Worship Theme: The Gifted Life Involves Using Wealth Wisely
Sermon Theme: To Cling or Not to Cling?
The Lord God in heaven above has seen fit once again to bring us his gifts of courage and power to live for him, and that is particularly true when it comes to handling money. In 1Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19 the apostle Paul wrote to his co-worker, Timothy, and answers: “to cling or not to cling?” September 18, 2022.
You’ve probably heard this one because it’s more than two thousand five hundred years old. A miser sold everything he had, melted down his gold into a single lump, and buried it in a field. Every day he went to look at it and sometimes spent hours gloating over his treasure. A worker nearby noticed his frequent visits to the spot, dug up the gold late one night, and stole it. The next day the miser visited the place as usual and, realizing his treasure was gone, cried out in misery. A neighbor asked, “What’s up?” When the miser told him, the neighbor replied, “Don’t take it so hard. Put a brick in the hole, and look at it every day. You won’t be any worse off than before, because even when you had the gold, it was of no use to you or anyone else” (Aesop).
If Steve Harvey said to contestants on Family Feud, “We asked one hundred people, ‘What do people cling to more anything else?’,” family, friends, and reputation might make it on the board, but the response that would likely be “number one” and get more claps, nods, and “It’s up there, Steve!” would be money. Would that be true for you? Be honest.
In our worship today the Lord God in heaven above has seen fit once again to bring us his gifts of courage and power to live for him, and that is particularly true when it comes to handling money. In the second reading the apostle Paul wrote to his co-worker, Timothy, and answers: “to cling or not to cling?”
Simeon said to his buddies, Matthias, and Delphius, “People everywhere in this Roman Empire believe that bigger brains will get them better jobs. Let’s see if we can make money by billing ourselves as Ph.D. professors and get rich, maybe even famous, peddling knowledge. I bet we can pull in a pile of cash.” They did just that. They got the word out and traveled from city to city with, “Show us the money, and we’ll show you how to double, even triple, your investments,” and they showed up in the busy commercial center called Ephesus.
Timothy served as a pastor there and had to deal with those goofballs because they were leading church members away from living for God into living for themselves. Timothy’s friend and mentor, the apostle Paul, heard about the situation and wrote warning about the love of money. Notice that Paul did not say that money was bad, but the love of money. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
God wants us to enjoy the good things of life but not at the expense of losing or burying what counts the most, our connection to God. “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” For those who enjoy an abundance of earthly blessings – and there are very few here today who are not abundantly blessed – the apostle added, “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. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”
One day a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country to show his son how a poor family lived so the boy would appreciate being wealthy. On their return the father asked his son, “What did you learn?” The son answered, “We have one dog; they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our backyard; they have a creek that has no end. We have light fixtures in our garden; they have the stars at night. We buy our food; they grow theirs. We have servants who serve us; they serve others. We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them. Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are.” To cling or not to cling? That young boy learned that clinging to the stuff of this world is not what brings real joy, confidence, and certainty in life.
Simeon said to his buddies, Matthias, and Delphius, “One way we can fool people into thinking we can help them get rich is by making up stories that sound believable about how not only to get along in this world but how to succeed.” Nothing’s wrong with telling stories, even made-up ones, but when they take away from the central story of all history, the story of God’s love for people who have messed up their lives with arrogance or selfishness or envy or greed – of course, none of us have ever done that! – then stories become myths that create a mist over the Bible’s message of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Those false teachers in Ephesus pulled the wool over the eyes of some of the Christians and pulled the rug out from under their feet. People lost sight of their heavenly goal and joined the false teachers in downplaying God’s greatest miracle, namely, that God no longer condemns sinners like you and me to what we deserve, sure and certain doom, but instead guarantees to sinners like you and me what we mostly definitely do not deserve, sure and certain deliverance.
Timothy’s friend and mentor, the apostle Paul, heard about the situation and wrote that twisting God’s word and will is really godlessness, “Flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and to which you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Eternal life is not far off in the distant future but ours to enjoy right now. It changes our attitude about what to cling to, including whether to cling or not to cling to money. Because of God’s gift of life to be enjoyed now and forever, no matter what trials and troubles a new day brings, we can always look forward to tomorrow because tomorrow brings us one step closer to heaven. We may not know whether tomorrow the weather will be bearable or unbearable. We may not know whether tomorrow the stock market will go up or down. We may not know whether tomorrow we will stay healthy or get sick. But this we do know. Tomorrow will be a good day because God’s forgiveness covers the wrongs we’ve done and the rights we’ve forgotten to do, and we still get to go to heaven whenever God determines it is time.
So, what do we cling to when the boat of life starts to rock, when the winds of life blow in a storm, when the stones on the road of life trip us up? How about: In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Keep me free from the trap that is set for me (including clinging to money) for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit (Psalm 31:1-5). Cling to the right thing! Cling to the right one! When you do, you will be able to face each day and each situation with courage, with an open heart, and with genuine concern for others. You won’t feel the urge to waste or bury what you possess, but you will be able to give freely and generously, sharing your interests, time, possessions, money, and your very self with others.
John Wesley, one of the great evangelists of the 1700’s, got his first salary, figured out how much he needed to cover expenses, and gave the small remaining portion to the poor. As his salary increased through his career, his expenses remained virtually the same. So, he used what he needed and gave the rest to the poor. When he died in 1791, at the age of eighty-seven, the only money mentioned in his will were the coins in his pockets and on his dresser. Most of the money he had earned in his life had been given away. He learned to be generous by clinging not to money but to Jesus.
Soon you will be hearing more and more about our plans to enhance antiquated facilities, in particular, the little building next door because it has become a barrier in our efforts to connect people to people and especially in our efforts to reach out to our community with Jesus’ love. Each of us will have the opportunity to ask ourselves the question, “To cling or not to cling?” and, clinging to Jesus’ love, become even more generous than we imagined. In this way you will lay up treasure for yourselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that you may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
I haven’t seen a teeter-totter in a playground in years. Have you? Safety concerns, right? Kids here today don’t know what I’m talking about, but their grandparents do. A teeter-totter is a long board balanced on a thick metal bar. All you needed was a heavier friend who jumped on the opposite side, shooting you up in the air, and then jumped off, making you crash to the ground with a bone-jarring, teeth-rattling impact, and you would agree that removing teeter-totters from playgrounds is a good idea. Another reason they aren’t around is that some of us couldn’t resist walking up the teeter-totter board to the center, sliding a foot on each side, and trying to balance in the center. How much easier to remain balanced if there had been a rope in the middle from above to cling to, keeping us centered!
In a way, life is like that. People who cling to things of this world, like money, end up sliding either to the side of wastefulness or to the other side of hoarding, and both are rooted in selfishness. “Oh, dear Jesus, for my selfishness you ought to push me off the teeter-totter of life. For my clinging to money, you ought to let me slide into the pit that holds money-clingers forever. But you, dearest Jesus, are more than a rope dangling from the clouds. You have reached down from heaven to cling to me. Clinging to you, let me be centered, selfless, and generous.” Amen.
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