The scripture for this sermon in I Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31.
There is great gain in Godliness coupled with contentment, Paul writes in I Timothy. The two go together. You can’t be Godly, which I suppose means to hold important what God holds important and at the same time anxious about tomorrow. And if we are created by God, it makes sense we can’t be truly satisfied with life as a human being in this world and not be Godly, that is hold important what God holds important. This is the problem of the rich man in Jesus’ parable told only in the book of Luke.
He is pretty content with his life and why not? He has more food to eat than he can digest. More rooms in his house than he can use. More freedom in his day than anyone who needs to work for food, clothing and shelter can imagine. Life is good for the rich man. If you are hearing this sermon today and you have not an even an ounce of envy of what it must be like to be that rich, than I would be surprised.
While the rich man is content at his table full of food there is a man named Lazarus who has no food to eat. While the rich man is content with his rooms gathering dust, there are no rooms for Lazarus who sleeps outside his gates. While the rich man is content with time for leisure, Lazarus’ days are a constant hustle to find food, clothes and shelter. The rich man is content in his house while Lazarus suffers outside his door.
Lazarus’ suffering is a concern of God, but it is not a concern of the rich man. The rich man might believe he is content, but Paul would argue his contentment is hollow. We can only find contentment through Godliness, Paul writes, that is we are only content when we share the concerns of God.
Lazarus ruins the rich man’s view. It would be easy for the rich man to be content if he never had to encounter Lazarus, poor and begging for food at the walls of his palace. He knows Lazarus. In the depths of hell in our story, he sees him, recognizes him and calls him by name. The rich man lived his life of luxury knowing there was a poor man at his gate. And this is a universal truth, every rich man lives their life knowing there is a poor man at their gate.
So in the midst of contentment that most of us believe on some level money can buy, there is a pebble in the shoe that is always just a little bit irritating. How can wealth be enjoyed in the midst of so much poverty? Every rich person has to tell themselves some story to live with this pebble. In Jesus’ day, most accepted the idea that God simply intended them to be rich and the poor to be poor. Ordained by God, they would argue that it was ungodly to change the status of one or the other. The rich man could help Lazarus, but should he? Is that what God wants?
We don’t hear this argument much today from the rich to address this pebble, but we do hear another. I worked hard for what I have, if a poor person is willing to work hard, he could have all this too. I am careful with my money, not wasting it on silly stuff, if he was careful with his money, he could enjoy this life, too. The idea is that there was a level playing field, we both started at the same starting line, birth, and one just got further ahead than the other.
Of course, many rich people worked hard, sacrificed and made good decisions, but this is not all of the story. The median net worth of a white family in Boston in 2015 was $250,000. The median net worth of a black family was $0. Because of inheritance at least, some are going to start the race further back. Who our parents are, their wealth, level of education, health, even the color of their skin can affect the rest of our lives. It is also true that mistakes for some are graded on a curve and for others are punished harshly. Finally, physical and mental health come easy to some and are longed for dreams for others. No one’s starting line is the same.
Whatever story the rich tell themselves to live with the overwhelming needs of the poor, Paul doesn’t want them to lose sight that what they share with the poor is far more than what separates them. They are both human, made in God’s image, a brother and sister. Paul tells the rich in I Timothy not to be haughty, arrogant, think themselves better than the poor. Instead, to see Lazarus outside their gates as someone from their own family. To let their hearts break for their brother as God’s heart breaks for his child.
Ironically, it is only when the rich let their hearts be discontented by the poverty that surrounds them will they find contentment. Discontentment starts with eyes that see and a humble stance. And this discontentment leads to true contentment when they decide to let their abundance become a balm of healing for someone else. Paul tells Timothy in this letter to tell rich people to be rich in acts of mercy. This means realizing just how much they have to share and the impact their acts mercy could make.
I had lunch with a very rich man who was giving money monthly to HEART Food Pantry, a local pantry providing hundreds of people weekly in our Reynoldsburg community five days worth of food every week. We have no government grants. We rely on gifts from rich people, whether they think of themselves as rich or not, who have money or food in their pantry to share. What I told that rich person that day, was that he could likely give a lot more every month. I did it by helping him understand simple math.
We celebrate when a billionaire gives a million dollars, because that is a huge sum of money. However, that billionaire has a million, million dollar bills in his vault. Simple math tells us that his million dollar gift is no more than a millionaire giving one dollar. This rich man at lunch was not a billionaire, but he was a millionaire, yet his monthly gift was just $50. Until the rich understand their power to change people’s lives by being truly generous, God’s creation will still groan. The good news is that they have the gifts to change the world and will receive great joy when they do!
There is no shame in wealth. Money is not evil. Finding contentment solely in the luxuries wealth can buy and believing it will make us happy is evil. Ignoring the poor around us is ungodly. Paul tells us that contentment is only found when it what makes us happy matches the concerns of God. We find contentment, satisfaction with life, if we embrace God’s heart, God’s care for every creature in this world. Until it breaks our heart that Lazarus is suffering like it breaks God’s heart, our hearts will never be whole.