How Much is Enough?
Presented September 25, 2010 at Parkside Community Church, Sacramento CA
This is the first sermon I gave before my Mom, a few days after we celebrated her 85th birthday. I am grateful to the Rev. Dr. Susan Hamilton and the good people of Parkside Community Church for this privilege. I hope you find the blessings in this sermon that I found in writing it.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
"Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation."
1 Timothy 6:6-19 (New International Version)
But 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. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men 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.
(Paul is addressing Timothy directly) But you, man of God, 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 when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in God’s own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
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. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
What are you afraid of? As US Americans, we are told “In God We Trust.” Ironically, where do we find that message most often? On the money in which we are likely to trust more on a day-to-day basis. We live in a time of professional fear-mongers, who tell us, “Be sure to get yours, because THEY will take it away.”
So who do we trust? The God of Glen and Rush and others, who want to be sure we are looking out for ourselves first? Or is it the “In God We Trust” found on our coins and dollar bills?
How about we trust in the God we find in our Bible? That’s a pretty good God – one who has looked out for us for, oh, let’s say, ever!
The God of our Testaments has always wanted what is best for us, even if we don’t know what that is. God wants us to be strong. God wants us to be loving. And – as my Father would say – in no way, shape or form – does God want us to be poor.
God recognizes that there have always been those who have and those who have not. In fact, the Old Testament rules of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are rife with how the rich should treat the poor, mostly dealing not with charity but with giving the poor a break – leaving something in the field for them to take, offering the opportunity to give a sacrifice that is smaller than a rich person’s sacrifice. Employers are told to pay their workers for the job they do when they do it and to not take advantage of them.
In FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Tevya talks to God about his financial condition and acknowledges, “There is no shame in being poor.” Of course, he then goes on to say, “Still, it’s no great honor either.”
If you are someone who is short on material wealth, the book of Proverbs is rich in inspiration. You may find encouragement in reading Proverbs 19, which tells us “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and God will reward him for what he has done.”
There are some who believe that “I worked hard for my money. No one gave me a break. Why should I give away what I rightfully earned?” Again, we go to Proverbs, #22. “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.”
In other words, we are all in this together. Big ones need to look out for the little ones. Those who can, should. Or if you prefer scripture, “A generous man will himself be blessed.”
We should also be careful not look upon those less well-off than ourselves any differently than we look at each other. Even the lowest person loved by Christ is better off than those who are beyond God’s reach. Hebrews, Chapter 13 reminds us “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
We all know the story of a homeless couple who came to a big city and found nowhere to stay. If you don’t know the story, come back in December and we’ll tell you all about it. But in the meanwhile, do you think if God wanted Mary and Joseph to come into Bethlehem on a golden chariot, surrounded by trumpeters as they approached the palace where the Christ child would be born, that God couldn’t make that happen? Do you think God just forgot to call Travelocity to make those arrangements? No! God knows we are all poor, if not materially than spiritually. And knowing so, God has given us great gifts, most importantly, that of God’s son, born in a shelter made for animals, with a feeding trough as his bed. Born the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the son of the Living God, Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, is born as one of us.
We are all born poor and it is through Christ that we become rich. To live simply is not a sin and, when done by choice, is likely to be a blessing. But there is no Godly reason not to have material wealth, if gained rightfully and used to serve God. Neither Paul nor Jesus ever said, “Don’t be wealthy.” Their message is “Don’t let your pursuit of wealth or the wealth you have accumulated get in the way of serving God.” It is the LOVE of money – not the money itself – that is a root of all kinds of evil.”
In Matthew 19, we learn of the Young, Rich, King who came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" Jesus tells him to obey the commandments - 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"
Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
The Bible tells us that when the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. And clearly he did not want to get rid of it.
The man was not told to get rid of all his belongings because wealth is bad. I believe Jesus told him to sell everything as a test. And as we see in the story, the man failed the test. He would rather have material wealth than follow Jesus.
But what is wealth? When is “enough” enough? Bill Gates goes to work every day – do you think he has enough money? And on the other side of the coin is the family that has been unemployed for over a year, despite the search for work every day. Are they “wealthy?” I can say yes, if they know the love of Christ and live that love every day.
Please don’t get me wrong – I realize there is a practical need for shelter and food. I love “stuff” as much as the next person. I would be very pleased to have a car that has less than 200,000 miles on it and not have to decide every month if this is the month we cancel the Cable service. But I also know that – so far – the mortgage is getting paid and no one is going hungry. The car still runs and I own a television. I am a rich man. But you know who is richer? The widow we read about in Luke 21, who had only two copper coins to put in the offering – all she had. She gives out of love of God. How many of us give out of obligation or even fear? And although we are talking about money, how much more do we have that we can give in our other blessings – our time to help out a brother or sister or a gift to make the world a better place? Christ tells us to go out and share the Good News. We do that by sharing the Gospel in word, but we also want them to know we are Christians by demonstrating our faith through deeds – deeds done with the love of Christ in our heart, a willingness to serve and the desire to bring heaven to earth in your own way.
These things don’t just happen. It takes people – good people like you – to take the helm or agree to participate or to rally others – to make it happen.
You have the resources. Volunteer to work at the Food Closet. Participate in the Crop Walk. Offer to Clean a neighbor’s Rain Gutters. Sweep. Teach Someone Something New. Pray for Peace. Wash Windows. Plant flowers. Make a quilt. What you take for granted may be a huge blessing to someone else. These are gifts you have for sharing and if no one has ever asked you to share them before – I’m asking you now.
You are a rich, rich person. And I congratulate you on your new found wealth. Spend it wisely.