Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“A Different Rock” (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
September 29, 2019
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Several months ago in late May a huge 8.5 million pound rock, crashed down in the middle of state highway 145 in southwest Colorado between Cortez and Telluride. Yes, you heard that correctly, an 8.5 million pound rock. Shortly afterwards the Colorado Transportation Authority issued the following statement:
Colorado Highway 145 is closed indefinitely due to a significant rock fall which occurred late Friday afternoon. The slide is located approximately 12 miles north of Dolores, milepost 22. The slide consisting of dirt, rock and two huge boulders which have destroyed the full width of the highway pavement, leaving a trench approximately eight feet deep across both lanes.
Interestingly enough, after weeks of deliberation local authorities decided that it would make more sense, and save taxpayers about $200,000, to build that stretch of highway around that rock, rather than trying to eliminate the rock itself and then repair that stretch of highway. This giant rock has been dubbed “Memorial Rock.”
There is a huge rock just like Memorial Rock in the human heart, a rock impossible to move, a rock that requires a way around it—the love of money.
Last summer when Steph and I were visiting friends in New England, we rode a tour bus through Boston and Cambridge. When we passed by MIT the driver quipped, “Many people think MIT stands for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but it actually stands for Millionaires in Training.” One of the passengers behind us blurted out, “I wish I were smart enough to go to MIT—it’d be wicked awesome to be a millionaire.”
In the hopes of becoming a millionaire many people buy lottery tickets. In fact, the average American spends $207 per year on lottery tickets. Obviously many Americans do not spend a dime on lottery tickets which means many others spend much more than $207 per year on them, even though the odds of being struck by lightning are better than the odds of winning Mega Millions or Powerball.
But there is a dark side even to winning the lottery. There are taxes to be paid, as a man in West Virginia who won $315 million had to pay $201 million of that in taxes. Of course, the remaining $114 million would still be pretty cool to have, right? But statistically lottery winners are much more likely to be robbed, especially in states where winners must publicly announce themselves. Moreover, often lottery winners are hounded by charity scams, hounded by investment scams, hounded by long lost family members who suddenly want to reconnect because they feel entitled to get a cut of that lottery money for themselves.
Winning the lottery can wreak havoc on your family. In 1988 a man in Pennsylvania won $16.2 million and later learned he was being hunted down by a hitman his own brother had hired in order to get a cut of that money from his brother’s will. In 1996 a woman who won $1.3 million in a lottery immediately divorced her husband without telling him about her lottery win. Three years later the court ordered her to transfer every penny of that to her ex-husband.
Winning the lottery can also be a disaster for those who have no ability to manage the winnings. A $10 million lottery winner in Canada spent all of it on fancy homes and clothes and vacations and handouts to family and friends and within a decade was right back where she was before, taking the same city bus every day to her same old part-time job. Another person, a $15 million lottery winner in Britain, spent it all within five years.
But this love of money that can be such an enormous rock in the middle of the highway of your life can also impact those who never spend a cent on lottery tickets but do whatever else it may take to get those millions of dollars—even if it means running bottom feeder businesses like title loan shops and pawn shops to hustle poor people who are in financial straits—even if it means cheating on your taxes—even if it means getting involved in bribery and illicit payoffs, payouts, and paybacks—even if it means embezzling money from a charity or a church—even if it means getting involved in human trafficking or drugs—even if it means qualifying vulnerable people for subprime mortgage loans which is exactly what led to the 2007 to 2008 crash in the housing market that had untold ripple effects many of you felt. That fall of 2007 I had a certified financial planner weeping in my office, wondering how he was now going to pay for his huge brick mansion and four-car brick garage—and the expensive sports cars in said garage.
The love of money can damage families. You know this is true. The leading cause of divorce is financial disagreement and stress. Ask any attorney who has worked in family wills, trusts, and estates, and they could tell you stories of the “fun and games” that surface as surviving family members squabble over who gets what. Who knows? Someday my own family may squabble over who gets my Ford Ranger pickup truck or my books or my Marvel Comics PEZ dispensers or my Shakespeare action figure—which is really cool because it has a removable quill.
