HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Malachi 3:6-18
EPISTLE LESSON I Timothy 6:1-21
SERMON: “Hazardous to Your Wealth”
Every day it seems we get warned about something. Some of those are serious and important; others are quite funny, for example:
Antenna installation warning: “Do not attempt to install if drunk, pregnant or both. Do not eat antenna. Do not throw antenna at spouse.
On a hair dryer box: Do not use while sleeping.
Capacity is based on 4 minutes per song. Do not eat iPod shuffle.
On “Scrubbing Bubbles” automatic shower cleaner: “not a bodywash.”
On a bottle of pills prescribed by a veterinarian for a dog: May cause drowsiness. Use caution when operating heavy machinery.
On an egg carton: This product may contain eggs.
On a washing machine: Warning: High spin speeds. Do not put any person in this washer.
The best one I found – on a Superman costume: Warning: This costume does not enable flight or super strength.
We get warning labels on all kinds of things from cigarettes to medications, from toys with tiny parts to plastic bags that protect clothing when we bring it home from the dry-cleaner’s. But when was the last time you saw a warning on a dollar bill? A $5? $10? $20?
And yet the Bible carries quite a few warnings about money.
“Do not overwork to be rich.” (Prov. 23:4)
“He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase.” (Eccl. 5:10)
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.” (1 Tim. 6:9)
“Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’
So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to
Now I know that most people in America are not listening to these warnings for the following reasons:
91% of Americans make more money than ever before while 66% of Americans are more worried about their finances than ever before.
There has been a 27 year decline in the percentage of income that Christians give to charity.
1.5 - 3.5% is the percentage of income that Christians give to church and religious causes.
17% of Christians say they “tithe” (give 10% or more).
3% of Christians actually tithe (give 10% or more).
30 - 50% of active church attendees have blank annual giving records ($ 0 recorded).
70% of Christians leave nothing to their church or God’s work when they die because they don’t have a will or written estate plan.
American is full of people who are stressed out about money.
Remember Howard Hughes? Worth 2.5 billion dollars at his death, he was the richest man in the United States. He owned a private fleet of jets, hotels and casinos. When asked to claim his body, his nearest relative, a distant cousin, exclaimed, “Is this Mr. Hughes?” He had spent the last 15 years of his life a drug addict, too weak in the end to even administer the shots to himself. His 6'4" frame had shrunk to 6'1" and he weighed only 90 lbs. Not a single acquaintance or relative mourned his death.
All he ever really wanted in life was more. He wanted more money, so he parlayed inherited wealth into a billion-dollar pile of assets. He wanted more fame, so he broke into the Hollywood scene and soon became a filmmaker and star. He wanted more sensual pleasures, so he paid handsome sums to indulge his every sexual urge. He wanted more thrills, so he designed, built, and piloted the fastest aircraft in the world. He wanted more power, so he secretly dealt political favors so skillfully that two U.S. presidents became his pawns. All he ever wanted was more. He was absolutely convinced that more would bring him true satisfaction. Unfortunately, history shows otherwise. He concluded his life emaciated; colorless; sunken chest; fingernails in grotesque, inches-long corkscrews; rotting, black teeth; tumors; innumerable needle marks from his drug addiction. Howard Hughes died believing the myth of more. He died a billionaire junkie, insane by all reasonable standards.
Let’s talk about some myths about money that even though they are not true, often determine just how people handle their finances:
Myth No. 1: It’s my money.
As with most myths there is a partial truth here. The money in my bank account is more my money than it is yours. Sometimes our children think our money is their money. – Not yet. But the key to handling finances in a healthy way is to understand that your money, my money, even Bill Gates’ money is really God’s money. We earn money by hard work, or we inherit money because our parents and grandparents provided for us. Who gave us the ability to work hard, do a good job, to be industrious? God. God gives us the ability to learn how to do a job, the health to perform the job, the opportunity to land the job.
