September 25, 2022 16th Sunday of Pentecost
1 Timothy 6:6-19 Luke 16:19-31
From Timothy we get one of the most mispronounced sayings in the Bible: The love of money is the root of all evil. How many of you originally learned it as: Money is the root of all evil? I learned the incorrect phrase from a young age, and it colored a lot of my thinking about money. It was all right to make money, but you shouldn’t make too much money. Rich people were inherently evil and shouldn’t be trusted. It’s bad to be too interested in money because you’ll become greedy.
Looking back I can see the irony in my little-kid thinking, because my grandfather was the vice-president of a bank, and my father was an economic analyst, and stockbroker on Wall Street. In middle school I learned the correct phrase that the LOVE of money was the root of all evil and that changed everything. (Correct words do matter for meaning.)
I was able to see that the acquisition of money or the amount of money wasn’t evil – it was how you used it that was evil or good.
I know of a lot people who think that religion shouldn’t be talked about with money. But the Bible, and our Judeo-Christian ethics, recognizes that money, wealth, and possessions are a hot topic. There are over 2,000 scriptures that deal with money, tithing, treasures, general wealth, and possessions. Money is also a hot topic for Jesus: Sixteen out of thirty-eight (or 42%) of his parables deal with money. Jesus emphasized that the way we handle wealth is a reflection of our faith, our personal ethics, and is an indication of how we deal with other people.
I came across a very interesting blog which analyzed a lot of the monetary scriptures, and distills everything down to nine important points. Don’t worry – I’m not going to talk about them here, but looking at those points, and at our two scriptures today, and looking at how Jesus wants us to be and become, I realized that it’s all about relationships.
The Christian religion essentially boils down to each of us having four relationships that we operate from, which come from our Three Great Commandments: To love God with all your being; to love your neighbor as you love yourself; and to love others as Christ loves us. We have a relationship with God, a relationship with ourselves; relationships with our neighbors; and a relationship with Christ. But we also have a fifth relationship with the physical world. And a huge part of our relationship with the physical world is reflected in our relationship with our possessions, which are acquired by using money. That relationship is complicated because money is not only the tool, but also the paradigm and language that we use to speak of the value of things and often the people around us.
Paul a senior pastor, in his letter is giving advice to Timothy, a just-starting pastor, about how to be the best Christian example for his flock. Paul knows that Timothy is going to have to deal with money and its use in the congregation. There are going to be stewardship campaigns for church expenses and missions for the poor. Anyone who has ever worked with any budget, church or personal, knows that you can become obsessed with balancing your needs against income. You can start to think: If only I had another $1,000 a month, all of my worries that I’m facing on this balance sheet would go away. I would be so much less stressed and so much happier. This can easily grow into an obsession and – it’s like the frog in the slowly boiling water – gradually your focus on money starts to take over your life to the exclusion of your other loving relationships: your family and friends, yourself, God, and Jesus.
How many times have we heard: Once I’ve got X-amount of money I’ll be able to spend time with my family and friends. Where’s that person’s focus? It’s not focused on the family and friends. If you challenge them the person might come back with: The long-term goal is to have loving relationships in the future, after I get all this financial stuff straightened out.
Where we focus on is where our lives are going to go, and often our focus shows the world what we love. If a person focuses too much on money the family and friends might not hang around for them because they don’t see evidence that they love them. This is why Paul warns Timothy not to fall into the focus of money and its acquisition, over his relationships with the people around him.
The parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus is not about a man who is sent to Hades because he has money. The Rich Man is sent to Hades because he didn’t see the poor man at his gate and didn’t try to help him by sharing the wealth that he had. Lazarus was his neighbor in need, and he was ignored by someone whose focus was on his wealth and enjoyment and not on helping his neighbors.
The Rich Man implies the excuse that he didn’t know better or didn’t believe that heaven and hell were a reality by asking Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that they won’t share the same fate. If a person from the dead will travel back to the material world, THEN they will surely believe. Proof positive, right? But Abraham reminds all of us that we’ve all had a lifetime of instruction from past prophets, living saints who have given us examples; and we, as Christians, can include Jesus – who DID come back from the dead – in that list. We’ve been told!! The Rich Man was told! His brothers were told! At some point free will kicks in and it’s up to us to listen to the telling and act!
We make the choice that Jesus gives us in this parable: We are either going to worship wealth or we are going to worship with wealth. So how do we do that? We need to get our wealth lined up with our heads, our hearts, and our actions towards others, in a healthy loving way that supports and strengthens our relationships in love.
First, we need to acknowledge that God owns everything. Everything we have is a blessing from God. We can work because we are healthy enough to work and that is a blessing for our lives and families. It’s through the grace of God that we are able to do what we do, and able to have what we have. We need always to first give thanks to God for what we have, before we start to complain about what we don’t have and focus on getting more. Counting our blessings and thanking God for them keeps God as our main focus, and the money to the side.
You know when I went to Japan, except for some books and treasured items which I sent home, I sold everything I owned: My car, dishes, pots and pans and the few articles of furniture I had. My life was paired down to four suitcases and two boxes of winter clothes to ship ahead. It was the most freeing experience of my life, and I learned a valuable lesson: You don’t own things, things own you. Every item you own comes with a responsibility. The less you have, the more mobile you are, and the more time you have for others.
Second, we need to remember that money is not the objective – it’s only one of the tools that we use to cultivate our relationships. So how are we using that tool? Are we using it in a loving way that will renew and expand the goodness in people’s lives, or are we using it to cheat and oppress people? Things will not buy happiness – a bigger house isn’t going to make you happy if you don’t nurture loving relationships in it.
John Wesley recognized the need to make money and preached: Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. Honorable work that provides people with the necessities of life is a tenet of Methodism. Methodism started as a working-class denomination in a society where being so wealthy that you didn’t work was seen as the ultimate goal of achievement. But Wesley preached that if you could afford not to work then you had a responsibility to build God’s Kingdom. There was nothing wrong with a wealthy Christian, as long as they helped society for the greater good and they didn’t exploit others. Many wealthy Methodists in the 17 & 1800’s took this to heart and built much needed hospitals and schools that still stand today.
And this leads to a final thought: Get and give money with integrity. Financial integrity doesn’t just mean that we are responsible with our money it also means that our money is supporting our spiritual goals. What are the missions that are close to your heart? What do you want to do to build God’s kingdom? How do you want to, and are able to, nurture your soul, and the souls of the people around you? Good stewardship is the integrating of our physical self, and how we relate to the physical world, with our hearts and minds focused on the spreading the love of God through generosity, regeneration, and compassion.
We don’t have to look far to find ways to grow God’s kingdom with loving actions. The Rich Man wasn’t expected to help people in another town or country, but he was expected to help Lazarus who was living right outside his gate. Who is right next to you, right now, who needs a loving, helping hand? Reach out to them, and you will be storing up for yourself and others the treasure of a good foundation for the future Kingdom of God.