Monday, September 30, 2013

A Bag of Rice

Click here to watch the video of this sermon.

1 Timothy 6:6-19

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that[a] we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made[b] the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

          (The pastor takes a bag of rice, and carefully counts out ten measures of the rice placing each measure into a pot.)

            I bet you would like to know why I just poured ten measures of rice into this bowl.
            Well, I’ll tell you.
            Right now I’ve got some news to share with you. 
            I’m going to Hawaii!
            I don’t know when!  But “someday.”
            It may be ten years from now.  Or it may be next year.  All I really know for sure is that I’m NOT going this year.  Sad but true.  Right now, I don’t have the time to go.  I don’t have the money.  There are all sorts of reasons why I can’t go this year.
            But someday!!!
            Someday I am definitely going to Hawaii – as soon as I get the time.  As soon as I get the money!
            And if it works out, I hope I can afford to take my wife with me!
            Now I know you have a wish list of things like that you want to do in your life.
            There are places you want to go.
            There are things you want to do.

            What happens when the things we put off in our lives are the things God wants us to do?
            Have you ever had that experience?  I bet you have.  God is calling you to do something and your response is to say, “I’ll be glad to do that, Lord.  Later.”
            We must learn to do that as children. 
            Mom or Dad told us to clean our room, “Later.”
            Mom told us to brush our teeth.  “Later.”
            Dad told us to cut the grass.  “Later.”
            The teacher told us to do our term paper.  “Later.”
            God tells us to love others.  “Later.”
            How many things has God told us to do that we keep putting off?

            In the New Testament lesson for today, we read, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;  for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;  but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”

Well – most of us aren’t there yet.  Maybe someday.  But not today.
Today we are in our discontent.  Today we have food and clothing, but we have to have more.  And more and more!
But someday, later, we will be content with what we have.
We also read in today’s lesson that we are not to trust in money, but in God.
Well, someday.  Maybe later we will put our trust in God, but not now.  Now we want more money because we look at money as a means of success and security.
We also read in today’s lesson that we are “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”
Well, someday.  Maybe later when we have more money, then we can begin to be generous.

Let me ask you a question.
How rich are you right now?
Are you rich, poor or in the middle?

Think of a guage - like a gas gauge that you might have in your car.  But this gauge represents your economy.  Not the nation’s economy, but yours.  Where are you in this gauge?  Rich, poor or in the middle?
Most of us would say, “We’re in the middle.”  Very few of us would admit to being poor because we know others who have less than we have, so we don’t see ourselves as poor.  On the other hand, few of us would say we are rich, because we’re not in the same league as Buffet, Trump or other billionaires. 
But just to be sure, raise your hand if you think you are on the rich end of this guage.
I didn’t think anyone would raise a hand for this one – because you are too smart to admit you are among the richest people in the world – especially when you are about to ask to fill out a pledge card.
 Imagine your gauge puts you at 13%. 

Imagine!  Wouldn’t that be so cool to be among the 13% richest people in the entire world.
In fact someone in this congregation may be among the 13% richest people in the entire world.
Now I would think that if you are in the richest 13% of the world, then you are in a small club and you are probably doing pretty well for yourself.
In a world of 6 billion people – in order to be among the richest 13% how much money do you have to make every year?
A billion?
Half a million?
A hundred thousand?
You have to make $11,490 per year.
That figure, by the way, is how the US Government defines relative poverty in this country for a household of one person.  In a family of 4 people, the poverty level is $23,000.
Think about that.  If you are in poverty in this country, you are still among the top 13% richest people in this world.
I’ll tell you where I am.  I’m a preacher.  I’m in a job in which everyone not only sees my salary, but even the middle and high school kids get to vote on it.  Anyone who is an active member has a vote.  And my wife is a public school teacher.  Two professions not own for making a lot of money.
Take either me or my wife and look at what we make per year – and we are in the top 1% of the richest people in the world.
This is easy to find.  In the bulletin and on the screen at the end of this sermon, there is a link you can go to on the Internet. You go there and enter your annual income – or you can do it with your net worth.  There will find how you stand with the rest of the world.
I suspect almost every single person in this room is among the 1% - maybe 2% - of the richest in the entire world.
We have so much.
And yet, when it comes to being content with what we have, we keep saying – later.  When I have even more, then I will become content.
And when it comes to being generous, we keep saying – later.
When I have more, I’ll give more.
I’ll give to missions.  I’ll support youth ministry.  I’ll give to the poor.  Later.

