Sermon at St Mary Hadlow – Trinity 18 – Wealth –25th September 2016
1 Timothy 6 vv 6 – 19 Divine contentment
Luke 16 vv 19 – E The rich man and Lazarus
Introduction. “Money is the root of all evil”. No! The songwriter and the translator of the AV of Timothy between then got it doubly wrong. The songwriter omitted three words at the beginning, namely, “The love of”. The translator of Timothy put in the word ‘the’ before ‘root’ instead of ‘a’. In the free month before I started at Theological College in 1974, I began learning a little New Testament Greek and was delighted to find that in the Greek there is no definite article. It had always concerned me that Scripture seemed not to accord with everyday experience that there are many other roots of evil, false pride, envy, greed, lust to name but some. Modern translations all insert ‘a’ rather than ‘the’. Therefore what we heard this morning in our first reading was “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
(6 v 10).
The Apostle Paul gives advice to the young pastor Timothy, to pass on to two categories of people in his care. There are those who ‘get by’ they have just enough for daily living to buy food and clothing. Paul probably doesn’t mention accommodation for two reasons. Firstly many of the poorer people were living-in servant and slaves and so their accommodation was provided. Secondly, as a tentmaker, he probably did not want to be saying, “If you are short of money, I can sell you a tent at a bargain price”. The other category of people is the rich. Perhaps 90% of us are in the latter category. You are rich. Not mega-rich, but on the world scale, probably in the top 10% in the world. As we see in the immigrants in the jungle camp at Calais, there is evidently something very desirable about Britain. They are prepared to risk whatever money they have and risk even their lives to get into the United Kingdom. What their motivation is to prefer Britain to France, Germany, Italy or other European countries I do not know. Maybe, the prospect of good well-paid jobs, maybe because they know English, which is now the recognised international language, maybe our tolerant culture, maybe they have family or friends already here, possibly the good benefits system and provision of accommodation. What is clear is that with the present turbulence in the world we live in a very rich and desirable country.
- The Rich. If we are among the rich how can we live lives consistent with the Apostle’s teaching, Jesus’ teaching and the teaching of Scripture generally? As with the poor, we need to learn a divine contentment. We need to appreciate that a lavish life style will not of itself lead to happiness. Almost every day one reads of someone who has misused or embezzled funds to lead a lavish lifestyle, to stay in expensive hotels, have a luxury yacht or go on expensive holidays. These things of themselves do not make for happiness. They can give pleasure for a while and the occasional luxury is not to be condemned. In fact we should never judge or condemn other people.
If we are rich we need to learn a divine contentment and to be generous with our wealth. Jesus taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive. This is to enjoy giving; perhaps seeing that giving to a particular charity produces wonderful results, whether in this country or abroad. Paul does not condemn those who have wealth. Neither did Jesus condemn the rich man for being rich. Jesus in his parable took him to task for not having compassion for Lazarus. The basic system then, for support of the very poor was to give money to beggars and to allow the poor to glean in the fields and from the trees after the main crop had been harvested. These days the poor are provided for by the state through taxation and by charities. We should pay our taxes willingly and enjoy supporting charities.
- Limited means. What about those who definitely are not in the rich category? Paul says that “There is great gain in godliness, combined with contentment” (v 6). He reminds us that we came into this world in our birthday suits, with nothing else and we can take nothing material with us when we leave this world. The pyramids in Egypt with their elaborate provision of food and other goods to help their pharaohs on their journey to the after life were quite useless, mostly plundered by grave robbers or taken out centuries later by archaeologists to put into museums. The medieval practice of the rich paying for a priest to say daily masses has no foundation in Scripture nor is there any evidence that it has any benefit at all; rather it goes counter to Biblical teaching. Both rich and poor need to learn this divine contentment through a firm faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing him as one’s personal Saviour and Lord. A survey showed that on the whole, Africans are the happiest people in the world. Of course there are some very poor people in Africa but charitable and international aid, combined with their own efforts is changing the scene. Huge numbers of Africans are moving from severe poverty to a low income category. One sees children playing contentedly with an old bicycle wheel as a hoop. Those of us who can look back to life in the 1940s with severe shortage of goods, food rationing, that went on for about 10 years after the war and yet as children we mostly lived contented and happy lives with simple birthday and Christmas presents.
- Be positive. One particular aspect of living contentedly is ‘positive living’. We need to see that are glasses are half full rather than half empty. I have spoken to people who have said that the being made redundant by an employer provided a marvellous opportunity, either to start their own business or to branch out into something new. Some of the minor setbacks in life can also provide unexpected meetings with people and lead to new interests and ventures. We need to learn to count our blessings and then to thank God for them. We need also to learn to thank God for our development of character and faith as we have received grace and strength to cope with difficulties especially were these came as answers to prayer. When in the RAF I was learning to fly as a pilot, I was often airsick. I remember praying about it when I was at university, where as a member of the University Air Squadron I did a lot of flying in Chipmunks, two-seater light-aircraft trainers. I then went on to do a short course on the piston-engined Provost, which had a nasty smell in the cockpit. Airsickness was even worse. I got quite good at flying the aircraft solo holding the control column between my knees – I’ll spare you further detail! I did though just manage to pass my final handling test, then to go on to fly the delightful jet-engined Vampire aircraft. That struggle helped me to see how God answers prayer and it also strengthened my determination. I give you another example for a newsletter for prayer last week from Mission Aviation Ffellowship (See below). Let us thank God not only for the more obvious blessings but also for the blessings in disguise.
- Giving. We may not be able to give large sums to charity but we can take a personal interest in one or more charities, perhaps one in this country and one abroad as well as supporting the mission of St Mary’s Church. This sermon is not intended to be a plea for yet more money. Many have given generously to the repairs to the Church tower. Rather it is a plea to make giving something that is joyful and an integral part of a contented life. A number of us have been to Delhi and seen the wonderful work the Delhi Brotherhood Society do, with comparatively small amount of funding. Others have been and will be returning this Autumn to our link parish of Kibakwe in Tanzania. I have been to Tanzania as a short term volunteer with Mission Aviation Fellowship and Vivienne is now working full time at the UK headquarters in Folkestone as MAF’s Director of Communications. These personal links make the whole work of a charity more interesting and satisfying.
- Conclusion. Let us remember the real Scriptural text of today’s first reading from Paul’s first letter to Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” and let us learn a true divine contentment through living simply that others may simply live and that together we may enjoy the blessings that come through faith in Jesus. I am very happy to talk further to anyone either briefly after the service or at greater length some other time about anything in my sermon which particularly struck you and you would like to take further.
I close with a quote from the Archbishop of Canterbury at a peace conference in Assisi with the Pope, Orthodox Church leaders and representatives of many other faiths, gathered to pray for peace, “ See below”
1545 words Christopher Miles
From The Church Times 23rd September 2016