September 26, 2010 I Timothy 6: 6-19 Prayer: Dear Lord, We pray that you be with us during our worship time this morning. Go with us into the study of your Word so that we might understand it more fully. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. For the love of money In my years as a news reporter, I saw the lives of young people ruined when they got too much money too quickly. I always told Vince, “I’m glad we’re not rich. I think it would be hard to raise children to be independent and competent if they knew we had money stashed in the Bahamas.” He always said, “Yeah, well, you’re safe on that one.” One time I interviewed a financial planner and she really got me going. She shared horror stories about kids who had inherited at 18 or 20. And it didn’t have to be much money to look like a lot at that age. These young people hadn’t gone to college, hadn’t planned for a career. Getting money too young basically ruined their lives. After that interview, I was all anxious about dying and ruining my children’s lives. So I made an appointment with an attorney to rewrite our wills. If Vince and I were to die early, I wanted some of the money held in trust and gradually measured out when the children were 18, then 25 and 30. The attorney was very polite but her message was basically, “Lady, you don’t have enough money to ruin those children.” Oh. OK. In today’s Scripture, we are continuing with Paul’s letter to Timothy, and his subject is money. Now that might seem a strange topic to preach on at Triune. We have extremely poor people here, and we have well-off people here. By definition, if you are well off and are worshiping at Triune, you are probably already sharing your resources. So this is not a beat-up-the-rich sermon. That is simply not an issue this congregation faces. This is a sermon to illustrate how devilishly complex riches can be. It is a sermon to illustrate to those without riches that while our capitalistic society may be weighted against you, the kingdom of God is most certainly not. In fact, almost every mention of wealth in the New Testament comes as a warning. Please turn in your Bibles to I Timothy 6: 6-19. 6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9But 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. 10For 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. 11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12Fight 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. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. 17 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. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19thus 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. “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin.…” The first part of the passage is a warning against a lust for riches. And this lust can manifest itself in anyone from Gordon Gekko to a person living on the street. I cannot tell you how many times a Triune parishioner has been violently beaten because another homeless person found out he had $50 in his pocket. Dwayne Tucker, who is one of our housing tenants, talks freely about his months of living under the bridge between here and Cherrydale. He says he slept with his back against the railroad embankment so he could see anyone approaching before they got to him. Being homeless means watching your back constantly. I imagine every person in here who has been homeless has one or more stories of being robbed. Lust for money is not just a problem for people who have lots of money. It is a problem for all of us. I think the worst story I’ve ever seen on this subject involved the largest single lottery winner in history. The Washington Post story I read was from 2005, so there may have been larger payouts since then. But in 2002, Jack Whittaker was the middle-aged owner of a water and sewer pipe-laying business in Hurricane, West Virginia. He had a wife named Jewell, whom he’d loved for nearly 40 years. He had a 15-year-old granddaughter named Brandi who spent a lot of time at their house because her mother was fighting cancer. He got up at 4:30 every morning to dress in his all-black work clothes and get to his pipe-laying business that employed 100 people. Most of those mornings, he’d stop by a convenience store on his way to work and buy two biscuits with bacon. And when the Powerball Lottery rose into the hundred-million dollar range, he’d buy a lottery ticket. That was what he did on Christmas Day, 2002. And on the day after Christmas, Jack Whittaker won $314 million, the largest undivided lottery jackpot in history. He was all over TV and newspapers, promising to tithe 10 percent of his winnings, promising to donate millions to his family’s favorite pastors and to build big new churches, promising to set up a foundation to help people in the relatively poor state of West Virginia. “I just want to thank God for letting me pick the right numbers … or letting the machine pick the right numbers,” he said as he claimed his check. (April Witt, Washington Post, Jan. 30, 2005) Mr. Whittaker elected to take the money in one lump sum. After taxes, it came to $113 million. And by New Year’s Eve, just one week later, folks in Hurricane, W. Va., began to get a glimmer of how most of that money would be spent. Jack Whittaker plopped $50,000 on the bar of the Pink Pony, a strip club in a nearby town. He was so drunk by the end of the night that the general manager had to put him in a limousine to get home. People wrote him letters and called