OK, are you wondering what this pot of rice is all about?
I brought it to illustrate a story about one of my experiences in India.
I went to India on a mission trip a few years ago.  I visited a number of schools.  I visited a number of churches. 

India is a beautiful country and there are a lot of people there who are well off, but a lot of the ones I met were the poorest people I have ever encountered.
In this one neighborhood where I went to preach at a church all of the homes were nothing more than tents.  The tents were made of moldy, rotting cloth.  Everything was jammed together.  There was hardly any room to walk between the tents.  There was no water system, no well.  People drank water that was running along the gutters of the streets.
And in the midst of this slum was a little church.
It was nothing more than a concrete block building.  Four walls with a doorway.  The roof was nothing more than some metal sheeting laid on the top of the building.
It measured about 10 feet wide and 20 feet long. 
            You could have moved that church and put it into the narthex area of our church and still had room on each side.
 Inside there were 30 people.  They were all crammed together, sitting on the floor and they gave me a chair to sit in at the front of the church.  If I had crossed my legs I would have knocked out three people on the front row.
We did everything Christians do in worship.
We sang.
We prayed.
I preached with an interpreter.
And there was an offering.
I’ve seen poverty.  I’ve been to third world countries.  I’ve worked in Haiti.  And in Haiti, the poverty is universal.  But here – the poverty was so deep.  These were the poorest people I’d ever met.
Here in America, poverty is defined as earning $11,490 per year in a family of one.
In this country, 96.1 percent of American households living in relative poverty have a television to watch, and 83.2 percent of them have a video-recording device in case they cannot get home in time to watch the football game or their favorite television show and they want to record it for watching later. 
Among America’s poor, 98% have refrigerators.  93 have microwaves.  83% have air conditioning.[1]
You know how they define poverty in India?  I was told that the definition of poverty is to have less than a full meal per day.
And there are these people gathered in this tiny little church.
And when it was time for the offering, every single person gave. 
They gave eagerly.
They reached and strained to put their single coin into the offering.
One lady had no money. 

She gave a single, tiny bag of rice.
After the service, I asked what they used the offering for.
Part of it was to pay the pastor’s salary, which was not much. 
Part of it was to buy Bibles for the church.
Part of it was to go to Missions.  Imagine that!
They can’t feed themselves, but they are giving to missions.
And then part of it goes to feed the poor.
Feed the poor?  I can’t imagine that there are people more impoverished than these folks!
And then I asked about the lady who gave the bag of rice.
I was told she never had any money to give.  But IF she had food to eat during the day, she would carefully measure out the food and set some of it aside.
Every day – IF she had food to eat, part of it was set aside for the offering.  A tenth of it.  A tithe.
And on Sunday, when she came to church.  She would bring her bag of rice as an offering – so it could be used to feed the poor.
Imagine doing that on Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and on up to Friday.
And imagine not having any food at all on Saturday.
Church is tomorrow, but there on the table is the rice you’ve set aside every day.  It would be tempting to reach into the bag and cook that rice.  Skip church.  Or go to church and skip the offering.
But no, she never did that.
The pastor told me she always brought the bag of rice.
And here we are.  The poorest among us is still among the world’s richest – and yet we keep saying “later.” 
Our New Testament lesson tells us, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.”
But we say, “we’ll be content later.  When we have enough.”
Our New Testament lesson tells us, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”
But we say, “Later.”
Our New Testament lesson tells us, “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”
But we say, “Later.  When we have more, when we have enough, then we will become generous.”
You know, I kept thinking about that woman.  I kept wondering when we, here in America, will be as wealthy as that woman.  When will we have enough so that we can be as generous as she? 

Copyright 2013, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
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