Sunday’s sermon: Connect the Dots

connect-the-dots

Texts used – Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19

  • When I was a kid, I loved those connect-the-dots pictures!
    • Loved watching something come out of nothing → seemingly random assortment of dots almost-magically transform into a shape or shapes when you connected them with something as simple as a line
      • Sometimes final picture was obvious
        • Simple, uncomplicated shapes
      • Sometimes final picture was a lot more obscure
        • Complex shapes and images with a lot of detail, depth, and intricacy
    • There’s an element of uncertainty involved in connect-the-dot pictures. You come to the page unsure, knowing that there’s potential there – hoping in what is to come, trusting that it will take shape under the tip of your pencil or pen, believing that all those dots will indeed create a picture.
    • Okay, okay … I’ll do it … I’ll name the obvious this morning. Our faith is a lot like those connect the dots pictures!
      • Connects all the various and scattered elements of our lives – who we are, how we interact with others, how we interact with God
      • Sometimes seems simple and uncomplicated
      • Sometimes seems complex and intricate
      • Element of uncertainty, of unknowing – have to trust that, at the end, everything will come together the way it’s supposed to → That’s faith!
  • Not an entirely foreign concept – lots of parts of our lives that we understand are connected
    • CONNECTED (macro scale): career paths that we chose ⟷ many of our day-to-day activities ⟷ amount of time that we get to spend with loved ones ⟷ salary ⟷ style of living (everything from home we live in to the things we buy) ⟷ sense of self (identity connected with our address – neighborhood, community, state, nation)
    • CONNECTED (more micro scale): dinner we plan ⟷ grocery list ⟷ various cooking activities (chopping, grilling, sautéing, etc.) ⟷ dishes that we have to do ⟷ our health
    • Actually, it can be kind of a fun activity trying to understand and define those connections in your life – figuring out how different aspects of who you are and what you do are connected.
      • Connected to decisions you’ve made
      • Connected to ways that you identify yourself
      • Connected to your values and beliefs
    • Concept of connections and how they affect us has been source of study in a wide variety of fields
      • Anthropology: the comparative study of human societies and cultures and their development
      • Sociology: the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society
      • Psychology: the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context → especially a couple of psychological theories
        • Social connectedness theory[1]: relationships that we have with others and how that affects our roles, our well-being, our choices, etc.
        • Family systems theory[2]: theory of human behavior that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions in the unit
      • For a long, long time, we – human beings – have been fascinated with the how’s and the why’s of our connections with one another and with the world around us.
  • This morning’s NT reading = no different → Paul connecting the dots between the way we live our lives and our relationship with God
    • Something that Paul does A LOT → many of his writings deal with the ways that we connect
      • E.g.: connect to each other in Christian community – 1 Cor: But as it is, there are many parts but one body. … If one part suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.[3]
    • Today’s focus: Paul is connecting our interests and desires with faith, in particular our financial interests and desires → Now, I know that the minute pastors mention money from the pulpit, people get tense. We’ve been taught not to talk about money. It’s inappropriate. It’s impolite. We don’t like people telling us what to do with our money, and we certainly don’t want to be made to feel back because of our money – either because we have it or because we don’t! And I get that. I totally get that. Because let me let you in on a little secret: pastors don’t like talking about money any more than you like hearing about money. But …
      • REALITY: all here today because this church is important to us – church needs money to function
        • “bare bones” function: keep lights and heat on, maintain building, etc.
        • “function” in terms of our purpose – in terms of fulfilling our mission here in the community and around the world
          • Physical, hands-on work that we do
          • Work that we support through donations
      • REALITY: money is a part of our lives → I know we don’t like to talk about it, but it’s there. It exists. It’s the elephant in the room! So pretending like it doesn’t matter, like it doesn’t exist, like it doesn’t affect us just doesn’t make any sense.
      • REALITY: Jesus talked about money … A LOT[4] → In fact, “a lot” is a bit of an understatement. Throughout the gospels, Jesus talks more about money than he does about a lot of thing. He talks more about money than he does about both heaven and hell combined. He talks more about money than about sin. Jesus actually talks more about money than he does almost every other subject except the Kingdom of God. Eleven of the 39 parables scattered throughout the gospels deal with finances.
