Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Perverted Abundance - Matthew 6:19-24/I Timothy 6:6-10 - August 18, 2013

This morning we continue our series looking at our search for significance.  This morning we shift from thinking about who we are to what we want. How much is enough?  One can hardly begin to count how many books are held in a local Barnes and Nobles store.  The average number of products carried by a typical supermarket has more than tripled since 1980, from 15,000 to 50,000. When I searched to see how many different kinds of breakfast cereals there were and when I hit the print button a fourteen page single spaced list emerged. iTunes boasts over 28 million songs you can choose from.  Mathis Brothers offers thousands of options in home furnishings.  The Mall of America, our nation’s largest shopping center, and once the world’s largest shopping center, decided it had to retool and enlarge to reclaim its place at the top.  The mall, now a paltry 4.2 million square feet – large enough to house 32 Boeing 747s- now plans to double its size. Our culture has embraced a perverted sense of abundance that borders on being insane.  We want, no we demand, an endless array of options to fit our every moment, our every taste and every mood.  As a nation, our pattern of life and spending is that no matter of what we make, we live at the very edge of our means, or for way too many, beyond our means.  What drives us so? Why does it seem there is never enough?  Why do we struggle with this seemingly insatiable desire for more? 

In our heart of hearts we know that this is destructive.  We know that we are not meant to live this way. Deep down we know that this is not what God intends. In fact, if you ask us, most of us will quietly try to deny that we feel this way.  We want to sound together, balanced, mature.  We know that if we actually admit that the drive for more – this virtually insatiable drive for more – lives within us, we would have to do something about it, and the consequences could be profound. On the hillside outside of Capernaum Jesus made his way further up the hill, giving himself and those closest to him a little space between them and the crowds that followed them.  He sits down and draws his disciples close to him and begins to teach, For many the words of Jesus, offered as a part of that Sermon on the Mount, are familiar.  Jesus teaches; 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 “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. 

I believe money is a difficult topic for the Church to address with comfort. The absence of commentary on this passage, and its companion we will address later, is shocking.  Our reality is that there is a stream of the Church that pronounces with confidence that people’s financial success is a reflection of God’s blessing. For them, if you are living faithfully and true then God will bless you with wealth, position and influence.  Even those that reject the prosperity gospel, there is a temptation to elevate the place of those with wealth because their gifts are essential in the sustaining of the Churches programs, facilities and staffing. We put their names on buildings and emblazon the objects they give on brightly shining plaques.  We embrace the Protestant work ethic that tells us that our value in found in what we do and how we provide for those around us. On one hand we elevate and on the other hand struggle with the teaching of Jesus that money must be handled with wisdom and care. We hear from Jesus that the dogged pursuit of cash – the insatiable hunger for more – is outside God’s will for us. We hear that if we are not wise, the pursuit of money can become our life defining – a life master - and that we cannot serve two masters.  

Paul echoes the same call in his letters to his young student, Timothy.  Paul writes; 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. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 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 wanted Timothy to understand the temporary nature of what we hold in our hands.  He then claims some strong language to describe what happens when we embrace a perverted abundance.  He tells Timothy – and us – that this insatiable quest for more is a trap where our desires – our appetites – lead us into foolish decisions that can plunge us- drown us – consume us.  Paul teaches that the love or devotion to money can lead us away from our faith – and then leveraging words that paint a powerful picture of pain – we will pierce ourselves with many griefs.  Paul wants us to understand that the quest for a perverted abundance is destructive and leads us away from joy.  I want you to hear that we can see Paul’s words come to life where we see people in love with money place it over relationships and find themselves destroying the relationships.  We watch as people in love with money exploit those that work for them and beside them – leaving a trail of broken lives.  We watch people in love with money run so hard that they are never home, missing out of their kids – then trying to buy their kids affection because the disconnection is so great.  We watch as people in love with money end up with plenty – and with no one to share it with.  Sometimes we discover that we are the ones people have been watching and that we have pierced our lives with many griefs.  

 When Beth and I served as missionaries in Thailand and Malaysia our whole world – all of our belongings - had to be able to fit in a dozen footlockers.  Our car belonged to the mission organization.  The house we lived in was furnished and was rented month to month.  It was a radically different life than we had know before, but when we realized that we were surrounded by those with little, our footlockers stuffed with belongs were clearly all that we needed – and probably more than we needed.  That life made us focus on what we needed rather than what we wanted.  It made us focus the “why” rather than the “how much.”  But when we came back to the States it was so easy to fall back into the worldview we grew up in.  Now we have all we need – and much more than we need. Our dozen footlockers have given way to a house filled with things – thing we can hold for a moment.  It’s just so easy to embrace the chase.  

Jesus spoke 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. He teaches us to seek first  his kingdom and his righteousness. So what does this mean for us?  No, this is not a promotional sermon for the next Dave Ramsey series or an invitation to an Amish lifestyle. No, it is not a call to give more to the church or to be racked with guilt and shame.  It is a call to get off the never merry-go-round of the quest for more and find the joy that God intends for us.  It is a call to seek contentment rather than conquest. It is a call to fulfillment rather than an insatiable appetite for more.   It is the Scriptural call to focus on things that have lasting value rather than what we can hold in our hands for a moment.   I know that this is easier said than done – easier preached than lived.  But, I believe we are called to lives of significance – Kingdom focused lives, where everyday our way of life looks more like what God dreams for us.   We are invited to lives where only one master reigns. We are invited to lives where our first love is for the God that makes us, shapes us, redeems us, and provides for us.  Why would we settle for less?  

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