Sunday, September 29, 2013

Making a Living

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Making a Living
1 Timothy 6: 6-19
September 29, 2013
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;  but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.  But 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. For 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. 
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. 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.

The day after Mike Ditka was fired as coach of the Chicago Bears, he gave a press conference. Ditka was choked up, but he tried to make meaning of the firing. “Scripture tells you that all things shall pass,” he said. “This, too, shall pass.” [1] Almost certainly, Ditka was trying to say that this setback, and the accompanying grief would pass with time, and other opportunities would come. “This, too, shall pass.”

However, that’s not in Scripture. It happens all the time, people misquoting Scripture,
or quoting scripture that doesn’t exist. This week’s reading contains one of those frequently misquoted verses, verse ten: For 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. 

Of course, it gets misquoted all the time as a shorter verse: Money is the root of all evil. Pope Francis recently preached about the love of money, and he said “money is the root of all evil.” You don’t expect Mike Ditka to get the Bible right, but the pope…well…

Pope Francis said: “Money sickens our minds, poisons our thoughts, even poisons our faith, leading us down the path of jealousy, quarrels, suspicion and conflict. It drives to idle words and pointless discussions.”[2] I’m not one to quarrel with the Holy Father, at least not THIS Pope, but I think he’d have done better to specify that it is the love of money that is so destructive.

We need money.
We need it in much the same way we need food.
If you are addicted to gambling, or alcohol or drugs, you can give them up. But you can’t live without food, and you can’t live without money. Even people who live almost entirely off the grid need money for certain things. So money is not evil, not in and of itself. Money is useful as a tool, and as a servant. You can use it to get your plumbing fixed, or put gas in your car, and you can use it to buy flowers for no reason, or to see a movie. That’s not evil.

And most everybody trades part of their life for money, through working in order to make a living. Until money was invented, people traded things to each other – cows for cloth, grain for grapes, that sort of thing. The invention of money was a good thing for us, because paper bills and coins are much more convenient to carry around than cows.

Money comes in very handy – how can that be the root of all evil? It isn’t, of course.
The verse says it is the love of money that is the root of so much evil. And every single one of us knows at least one story that illustrates that. You can watch Dateline or some show like that and there will be a story of someone who committed fraud, or even murder, for financial gain. Stock market trickery, Ponzi schemes, swindlers – all about greed and the love of money.

That’s not us – we’re not like Bernie Madoff, or those crooks you hear about on TV.
We’re not in love with money – I get that. But the lure of money is powerful, so powerful that what should be our servant can easily turn into our master.

Maybe it starts out small – not wanting everything, just wanting something better – a bigger house, a better car, a fancier trip, and then we will be satisfied. Maybe the next rung up the ladder at work requires more hours, more demonstration of commitment, and we persuade ourselves that our families will benefit financially, so we give up evenings, and weekends, and we trade our time with those we love for a bigger paycheck. Maybe we tell ourselves that if we just have enough money socked away, we can retire, and live a life of leisure, and then we will be happy, so we keep on working, and working, and working long past the age when we could stop, only to discover we’ve traded our health away for a fat savings account. Nobody sets out to do it, and nobody, at the end of life, endorses the love of money.

Maybe you’ve seen the article that came out a while back, written by a nurse in palliative care. It was titled, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” – here they are:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. (This came from every male patient)
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.[3]

Notice that nobody said, “I wish I had made more money”
Nobody said “I wish I had spent more time in meetings.”
Nobody said “I wish I had a fatter investment portfolio.”
That’s not what gives our lives meaning, and we know it.
Still, we are so easily lured into chasing after the almighty dollar. The love of money, the pursuit of money, pulls us away from other loves and other pursuits. Like the scripture says: “in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” If you are building an empire of wealth, it will take everything you have. You’ll trade your life on this earth for it.

But what is the answer, then?
How are we supposed to make a life while making a living?
Is it a sin to be well-to-do?

This pastoral letter to Timothy is clear about that: “As for those who in the present age are rich, -- and in our day and age, compared to most of the people in the world, ‘those who are rich’ is everyone in this room -- 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.”

You can’t be arrogant about what you’ve earned, because you didn’t build it – God provided it! Stake your hopes and your future not on your net worth, but on God. And here’s what to do with your time: “do good, …be rich in good works, [be] generous, and ready to share…”
Get it – the play on words? Be rich, not in money, but in good works.

And the account you build up is not your bank account, but you are storing up the “treasure of a good foundation for the future.” That’s not talking about some pie in the sky when you die, in the sweet by and by, life after death time. He means your future in this life, on this earth.

Because eternal life doesn’t start after we are dead. It has already begun.
We are living it now.
Eternal life has already begun.
We are called to live it well.

Since I started out with a story about Mike Ditka, I want to wind up now with a couple of quotes from him – just in case the Scriptures didn’t make the case! Ditka said, “The greatest gift we have is the gift of life. We understand that. That comes from our creator. Success isn't measured by money or power or social rank. Success is measured by your discipline and inner peace.”[4] Even if you were never a Bears fan, that right there makes pretty good sense.

But wait a minute.
There are some verses we left out of the reading, between verses 11 and 16.
They have something to say about living our eternal lives: “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

And then the writer, writing to someone he loves, offers up this beautiful charge for living, at once a prayer and a hymn: “In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time— he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. “

Your eternal life has already begun. Grab hold of the life which really is life, the life we are given in Jesus Christ, the light of light, in whom we live, and move, and have our being.


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