Myth No. 2: You can never have too much money. That is one of the greatest myths of all. C. S. Lewis, one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time, once taught this principle: “One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give, and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent upon God.”1 3
Maybe this is part of our national trouble:
We have become more concerned with the Dow Jones Index than we are with the Ten Commandments. We’re more concerned about the rate of interest than we are about the rate of immorality. We’ve become more concerned about gold than we are about God; more concerned about stock markets than we are saving mankind. Too much prosperity can bring too much pride.
Myth No. 3: I have to keep up with the joneses.
Someone has well said, “It’s hard to save money when your neighbor keeps buying things you can’t afford!” Will Rogers rightly said, “We borrow money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t even like.”
Myth No. 4: My net wealth determines my net worth. That may be the biggest lie and the biggest myth of all. May I tell you who the poorest person in the world is. The poorest person in the world is not the person who has no money. The poorest person in the world is the person who has nothing but money. There are so many wealthy people today who have a house, but they don’t have a home; they have sex, but they don’t have love; they have fame, but they don’t have friendships; they have the good life, but they don’t have eternal life; they wear gold, but they don’t know God.
Myth No. 5: Money buys happiness. I have a friend who turned 85 years old last April, and one who turned 92 earlier this month. Both have been widowed for about 8 or 9 years.
My 85 year old friend lives in a small house with uneven floors and the smallest bathroom I’ve seen located in a not-so-rich neighborhood. She and her husband had a custom-made tub because the bathroom was too small to fit a regular sized tub. Her husband never went to college, but he was a good, honest man, working a farm for years and driving a mail route. She has two adult children, 7 grandchildren and at least 5 great-grandchildren and she knows just about everybody in town. There’s not one of those chidren/grandchildren/ greats or friends who wouldn’t move mountains to help her if she needed it.
My 92-year old friend lives in a much nicer home in a nice section of town, with many bedrooms, bathrooms, a three-car garage. She has a grand piano in her living room. She also has two adult children, two grandchildren and, I think, two great grandchildren. Her husband of at least 50 years also never went beyond high school, but he was successful in business and made big money. None of the sadness she deals with on a daily basis is because of anything she did, but she is estranged from one of her adult children. One of her two grandchildren was injured in an auto accident 15 years ago and cannot speak, move her arms or legs, is fed only with a feeding tube and requires 24/7 nursing care. If my friend could, she would gladly give every penny she has to restore and heal her granddaughter, and re-establish a loving relationship with her son. Sadly, money cannot do any of that.
Like the other myths, the money can buy happiness myth has a partial truth. It relieves a great deal of anxiety when we have enough to pay our bills, put food on the table, clothes on our backs and gas in the car. It can purchase tickets to Disney World and Cedar Point, and across country to visit with family, but it can’t buy happiness.
Some of you know that I like to shop on amazon.com. I can get anything there from books to potato peelers, from CD’s to . . .I just bought myself a new meat thermometer! So I’m sitting at my laptop writing this message, and I thought, well, let’s just see what happens if I search amazon for ‘happiness.’ Over 165,000 items come up, including lots of books, DVD’s, a moisturizing lotion and even a Pet Paw Print Pet Bed. I don’t know what the whole lot of 165,000 plus items would cost, but I’m sure I couldn’t afford it, and even more convinced that if I had them all, they would not bring me happiness.
There are two tools that you can use that are guaranteed to help you master money. One is trusting, the other is tithing. They both go together and one motivates the other.
“Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from my ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you said, ‘In what way shall we return?’ Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation.” (Mal. 3:7-9)
The only way you can rob someone is by taking something that belongs to them. Since none of your money is really your money, because all of it belongs to God, when we think of it as ours, we take for ourselves what belongs to God. The remedy for robbing God is two-fold: 1) tithing (proportional giving), and 2) to trust God who challenges us to try it and see if God doesn’t bless us more than we can imagine. Proportional giving is not a matter of what you think about giving. It is a matter of what you think about God. Do you trust God that He will keep His word? Do you trust the power of God to meet every financial need that you have? Do you trust the promise of God to honor you if you will honor Him? God invites you to test it out – see if God will not pour out a blessing on you, so much that you cannot contain it. Check it out.
