September 26, 2010
18 Pentecost (Proper 21)
The Rev. Bingham Powell
1 Timothy 6:6-19
In our society, we don’t seem to like talking much about money. Personally, I know I don’t; deep in my bones it makes me a bit uncomfortable. Somewhere along the way, I was taught that it is just not the thing to do in polite company. Jesus, though, did not seem to get the message I did. Or, being divine, didn’t care. Jesus had a lot to say about money. He talks more about money than just about anything else.
Jesus knew that our wealth and our faith and our very being are all interconnected, all intertwined. Our wealth is an extension of ourselves. The money we earn – our treasure – is, in a sense, our stored time and talent. Where we choose to spend that money both reflects who we are and shapes who we will become. If we choose to spend our money on the arts, then that choice reflects our love of the arts. If we choose to spend our money on food beyond the basic necessities, it reflects our love of eating. If we choose to spend our money on our family, then it reflects the love for our family. We could easily come up with hundreds of examples, so I’ll stop there. What Jesus and all of Scripture are concerned about is that we spend our money in a way that reflects who we are in Christ Jesus. Christ tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, and soul. Does our financial balance sheet appropriately reflect that command; does it reflect who we should be as followers of Christ? Are we spending our money in ways that reflect our love for God and love for neighbor as much as love for self? If our financial balance sheet doesn’t reflect those loves, the question Jesus would pose would be: are we actually living into the life God is calling us to live?
The unnamed rich man in Jesus’ parable this morning had not spent his money in a way that was congruent with the life that Scripture recommends, in a way that Moses and the prophets had taught. That command of Jesus to love neighbor and God were not new, they came from Deuteronomy and Leviticus and the prophets regularly warned the Israelites about the dangers of forgetting God and forgetting neighbor. The unnamed rich man was steeped in that tradition and yet every day he feasted while others starved. Being a wealthy man, he would have been to the gate a lot and would have seen Lazarus regularly. As it turns out, he had not only seen Lazarus, but seems to be well-enough acquainted with him to know his name – “Father Abraham, send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Father Abraham can’t because when the roles had been reversed, the rich man did not do the same for Lazarus. Look for a second at what this parable isn’t saying: Jesus doesn’t tell the rich man that he should have given away all of his wealth or that he should have taken on radical poverty like Jesus had. Jesus is simply saying that the rich man’s use of his wealth did not reflect the teachings of Moses and the prophets.
Jesus likes to use stories, but the First Epistle to Timothy that we read today likes to make practical suggestions: “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.” Like the Gospels and other parts of Scripture, the author knows that how we spend our money reflects who we are and these injunctions are designed to help the faithful align that part of their life – their finances - with their life in Christ. The alternative is to love money more than God, to seek riches instead of seeking God. The attitude of the Epistle is: if you have money, great, use it for good, but either way, if you have it or you don’t, seek God first, love God first, and don’t don't don't put your trust in something as unfaithful and untrustworthy as money for the only thing that is truly faithful to us is God.
Along with knowing that how we spend our money reflects who we are, the author of First Timothy knows that how we spend our money shapes who we will become. We can control our money or we can let our money control us. And boy can our money control us if we let it – “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.” By giving some of our money away, by using some of our money to help those in need, by prioritizing giving instead of earning, we are taking control of our money so that our money doesn’t control us. And we are developing habits of giving that shape us in Christ's command to love God and love neighbor as much as self.
We will soon be starting our annual pledge campaign. When you receive your pledge material, I do encourage you to seriously consider giving to St. Mary’s. By giving to St. Mary’s, you are helping build up this community that can support you in times of sorrow and celebrate with you in times of joy, you are allowing a space for continual worship of God, you are helping to create programs to deepen our knowledge and love of the Lord, and you are supporting numerous ministries to help those less fortunate. Making a pledge is one opportunity to take control of your money so that it both reflects your life in Christ and shapes your life in Christ. St. Mary’s is not the only place, of course. Of the money my family gives away each year, St. Mary’s is by far the biggest portion, but it is not the only. If you are only stopping by this weekend or you’re new and not quite ready to support St. Mary’s, I encourage you to find other places to give so that wherever you spend your money, here or elsewhere, that you spend it in a way that reflects and shapes your life in Christ.