September 30, 2001
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The Uncertainty of Riches
A series of commercials for a stock trading firm shows some strange ways people are planning for their security in retirement. One shows a young father coaching his three or four year old son in tennis. The boy stands there with a blank look on his face as his father serves the ball with all kinds of encouraging hype like, "That's it son. Swing that racket! Hit that ball! Try that backhand." The voice over in the commercial says something like. "How are you planning for a secure future?"
Another even more fantastic episode shows an elderly woman sitting on a park bench when a small monkey jumps up beside her and begins to talk. It seems the woman's dearly departed has come back as an organ grinder's monkey and brings her some of his earnings once a week. Once again, the commercial asks how the viewers are planning for their later years.
Of course, even the firms with the clever commercials can not guarantee a secure financial future. With the raging stock market coming back to earth and the hi tech stocks and dot com startups having gone into a tailspin, reality set in for many people and the apostle's phrase, "the uncertainty of riches," is suddenly so very relevant.
There is a man in another one of those financial group commercials who is watching a videotape recording of news from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as reporters are beaming as the market heads for new record highs. "It looks like this thing will never end," a woman reporter exclaims! The man keeps rewinding and playing the report over and over as tears come down his face. Memories of the good old days of prior years raging bull market haunt his suddenly uncertain financial future.
Peter Hinssen, a successful European internet consultant and CEO of EurASP conducted a seminar on dot com failures and commented:
The technology revolution and its attendant "new economy" is not going to go away, but reality and sanity have begun to settle in as an old truth is confirmed. Greed leads to all kinds of trouble, including tremendous loss. Or as our reading puts it:
The book of Hebrews addresses the issue and brings us to the essential message of our theme for today:
Here's the point. Nowhere in scripture does it say that money or worldly goods are a terrible thing. I suspect many of us would have second thoughts about our faith if poverty were a prerequisite for being Christian.
What scripture does say is that making money or worldly goods the central hope or desire of our living leads to disaster. The Psalmist writes, "Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God." [146:5] Only God is certain, unchanging and forever committed to those who are trusting in the grace and mercy of the Lord.
The epistle reading offers an alternative way of living that leads to a kind of fulfillment that can not be purchased or secured with material things. Listen once again to the last part of our lesson that points to the end result of following the principles given. They are to follow these teachings, "...so that they may take hold of the life that really is life." In other words, the notion that material wealth can bring authentic living is an illusion. Material wealth can do a lot of things and provide what folks call "creature comforts," - but it does not have the ability to provide inner peace and fulfillment. Wealth can deliver things that make us comfortable, but it can not deliver contentment.
The beginning of the lesson has a wonderful description of what Christian living brings. "...there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment." The meaning here is that we possess an inner attitude that enables us to be satisfied with whatever is available. The person of faith approaches life with this in mind, "...we brought nothing into this world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these." [v.6-7] Paul elaborates on this basic approach to living in his letter to the Philippians:
The lesson lays out a few instructions for young Timothy when it comes to his teaching ministry in the church and the relationship between faith and worldly goods.
First of all, Timothy needs to be aware of the danger of the desire to be rich. The love of money - and notice it is the love of money that brings about the danger, not money in and of itself - the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. When the pursuit of wealth takes over a person's priorities, life begins to crumble.
Perhaps the prime example of how devastating the consequences are for "those who want to be rich," is the ruin the gambling industry has brought to many individuals and their families. It is estimated that close to 10 million Americans now have a gambling habit that is out of control-and the number is growing daily.▓
Timothy is directed to choose the pursuit of things that lead to a mature, strong inner life. "righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness."
Secondly, Timothy is told to make development of the life of faith his number one priority. The life of faith looks to the consummation of all things that will be brought about by the, "King of kings and Lord of lords." This is no gamble, but a certainty. The outcome of faith is not a wager or even a bet with great odds - it is rooted in, "...he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light."
Finally, Timothy is given instruction on how to approach the issue of Christian people who are wealthy, "...in the present age." He does not tell them to divest themselves of everything they own. (We should be aware that most of us would qualify as wealthy when compared to the majority of the people the apostles ministered to.) He does however suggest that those who are wealthy are all the more vulnerable to a toxic inversion of their priorities. His instructions speak to us in a very relevant way.
How do I keep my priorities in order according to the principles of today's epistle reading?
May God give us the joy of knowing a life that is filled with goodness and leads to contentment deep within.