This love of money impacts all of us—as Jackson Browne sang when I was a kid, we all find ourselves “caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender” (from the title track of his 1976 album The Pretender)—or as the British rock band The Verve sang when I was broke youth minister in my late twenties using a birthday gift check to pay the phone bill, “It’s a bittersweet symphony this life—trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to the money, then you die” (from “Bittersweet Symphony on their 1997 album Urban Hymns).
The love of money is even alive and well in the church. Every week I receive emails I never asked for advertising programs and strategies to help your congregation give more money because getting people to give more money is what the gospel is all about, right? But as Bono of the band U2 declared in their epic concert film Rattle and Rum, “The God I believe in isn’t short on cash, mister.”
And yet the dream to be rich, the dream to be a millionaire, the idea that “it’d be wicked awesome to be a millionaire” remains lodged in many human hearts, a rock that blocks the highway of your life and is just too big to move. Along these lines today’s New Testament passage is from the First Letter of Paul to Timothy and directly addresses all this:
There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 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 (1 Timothy 1:6-10).
Jesus had a lot to say about money, some of which can be rather uncomfortable, but all of which is true nonetheless. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).
In the midst of telling many parables Jesus compared the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God to seeds sown by a sower, he compared those consumed by the love of money with seeds that sprout amidst thorns: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth (in the King James Version it’s “the deceitfulness of riches”) choke the word, and it yields nothing” (Matthew 13:18, 22). When teaching about the danger of putting your trust in your money or putting your trust in your stuff Jesus preached, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
When Jesus sent out his disciples into the mission field he did not equip them with marketing strategies to get more money out of people; rather he simply said, “freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8, KJV). Similarly, when the Apostle Paul, the same Paul who wrote “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”, departed Ephesus after two years of ministry, here is what he told the elders of the Ephesian church about money:
Now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing…remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:32-33, 35).
Over the course of his earthly ministry, when it came to money, Jesus not only talked the talk, he walked the walk. Jesus became poor, not figuratively, literally. Jesus overcame the temptation in the wilderness to the power and accompanying riches of the world. Jesus had no place to rest his sacred head.
As you may remember, the disciple who was in charge of the money, Judas Iscariot, was not immune to the love of money. The week before his passion and death Jesus was at a dinner party in Bethany, and Mary the sister of Lazarus poured out incredibly expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet as an act of vulnerable and generous worship. Judas protested, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” But as scripture notes, Judas “said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it” (John 12:1-6).
But Judas’ love of money was a black hole—enough was never enough. And as you also may remember, his love of money was so strong in Judas that he betrayed Jesus himself for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-15)—money Judas later cast at the feet of those who paid him off, . And as the thirty pieces of silver pinged on the floor of the temple Judas stumbled out weeping, and stumbled to a desolate spot and we hanged himself. Judas’ love of money led directly to his death. In other words, as Paul wrote today’s passage, Judas’ love of money indeed “plunged (him) into ruin and destruction.”
Perhaps the love of money has wreaked havoc in your life. Perhaps the love of money has somehow plunged you into some kind of “ruin and destruction” or pierced you with many pains. Be that as it may, the gospel is good news for those who have suffered the destructive consequences of the love of money.
On Good Friday Jesus, who had already become poor, was stripped even of the clothes on his back. On Good Friday Jesus gave everything for you—gave and gave until he gave his very last breath for you. On Good Friday as Jesus was pierced with the nails he was pierced with many sorrows and plunged into ruin and destruction. Your love of money has been overcome by God’s love for you.
Jesus preached “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”—and on Good Friday Jesus demonstrated that apparently his treasure is…you, and his heart is with…you.
God has provided a way for you around the rock of the love of money with a Different Rock, Jesus Christ, the Rock of Ages and the Rock of Your Salvation.