“Wealth of Goodness”
“A Wealth of Goodness”
1 Timothy 6:11-12, 17-19
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
September 25, 2022
I can remember when I was in college doing Army ROTC and as part of the ROTC scholarship I received a monthly stipend of $100 freshman year. It felt like a genuine windfall! Just for showing up to do what I am required to do anyway with the ROTC program. But you know what? By the end of freshmen year…$100 just didn’t feel like it was quite enough.
Good thing…Sophomore year you moved from $100 to $150. Fall of my Sophomore year, I felt rich. $150 a month. But then the spring of sophomore year rolls around and you know the story…boy, $150 is feeling a little tight. To be sure – none of my college needs were changing. But somehow, I was kinda maxing out of that $150.
Good thing juniors in ROTC get $200. And you better believe by the time Senior year was rolling around, I needed every bit of that $250 a month stipend you get in that 4th year.
What is it about money – at small amounts and big amounts alike – it always seems we don’t have quite enough. Or maybe not nearly enough.
That sense can be all the more acute these days with high inflation, a falling market, fears of recession. These are wreaking havoc on our budgets and bills – our hearts and minds as we try and navigate.
Not enough is a real sentiment for many right now.
And in today’s passage from to Timothy we hear this word about money… “Command them not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches.”
Verse 11 adds this (I’m reading the Message translation here): “But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this (love of money).
Ok, well, Timothy may have some love of money issues, but that’s not us.
Yes, money is in the news and on our minds a lot these days…but our money issues are real concerns about having enough, making it, paying the tuition or the debt or the bills…
But what is love, again? It’s an attentiveness. A focus. If we love something or someone…we place a real trust there. If market fluctuations consume our attention or causes tension in our stomach muscles… If worries about getting more or having more or keeping up with the commitments we have made financially or the lifestyle we currently have…if those cause literal body stress, mind-churning… Then on one hand we’re probably like a lot people these days…and also maybe more than we usually consider there is a real hope and trust being put in the potential of money to save us.
And perhaps a part of us says…so what? Yes, money stresses us out, and yes maybe we do put some real trust in money getting us to a better place…and maybe some of honestly like the security of having a bit more and the control over life we get by having more… So what is so wrong with focusing on getting more money?
Is anyone familiar with the 1886 short story called “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. Pahom (Pa-home) is a peasant, and one day he declares that “with enough land, we would have nothing to fear – not even the Devil himself.” Soon thereafter he is able to acquire 30 acres from a woman was selling her property. What a wonderful expanse – except this particular plot of land had so many peasants trespassing through it all of the time. He begins fining them, taking them to court, they fight back.
Pahom grows resentful of this “cramped life,” and fortunately he gets word of an area to the South where people are given 25 acres per person for farming.
How wonderful…so they go and get more land. Although this land was not theirs outright. They did need to farm on behalf of the owner and Pahom felt he needed to get land that was truly his own.
And he gets word of a peculiar people who life far in the distance, and from who people have secured lavish amounts of land for very little money.
Pahom arrives and the elder of this peculiar people tells Pahom that for 1000 rubles, Pahom can have as much land as he is able to circumnavigate in one day’s time.
The rule is this: Pahom can walk as far and wide as he wants, but he has to be back at his starting spot by sunset. He is given a spade so he can mark the land to mark the land as he goes: “This is mine. This is mine. This is mine.”
Pahom is a strong man in good condition – and he is eager to see how much land he can get. The night before he heads out he has a strange dream of seeing the Devil laughing at this man who almost naked and dead laying at Pahom’s feet. Pahom’s is terrified to see the dead man at his own feet is – Pahom, himself.
He shakes that whole thing off and eagerly sets out that morning to claim land. Despite the growing heat, he claims six miles no problem. He sheds some clothing to stay cool…he gets to 10 miles.
He eats some food and drinks water…his body is tiring but he thinks to himself, “”An hour to suffer, a life-time to live.” And on he goes.
He begins thinking turning around would be good but then there in the visible distance is a nice little spot of land that just would be a shame if they could not enjoy that. So he keeps moving…
Eventually he sees the sun is nodding downward and he must turn. At point, “He began running, threw away his coat, his boots, his flask, and his cap, and kept only the spade which he used as a support…his soaking shirt and trousers stuck to him, and his mouth was parched. His breast was working like a blacksmith’s bellows, his heart was beating like a hammer, and his legs were giving way as if they did not belong to him.”
The sun was low, but he was also so close. Pahom could already see the people on the hillock (where he had started) waving their arms to hurry him up.”
He strained up the hill as the sun was dipping down…yes. He fell to the ground. His servant came to pick him up and saw blood coming from his mouth. Pahom was dead.
Final sentence: “His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”
What is it about money that seems so sensible to place our trust in it…invites such a security…just a little more of it always has such a reasonable allure and then we’ll finally be at peace…and then in the cruelest of ironies the pursuit of it as our focus and goal…it takes our life?
To be sure, we need money, money can do and does do much good…but what it is about it that…when it becomes that singular focus of our anxiety or what we chase or believe is the thing that will bring us that illusive peace… our life’s journey does not look so different from Pahom’s day of running?
Run for your life from all this (love of money). Paul exhorts. And Paul knows you cannot simply tell people to avoid something. To run from something. To look away from something. Every parent and grandparent knows: You can’t just have the negative vision (don’t do this); you have to give them a positive vision (do this).
