sermon

Digging Deep

Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.

November 11, 2018

Text: I Timothy 6:9, Old Testament: I Kings 17:8-24, New Testament: I Timothy 6:6-19

            Our government represents the will of the people. The people’s will is expressed through money and votes. We just heard about the results of the people’s will through our mid-term elections.

Tremendous passion was invested by millions of people in the outcome of these elections. Hundreds of millions of advertising dollars were invested in candidates who represented what donors wanted. Both sides of the public debate had their donors. Both had their voters. They didn’t see eye to eye on many things. Where they did agree was in donating dollars to convince the rest of us to vote the way they wanted us to vote.

The rhetoric that accompanied this financial investment was courteous and respectful of differing opinions – sometimes. Often the words that preceded the election were angry and hostile – to the point of nearly calling the opposition evil. Once the money was spent and the vote completed, for the most part, a collective sigh emerged across the land.

At least that part is over. Except threats and demagoguery continue to spout forth as the power brokers position themselves to rule.

There was a lot at stake. America’s short-term future hung in the balance for many people. The morning after the election, media pundits began a new line of debate around the meaning of the vote, now that the people’s will had spoken. Their great salaries are funded by advertising dollars from political campaign contributions. What used to be journalistic objectivity is gone. Many news broadcasts resembles political marketing.

Powerful individuals standing at the pinnacle of America’s wealth poured out a pittance of their resources to influence the great electorate – people who have so much less, who look like us, live like us, vote, or not, like us. Many of these individuals are leaders of powerful multi-national corporations who have their free market at stake. Without their satisfaction, political power trembles.

Others are wealthy leaders of non-profits who want to keep their tax advantages, so they can influence public policy to their economic benefit.

Every senator, every Congressman or woman, every governor must please financial donors. Pleasing the electorate motivated Alexander Hamilton to call for a Constitutional Convention when the Articles of Confederation were failing. The 13 state’s self-interest was not voluntarily funding the federal government. A confederation of states wasn’t working. A different governing model was needed.

Representing the peoples will emerged to earn the financial resources needed for governing. Hamilton became the first Treasury Secretary of the U.S.

So, here we are today in the wake of Tree of Life’s massacre.

In order to obtain enough people’s trust, voices of hate must be tolerated by government along with voices of reconciliation. In order to gain enough public endorsement to avoid rebellion, bigotry and prejudice must be tolerated by law along with voices of peace and love. The extremists must have their voice heard along with those of us who get along fine in our relationships.

It all happens because of money. Dispute and argumentation are financed to have national debate. Pay for polar opposites to be in the same room and let them exhaust themselves by calling each other someone who can’t be trusted. We the people, sit back and tolerate where they’re taking us.

But, at the same time, religion is discouraged as public conversation.

The Apostle Paul knew what we’re feeling. He was writing to Timothy in Ephesus who lived under democracy’s influence. Timothy’s church was in a Greek port on Turkey’s coast – a model of democracy’s financial interests. We know from Acts 19 that powerful economic interests in Ephesus who were put off by Christian teaching that idols were false. Idol worship was vain.

Big money in Ephesus was influencing the city’s political leaders to suppress the Christian voice. Christian teaching was bad for the idol-making economy. It was bad for business. People would move from Ephesus to another city if the Christians weren’t stopped. Merchants would take their businesses elsewhere if the Christians weren’t quieted.

So much for toleration in democracy. Money was speaking. The city’s government was upset. Preaching the Gospel was put on trial. Paul left Timothy behind to hold together the little congregation. Is it no wonder that Timothy, a young man, was anxious to preach about Jesus? He knew the money was stacked against him and the Gospel.

Timothy had his grandmother’s and mother’s faith in Jesus Christ to support him. He had the Apostle Paul encouraging him from afar.

And he had the power brokers with money opposing him and his congregation. Their interests had the city government’s ears.

When money is behind the opposition, Church people can be intimidated to talk about Jesus. When a man of wealth is identified as a follower of Jesus by his wealthy friends, there’s financial pressure on him to give up the faith. The nonbelievers will withdraw their contracts from his business. They will threaten his employees. They will sling mud at you to denigrate your reputation.

It’s easy to give up speaking publicly about Jesus.

Of course, truth escapes their accusations. Some will resort to low-handed tactics to win the public’s favor. Read between the lines of Paul’s letter to Timothy. You get the picture of what we’ve been going through the past few months in our gentle democracy . . . or, rather, our Baby Boomer lifetimes.

Money is the weapon used to remove support from God’s purposes. This is Paul’s point in I Timothy 6. Monied interests are never satisfied with what they have. They fear losing what they have. They will use the power in their money to protect what they have. Jesus’ Gospel threatens monied interests.

