Aug 19, 2010

Sermon Title: “Fight the Good Fight!”

Matthew Staneck
M.Div. Student, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis
First Place, August 2010 Round

Text: 1 Timothy 6:6-19

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, powerful blessings of the Holy Spirit be with you all! Amen.

Dear Christian friends, where are we as the church, the people of God, with respect to being both orthodox and socially minded? This is a great question for our time. Many of you today know the struggle of our current economy. It’s a challenge to get food on the table every night, it’s a challenge to keep or get a job that can provide that food on the table every night, it’s a burden and a struggle to make sure your family has basic necessities, never mind the nice flat screen TV, the flashy sports car, or any other extra amenities America has made herself proud on. How are we in the church supposed to react to material riches?

In today’s epistle lesson we see St. Paul writing to this young pastor, Timothy. Throughout this letter Paul encourages Timothy to keep the faith passed down to him and to guard the truth and to pass on this faith and guard the truths from all evil, spiritual and physical. It is critical to keep this context in mind. In the verses preceding our text for today, St. Paul re-iterates the need to protect sound doctrine and to listen to the words of Christ himself, and no other man. One who disrupts this harmony in the truth is “puffed up and conceited,” a man out for himself. With this St. Paul goes into a couple of points on living well within ones own means: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these things we will be content.” (Pause)

All over our television sets we see the images and hear the words of prosperity. We hear that we, the consumer, are #1 and that what we say goes. The American experiment puts the individual as the center, promotes his or her own well being first, and that of the community second. For the American it is all about individual rights, most of the time without responsibilities, which dictate how we establish laws and what we feel justice really is. “I am #1, I have created all that I have, it is mine, mine, all mine.” The problem with this view, from a Christian standpoint, is that it violates another #1, namely the First Commandment. “You shall have no other gods before me,” scripture states, yet all around us all we have are other gods. These gods take the form of sports and movie stars, flashy cars, cell phones, music players, houses, food, what the perfect body looks like, etc., etc. And of course other gods takes the form of the self, when we insiston what we’ve earned, what we’ve created, and do not think of the larger community, especially in dealing with the church.

So St. Paul warns us not to be blazing our own trails and becoming puffed up and conceited. Because certainly when we take American individualism to the extent it naturally runs to we are talking about a grave theological issue. And in verse 10 St. Paul directs us to the love of money as being the root of all kinds of evils. And who can argue with that bit of advice today? The love of money is why we always have had the poor and always will have the poor. The love of money is why our economy is in the dire straights it is today, the love of money is why we have oil destroying the livelihood of an entire region and fishing industry. The love of money is what makes athletes turn themselves in Greek gods and goddesses by using performance-enhancing drugs. It’s all about getting the big contract and the bottom line. The love of money is how even people going about an otherwise normal, mundane life; size themselves up to others they see. We even wind up sizing ourselves up to friends and family, our very loved ones, and yes even those in the church. What is she wearing? Why does he have that phone? MY MP3 player is better than that. Oh yes, the love of money is certainly the root of all kinds of evil. (Pause)

And please notice it isn’t that having money and material means aren’t sins in and of themselves. For certainly God provides things for his creation, including technological advancements. It is the investment in those things that lift the self as a mini god, or god, period, that create the sin. Our violation of the 1st Commandment does not preclude us from enjoying things that are provided in a First Article of the Creed manner. It is our sinning against the 1st Commandment that damages, and effectively destroys, our relationship with God the Father. Yet the beautiful thing is, despite our sin, God still provides. You are all clothed, you all will eat today, the Lord provides. With these things we will be content. But God doesn’t stop there allowing us to get by in the daily struggle of life, no, God provides so much more above and beyond even these things with which we are to be content (Read vv. 11-19, with Bible raised to provide powerful visual).

As for you, O man, O woman, of God, flee the things of puffing up the self and give God the glory. Take hold of your calling to eternal life which provides restoration for the things of God’s creation. Work for justice and peace because you are a baptized believer. In the waters of baptism God made a claim on you and marked you with the cross of Christ. By being connected to Christ’s death and resurrection you cannot just sit back and watch the world go by. And God has provided even beyond that. Nourished as we are in body and soul by Christ’s true body and blood in the bread and the wine we receive here today, and every Lord’s day, we go forth from this table and out in the world that is full of hurt and hopelessness in all people and offer it healing and the Gospel of Hope for all people. Keep the commandment, the 1st Commandment, and give back to God the gifts and talents he has first given you. While living in America and legitimately making a living do not get caught up the American individualism which leaves people in its wake and considers community to be as large as one person.

Being orthodox, that is having the beliefs consistent with the one true church, and being socially minded are not mutually exclusive things. That is, they do not butt heads or cause consternation for each other. Being an orthodox Christian, an orthodox Lutheran, means you will venture out to provide help where it is needed. It means that instead of quibbling over the question, “Who is my neighbor,” for the purposes self justification and moralism we plainly see a human being in need and take action as that persons neighbor. My neighbor is whomever God has placed in front of me, and I am a neighbor to all. To be certain, we are limited, especially in our sinful state, so we cannot possibly save the world or be everything and anything for everyone, try as we might. But the idea of living within means and being content tells us that in our vocation we go about providing services to our neighbor as the need arises. We need not be saviors of the world, for we already have One of those. Nor do we need to be a rock star, movie star, or star athlete in order to affect change. Rather, we live as Christians, within our means, and in the vocation God has placed us, and act out of love for the Gospel which gives restoration. When we understand the greater sense of community, the Christian life is a joyous burden and not a burden that breaks our backs.

The Christian Church, the community the Holy Spirit has called and gathered us into, is where our worth is found. And where there is hurt in the world, the church is found to provide that helping hand. But even as God provides so much more for us than that which we are to be content with, namely food and clothing, so we are compelled to share the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen to all those we come across, offering them the same hope of restoration that we have that this beautiful mess of a creation is not all there will ever be. That on the last day, as Christ burst forth from the grave on that first Easter Sunday, so we too, and all of creation, will burst forth from the grave and live eternally in community with one another and our gracious God. All praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.