I think I learned to write sermons in the 10th grade. At least that was when I learned how to write an essay. I remember that the first paragraph of an essay should outline clearly the theme. The body of the writing should develop that theme and the concluding paragraph should summarize. With that in mind, I’d like to be very clear about this sermon. There is one main point and it is this: God has given us what we need. Under that main point I have to sub-points: a: Since we have what we truly need, we need to work at being content with the things what we have. b. People are more important than things.
Let’s get into it. First, God has given us what we need. In today’s epistle, Paul’s list to Timothy is pretty short: Food and clothing. That’s it. Doesn’t even mention shelter. And I suppose a guy like Paul who moved around quite a bit, rarely calling one place home, would find himself sort of living in his clothing. Maybe sleeping under the stars or out on the deck of a ship. Paul could be content with a cloak to keep him warm and a loaf of bread to ward off the hunger. Paul understood that if he truly needed more than that, God would supply the raw materials – wood and clay for shelter, wool and hides for clothing. But Paul also understood that God provided things we need that we don’t know we need – like love and forgiveness and acceptance and an eternal kingdom with God.
If they had billfolds in those days, Paul would probably have carried one around which would have one slip of paper tucked away in one of thos hidden compartments. And on that slip of paper would probably have been scrawled out one of the sayings he had heard handed down through the oral tradition – a saying of Jesus. And the saying Paul would probably have carried around with him would be: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin, yet Solomon in all his glory is not as arrayed as finely as one of these.”
The handiwork of God. Not only is it sufficient but it is beautiful.
The story is told of a farmer who had lived on the same farm all his life. It was a good farm, but with the passing of years, the farmer began to tire of it. He longed for a change – for something “better.” Every day he found a new reason for criticizing some feature of the old place. Finally, he decided to sell and listed the farm with a real estate broker who promptly prepared a sales advertisement. As one might expect, it emphasized all the farm’s advantages: ideal location, modern equipment, healthy livestock, acres of fertile ground, etc. Before placing the ad in the newspaper the realtor called the farmer and read the copy to him for his approval. When he had finished the farmer cried out “Hold everything! I’ve changed my mind. I am not going to sell. I’ve been looking for a place like this all my life.”
God has given us life. It is sufficient. God has delivered us from sin, death, and the forces of evil. It is sufficient. God has given us eternal membership in his kingdom through his son, Jesus Christ our Lord. It is all that we need – that and the other people God has put us on earth with – especially family. It’s all we need.
Most of Jesus’ parables were for the purpose of teaching that those things which are important in the earthly are least important in the heavenly.
Not being content with what one has can be a real disease of the soul. Let’s take a hypothetical couple. Let’s name them Larry and Donna. Larry and Donna finally save enough for a down payment for their first home and have a nice two-story town house. They have to park at the curb but that’s ok. They have no trouble making the mortgage payment. Then they begin having children. Larry and Donna are happy – until they begin driving past homes with yards, two-car garages, and bathrooms off the master bedroom. They begin to think of those homeowners as somehow “better” – and so they go to the bank for a new home loan. They can swing it, but now both of them have to work to make the payments. Now both mom and dad are out in the workplace meeting couples younger than they who live in McMansions with three-car garages, great rooms as big as their original town house, and kitchens which the cooks at Downton Abbey would die for. Now the kids are in college and Larry and Donna are caught between a humongous mortgage and tuitions. Now there are those nights when things are just too quiet in those cavernous rooms – and Larry and Donna think back to when the kids were little and they were all together in the two-story town house with the car at the curg. But they didn’t appreciate what they had when they had it – because they thought the whole purpose of life was to accumulate property and status.
Paul pleads with Timothy: “Shun (the love of money); pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”
I could make a sermonic point right here by asking you to take out your smart phones and find the photos of that vacation you took a couple of years ago and scroll down through everything you thought was important to take a picture of at the time. There would be pictures of the mountains and the trees and the ocean and the sunsets and the unique buildings – but the ones you would be most interested in would be the pictures with people in them. That aunt or uncle or son or daughter or friend are, to you, much more precious than anything else. People are more important than things. I think this is what Paul was telling Timothy. People are more important than things.
In 1923 eight wealthy men gathered at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, to discuss pooling their wealth for the purpose of gaining more power and more wealth. These eight, if they were to combine their resources and assets, would control more money than the U.S. had in its treasury. In that group were men such as Charles Schwab. He was the president of a steel company. Richard Whitney was the president of the New York Stock Exchange, and Arthur Cotton was a wheat speculator. Albert Fall was a member of the president’s cabinet. Jesse Livermore was the greatest bear on Wall Street in his Time. Leon Fraser was president of an International Bank, and Ivan Krueger headed the largest monopoly.
Let’s look at that group at the end of their lives. Charles Schwab died penniless, Richard Whitney died serving a sentence in Sing Sing. Arthur Cotton went broke. Albert Fall was pardoned from a federal prison so he might die at home. Leon Fraser? He committed suicide. Jesse Livermore? He committed suicide. Ivan Krueger? He committed suicide.
What was their downfall? They thought they controlled what they had, but what they had controlled them. As St. Paul told Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
Mrs. Gregerson, my 10th grade English teacher, always told us that the last paragraph of an essay should summarize the theme and main points. So, your takeaways for this sermon are these: God has given us what we need. We need to be content with what we have. People are more important things. In seminary I learned that sermons should have three points and a poem.
I’m sparing you the poem.
Text: Luke 16:1-9