Proverbs 8:1-21; 1 Timothy 6:6-19
October 16, 2022
- Being freed to serve; being freed to endure
A 70-year-old retired military officer had one hobby – he loved to fish. He was sitting in his boat the other day when he heard a voice say, “Pick me up.” He looked around and couldn’t see anyone. Maybe he was dreaming but he heard the voice say again, ”Pick me up.” He looked in the water and there, floating on a lily pad, was a frog. The retired officer said, “Are you talking to me?”
The frog said, “Yes, I’m talking to you. Pick me up, then kiss me; and I’ll turn into the most beautiful woman you have ever seen. I’ll make sure that all your friends are envious and jealous because I will be your bride!”
The retired officer looked at the frog for a short time, reached over, picked it up carefully, and placed it in his shirt pocket. The frog said, “Whoa, what are you doing? Didn’t you hear what I said? ‘Kiss me, and I will be your beautiful bride.’”
He opened his pocket, looked at the frog and said, “That’s alright. At my age, I’d rather have a talking frog.”
Wisdom takes many forms.
I have no doubt you have learned much wisdom over the years. Maybe you learned things from your parents or other elders in your life growing up. I feel like growing up I was given a healthy reverence for God that set me on the path that I have today. The experience of God was something that was important wherever we were, especially at home. I also found a deep appreciation of being in church when I was a teenager.
We also learn wisdom from our experiences in life, often after we make mistakes. Unfortunately, some of those mistakes are big ones and can have serious consequences, even loss of life. Taking driving seriously is one of those lessons we all pray our children learn before something horrible happens.
Wisdom is one of those things that serves so well in every aspect of our lives. This is what Solomon is trying to tell us here in chapter 8 of Proverbs. It is so important, so intrinsic, so profound, so right, and so free. That’s right. Among the very many benefits of wisdom, it is free. According to Solomon, wisdom can lead to riches. We will leave it open to whether he is talking about literal riches or divine riches – being rich in spirit. Some of the wisest people out there are far from the wealthiest except for in abundance of the Spirit.
But, it turns out that all of the best things in life are actually free:
Besides wisdom, life itself is free. Love is free. Beauty is free. Truth is free. Grace, joy, peace, and faith are free. Virtue is free. Laughter is free. Time, experience, relationships, and commitment are free. So much of life requires no money, and yet, so much of life seems to require so much money.
On the one hand, we might say that money does not buy us happiness, but it sure looks like we want to try. Money itself does not even exist even though it dominates our living. The very concept of money is something we made up to convey a value that we also made up. That coin in your pocket is just a little bit of some nonvaluable metal. That piece of paper stamped with official words and pictures is just that – ink and paper. Plastic cards and crypto are no different. The value of all of these symbols is complicatedly set by forces and people well beyond our understanding, and we all go along with it. Money is meaningless, and it is also one of the most important things in our lives.
Jesus understood its importance in our lives and in our struggle to be faithful. He witnessed people begging everywhere, the injustice of tax collectors, the abuse of the wealthy and the poverty of most of the people. Even in the Temple, money was being exchanged in ways that made a mockery of God’s holy space. Jesus spoke more about money than any other single subject in the gospels – everything from “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” to the payment of workmen regardless of the time they start, to the widow offering her last two coins, to Zacchaeus repaying everyone in abundance what he had defrauded them, and the list goes well beyond that. I did not even get into camels and needles’ eyes or the rich young ruler.
Have you heard of the hardhearted miser who last week won $3 million on a lottery ticket that he did not even buy but found on the ground? He decided to donate a quarter to charity. Now, he has 2,999,999 dollars and 75 cents. Get it? A quarter to charity. If I have to explain it, it’s not funny. I know…..
I also know that people have been misquoting Paul’s first letter to Timothy for ages. You may have even thought I misread something or was reading some wacky translation. 1 Timothy 6:10 is often misquoted as “money is the root of all evil.” As should be obvious to you now, it reads “the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” All kinds of evil are rooted in the LOVE of money. The word “root” is actually the first line in the verse in ancient Greek. It is stressing how important this idea is. All kinds of evil have at their root the love of money. None of us here would disagree or dispute that. A bunch of us, especially those who have worked in gardens, also know how hard it is to get the root completely gone. Once something is rooted, it is so difficult to unroot.
So much evil in our world today comes from the simple love of something that does not even exist. Doesn’t sound very wise, does it? We could have a love of good works, a love for the least in society, a love for giving to others, a love for our neighbor, a love for creation, a love for God, but none of those things can exist in a heart that loves money. Money itself is not the problem, and it is not even wrong to have wealth. Jeremiah in chapter 32 of his book is buying a field as his kinspeople are hauled off to captivity as a faith statement that they will come back, and he will have something to come back to. This investment of wealth was a promise that God is faithful.
But when a heart loves money, it is quickly swept away in a world of fear, greed, pride, and falsehood. A heart that loves money will not be wise in the way Solomon calls us. A heart that loves money will not follow Jesus into his warnings about money. A heart that loves money will not be seeking righteousness as Paul shows us. A heart that loves money will not pursue the Kingdom of God.
One way we inoculate ourselves from the love of money is the discipline of giving. This can be in giving to the service of the church or the works of God. We should all have causes that we believe are sharing the good news of God to sisters and brothers across this world. There are agencies and organizations doing good and being good and making the world a better place, and they need our help. In humility, I hope our church is also a collaborator in these efforts and is worthy of our funding. I believe we are a wise investment. In addition to maintaining a worshipping community in the glory of music ministry, we are a sacred space for groups and fellowships in our community. AA and NA especially should always be welcome here. We are working to connect with the community in greater ways, and we have a vibrant mission commitment. I am pleased that we do not just sit on our hands and play church every Sunday. This holy vocation is one that we endeavor to undertake anew every week. We try our best to be God’s family at Farmville Presbyterian Church, and we take it seriously. As you consider your financial plans and your financial giving for next year, I hope you will keep us in a position of appreciation.
Whether you are able to help us financially, we should all resist the temptation to make comfort our God or worldly security or accumulation. As Jesus said, the farmer who built those big barns was not even able to enjoy them. Our pursuit, as Paul says in direct response to the love of money, should be in righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness – which, again, are all free. And they free us to be authentic people in Christ Jesus.
For those who have wealth, Paul warns them to seek good and to be rich in good works, and to be generous and ready to share. We are all in this together: young and old, men and women, and rich and poor. How we consider our money does show us our heart for God. With wisdom, our giving reflects how God has given to us. To God be the glory. Amen.