments have come while being with people who are in the dying process. These are folks who are searching for MEANING, and it doesn’t consist in their possessions (which they will soon have to release). It is found in their relationships with people, and a sense of their impact on the world they are about to leave behind.
Antidote to Greed
So, how do you and I fight the poison of GREED? We need an antidote, and I believe I have found it! It’s THANKFULNESS. A heart that is full of gratitude has no room for greed! So, I can do some intentional things to help fill my heart with gratitude. 1. I can make a list of things for which I am grateful—and add to it frequently; and 2. I can express that gratitude to our generous God. It’s that simple. Really.
Another antidote to Greed is GIVING. You and I can give our Time (which is our most valuable commodity) by giving a helping hand or a listening ear. We can give our Talent—some ability or skill or experience, even while we may think “This is no big deal—I don’t really have a “talent.” And, of course, we can give our Treasure. It turns out that the giving away of money is a pleasurable activity! It comes from a great sense of gratitude, and puts power in our hands to say NO to greed. God has enabled every single person to give at a level that is appropriate to what each has been given by God!
Another antidote to greed is seeking an accurate perspective of our situation. We are surrounded with what has been labeled “a climate of scarcity” amid all the abundance from our Generous God. Greed is that great lack of gratitude which comes from a misreading of our situation.
Thankfulness and generosity are the true antidote to greed.
Godliness with Contentment
Years ago, our VBS had a song entitled “I’m Growing”. Here are the words: God is the sower, His Word the good seed, so the story goes.
Our hearts are the field that harden or yield thirty, sixty, or one-hundred fold!
Good soil, good seed; no rocks, no weeds—I’m growing, I GET IT!
Worry and greed are rocks and weeds, Jesus told us so.
Weeds and rocks have got to go; throw ‘em out so God’s Word will grow! Wise words from a kids’ song!
I have also been struck by hearing about people who have had a disastrous loss of their material possessions from fire, tornado, flood, hurricane. Their keepsakes have gone, their heirlooms destroyed. But many report the discovery of a NEW PERSPECTIVE—a sense of gratitude for what they still have. They would understand Paul’s directive: DO NOT SET YOUR HOPES ON THE UNCERTAINTY OF RICHES.
I will finish this morning by asking you to remember people who have moved from greed to generosity. The archetype of this person is found in a novel by Charles Dickens, a character whose name has become synonymous with greed: Ebenezer Scrooge. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge exhibits all the symptoms of a greedy person: 1. He doesn’t want to spend because he’s afraid there won’t be enough; 2. He doesn’t connect with people (like his faithful employee Bob Cratchit); 3. He has no concern for the poor; 4. He expects his money to provide all the comfort and companionship he needs.
As you know, in this novel he is FORCED to relive how greed has negatively impacted his life, and FORCED to experience how his greed is currently diminishing the lives of others. And then, in a moment of enlightenment, Scrooge understands that his life is interwoven with the lives of others, and that joy is to be found in that interconnectedness—and he moves from greed to generosity. Now, I KNOW that no one here is like Scrooge, but is it possible that our lives are less full and large than they could be—all because we have not let God move us from greed to generosity, from fear to gratitude?
Prayer: God, please give us eyes to see how blessed we truly are, and develop our capacity for expressing our gratitude and repressing our jealous greed. Thanks for giving us opportunities to grow!
In Jesus’ name, amen.