Spoiler Alert: Money is not the root of all evil.

photo credit Shannon MacLean
Lillian Curlett, Leela Curlett, Ruth Boutilier, Shannon MacLean, and Rev. Phillip Kennedy all from Woodlawn United Church in Dartmouth
Scripture for Sunday, September 29, 2019

Today’s scripture is from a letter from the Apostle Paul to Timothy who, after Paul hears of his good works, makes him an ambassador on his behalf, spreading the news about Jesus in their world. This letter contains a saying that has been misquoted and/or misinterpreted for a long time… You know it, “Money is the root of… all evil”. This idea is confusing and causes us to wonder how we can ever follow Jesus andmake a living? This idea pits those who have against those who have not. This idea takes all the blame for the problem of evil off of people and puts it on money that has no power without people. It seems to mean that if we just got rid of money there would no longer be evil – like getting rid of evil is as simple as pulling out the weeds from the roots. Who wouldn’t give up all their money if it meant that there would be no more evil? You and me wouldn’t, that’s who… not because we don’t want to, but because we can’t.

There is another saying you might know, “Money makes the world go ‘round” and it’s true. We live in the world and money is necessary to our survival in it. So, when we believe that “Money is the root of all evil” we have doomed ourselves to fail because it is impossible to live without it. Then, evil wins by default and we become caught up in a cycle of guilt and shame around finances.  I don’t know about you, but I was raised that there were certain things you don’t bring up in polite conversation, sex, religion, politics, and money… a lot of us were brought up this way. As a result, these are precisely the things we don’t know how to talk about without fear and blame. But, we are called to talk about these things! Jesus talked about all of these things, and as people called to follow him, so must we! And we must do it like him – with compassion, empathy, insistence, perseverance, courage, and determination! 

Let me say it again, MONEY is not evil… What we do with money and how we let money shape our lives is what is evil!  The love of, the desire of, the attachment tomoney – that is the problem… And that is what Paul’s letter to Timothy actually says in– it says, “for the LOVE of money is A root of all KINDS of evil”. And that, my friends, is something we can do something about and Paul, in this scripture, tells us how… Listen to how the scripture is speaking to us today…let’s take a look…

1 Timothy 6:6-19

6Of 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. 

Godliness combined with contentment is a lovely thing to strive for – Paul is encouraging Timothy here as a new church leader. He is cautioning him against those who use their “godliness” to grow their own reputation and for financial gain. He has just finished teaching that “godliness” is living a life like Christ, not provoking in-fighting and controversy that leads the whole community to 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 financial gain.” (1 Timothy 6:4-5). The work of the church is not to fight among ourselves and the success of the church was never intended to be about financial gain!It is has always been about following Jesus! And like him, we are to be contented with what God provides for us – not like the rare miracle of bread falling out the sky, but about the daily abundance that surrounds each of us in unique and marvelous ways. 

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.

This is the about desire versus need. Desire leads for that which does not belong to you. And that, you might remember, is forbidden on a certain top ten list that Moses taught us. This wanting what is not our is called coveting – it is forbidden because it leads to greed – it leads to ruin and destruction. This is what we are talking about – It is the love of money that is the problem, not the money itself, that leads to all kinds of evil… it leads to sin… that is, it leads to brokenness in our relationships with one another, with ourselves, with God, and with all of Creation. Here is another saying for you, “Money doesn’t buy happiness” – if it did, there wouldn’t be a sad person in Hollywood and we all know that’s not true. So, what is this godliness combined with being content with what we have look like. Paul tells Timothy and the church that it looks like this:

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 (that Jesus is Lord) in the presence of many witnesses. 13In 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 honour and eternal dominion. Amen.

On this he is clear, we are called to follow Jesus as the leader of our lives, as the Son of God sent to show us the way… just as he proclaimed to Pilate at his trial before his crucifixion – Pilate accused him of being the “King of the Jews” and in his words he affirmed this truth in front of all to hear. Paul believes, like us, that Christ will come again. Paul puts a lot of pomp and circumstance and language on Jesus that may not connect with all of us and how we think of Jesus, but his point is clear – Jesus is the ruler of our hearts and ONE with God and we are to proclaim that for all to hear! 

Paul has a message for us – those of us in this present age, those of us in the modern church, who are at risk like the individuals and churches of Timothy’s day… 

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.

We, you and me, we are called to break our attachment and desire for money and our fear that we will not have enough of it. We are called to live in the abundance of God’s creation and to use the resources that we are given… that includes our money, 

to further the work of God in this world. We are called“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…” The abundant life is an authentic life. That is what we are called to do and be – this is our commandment… to be good stewards of the all that we have been given through our hard work or circumstance (because even the ability to work hard is a gift from God). Being a good steward of our gifts is another way of loving others as God has loved us.  

Let’s be honest, we haven’t been very good at this. We haven’t been good stewards of all that God has given us. I can’t speak to “us” as individuals, but all of us are seeing what not being good stewards of what God has given all of “us” as a planet has done. We are now realizing exactly what Paul warned Timothy would happen when we “fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires.” We have desired convenience and have been willing to pay anything for it.  And there are a million ways that convenience has served us… single-use plastics, mass food production, bottled water… all creating waste and carbon emissions that are clear and present signals that we have plunged into the “ruin and destruction” of the God’s creation. 

On Friday, my children, and millions of people around the world joined together to protest climate change and the systems of greed that got us here. It was the voice of child that got us here. A single child who saw a problem and stepped out of her life to interrupt all of ours and wake us up to the error of our ways. Make no mistake, Christian or not, and I actually don’t know if she is, Greta Thunberg is a prophet. And like most prophets, this is not a position she wanted. On September 23, she made a speech at the UN that many of us saw a sound bite of, but I think it is so important that I want to share the full transcript with you here. This is what Greta said in a very impassioned speech:

My message is that we’ll be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.

You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.

The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees [Celsius], and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

Fifty percent may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.

So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the consequences.

To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise — the best odds given by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] — the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on Jan. 1, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons.

How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just “business as usual” and some technical solutions? With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than eight and a half years.

There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.

We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.

Thank you. (from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/09/23/greta-thunberg-tells-un-summit-youth-not-forgive-climate-inaction/2421335001/)

We have been called by Jesus, we have been reminded by Paul, and now we have been petitioned by Greta to be good stewards of all God has given us, and that includes this planet. We must be willing to let go of our LOVE of money that has lead to the evil that is Climate Change… our planet is dying and that is our fault. It’s time… as individuals, as a church, and as a world. It is time for us to use our resources to make brave choices that are inconvenient but are godly. It is time to make choices that mean we are following what we have been commanded as the rich of the present age. And we are rich, not Bill Gates rich (because that is not our gift), but each rich in our own way… we are commanded, “not to be haughty, or to set our hopes on scarcity, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. We are to do good, to be rich in our good works, generous, and ready to share!”  We must store up “the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of the life that really is life”. That is not the life we have been living, but it is the life we could promise to our children. It’s time for us to grow up. We cannot fail them. It’s time to wake up. The world is waking up. Change is coming… let’s get ready and be a part of the solution! Are you with me? Amen.

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