Life That Is Really Life (begins at 30:51)

September 29, 2019

Series: September 2019

Category: Faith

Speaker: Rob McClellan

1 Timothy 6:6-19

6Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9But 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. 10For 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.

11But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12Fight 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. 13In 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 14to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which he will bring about at the right time-he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16It 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.

17As 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. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19thus 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.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD

 That is Really Life

          If they say a picture says 1,000 words, I have a couple thousand words for you to see.  First this one…(NYC Climate Strike crowd).  Does anyone know what this is?  It’s from The Wall Street Journal.  Maybe this one will help (Greta Thunberg speaking from behind)…These are images from the recent climate strikes.  Tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands gathered in cities around the world, millions in all.[1] You can see many images and you may find them inspiring.  Of all the images that inspire me, however, this is the one I find most moving…(image of Greta alone at first Climate Strike).  This was Greta Thunberg’s first strike.  There she sat curled in on herself all alone, before all the crowds and adulation.  These images are taken only 13 months apart. 

          If you heard her speech to the United Nation’s Climate Action Summit, her tone was sharper than usual, though her words have always been direct and uncompromising in her commitment to proven science and truth.  She spoke a prophetic word about accountability, and  about the unacceptability of proposals that do too little too late. Thunberg lifted up the falseness of “business as usual,” saying to the adults gathered, “all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” ending with the now familiar, “How dare you.”[2]

          She could have been preaching from today’s Scripture reading from 1 Timothy.  It too exposes the folly of destructive economic pursuits, in Timothy’s words, “senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim. 6:9).  All our desires, even around money, are surely not senseless and harmful, but we are clearly headed down such a path and a rather dramatic course correction.  In Timothy’s words, it sounds like it is time for some to learn to live with more contentment that others might simply live. 

If you’re worried that I’m about to lambast you for your wealth, you who have come here for an encouraging word, you needn’t be.  I recognize your goodness, your earnestness.  That’s why you’re here.  The word can be challenging, but it’s always an invitation for growth, so let’s allow ourselves the internal room to receive the invitation.  Timothy says what even those of us less familiar with the Bible have undoubtedly heard, that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).  Christians have made two mistakes with respect to this line.  The first is to fixate on the love of money.  “I don’t love money,” we say, and think we are okay, but if we define love as that around which organizes our life, that which drives our decisions, then many of us do indeed love money.  The second mistake, and one that is a corollary to the first is to say this is all about personal moral failure.  This is bigger any one of us.  We exist in a much larger system.  We swim in an ocean of norms and expectations, rules and obligations, and we may not even be fully aware of how these drive our decisions.  To reference the famous David Foster Wallace commencement speech of years ago, sometimes the fish have to wake up and say, “Oh, this is water.”  The first step in turning the tide is recognizing you’re being swayed by it.

I didn’t pick this Scripture passage for the day I am supposed to preach on Stewardship, the annual fundraising drive for the church.  It is a lectionary passage, and the lectionary was set with no thought to when individual congregations might make their fall pitch for money.  In fact, I find it troubling if not outright spiritual malpractice when pastors drum up some Scripture passage about the evils of having too much money only to conveniently say from the pulpit, “And today is pledge day so we can take that money off your hands.”  You should be insulted by that. 

I do want us to heed the call from the Stewardship team to support this church, but not out of guilt and certainly not out of bad theology.  Rather, let us give in support of the values the church upholds, that in Jesus Christ we see the fullness of what a godly life looks like, and beyond the individual what a vision of God’s dream for the world is.  In Christ, we see the outcast restored, care given those in need, servant power subverting coercive power, and the transformative power of forgiveness, which is not the same thing as blanket permissiveness.  In Christ we say we have been reconciled and so our acts are simply to live into that reality and defy the voices and forces that don’t yet get it, that are stuck in pitting the weak against each other so they can remain strong. 

There are plenty of good causes out there.  I’m so glad you support them.  None of them are charged with the gospel of Christ.  I have been told by a professional fundraiser that the addresses zip codes from which you come are the most sought after by those seeking money.  The number of causes are endless:  monarch butterflies, art museums, programs that feed and house those in need, advocacy groups, schools…we just survived one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s history – the annual NPR fund drive.  There are so many good causes.  None other than this one is charged with helping you become a community shaped in the image and dream of Jesus Christ, none but your church. 

Stewardship is about money.  Let’s not pretend.  Beneath the money, however, or what the money is beneath, are far greater things.  I put together a little list of what I think stewardship is truly about to share with the elders and this is what I came up with.

Stewardship is about:

-teaching young children about the love of God, and exploring alongside the less-young youth what that love looks like lived out in a complicated world.

-providing a space where people carrying all manner of burdens, worries, hopes, fears, and diagnoses can worship, opening their hearts for a word of inspiration and their lives to other good, caring people.

-singing songs that are about something different than what’s heard in shopping malls or car stereos

-connecting with others to learn, support each other, grow in faith

-working together on meaningful projects and to advocate in the community

-visiting the sick and a quiet prayer in a hospital or retirement community

-shedding tears in the safety of a pastor’s office

-standing against the tide of cynicism disenchantment of public discourse

-standing with the least of these and those who have a lot and are trying to live lives of integrity at home and out in the world.

-it’s about the man or woman you’ll never meet who comes to AA here, and the person you’ve come to know here who shares the same faith you do – imagine that in this world a fellow traveler on the same path.

-Stewardship isn’t about just another budget, it’s about being a part of and supporting a movement that place God’s redeeming grace up against any other value in the world.

 The gospel fundamentally changes the way we see things.  That’s what Timothy is after.  It’s not a cheap shot at the rich.  I always look for a compassionate lens when I read Scripture, because that’s how I understand Christ, as a fountain of compassion.  Timothy says the challenging things about wealth because he wants those who have it or seek it, and may be blinded by it, to see differently.  Just as Jesus says it’s harder to enter the kingdom of heaven for a rich one than a camel to go through the eye of the needle because he knows how truly hard it is, Timothy warns the rich of temptation and the trap of evil because he knows similarly.  Timothy and Jesus recognize that with wealth comes so many forces that pull us of course—all the obligations, the allure of more, the seduction of the ego—wealth becomes the sole driving force of our lives and it’s a path to oblivion. 

Timothy, like Jesus, warns against riches-loving people not because he hates them, but because he loves them and he sees the damage that is done to society and to them by the endless pursuit of that which you cannot save and will not save you.  Our first reading from Psalm 91 is adamant that only God saves, provides, protects, choose your word.  I don’t know.  A lot of God-fearing, God-loving people seem not to have been protected or provided for at least in ways obvious for us to see.  One thing I do know is that when tuned in, when our sights are set on what is good, we become instruments of God’s provision, protection, dare I say “salvation.” 

That happens when we learn to see differently, see things as Christ sees them, or to put it differently and the same see Christ in all things, to recognize the sacred, the divine that’s ready to come out and show up in the world.  Do you know what’s astonishing to me about that last picture I showed you…I’ll put it up again here…It’s that someone knew to take it.  Someone saw something, noticed, and said this is something, she is something, in so many words and maybe not their words, “God is about to do something good.”  That’s what we train to do here.

This is where we learn to practice seeing differently, to recognize the life that is really life, and help make that available to others as well.  If that’s worth something to you, please support it.  Amen.