31 Cited by Bill Bright, Red Sky in the Morning, p. 92.
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 91
GOSPEL LESSON Luke 16:19-31
SERMON: “Is Anything Missing from Your ‘To-Do’ List?”
Today’s reading from Luke gives us one of many biblical insights to the “afterlife.” We like the scriptures that tell us that the Kingdom of God is at hand; that it is like a mustard seed that grows into an amazing tree; that the poor are blessed because it will be theirs. We like the prophecy in the Book of Revelation that tells us that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and that there will be no more suffering or crying. This reading we don’t like so much because it paints a harsh picture of a rich man in torment while the poor man that had to beg for a living at his gate is comforted and soothed.
I did a search of the preaching journals and helps for an opening story, and most of what I found were stories we’ve all heard before about arrivals at the pearly gates. Only this one was new to me: Three women die and all three reach heaven at the same time. There they meet St. Peter. He tells them he has some other important business to transact and asks them to wait outside. Finally he returns and calls the first woman into his office. He apologizes for making her wait so long. “Oh, I don’t mind at all,” the woman says. “I’m so thrilled just to be here in Heaven.” St. Peter is delighted by her attitude. “Well, then, if you can just answer one question for me, we can finish processing your papers. Now tell me, how do you spell ‘God’?” The woman spells it for him, then she goes on into the celestial realm. St. Peter calls in the next woman and also apologizes to her for making her wait. “It will be worth it, I’m sure,” she answers. “I am willing to wait one thousand years if necessary in order to see God face to face.” St. Peter is very pleased. He insists, though, on asking her one more question for the Records. “Tell me, dear lady, how do you spell ‘God’?” The woman spells it perfectly, then enters the pearly gates.
Finally, St. Peter calls in the third woman. He also apologizes to her, but she refuses to accept his apology. “It was quite rude,” she says angrily. “All my life on earth I had to wait in lines. Wait at the checkout counter, wait at the bus stop, wait for the kids to get home from school, wait for my coffee break. And now you expect me to wait to get into heaven? Well, I just won’t stand for it!” St. Peter said, “I’m so sorry. If you’ll just answer one more question for our records, then you can go on in. Tell me, how do you spell “antidisestablishmentarianism?”
That story, like the one we read from Luke, is not so much about what heaven is like, as it is about what it takes to get in, and how a person behaves, what a person does before arriving there.
Is there anything missing for your “To-Do before arriving at the pearly gates” list?
Popularized by the 2007 film of that name starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, the phrase “bucket list” refers to a list of things people yearn to do or see or accomplish before they die. Marvel at the Taj Mahal, skydive, hike up to Machu Picchu, shake the hand of the president, cook the perfect soufflé, watch a game at every Major League ballpark -- the lists are as varied as the people who assemble them. The goal is to accumulate memorable experiences, as one would fill a bucket with strawberries at the pick-your-own berry farm.
What would a Christian bucket list look like? Well, let’s start with the bucket. Would it be turned upright, to accumulate the most desirable experiences possible? Or would it be turned upside down, to pour out goodness upon the world? A deeply Christian bucket list focuses on making others happy.
It appears that Jesus directs the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). Just before telling this story,
13 ”No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.
A video of Max Lucado preaching can be found on youtube. His plea: What if, we said that’s enough, this is the generation that the church responds to world hunger? This is the generation that says we’re going to make sure that people at least have clean water to drink. What would it do to our people to invigorate them with the joy of compassion? reaching out around the globe, changing people’s lives, and what would it say to people who are watching the church, who tend to be so cynical and cross-armed and cross-eyed about everything we do? Isn’t compassion our finest apologetic? You can’t argue with compassion.”
Lucado reminds us of Acts, chapter 6 in which we learn about a problem with an uneven distribution of food, and the first thing they do is gather the whole church. They get the whole church involved. “What if we said, this just isn’t right. We can do better about this? Let’s get ticked off for Christ’s sake.”
