Sermon 18 Pentecost Yr C

18 Pentecost Yr C, 30/09/2007

1 Tim 6:6-19

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Faith in Money or Money in Faith?”

 

A pastor was preoccupied with thoughts of how he was going to ask the congregation to come up with more money than they were expecting for repairs to the church building. Therefore, he was annoyed to find that the regular organist was sick and a substitute had been brought in at the last minute. The substitute wanted to know what to play. “Here’s a copy of the service,” the pastor said impatiently. “But you’ll have to think of something to play after I make the announcement about the finances.” During the service, the pastor paused and said, “Brothers and Sisters, we are in great difficulty, the roof repairs cost twice as much as we expected, and we need $4,000 more. Any of you who can pledge $100 or more, please stand up.” At that moment, the substitute organist played, (“O Canada”).1

Money. For many it is a taboo subject in the Church. Yet, if we read our Bibles carefully, we’ll discover that there are a lot of references to money. Today’s second lesson is certainly full of sound advice and wisdom concerning money. One important question this passage asks of us all is this: Do we place our faith in money, or do with place our money in our faith? Norwegian writer, Henrik Ibsen once said: “Money may be the husk of many things, but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; acquaintances, but not friends; servants, but not loyalty; days of joy, but not peace or happiness.” This is true, as we know that some of the richest people in the world are also the poorest people in the world when it comes to happiness in their personal life.

Martin Luther once had this to say about money: “A person needs three conversions: first the heart, then the head, then the purse.” Luther’s wisdom certainly complements the overall message of today’s gospel and second lesson concerning the stewardship of our money.

Money. We cannot live without it in this world, that’s for certain. Yet, as Christians how do we best live with it?

Money is basic to our existence. We all need it. We all handle it—some handle more than others—and, indeed, some are handled by it. We use money every day. We spend it for necessities and luxuries. We exchange it, invest it and give it away. We use money to spread the Word of God, to minister in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Why, then, is there such a reluctance in the church to talk about money? So basic to life, to all our needs, to all we do, yet so infrequently mentioned or discussed in the church. We talk about deficits and surpluses, but not about money. We talk about programs being cut back or not begun, but we hesitate to talk about the underlying fact of money.

While we may hesitate to speak about money, money never hesitates to talk about us. Indeed, money talks. It tells the value of things in life. It is society’s measuring rod. The higher the cost—so we claim—the higher the value. Money tells of our worth in the marketplace. Our employer places a financial value on our time and abilities. We are compensated on the basis of who we are and what we do. We exchange, if you will, our very lives for a paycheck.

As we use our money, it reveals our priorities. The way we spend, invest and give our money shows what is important to us. Our use of money describes us—cautious or reckless, generous or selfish, frugal or foolish, moral or immoral, loving or unloving, caring or insensitive.

As we give our money, our money gives an eloquent witness to our faith. It demonstrates our love for God and neighbour. As we use our money to faithfully support God’s work through the church, it tells how important we believe it is to share the Gospel throughout the world and to meet human need. Our money clearly demonstrates these priorities in our lives.

One thing needs to be said, however about money. Our money is really not ours—it belongs to God. It is ours to manage, given to us as stewards. The way that we carry out our stewardship—manage what God has first given to us—gives a clear message to all around us. Yes, your money talks—about you, about God. Use it wisely to witness to the good news, to serve a world in need, to be a good steward doing God’s will in all things.2

The apostle Paul, in our second lesson today affirms these truths about money. In his exhortation to Timothy, Paul teaches him not to be too attached to money or the material possessions that money can buy. Live a life of faith—don’t have faith in money, rather, let faith be front and centre in your money as you manage it wisely. Paul is correct when he warns that the more money one has, the more dangers one has in terms of being tempted by one’s money to use it unwisely—that is to say, to use it selfishly, without serving God and the needs of our fellow human beings.

In verse 10, Paul warns that: “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.” This is often a misquoted verse—note Paul says that it is the love of money, not money in and of itself that is a root of all kinds of evil. Money in and of itself is not evil. What counts is our stewardship of money or the lack of stewardship. Paul goes on to say in verses 17-19, let your faith be in your money, be good stewards of your wealth, be generous, sharing your riches with others, and in so doing serving God. The following story provides us an encouraging and heart-warming example of what Paul is teaching us in today’s second lesson:

The program 20/20 told the story of Milton Pietrie, who left over $800 million in his estate at the time of his death in 1994. He gave generous gifts of money anonymously to persons he read about in the newspaper whose lives had experienced some major tragedy.

One family received an income from him and promise of funds to educate their only daughter when the husband, while on duty as a police officer was disabled by violence.

Another woman who was a fashion model had been viciously attacked on the street and her face was lashed. Milton gave her over $20,000 to help her out.

At the time of his death, his will included 400 beneficiaries who were to continue receiving support.