“Run hard and fast in the faith…Set your hope on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment… and then be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous.”
“Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy.”
There is a land Paul invites us to run, yes. It is not a land where our consuming focus is on marking just a little more…it’s a land called the Kingdom of God. If there is a goal in this land it is not staking claim to more, but first running to notice all the places God has already richly staked for us…and then seeing how frequently we can stake some spots for others.
“Be rich in helping others…extravagantly generous.”
Paul’s remedy to the constant temptation to chase money, to have our lives consumed by anxiety about having enough, getting more…his remedy is ironically not “just hold really tightly to what you have and don’t worry we’ll get through this.” His remedy is generosity.
Start with all God continues to give for our enjoyment…and then join God in generosity.
It’s as if God is saying… “You want to know a peace about how things are going to work out…a peace about my provision…a break from this addiction to running far away trying to get just a little more…look at me. And let go.”
At one point Paul underscores the power of this promise when he says: be “teach them be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share…thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future.” In other words, Paul is not oblivious to our need for a secure future. A foundation for future well-being.
But the foundation is built not be hoarding or chasing money as our first impulse, first place of trust…he believes the secure foundation we seek is found in generosity.
Imagine that? The future foundation of this congregation (and our lives) has nothing to do with how much we would or could ever stockpile…and everything to do with our wealth of good works and generosity in thanks for all God continues to gives.
How often when we think of financial generosity or generosity with our time and actions, we think…
“And yes, I know non-profits and good organizations of all kinds need my money and my volunteering to accomplish their good work. True. They do. 100%.”
“Yes, I know the church needs money and committed people to go about its work in this community and the world. True. We do. 100%.”
And in about a week from now you’ll be getting information that invites you to be very thoughtful and prayerful about how God is calling you to give to the church in 2023 as we put together a budget and plan toward the ministry activity and mission work we look to do.
And I wonder – do we consider that it’s not only that the church or a non-profit needs us to give…it’s that we need to give?
Generosity is what it looks like to run away from the anxiety and allure of money…it’s what it looks like to run toward the rich life of helping others and building a truly secure foundation. It’s a way of receiving the peace that comes when we break from the treadmill of never having enough. Yes, our money and generosity benefits others…but do goodness, we ourselves have a need to give. But that can be so hard to believe, right? This is not natural to most of us. It’s a lovely thought to be generous, but it’s not natural to us and not in these times. I feel these myself. At the same time, if I am honest, I’ve not known a season where reason for fear isn’t real. I came into ministry in 2008 and recession and housing crisis flooded the fears of church members and church budgets. And then tax rate decisions and wars overseas and market tumbles and political changes and Covid…we can look back at certain times and call them ‘the good ol days’ but I’ve looked through my old sermons and I can see time and again where I wrote down a significant reason people were feeling anxious about money and the future.
Would we really be at good dealing with money if the markets were perfect, our income was double, and we had not an outstanding bill anywhere in the world? Money is not about amounts, it’s about heart.
That’s why Jesus and Paul talk a lot about it – even with small communities of people with very little money and living under the extremely oppressive tax system of the Roman Empire. And goodness, if we are living in a time when inflation is rising and financial fears are rising…consider this:
Wouldn’t it be a gift if there were some hearts thrown into the mix of our society who were not blind to those things but even so had a peace? Even a generosity. Would not giving hearts be such a salve to an anxious world? Wouldn’t that be such good news if right there in a land consumed by a sense of scarcity, there were expressions of God’s abundance?
Last weekend many from this church were at Mo Ranch for our annual All Church Retreat. And on Saturday we shared a special lunch together. Instead of going to the main cafeteria and having the normal food that Mo Ranch provides, we enjoyed a catered meal from an exceptionally good Mexican caterer. Freshly tortillas and guacamole, juicy, grilled steak and chicken options.
We had the tables specially decorated with colorful, creative handmade centerpieces. And there was so much food that we were able to then gift the extra to the kitchen and cleaning staff at Mo Ranch – and oh man – they were so grateful. How did we enjoy such a uniquely delicious banquet for our Mo Ranch retreat lunch? An FPC member decided they wanted to make a donation that would ensure our lunch at Mo Ranch would be extravagant. The only thing this donor asked was that the meal be over-the-top extravagant. Because that’s what God’s love is like. That’s what God is all about. Ours is a God of senseless, abundant generosity toward broken, anxious, sinful people…
“Use this money to make sure we get to taste just a glimpse of God’s extravagant love.”
I was at that meal, and I cannot tell you the peace that came over our time together. The shared sense that “Oh wow. The life of faith is real.” We could taste and see the gift of generosity washing over our anxious souls…
And then we walked outdoors under the vast expanse of God’s glorious creation at Mo Ranch and it was like God said, “And yes, the extravagant love continues. Cannot you see generosity is secure foundation?”
Oh, that we might have eyes to see and ears to hear and tastebuds to taste all the riches that truly are ours by the grace of God this very day…and that we might risk running in the way of generosity – for their sake and our sake.
What if in these anxious times the church were known as those who came among people clutching their shovels and said, “here’s a table. Here’s a meal.”
What if we were not the shovel people but the table people? The worry people but the wonder people? The fearful people but the faithful people?
As Paul exhorts: “Go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage… and so, take hold of the life that really is life.” May it be so. Amen.