Jesus’ Gospel doesn’t depend on money. It depends on love –the love that was shown in Jesus’ teachings; the love that was shown in Jesus’ miracles; the love that was shown on the Cross; the love that was shown in Jesus’ resurrection; the love that was shared among Jesus’ community of faith; the love that was given through the mission of Jesus Christ to a disbelieving world.

Paul extolls the virtues of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. None of these character traits take money to be convincing. What is convincing is the quality of your life with those who disagree with you. What is convincing is when the virtue of love exposes the self-interest in money.

Paul is warning Timothy. Do not resort to demonization that money buys in political rhetoric. Do not attack the personhood of those who believe differently from you. Let your righteousness, godliness, faith, love and gentleness shine before the monied interests. When you endure their criticism, their political opposition, their marketing of slander about you, their teaching of dissension against Christian faith, your perseverance in the face of them will prevail.

But, expose the evil in what money supports. Expose it by not returning evil for evil. Stay righteous, godly, faithful, loving, and endure as Christ’s witness.

Paul is teaching Timothy that public slander and dissension against Christianity is not the basis for your reputation. Unless, you let it be your reputation by backing down in your witness to Jesus Christ’s love.

When you back down in your witness in Jesus before the opposition of monied interests, you’re showing greater concern for your reputation than you are for Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus didn’t back down from trusting in God’s righteousness when His public reputation was slandered in Pilate’s courtroom. Jesus didn’t back down from showing God’s righteousness when His character was attacked before Judea’s government.

There is a fight for truth that exists in the Christian faith. That fight is not over your reputation. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. It’s a fight over Jesus’ reputation as God’s Son. It a fight about whether Jesus’ righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness governs your conscience.

The fight for truth is to whom do you yield as a follower of Jesus – Jesus, or the monied interests that control the direction of democratic government?

When you work as a government employee in all its capacity, does Jesus rule your conscience, or the monied interests that fund democracy?

When you live as citizen of a nation, with all that citizenship means, does Jesus rule your conscience, or are you a slave to the money?

When you work as an employee of an employer whose economic future depends upon your loyalty to the employer, does Jesus rule your conscience?

When you marry a person you love, but who does not love Jesus, who disowns Jesus, who ridicules your faith, your going to Church, your service to the public in Jesus name, does Jesus rule your conscience?

The challenge in every case is to be faithful to Jesus while being loving.

Righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness are attributes of the Christian conscience. When Jesus rules your conscience, you need not worry about your reputation. You have as your sovereign a greater interest than money can buy, or political opposition can destroy.

You have Jesus, and with Jesus comes the promise of eternal life.

We live during an age when eternal life is rarely the topic of public concern. Oh, mention of heaven comes out when some terrible shooting takes place that draws public attention. But only for an instant, in an uncut live broadcast, where a censor can’t extract it from the public because it represents a Christian’s faith.

Eternal life is sanitized from the media. It’s taboo in public education. Politicians don’t debate its merits. Scientists can’t or won’t study it. Technology can’t duplicate it. Legislators don’t legislate around it. Judges don’t adjudicate because of it. Presidents don’t direct the public to believe in it.

All the rest depend upon public financial support. Eternal life doesn’t.

Eternal life stands above the monied interests. It can’t be bought or sold as a commodity. It can’t be earned from one’s labors. It isn’t the property of a specific political party or national government.

Eternal life may be marketed by business for economic gain. But it isn’t guaranteed because of a business endorsement.

It is Jesus Christ who is the guarantor of eternal life. It is Jesus Christ who grants eternal life to those He wills to receive it. It is Jesus Christ that promises eternal life for the public good. It is Jesus Christ who makes the sacrifice for it to be possible for those who are righteous, godly, faithful, loving, gentle, and enduring the opposition of monied interests.

I have met many wealthy Christians who were dear members of congregations I have served. Jesus Christ was the Lord of their conscience. Their wealth was never used as a weapon to suppress the spreading of the Gospel. Their humility and generosity followed Jesus regardless of their public position. Christ was the one to whom they swore allegiance. He inspired their philanthropy outside political processes. They placed before civic leaders their social responsibility to lead from Godly righteousness.

They dedicated their lives, whether as the CEO of a Fortune 500 Corporation, or as a scientist at a state university, or as the executive of a family-owned business to serve the cause of Jesus Christ through their public service. They advanced the lives of people who lived life-styles far simpler than the wealthy could afford to find hope and new life in the name of Jesus Christ.

They worked outside the country’s monied interests that opposed the public witness of Jesus Christ to see that His message remained front and center in the public square. They sought not public acclaim or recognition. Their satisfaction came from working for Jesus, their Lord and Savior for the public good.

We are not alone – we who have far less, and love Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We are not alone, who are the few in worship without public financial support.

We share with humble servants of Jesus, the only hope that truly saves the world! We have Jesus, and the promise of eternal life! Let us be courageous in our witness to Him. Amen.

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