    • And today, Paul tackles how our finances and the way that we treat them and view them and pursue them are connected to our faith.
      • Begins section with statement about contentment (“being happy with what you already have”) and a powerful reminder that God is the source of all: We didn’t bring anything into the world and so we can’t take anything out of it.[5]
        • Point that’s driven home by the psalm we read: The person whose hope rests on the LORD their God is truly happy! … The LORD: who frees prisoners. The LORD: who makes the blind see. The LORD: who straightens up those who are bent low. The LORD: who loves the righteous. The LORD: who protects immigrants, who helps orphans and widows[6]
      • Paul’s next reminder in our NT text – pitfall that money can be: But people who are trying to get rich fall into temptation. They are trapped by many stupid and harmful passions that plunge people into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal.
        • NOTICE: Paul isn’t talking about hard work that we do to provide for ourselves and our families
          • Not talking about putting food on the table
          • Not talking about putting clothes on your back
          • Not talking about putting a roof over your head
        • Paul is talking about the way that we sometimes end up idolizing money and the things that money can bring. We were talking about this a little bit during our confirmation retreat yesterday as we were talking about the Lord’s Prayer.
          • “Give us this day our daily bread” = asking God for those things that we need each and every day, those things that sustain us → It doesn’t say, “Give us this day our daily iPhone 7 and unlimited data.” It doesn’t say, “Give us this day our daily designer jeans and sneakers.” It doesn’t say, “Give us this day our daily brand new car with all the extra features” or “Give us this day our daily mansion.” We can easily end up turning our wants and desires into idols of their own. Sometimes, our attention is quite literally distracted from God by something shiny.
            • Not always intentional – Gr. “wandered” (“Some have wandered away from the faith”) = passive verb, passive form of “misled” → not deliberate, not planned, happens because we’re not paying attention to God
    • Fortunately, Paul also gives us the other side of the coin. He doesn’t leave us feeling squirmy and uncomfortable about money. He gives us an alternative – redirects our focus, reconnects some of those dots for us.: Instead, pursue righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness. Compete in the good fight of faith. Grab hold of eternal life – you were called to it, and you made a good confession of it in the presence of many witnesses.[7] → only 2 short verses but a lot to unpack in that
      • Gr. “pursue” carries connotations of intent and immediacy – slightly different form of word for “persecute,” also means “run after” and “press on” → implies a tenacity and driveness with which we are supposed to engage in our faith
      • Type of “love” (in list of things we are supposed to pursue) is that special kind of love – that agape love → a self-giving, altruistic kind of love intent on serving others
      • Paul encourages us to “grab hold of eternal life” → really interesting Gr. word that has both physical and mental implications
        • Physical = grasp, catch, take hold of
        • Mental = be concerned with, take an interest in
        • Paul is encouraging us to make those connections – to connect our actions with our thoughts and our beliefs to create one holistic and powerful picture of faith.
          • Driven home by his later point: [People who are rich] need to hope in God, who richly provides everything for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, and to share with others. When they do these things, they will save a treasure for themselves that is a good foundation for the future. That way they can take hold of what is truly life.[8] → Isn’t that what we want – for ourselves, for our families and our loved ones, for our church, for our community? To take hold of what is truly life! Friends, to do that, we need to grab hold of all those parts of our lives – including things we don’t often like to talk about, like finances – and connect them with our faith. The world that we live in grows more and more interconnected by the second! And we cannot have a whole picture, a whole faith, a whole life without both naming and claiming those connections. Amen.

[1] “The Social Report: Social Connectedness” put out by the New Zealand government in 2005, from http://socialreport.msd.govt.nz/documents/2005/sr05-social-connectedness.pdf, accessed Oct. 9, 2016.

[2] From The Bowen Institute website: https://www.thebowencenter.org/theory/, accessed Oct. 9, 2016.

[3] 1 Cor 12:20, 27-28.

[4] Michael Packer. “Jesus Talked the Most about … Money?” from http://patch.com/georgia/smyrna/jesus-talked-the-most-aboutmoney. Posted July 24, 2011, accessed Oct. 9, 2016.

[5] 1 Tim 6:7.

[6] Ps 146: 5, 7b-9a.

[7] 1 Tim 6:11-12.

[8] 1 Tim 6:17b-19.

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