1 Timothy 6:6-19
19th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 21 Year C
September 25, 2016
I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the Broadway musical
Fiddler on the Roof.
The main character in this story is Tevya - a poor farmer doing his best to raise 3 daughters with his wife, Golda in a small village under the oppression of the czar. Tevya is a religious man who sometimes speaks to God out loud. At one point while considering his lowly financial status, Tevya prays to God and says:
Dear God, you made many, many poor people.
I realize, of course, that it's no shame to be poor,
But it's no great honor, either.
So what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?
It's then that Tevya breaks into the song:
If I Were a Rich Man
- in which he fantasizes about what it would be like to be wealthy and influential. Tevya imagines himself living an easy life in a large, opulent house with a real tin roof and wooden floors right in the town's center. His fantasy includes his owning a large number of ducks and geese squawking nosily as if to announce that a wealthy man lives in this house. Tevya even sees his wife barking orders at servants and then putting on airs amidst the townspeople.
Finally, Tevya's fantasy includes the important men in town coming to fawn on him - seeking his advice as if he were Solomon the Wise. As a wealthy man, Tevya would have the time to sit in the synagogue and pray - and maybe even have a seat by the Eastern wall discussing the learned books with the holy men.
The entire song is meant to be comical - and at the same time it speaks a truth about the character singing the song. It speaks a truth about our human nature. It speaks about our desire for wealth.
In the reading from the first letter to Timothy that we heard a little while ago, Timothy is given instructions regarding the proper priority that should be given to wealth. The passage begins by telling us that, "there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment." The contentment that the writer is referring to is the contentment that finds
value in life
- rather than in possessions - a contentment that
rather than overabundance of food and clothing. Furthermore, since we brought nothing into the world and will bring nothing out of it, we should indeed be content with food and clothes.
The letter warns that, "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." It goes on to say: "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." This is often misquoted as "money is the root of all evil.." But it's not money that's the root of evil - the
love of money
is the root of all kinds of evil." The blame does not fall on money, the blame falls on our desire for money - and its use to our enhance our own comforts.
This warning is followed by instructions to Timothy:
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses
(vs 11-12). We see the term "fight the good fight" in several places throughout scripture. And it's important to know that a more accurate translation from the Greek is "Contest the good contest." The point being made, here, is that maintaining "the faith" and living "the faith" require the energy and discipline of a dedicated athlete. And the goal of such dedication is nothing less than eternal life. The story tells us that Timothy was called to this eternal life when he made his "Good Confession" - presumably at his baptism. Like our current tradition of Baptism, Timothy's "Good Confession" was an expression of faithfulness to God in the midst of public witnesses.
And now, Timothy is charged "to keep the commandment without spot or blame," and is given yet another charge:
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life
I read this lesson, and I have to ask myself, is this me? Am I the one that the writer is talking about - the one who has fallen into the temptation of wanting more - of not being content with simple sufficiency? I don't really feel that I have a great love for money or wealth - at least not until I consider some of the ways that I use money and regard possessions. All I have to do is count the number of shirts in my closet that I seldom wear or do not expect to wear again to see that I have much more than I need. And that's just the beginning. I can list many more examples of my living beyond sufficiency.
Perhaps some of you see something similar in your own lives. God has trusted you and me with everything we have. And it's important to stop and examine whether we are using what we have
to glorify God, as God desires
, - or to glorify ourselves by seeking to fulfill
our own desires
To want less does not come easily, especially in our culture. More - Bigger - Better are words that have become almost like a mantra for the American Dream.
As we approach that time of year when we will make financial decisions regarding how much of God's money we will allocate to the work of this parish, it's appropriate - indeed, it's imperative - that we take to heart the message given to us in the letter written to Timothy. And then, we have to act on what that message speaks to us.
It's never too late. God forgives us whenever we turn toward God with the sincere intention to align our desires to more fully reflect God's desires for you and for me. And just how do we do that? How do we avoid falling into temptation and become trapped by senseless and harmful desires that can plunge us into ruin and destruction?
The answer is contained right in the message that was sent to Timothy
We are to do good.
We are to be rich in good works.
We are to be generous and ready to share.
And in doing these things, we store up for ourselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of the life that really is life.
So let us do good - let us be rich in good works - and let us always be generous and ready to share.