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▓ More information on the consequences of gambling >>> here
The texts for today continue to press the biblical call to examination of the meaning of wealth and the frailty of trusting in material goods. God alone, the Psalmist says, can be trusted with our lives. Several sermon ideas follow and the texts work well together as a warning against our vulnerability to materialism in the western culture. Our view of reality is skewed by the focus on outward things and material wealth of our social order.
A sermon idea from our last cycle is to use the Amos text as the focus of your sermon and the incorporate Luke 16:19-31 as an example of the kind of person Amos warns. Amos' oracles against the idle rich are not warnings against being wealthy, but warnings against wealth combined with arrogance, (false spiritual security) and luxurious living without spiritual sensitivity.
The judgment pronounced in verse 7 is as the "great chasm" which is "fixed" in Luke 16:26. Those who are living an "eat, drink and be merry" life now without regard for the spiritual dimension of life or the spiritual condition of their families and communities will discover their true condition in due course. Luke 6:24-25 "But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. "Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep."
v.19 The rich man came to be called "Dives" (Latin for "rich") in subsequent Christian history.
v.20 The translation "and at his gate lay a poor man" is passive and properly translated "a beggar was laid at his gate" in most translations. Indeed the root word "ballo" carries the more forceful "throw or cast" i.e. the man was "dumped" at the rich man's gate.
The name "Lazarus" is the Greek for of the Hebrew "El-Ózar" which means "God has helped"
v.25 Abraham's reply to the rich man's agony is "teknon" = "son". The sense conveys the compassion of God even toward those who spurn the Lord's love. Yet, the chasm remains.
v.26 There is an interesting pair of words used in verse 26 where Lazarus is "comforted" and the rich man is in "agony". "comforted" from "parakaleo" (The Comforter is the Parakletos") The word "agony" from "oudano" = "to grieve, sorrow, torment" This strengthens the idea of the reversal of fortunes.
Wm Barclay comments, "It is a terrible warning to remember that the sin of "Dives" was, not that he did wrong things, but that he did nothing."
v.31 Indeed even after the resurrection of Christ, "They worshiped him, but some doubted..." [Matt.28:17
The letter to Timothy sets down two ways of living and like the texts from Luke and Amos, we can not live both. We are on one side of the "great chasm" or the other.
1. Verses 6-7 There is the way of "contentment" which focuses on being content with what God has given us and keeping our focus on the Source of every blessing rather than on the substance of blessing.
2. Verses 9-10 There is not a condemnation of money but of the "love" of money and "harmful desires" that are eager for wealth. The "harmful desires" of the NRSV is better translated "injurious lusts" (lusts = "epithumia" -- to set the heart upon) The real harm of this is that the heart is designed to be set on God. (i.e. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart...") When it is "set" on anything else, idolatry is the natural result. (See v. 17)
3. Verses 17-19 The real meaning of riches, treasures and life.
Key: "...that they may take hold of the life that really is life." (v.19)
A Responsive Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 146)
L: You alone,
O Lord God, are worthy of praise.
Prayer of Confession
We stand before you in need of grace, O merciful Lord. We are too easily attached to the things of this world and too easily detached from you. We long for goods ahead of goodness and for money ahead of of meaning. We beg your forgiveness for our wandering hearts and pray your guidance for our wavering spirits. O come and recreate our divided hearts today, that we might know the pure joy of loving you above all things. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
May the Lord God, our Creator who set the worlds in motion, remove our sins from as as far as the East is from the West. In the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving
Eternal Father of our souls, let our first thoughts today be of You, let our first impulses be to worship You, let our first speech be thy name, let our first actions be to kneel before You in prayer.
For Your perfect wisdom and perfect goodness:
For the love wherewith You love humankind:
For the great and mysterious opportunity of our lives:
For the indwelling of Your Spirit in our hearts:
For the sevenfold gifts of Your Spirit:
We praise and worship You, O Lord. Amen.
[adapted from John Baillie]
A Prayer of Dedication
How can we give to you O Lord? We have received everything from your hand. We do not have life, liberty or happiness except you have given it to us. We do not have food, shelter or clothing unless you grant it to us. How can we give to you unless you first give to us? Merciful God, as we offer these gifts to you, we become more like you. O Lord, our Lord, shape our hearts by the good pleasure of your Holy Spirit, that through giving we might discover the joy of living. Amen.