his house, begging for money. He hired three people to open the letters, and a private investigator to check out their stories. His privacy disappeared. One morning he was talking to the cook at the convenience store where he bought the ticket when a young man ran in, upset. “I need a job!” he yelled at Mr. Whittaker. “Well, you come down to my office, and I’ll see what I can do for you,” Mr. Whittaker told him. But the man yelled, “No, I need money right now!” Mr. Whittaker began to spend lots of nights in the Pink Pony or in other bars, asking waitresses to strip for him. He drank and didn’t go home at night. He was sued for fondling women at a gambling casino. He was robbed. He was arrested for driving under the influence. After 40 years of marriage, Mr. Whittaker’s wife kicked him out of their house. He was caught for DUI again. She changed the locks on the doors. And it wasn’t long before the lottery poison began to spread. At the first press conference after her grandfather won the lottery, 15- year-old Brandi said she wanted a blue Mitsubishi Eclipse. She got it. But she also got several other new cars. She got a round room in her mother’s new house built to look like the inside of the genie bottle on the 1960s “I Dream of Jeannie” television show. And she dropped by her grandfather’s office every single day to pick up hundreds of dollars in cash, sometimes up to $5,000. Brandi began using all that money to buy drugs. Before long, she was a crack addict. She dropped out of high school. She developed a virtual entourage of 19- and 20-year-old boys. She’d buy them expensive gifts, let them drive her cars while she scored drugs. Three of them were arrested for robbing her grandfather. But more simply took their places. Finally, one young man overdosed and died in the Whittaker house. The young people of Hurricane hated Brandi so much by that point that they wouldn’t allow her into the funeral home. When reporters went to her house, they found a teen unrecognizable as the same cute, blonde from a year before. Now she was disheveled, skinny, her face sunken. Inside the furniture was scattered all over the place, drawers were pulled out, and graffiti was written on the walls. Not long afterward, the Whittakers reported Brandi missing. The young girl, then 17, was found wrapped in plastic and dumped behind a junked van. Apparently she had overdosed, and the boy she was with panicked and hid her body. She was buried on Christmas Eve, almost two years to the day after her grandfather won the lottery. This true story was covered by the Washington Post because it was the single largest unshared lottery win in history. But there are all kinds of similar stories about how lottery winners have had their lives ruined by the sudden infusion of wealth. Is there anything in human nature uglier than greed? It must be woven into the human DNA. Jesus talked about it a lot. And so today does Paul. Nineteen hundred years before Jack Whittaker won the Powerball Lottery, Paul could have told him what would happen. “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.” I’m sure we shake our heads and say we wouldn’t act like that. I’m sure Jack Whittaker, sitting in church before his win, would have shaken his head and said he wouldn’t act like that. Greed is an ugly, unpredictable thing. In the middle section of our Scripture passage, Paul describes for Timothy the alternative way of living. “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….” Paul is encouraging Timothy, this young church leader, to reject anything resembling greed, and set his eyes, instead, on the lasting kingdom of God. “Fight the good fight….” This is a note of encouragement. This is a message from a spiritual coach. Don’t get sidetracked by the money. Keep your eyes on what is important. If you’ve ever attended a Sunday night service here, you have heard people who are keeping their eyes on what’s important. We start the service with prayers at the altar rail, and you might hear: Lord, thank you for waking me up this morning. Lord, thank you that it’s not raining tonight because I have to sleep outside. Lord, please be with my son in prison. Situations that would have many of us screaming, “Lord, have you forgotten me?” are occasions to dig deeper and find the blessing in the chaos. “But as for you, man of God, … fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life….” The next section of the Scripture passage is probably a liturgy taken from the early church. Slipped right into the letter, it is a little confession of faith, telling who Jesus is: “Blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, who no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion.” And then Paul returns to the subject of wealth. But this time, he doesn’t talk about those with a lust for wealth. He offers instructions for those who are already wealthy. They are not to be haughty or to puff themselves up. They are not to place their faith in their wealth. They are to do good, to use their riches for good works, for generosity, for sharing. Money is neutral. But the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. This letter to Timothy is pretty clear about the distinction. In the Christian life, money can be a tool, nothing more. It can be useful if shared, if used to perform good works. Or it can be as dangerous as any crack pipe. Just ask Jack Whittaker – who won a lot of money, and lost everything he had. Amen.
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