Grace Presbyterian Church

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Sermon: A Root of All Kinds of Evil

Grace Presbyterian Church

September 25, 2022, Pentecost 16C

1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

A Root of All Kinds of Evil

The opening of Douglas Adams’s science-fiction satire The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an introductory look at a small, sad planet (which is of course Earth) as viewed from the outside. One of the observations from this outside perspective is pretty stinging:

This planet has … a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

Indeed, if we look around it does seem as if most everyone associates happiness or contentment or pleasure or power or all manner of presumed good things with the movement of those small green pieces of paper or with the things acquired by doing so. And historically, even if those small green pieces of paper were actually gold or silver or copper coins or some other form of currency, the same holds true. The concept of “enough” seems to be widely lacking.

Both of today’s main scripture readings hit on this subject, albeit from slightly different directions. The parable read from Luke 16 is probably at least familiar sounding to most of us; the rich man enjoying what his wealth gains him, while the poor man Lazarus is at the gate longing for anything he can eat at all. Both men die, and let’s just say they go opposite directions. 

The striking thing about that ending is just how un-self-aware the rich man seems to be, even after he ends up in The Bad Place. He seems to think that Lazarus is somehow at his beck and call, first calling out for him to come dip his finger and water and cool the rich man’s tongue – which, ewwwww – and then thinking that Lazarus could still be used as some kind of supernatural apparition to scare his brothers into getting right with God. Even in his Hadean state, the rich man of the parable somehow seems to think of himself from that point of view of wealth and the power that comes with it; I tell others what to do and they do it. Clearly the man had no concept of “enough” and no contentment at all.

At this point it’s useful to jump over to the epistle reading and the oft-misquoted verse 10. How often have you heard it simply as “money is the root of all evil“? It’s well-known enough that some users of the saying might have no idea that it has its roots in this scripture reading. And to be honest, the short form just quoted is such a deformation of the verse that it really shouldn’t beassociated with the scripture reading. 

First of all, it isn’t money that is the root of anything. To recall the Douglas Adams quote from the beginning of this sermon, it isn’t the small green pieces of paper that are unhappy. No, it’s not about the money, it’s about our attitude towards it. The desire for it, or the desire for the things it can bring us in large quantities. Or, to put it bluntly, greed. Being unable to know what “enough” is, not being able to be content, is always on the bad side of scripture; the Bible never has anything good to say about greed. It is a corrosive thing; no wonder it ends up as one of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins. 

Note also what follows: “the love of money is a root…“. Not “the” root. Love of wealth, or greed, isn’t the only way for the soul to be corrupted. It’s a big one, yes, but not the only one. 

Finally, note how this saying ends; this love of money of which we are being warned is a root “of all kinds of evil.” There is more than one way to do bad or to go bad or to be bad in this world; the unpleasant truth is that greed ties into many of them. Take a look at what’s happened over in Mississippi, where a certain famous former NFL quarterback got involved in a scam to redirect funds directed towards the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families anti-poverty program (this in one of the poorest states in the country) to him, first for some speeches he never gave, and then for a volleyball facility at the university where – who’da thunk it? – his daughter happens to play volleyball. Sometimes love of money is about keeping it away from those who don’t have it, just for spite. That is a kind of evil, to be sure.

But there are other kinds of evil that the love of money gets tied up in. We live in a state where perhaps the truest pandemic is of wealthy business interests using the clout their wealth brings to get laws written to benefit them – shady development deals in places that should not be developed, making sure the earliest Covid vaccines to get to the state went to wealthy enclaves well south of here, or, to be blunt, just flat-out buying and owning politicians to do their bidding. Lots of people for whom enough is never enough, just loving that wealth and making absolutely sure it never gets to those who don’t have it. Those people are just tools, like Lazarus was to the rich man in the parable.

Maybe one of the more subtle signs of this excess loving of wealth can be found in a bumper sticker you can see around town. It’s one that seems harmless or even humorous on first sight but betrays perhaps one of the most insidious “kinds of evil” of which the love of money can be a root. Maybe you’ve seen it? It says, “If 10% is good enough for God, it’s good enough for the IRS.” 

I have no interest in addressing the IRS at all here, but the first half of that sentence has got to be beaten down for the horrible theology it foists upon the world. What distorted scripture are you reading if you think that 10% of anything about your life is “good enough for God”? 

No. One might even have to be brash enough to say “Hell, no” in recognition of the fact that Hell would be exactly where such an idea would come from.

If you are going to be calling yourself a follower of Christ in any way at all, the only percentage of anything of yours that can even remotely be called “enough” is 100%. No less. 

The beginning of the reading from 1 Timothy reminds us that “we brought nothing into this world, so that we can take nothing out of it.” The later portion of the reading puts it plainly that it is God “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment,” and that our business with whatever wealth we have is “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 [that is, eternity],so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” It all comes from God and all goes to God for the doing of God’s work here on this earth.

Since we are approaching that time when we are called upon to reckon with the finances of the church and how we will support the work of the church, we should go ahead and say that giving to the church certainly should be a part of that all belonging to God – not merely for the sake of propping up the church itself or making sure we have big shiny things to show off, but to keep the work of the church going. Besides missions like Family Promise, St. Francis House, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (had to mention that one right now with Ian on the way), Heifer International, and others we support, the plain fact is that our building itself is a venue of community outreach and service. We’ll hopefully have a lot of folks passing through our grounds this Friday evening to take in the artworks of the members of Art Studios of Grace (including our own resident artist Jay Winter Collins). We have some community organization or other in our fellowship hall pretty much every night of the week, from AA groups to community choirs to Girl Scouts and more. And one reason we try not to linger too long in here is so that the Korean Presbyterian Church can gather at 1:00 for worship. Right now, our facilities are one of our biggest means of serving others. So yeah, contributing to the church counts for that 100% belonging to God.

What wealth we have, great or small, is God’s, if we claim to be God’s. The rich man of the parable clearly didn’t get it, and others too if the epistle reading is any indication. The world around us seems to need reminding as well. 

For the call to be rich towards God and content with what God gives, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal unless otherwise indicated): #806, I’ll Praise My Maker; #—, God, grant us the contentment; #541, God Be With You Till We Meet Again

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