A friend posted something on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that I almost put it in the yellow pages, but had some difficulty verifying part of the statistics. The post said that the money required to eradicate hunger for everyone in the world has been estimated at 30 billion a year . . . about as much as the world spends on the military every eight days. I didn’t have any trouble verifying the military spending, and even if 30 billion isn’t the right amount to eradicate hunger . . it surely would be enough to help countless of God’s children.
Lucado confesses to having been neglectful when it comes to compassion. He says he has been serious when it comes to Bible study and pasturing, and leading. We can identify. We’ve acknowledged the problem, many of us give to missions, North Kent Community Services, and Kids Foodbasket. We’ve supported the Hugerfast for World Vision. Many of us have made other gifts as well. There are some 2,000 verses in the Bible tell us to care for the poor.
The rich man wears “purple and fine linen,” signs of royalty and power (v. 19; cf. Esther 8:15; Daniel 5:7, 16, 29; likewise when the soldiers mock Jesus as “King of the Jews,” they dress him in purple [cf. Mark 15:16-20]); meanwhile “at [the rich man’s] gate lay a poor man named Lazarus” (v. 20a). Admittedly, Luke doesn’t describe Lazarus’s apparel, but given his status -- a beggar outside a rich man’s house -- it’s likely his clothes are tattered rags.
This story isn’t just about food for the hungry or care for the world’s poor. While it probably should not be taken as the definitive description of the afterlife, it does tell us what God’s priorities are for us in this life. Jesus reminds his listeners, including us, through this dramatic parable, that we need to pay attention to Moses and the prophets’ message “to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). That is the enduring challenge.
So what would the regrets be if you didn’t get to do things on your list?
A nurse specializing in care of the terminally ill has recorded the most common regrets of the dying. There are no regrets about missed business deals, no regrets about skipped bungee jumping opportunities or even about marriage -- despite the many jokes that link regret to the choice of a mate. (According to one, a woman inserts an ad in the classifieds: “Husband wanted.” Next day, she receives a hundred letters. They all say the same thing: “You can have mine.”)
No, the top five regrets discovered by the nurse include:
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. People admit that they feared change in their lives, so they pretended that they were content. In fact, they wish they had laughed more and allowed themselves to be sillier.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. People feel badly that they were so caught up in their own lives that they let important friendships slip away.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppress their feelings in order to keep peace with others.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This regret was expressed by every male patient. Every single one of them.
And the number one big regret, discovered by nurse Bronnie Ware and reported in The Guardian (February 1, 2012):
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This is the most common regret of all. “Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams,” says Ware, “and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
As the rich man pleads with Father Abraham to let him warn his brothers, and if not him, then send Lazarus to warn them, Abraham says, “ ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Abraham is talking to us, right along with the rich man and his brothers. Are we convinced? Are we persuaded to change our ways if someone actually rises from the dead?
Jesus has risen from the dead. Are we convinced?
Now, let’s be clear: None of us is perfect, and we will all come to the end of life feeling that we have made mistakes along the way. There are choices we feel bad about, alongside opportunities we wish we had seized. But what would it mean for us to die with no big regrets?
The top regrets of the rich man can teach us the lessons that we -- like his five brothers -- need to learn. We don’t want to arrive at our deathbed saying:
I wish that I had cared for the people around me.
I wish that I had listened to Moses, the prophets and Jesus.
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, in which my actions were in line with my beliefs.
Is there anything missing from your “To-Do” list?
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 85
EPISTLE LESSON II Peter 3:8-18
SERMON: “Grant Us Peace”
As I read the first verses in today’s reading from II Peter I am reminded of the story about a man who approached God & asked Him, “Lord, up in heaven how much time is a million years?” “Well,” God said, “a million years is but a second in heaven.”
“Oh!” said the man, “and up in heaven how much money is a million dollars?” “Well,” said God, “a million dollars is only a penny in heaven.” “Great!” said the man. “God, give me one of your pennies.” “All right,” said the heavenly Father. “Just wait a second.”
We have a tendency to be an impatient people. When we pray for God to grant us peace, we want God to do it now! Not in a thousand years; this week would be great, but we’ll take next week if we have to.
