I have been rereading some classics over the past few weeks. Actually, I am listening to several classics
while I work out at the fitness center. This week I have been engaging with C.
S. Lewis, that great English teacher of almost five decades ago, as he
describes what Mere Christianity is. Sometime on Wednesday or Thursday morning
– the pain all runs together sometimes – he uttered the following in a chapter
about the moral structures of society:
That brings us up to the real snag in drawing up of
blueprints for a Christian society. Most of us are not really approaching the
subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in
hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. We
are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or – a Judge. [He
concedes} I am just the same (C.S. Lewis, “Social Morality,” in Mere
Christianity, (c) 1952, 87).
And there we have it don’t we? Lord I want to be a Christian
in my heart? But would you make it possible that I don’t have to change
anything too much? I mean loving my enemies and praying for those who hate me
is really inconvenient! The coins may say “in God we trust,” but Lord I know I
can manage my resources all by myself.
Bishop Reuben Job approaches us in this next week’s readings in The
Wesleyan Spiritual Reader with John Wesley concern for “The Danger of Riches”
and we say “go slow” … unless you are talking about my neighbor.
So what does Jesus say about riches? It’s pretty simple:
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).
The logic is pretty simple. Ask yourself where your treasure
is – where you spend your money – and you will know where your heart lies. Please
pray about this with me as we turn to today’s lesson.
Paul writes to Timothy, his son in the Lord, to encourage
him to stand up to the powers that were emerging to challenge his authority.
Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound
words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with
godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for
controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension,
slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind
and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Of
course, 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
Timothy is wrestling with an opponent who willingly or not
is bringing dissension among the followers of Jesus. About midway through today’s lesson we here
the substance of the dissenting voice: they “imagine that godliness is a means
of gain” (verse 5). And there may be some truth in that proposition. John
Wesley watched as the people called Methodist matured in their faith and life. The
discipline of avoiding evil and doing well in their lives meant that often the
Methodists lived careful financial lives. For instance, on the Friday nights
nearest the full moon – when staggering home from the tavern by the light of
the moon was a popular close to the work week – Wesley encouraged his believers
to gather for a Watch Night service. This godly practice kept them from
spending money recklessly … at least on that night. The result was that Mr.
Wesley saw his people being the vanguard of England’s
emerging middle class … and the thought caused him to panic. Why?
Paul anticipates this movement with Timothy 17 centuries
before Wesley saw it unfold among the Methodists. People who begin to live in a
godly way avoid spending their resources on “senseless and harmful desire” only
to find new and more expensive temptations come their way. The chief temptation
is a desire to become rich. But becoming rich often leads to a desire to appear
rich … and then the cost of being (and maybe more importantly, appearing) rich
begins to multiply. Now I need a new house, car, neighborhood, spouse, club,
restaurants, games, indulgences, etc. You see throughout history this desire to
be rich has led to a deal with the Evil One. Here is how contemporary song writer Rich Mullins put it:
Everybody I know say they need just one thing.
And what they really mean is that they need one thing more.
And everybody seems to think they got it coming.
Rich strived actively in his life to avoid needing one more
thing. He did this because he wanted God … real godliness with all of his
heart, mind, soul, and strength. He continues:
Well I know that I don’t deserve You.
Still I want to love and serve You more and more.
You’re my one thing.
(Rich Mullins, “My One Thing” on Songs, (c) 1996)
I remember my own moments of clarity about the “one thing”
in my life. When I returned from Kenya twenty years ago, my worldly possessions filled two duffle bags. Included in
that were my journals, my favorite books (including a New English Bible, Bonhoeffer’s
Cost of Discipleship and Ethics, Kazanzakis’ Saviors of God, Hesse’s Journey to
the East and Siddhartha … a strange mix), two safari suits, four pair of pants,
four shirts, and two pair of shoes. I
Now, contentment is measured by a library covering over twelve
book cases, several suits, a multitude of blazers, slacks, shoes (dress,
casual, beach, fitness, golf, etc.), ties (only limited by my preference to
wear a collar) even a bag of golf clubs. Did I mention a TV, a clock radio, a
mobile telephone, a MP3 player, a Palm PDA, computers, a car, a house, club
memberships, etc? Did Godly living bring these things?
I’d like to think my godly living and giving brought it all
… 10% a year ought to count for something. But far too often things from the
Stuff-Mart made it to my home because I desired more stuff.
Again this week, an encounter with the wisdom of another era
offered a standard with regard to riches. C. S. Lewis offered this advice:
I do not believe one can settle on how much we ought to
give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In
other words, if our expenditures on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up
to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are
probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper
us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to
do and cannot do because our charities expenditures exclude them (C. S. Lewis,
“Social Morality,” in Mere Christianity, (c) 1952, 86).
Here our attraction to riches meets its standard again. We
began with Jesus reminding us that “where a treasure lay” there you find our
hearts. Now we justify our stuff with phrases like “well as long as I am not
attached to my things it’s OK,” or “it just depends on how you relate to your
things,” or “if I have to I can part with my _____.” Well Lewis asks, does your
giving reflect putting God first? Are there activities in your life that you
have deferred not to acquire more stuff (delayed gratification), but to live
charitably (real gratification)?
Here is the challenge for those who will wrestle with God
this week. Where is my treasure? To what or who am I attached? What in my life
do I put first? Is it the love of God and neighbor or something else?
The danger of increasing riches, whether it’s two duffle
bags, a two bedroom apartment, or a house attached to a two car garage, is that
God will not be the ONE THING! Jesus reminds us, “you cannot serve God and
stuff (wealth)” for you will love one and hate the other, be devoted to one and
despise the other (see Matthew 6:24).
The right question is “Who is your One Thing?” AMEN and AMEN.