In this part of the world we are rich people materially compared with those people living in the two-thirds’ world. With our riches comes a tremendous responsibility and privilege to be wise and loving and generous stewards of our money. Do we have faith in our money, or do we place money in our faith as stewards of the Lord? May our Lord grant us the grace necessary to be his wise, loving, and generous stewards with our money. Amen.

 

1 Cited from: Debbie Coutant, “President’s Message: Erev Hashanah, 5760, 1999,” on Shir Hadash web site: <www.shirhadash.org>.

2 Cited from: “Money, Time, Abilities,” a pamphlet prepared by the Office for Resource Development, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, 1512 St. James St., Winnipeg, Manitoba. Produced in cooperation with the Lutheran Laity Movement for Stewardship-Canada.

 

Darfur

The situation in Darfur, Sudan is a contemporary tragedy in so many respects. We in northern hemisphere Western world countries have failed Darfur, Sudan and the continent of Africa in so many ways–politically, economically, socially, ethically, spiritually. I cannot help but believe if Darfur were Canada or the U.S. or a European nation or province the problems and conflicts would have been nipped in the bud far sooner than what we now face in Darfur today. The Western world seems to remain rather indifferent to the horrendous sufferings and genocide in Darfur. May God have mercy and move us out of our complacency into faithful action.

For some time I’ve read Chief Rabbi of Britian, Sir Jonathan Sacks’ web site. He has recently written a beautiful prayer for the people of Darfur. To read it click on this link, then click on Resources, then click on Prayer for Darfur:  http://www.chiefrabbi.org/ra-index.html                                                                                                                                                                  

Sermon 16 Pentecost Yr C, 16/09/2007

16 Pentecost Yr C, 16/09/2007

1 Tim 1:12-17

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“All-sufficient Grace”

 

In today’s second lesson, we celebrate the Good News of God’s all-sufficient grace through Jesus Christ. James S. Hewett tells the following story:

A large prosperous downtown church had three mission churches under its care that it had started. On the first Sunday of the New Year all the members of the mission churches came to the city church for a combined Communion service. In those mission churches, which were located in the slums of the city, were some outstanding cases of conversions—thieves, burglars, and so on—but all knelt side by side at the Communion rail.

On one such occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England—the judge who had sent him to jail where he had served seven years. After his release this burglar had been converted and become a Christian worker. Yet, as they knelt there, the judge and the former convict, neither one seemed to be aware of the other.

After the service, the judge was walking home with the pastor and said to the pastor, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?”

The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.” The two walked along in silence for a few moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.” The pastor nodded in agreement. “Yes, what a marvellous miracle of grace.” Then the judge said “But to whom do you refer?” And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.” The judge said, “But I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.” The pastor, surprised, replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.” “Yes,” the judge replied, “it did not cost that burglar much to get converted when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw Jesus as his Saviour he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help. But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take Communion and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for all my pride and self-deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict that I sent to prison.”1

This story of sinners meeting at Christ’s table for forgiveness and grace is a most interesting one. The judge has an important insight. Usually, also as in the case of our second lesson, we hear about conversion stories like the apostle Paul’s and like the burglar in the story. They at one time were real bad guys. So engrossed in their sins that they appear to be impossible cases. Then something happens. They are converted. Jesus Christ comes into their lives and turns them around 180 degrees into a life of super-saints. We’ve all heard these stories, but somehow they don’t appeal to many of us. Why? Well, lots of people like us never went off of the deep end in their sinning; nor did they ever consider themselves real bad folk. A lot of folks can rather identify I think with the judge in the story: raised in a decent home with responsible, law abiding parents, taught right from wrong, and disciplined appropriately when they did wrong to know enough not to do it again, went to church and Sunday School, lived upright, moral, ethical lives. How can such decent folk as this be on the same level as the apostle Paul and the burglar? Well, the judge in the story finally realised that hey, he was a sinner too, and even in all of his goodness he needed forgiveness.

In God’s eyes we’re all equals—judges and convicts, rich and poor, young and old, you name it. We cannot save ourselves—only God through Jesus can do that. That’s the miracle of grace. God’s all-sufficient grace for each one of us here today.

The apostle Paul thought he was good, as a matter of fact, he says he excelled over his colleagues of Pharisees in observing the Jewish laws with great zeal. So much so, that he thought by persecuting Christians, by even having them put to death like Stephen; he was actually doing God’s holy will. That’s a scary thought is it not? People today around the world are doing the same thing. Fanatical fundamentalist Muslims believe that they are doing God’s holy will by resorting to terrorism and killing innocent people. They, like Paul, need a radical change in their lives if they are to see and follow Christ the Way, the Truth and the Life, and realise the sinfulness of their ways.

It is interesting that in our second lesson the apostle Paul remembers that in the past he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. Although that was in the past, it serves Paul to continue to be ever grateful to God through Jesus Christ for his saving, loving, merciful grace—his unconditional favour and forgiveness of Paul even though he does not deserve it. That life is now over, Paul says, thanks to God’s all-sufficient grace in Christ. However, Paul does not say that he is now so holy as to no longer be a sinner. No! Rather, he says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.” Notice he is speaking of himself here in the present, not the past. Why he considers himself the foremost of sinners is that as a missionary for Christ, he believes he can share the message with people that if he, Paul can be saved, foremost sinner that he is, then anyone can be saved. Obviously such a message preached by Paul was convincing, since he founded many Christian communities in the Gentile world.

