I Timothy 6:12-19
This is a stewardship sermon, which usually means that we talk about money. This time it will be about riches and wealth that enter someone’s life when money is not the center of it. It is a true story, and I’m not even going to change the names because there is nothing that is not public record, and it shows two wonderful people in a very good light. Their names were Ernie and Desiree (Desi, for short).
The two of them grew up in the same neighborhood, went to school together, fell in love as teenagers and (this being one of several miracles in their lives) went on to build a strong and enduring marriage. Ernie was a housepainter and built up a good, solid business. Desi went to work for a bank. They bought a house, the right side of an old twin with a decent sized backyard, which is where Ernie set up a blind for his camera because he enjoyed taking pictures of birds and the occasional squirrel – mostly birds, though. He won several prizes for his photos and had occasional exhibits in Philadelphia and in Bucks County. They became very good friends with the people in the other half of the twin, who were about twenty years older and had kids in high school at the time that Desi and Ernie began to have kids of their own. The two families went in and out of each other’s back doors so much that they eventually took down the fence between the yards to make things simpler.
Everyone who knew them knew how hard both Desi and Ernie worked, but also that that wasn’t their whole lives. I led a Sunday School class where Desi was a regular and I can still remember one of the discussions they had when she leaned back in her chair as she picked up a mug of coffee and said, “All I know is that when I get to the end of my life, I probably won’t say, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’” It was the way she said that – a way I cannot reproduce – that set everybody laughing.
“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, 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.” [I Timothy 6:17-19]
That was them. They enjoyed their work, but they loved people, and loved the Lord.
They had two intelligent and kind daughters and not too much later their last child, a son, came along and when he was a toddler he would walk with his mother and sisters to school, which was right next to the church. And, lest you wonder whether a child can meet God at the altar rail, there was one day when I saw him tug on his mother’s hand on their way home and say, “Go church! Get bread!”
“All I know is that when I get to the end of my life, I probably won’t say, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’” That is stewardship of time, using it to raise children to know that they are loved by their parents and by the Lord. That took the investment of time that did take them away from work occasionally and from overtime always.
“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. 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.” [I Timothy 6:9-10]
They steered clear of that. Their focus was on leading a good life, not on leading “the good life”.
Then Ernie, who had been diabetic for a long time, developed kidney problems. He was advised to seek a donor for a transplant because he was still relatively young. The strangest thing happened, though. It turned out that Desi was a compatible donor. Do you know how rare that is when someone is not a blood relative? She gave him one of her kidneys, and the operation was a complete success, with no tissue rejection, and his body began to get back to normal. He was taking bird pictures again and his kids were growing up and all was well until he suddenly developed pancreatic cancer, totally unconnected to his previous condition, and shortly afterward died.
Desi’s heart broke, but she continued to care for her family with the help of her parents, who were not far away, and of her sister, and of the neighbors next door, who had become family. It was not always easy for any of them, but they still had each other and they still had their faith. A good thing they did, too, because five years later a heart attack took Desi away. That was tragic, with the youngest at that time not yet in high school. The oldest, though, had just reached legal age to take charge of the household and she could commute to college while living at home with her sister and brother and the ever-present and steady love and presence of the folks next door, which is where they went at the end of each school day until their sister came home.
It has been about eleven years since all of this took place, and they are all doing well. I would not be able to say that, though, had Ernie and Desi’s focus – and the focus of the whole, faith-filled group – been on the making of money to the exclusion of the enrichment of their relationships with one another and with God. How many children whose parents are gone are able to stay put right in their own house? It’s bad enough to lose parents. At least they did not at the same time lose their home. Whatever was good in the midst of the tragedy was all because of two people’s instinctive sense of stewardship of both time and money, the way that they held the two in balance, both providing for the family and recognizing that money would never be enough in itself.
“Of course, 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.” [I Timothy 6:6-8]
There is so much that can go right even when so much is going wrong when priorities have been kept clear. The way Jesus put it was this (and I think Ernie, with his bird photography, would have appreciated the way he said it):
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” [Matthew 6:25-33]