Besides pondering this scripture, and the fact that today is World Communion Sunday and Peacemaking Sunday, I’ve been working on a Marilynn Ham arrangement of a song I learned as a child, “Dona Nobis Pacem.” There’s another area for my impatience to show up. I would love to be able to sight read as well as Micki does, but alas – it’s just not my gift. So again and again and again I have played this repetitive tune:
My time at the piano is also in part prayer time. As the arrangement itself repeats the theme 4, 5, perhaps 6 times, I could feel the Spirit saying to me, “It’s not enough to ask for peace. Disciples of the Lord are called to be Peacemakers in this world. We can sing “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Give Us Peace) a million times but God has shown us consistently that it is God’s choice to work through people.
God worked through Noah, through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God worked through David and Solomon. God worked through the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and more. And God worked through Jesus, the disciples and the Apostle Paul. And God works through us.
Migan McKenna gives us a parable, of a woman who wanted peace in the world and peace in her heart, but was very frustrated. The world seemed to be falling apart. She would read the papers and get depressed.
One day she decided to go shopping, and she went into a mall and picked a store at random. She walked in and was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter. She knew it was Jesus because he looked just like the pictures she’d seen on holy cards and devotional pictures. She finally got up her nerve and asked, Excuse me, are you Jesus?
Do you work here?
No, I own the store.
Oh, what do you sell here?
Just about everything, Jesus said. Feel free to walk up and down the aisles, make a list, see what it is you want and then come back and we’ll see what we can do for you.
She did just that, walked up and down the aisles. There was peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, harmony, clean air, careful use of resources. She wrote furiously. By the time she got back to the counter, she had a long list. Jesus took the list, skimmed through it, looked up at her and smiled. No problem. And then he bent down behind the counter and picked out all sorts of things, stood up and laid out the packets. She asked, “What are these?”
Seed packets, Jesus said. This is a catalog store.
She said, “You mean I don’t get the finished product?”
No, this is a place of dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. You plant the seeds. You go home and nurture them and help them to grow and someone else reaps the benefits.
Oh, she said. And she left the store without buying anything.
Peace with God. Dona Nobis Pacem. (Give us peace.)
We want peace in the world Dona Nobis Pacem.
Peace with others Dona Nobis Pacem.
Peace with ourselves Dona Nobis Pacem.
Both the most difficult and the most helpful place to start.
Peacemakers release tension; they don’t intensify it. Peacemakers seek solutions and find no delight in arguments. Peacemakers calm the waters; they don’t trouble them. Peacemakers work hard to keep an offense from occurring. And if it has occurred, they strive for resolution. Peacemakers lower their voice rather than raise their voice. Peacemakers generate light not heat.
What kind of people ought we to be? We ought to live holy and godly lives, we ought to make an effort to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As we come to the Table this morning, remember that God has done God’s part to bring us to peace with him, by sending his own Son, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved – made right with God – through him.
February 16, 1989, in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, George and Vera Bajenksi’s lives were changed forever. A very normal Thursday morning. The phone rang at 9:15 a.m. “There’s been an accident...” It involved their son Ben.
As they approached the intersection of Adelaide and Simcoe Streets near the high school, they could see the flashing lights of the police cars and ambulance units. Vera noticed a photographer and followed the direction of his camera lens to the largest pool of blood she had ever seen.
All she could say was, “George, Ben went home--home to be with his Heavenly Father!” Her first reaction was to jump out of the car, somehow collect the blood and put it back into her son. “That blood, for me, at that moment, became the most precious thing in the world because it was life. It was life-giving blood and it belonged in my son, my only son, the one I loved so much.”
The road was dirty and the blood just didn’t belong there. George noticed that cars were driving right through the intersection--right through the blood. His heart was smitten. He wanted to cover the blood with his coat and cry, “You will not drive over the blood of my son!” Then Vera understood for the first time in her life, one of God’s greatest and most beautiful truths...why blood? Because it was the strongest language God could have used. It was the most precious thing He could give-- the highest price.
He shed his own blood for our souls – to give us peace.