September 29, 2013

Robin Murray

TITLE: "The Good Life"


Text: 1 Timothy 6:6-19

I've been thinking a lot about money lately, probably too much. My hours have been cut at work and having just spent more money on a single class at the Vancouver School of Theology than I earned in the entire month of August, I am feeling a bit pinched. It seems to me that as a woman in my forties with a child in highschool and another fast approaching middle school, I should be earning more money. I should be saving for their education and my own retirement, not going back to school for a whole new career, especially for a career in what many consider to be "a declining industry", the church. Where is my new car? A bigger house? My new furniture to fill the bigger house? My closet full of shoes and designer clothes? Where are these things? Isn't that what I'm supposed to be doing? Making money and living the good life?

So when I turned to the scripture readings for this week, I got an excellent reminder of what "the good life" really is. Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy that we came into this world with nothing and we will leave this world with nothing, so if we have food in our bellies and clothing on our backs, that should be enough for contentment. The problem comes when people start seeking contentment in money itself. Paul warns that when the pursuit of money draws people away from God, when money becomes more important than love and justice, destruction follows. Amos tried to warn the people of Israel about this in the passage we heard from the old testament. The lists of luxuries given, the ivory beds, the musical instruments, the bowls of wine, these themselves were not the problem, the problem was that they came at the expense of their countrymen and these rich people were not concerned about the suffering of others.

So how does this apply to our lives today? What jumps to my mind is the common phrase, "It's just business." As far as I can tell, this is phrase is most often used as a way to justify bad behaviour. "It's business. It's nothing personal ." Well, maybe not to the speaker. To the speaker, it may be a sound investment, a nest egg, the money for that long awaited cruise, but to the aboriginal people whose land is being torn up in Peru for a Canadian gold mine, whose children are being poisoned by unregulated cyanide pools used to extract the gold, that particular business choice is VERY personal. When oil flowed through the streets of Mayflower, Alberta from a ruptured pipeline, you can bet that the decisions made by the big oil company involved became VERY personal for the residents of Mayflower. For the young couple who can't afford to buy a home for their growing family because real estate speculators have driven the price of homes artificially high for short term profits without thought to the long term health of the community, that business decision becomes VERY personal. The idea of buy low sell high means that someone, somewhere has to pay the cost. Someone has to pay too much or receive too little over what is fair for the other to make their buck, and I just about guarantee that to the one paying the cost, it's not "just business". When the wealth of some come at the expense of others, destruction follows.

Does this mean we should all just give up on money? Should we not try and earn a good wage? If we have it, should we just give it all away? No. But neither should we allow money to to precidence over justice and love. Paul tells Timothy that for those with money, they need to have a healthy attitude towards it, to not be haughty and feel superior because of their wealth, but to be generous with it for those in need. He tells us not to obsess over money but seek to be rich in good deeds, instead. Is your life rich with good deeds? Is your life rich with the things that really matter, like kindness and love. I think the last time I preached, I quoted singer-songwriter and minister Fred Small, but I have to quote him again, this time from his beautiful lullaby "Everything Possible" in which he says "the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you're done." True isn't it? We bring nothing into this world, we take nothing from it. The only thing left of our lives when we're done is the legacy we leave behind. What will that legacy be?

I have one last story I would like to leave you with this morning. This comes from one of my favourite popular internet figures, a house cleaning guru by the name of Marla Cilley, more commonly known as "The FlyLady" who advocates a "less is more" philosophy to housekeeping. Actually, this story comes from one of her readers. The person wrote:

Dear FlyLady,
My elderly cousin died Wednesday night. I went to her funeral today. The church was packed. Everyone from teenagers to old people were grieving. The funeral singers couldn't sing because of their grief. The preacher got choked up talking about her and almost couldn't go on. Everyone was talking about her many kindnesses, how she helped so many people, touched so many lives—in spite of various infirmities and having so little in the way of financial resources. I kept remembering how I always felt so welcome when I visited her in the house she shared with her sister, and how much I was going to miss knowing that welcome and encouragement was always there.
Then, her nephew got up to speak about her, and he mentioned that when they'd gone into her little bedroom, you could pack up every worldly possession she owned, and it would fit into the trunk of a normal size car... with space left over.
And I thought—"ahh, so that was part of her secret. She lavished her time on all of us, instead of investing it in things".

So, I don't know about you, but that's the kind of legacy I want. Financially, it may make no sense for me to be going back to school to become a minister, but I'm not in this life for money. I do have to figure out how to pay for the schooling, (they don't take "being rich in good deeds" at the Registrar's desk) but I have faith that God will provide what I need. And perhaps my choices to put service to God and others above money means my children won't get much of monetary inheritance when I die, but they will have learned from me to treasure life, not money. And they will get the inheritance of love, and they don't have to wait for me to die to get it.