Paul is in a state of constant gratitude for what God in Christ has done for him; that’s what comes shining through our second lesson today. What about us? Are we also ever grateful for what God in Christ has done for us?

The story is told of an old woman in India [who] turned to the Christian faith, making some of her unconverted neighbours furious. They shunned her at times and harassed her, even shouting after her on the street. “You’re the ugliest old woman I ever saw,” one of them shouted. She gently turned the attack aside. “Isn’t it wonderful how God can love an ugly old woman like me!” she replied.2

Yes, indeed, isn’t it wonderful that God can love people like us! Imperfect, filled with all kinds of flaws, yet forgiven sinners one and all, thanks to God’s all-sufficient, unconditional grace through Jesus Christ. May we, like Paul, be forever grateful! Amen.

 

1 James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited ( Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 257.

2 Albert P. Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 78.

 

Wonderings for September 3, 2007

Today I’m starting a new category here on Dim Lamp. I’m calling it Wonderings. According to one of my dictionaries, wonder is defined as: “a state of admiration; a fact or circumstance causing surprise; wonderfully good things; a person whose skill or efficiency compels great admiration; to feel wonder; to ask oneself questions; to feel curiosity about; to be in a state of perplexity about.”

I suppose with regards to most of these definitions, there is no end to wonder or wonderings. One could wax on forever and ever—especially when one basks in the Holy Presence of God or, on the other end of the pendulum, laments about the state of our world today.

We are a strange lot. Created in God’s image, we too have been blessed with the gift of creativity and creating. We marvel at some of humankind’s creations like the wall of China, the pyramids of Egypt, the cathedrals of Europe, and contemporary architectural works of beauty and brilliance. We have developed the sciences and technologies to serve our every whimsical want. In the “have, first world,” the sky is the limit and more is never enough—consume, consume, consume, ad nausea. Greed working overtime, completely out of control. The quality of life in the “have, first world” has never been higher—more ordinary people today possess stuff and a lifestyle that far exceeds the quality of life among royals in history past.

Yet, there are signs of decay and death all around us. Ours is a society that has become more class-oriented almost by the day. A society of extremes, where “the great ones” are rewarded beyond belief and “the losers, the average others and everyone else” are losing more and more of what they may have enjoyed in the past but now are exploited, blamed, scapegoated, and neglected by “the great ones.” We live in a society of billionaires who have more personal income than some countries allocate in their annual budgets. For many hard working ordinary folks, the basics of life are becoming more of a dream than a reality. Housing prices and rental properties are spinning upwards out of reach for too many people. Access to post-secondary education for ordinary people is close to being a mere illusion. Companies demand more of their workers, in some cases pay fewer benefits by keeping their staff part-timers, and insist that employees work Sundays, thus dealing a death blow to a healthy family life and opportunity for spiritual renewal by making it impossible for workers to attend worship services.

Then there are the increasing social and environmental problems and issues of our “have, first world” countries. In the social arena, diverse racial and ethnic groups compete against each other for power and status—the spin off of which is the ghettoisation of too many of our contemporary cities. People like Dr. David Suzuki have, for a long time now, warned us of the environmental devastation of our “have, first world” lifestyles. Yet, we seem to be like the lemmings running faster than ever towards the cliffs into the ocean.

These are but a sketchy, fragmented few of the problems and issues facing us in the “have, first world” today. There are a whole host of other problems and issues facing an overwhelming majority of human beings in the “have not, second, third or even fourth world” today. With global warming rearing its ugly head, there are more and more severe “tragic acts of nature.” For example, this summer alone, we’ve witnessed the flooding waters of South East Asia leaving millions of people homeless and the huge earthquake in Peru claiming hundreds of lives, destroying property and leaving too many homeless.

Then, there are all of the economic and political upheavals throughout the “have not, second, third, and fourth world” today. Far too many people are exploited and condemned to live meaningless lives in slave labour, sweatshop factories owned by “have, first world” companies—all because of rich nation “consumer demand” for cheap eternally “on sale” products. The money saved by rich nation consumers is blood money, since it is stealing from the poor not only monetarily but also physically, emotionally, environmentally, and spiritually.

My wonderings today cause me to question whether there is any hope or any future for humankind. Are we destined to self-destruct? Or, by the grace and activity of God and God’s Spirit working in and through us; can there be a time of metanoia/teshubah/repentance? Are we capable of learning from our past mistakes? Are we truly remorseful of our sinful ways? Do we realise the countless spin-off consequences of our sinful ways and can we turn away from them? Do we love evil more than good? Can we turn around/return to God and God’s Ways? How is Jesus The Way, The Truth, and The Life for you and me today? That’s a few of my wonderings on this hot, September day.