From Rags to Riches – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, November 26

Many of us probably remember the 1960s hit TV series, “The Beverly Hillbillies.”  This show was all about the Clampetts who were simple folk living off the land.  When Jed Clampett, played by Buddy Ebson, accidentally discovered oil on his property, he and his family became instant millionaires.

     Deciding to move to Beverly Hills to take advantage of their new found wealth, the Clampetts find that their down to earth lifestyle often times clashes with the new suburb and its shielded upper class neighbors.

     This show was a classic “rags to riches” story line.  Poor family becomes rich.

     This reminds me of something the famous oil tycoon, John D. Rockefeller, once said about the three simple rules for anyone who wants to become rich.

Rule #1 – Go to work early.  Rule #2 – Stay at work late.  And Rule #3 – Find oil.

     But do you really need to find oil in order to be rich?

     Regardless of how you or I might define the word “rich,” the Apostle Paul gives us an easy to understand the definition of this word from Ephesians chapter 1.

     In verse 18, Paul writes about the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance among the saints.  The riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance among the saints.

     Paul is saying that your net worth is not tied to your financial assets.  Your net worth is tied to your relationship to Jesus Christ.  For it is through Christ, that we are recipients of the riches of his glorious inheritance.

     That’s an amazing thought.  My net worth has little to do with what I own, and has everything to do with my relationship with Jesus Christ.

     It seems like we get this turned around in our society.  We often fall into the trap in believing that our net worth is tied to our financial assets, but it’s really tied into our relationship with Christ.

     I was reminded of this during a big snowstorm one year.  When the roads finally got cleared enough, the whole county made their way to the grocery store to get some groceries.

     That grocery store was packed!  Everybody and their brother were at that grocery store.  You could hardly make it down the aisles, it was so crowded. People were fighting over basic commodities like milk and bread.  It was incredible!  And it was all because the delivery trucks were late because of the snow storm so they were in short supply.

     That little incident reminded me that even though I had money in the bank for groceries, it didn’t mean a whole lot because they were out of a lot of the grocery items that we needed.  It didn’t matter who we were that day – low income, middle income, high income (we were all dependent on those delivery trucks.)

     And I can’t even do justice to comparing this personal incident with what people have to go through in places all around the world where there is a scarcity of food. Wealth isn’t always about money. It’s about having access to the basic necessities of life.

     Wealth is about people helping people.  It’s about having hope that you will be able to find a place to live and have a new future.

     Speaking of hope, the Apostle Paul uses this word in our scripture reading when he writes, “so that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”

     When asked about your net worth, Paul says, “don’t forget to include how much hope you have.”

     Riches and wealth are not just about tangible things.  They are about intangible things – things you can’t necessarily touch or feel.

     We live in a society that values physical touch in order for it to be worth something.  Our society tends to devalue the things you can’t touch.  And yet, which is more important?

     Well.  Let’s not get too carried away with this.  After all, we do need to have some money to live in this world.  We need to give the cashier something after we put our groceries on that conveyor belt.

     And the scriptures certainly do not overlook this simple but important truth that all of us need money to pay for things.  Jesus himself, talked a lot about giving money to the poor.  How do you give money to the poor, if you have no money to give in the first place?

     The early church during the New Testament time was comprised primarily of people who were economically very poor compared to the rest of society.  That’s why the scriptures often speak of helping the widows and orphans.  These were often fellow church members who barely had two cents to rub together.  The scriptures consistently remind us, “Don’t forget to take care of those around you.”

     Just because being rich is primarily about our relationship with Jesus Christ, does not mean that we can just go ahead and avoid our responsibility to feed the hungry, clothe the hungry, and house the homeless.  It’s wonderful that we can have our eye toward our heavenly home, but let’s also keep an eye on brothers and sisters in need.  Jesus commands us to do no less.

     But here in our scripture reading from Ephesians, the Apostle Paul makes it very clear to us that our wealth and our value are not measured by our financial portfolio.  Our wealth can be found in Jesus Christ.

     And in Jesus Christ, Paul tells us, “There is immeasurable greatness of his power for those who believe.”

     How can you measure this greatness of Christ’s power?  How can one possibly measure a power that enabled God to raise Christ from death to life on that first Easter Sunday?  How can one ever measure a power in which Jesus Christ is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and who is above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come?

     How can someone even attempt to measure the power of God who has put all things under his feet and has made the living Christ the head over all things for the church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all?

     Who can measure such a one as this?  This King of King and Lord of Lords.

     The Apostle Paul says, that those who have placed their hope in Jesus Christ, are recipients of this immeasurable greatness made possible only by a gracious and loving God.

    And I love how Paul begins our passage of scripture by affirming the church for how they love each other.  Paul writes, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason, I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”

     Paul is saying that if you want to know how rich you are, just look around you at all of your brothers and sisters in Christ. The relationships that we have with each other are our most important asset.

     Approximately 200 years after the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, a man named Lawrence, was serving as the treasurer of the Church of Rome which included appropriating money for the care of the poor.

     During this time, the Emperor of Rome, Valerian, began to persecute the churches by confiscating their property.  As the story goes, Lawrence who was a church treasurer was ordered by a Roman prefect to hand over the wealth of the church or be killed.

     Lawrence agreed, but said that it would take him three days to gather it.  During those three days, Lawrence placed all the money of the church into the hands of trustworthy stewards.  And then he assembled the sick, the aged, and the poor, the widows and orphans of the congregation, presented them to the Roman prefect, and said, “These are the treasures of the church.”

     If you every wonder where we keep the treasures of this church – all you need to do is to look into the eyes of your brothers and sisters in Christ, and there you will see God’s treasure.

     I shared this with you before, but my mom and dad didn’t have a lot of money, but they had enough to raise a family of four and provide for our basic needs. They knew the importance of saving for the future and being content with what they had.

     My dad would often say and I still can hear him saying this, “We were the happiest when we were poor.” And then with a grin he would say, “That’s why we’re still happy.”

     Money can’t buy happiness.

     I have a good friend who recently shared with me his faith story.  He got married to his high school sweetheart and they began living the good life as they say.

     Back in the 70s, the two of them were making a six figure income, and spending their money basically on themselves.  They were getting promotion after promotion and moving very quickly up the corporate ladder.

     But even with all of this, his wife was feeling pretty empty inside.  She felt rich on the outside but bankrupt on the inside.

     Then in 1979, his wife was watching a Billy Graham Crusade on TV and she made a decision right there on the spot to receive Jesus Christ into her life.  Her life totally changed from that moment on.  And as she became more and more excited about the riches of God’s kingdom, he continued to become more and more empty inside.

     But then John told me, things changed about three months later.  He said, “I was sitting in a little church, not hearing a word of what the preacher was saying and I finally realized that all the riches of the world would never be able to make me happy or give me peace.”

     He said, “In that moment, I was thinking about our expensive house, our swimming pool, and our forty cars.”  And then he said, “that’s right Robert.  You heard right.  I didn’t say 14 cars.  I said 40 cars.  I was thinking about all of our wealth and yet I was feeling so empty from the poverty of my soul.  It was then, as I was sitting in that pew, that God’s love captured me and I became filled with the riches of hope, joy, peace, wisdom, and God’s Spirit.”

     “Here’s the ironic thing in all of this,” he went on to say.  “Since I gave my life to Jesus Christ, I really do feel like I can now honestly say, ‘I’m the richest man in the world.’”

     And so, yes, you can be rich without striking oil. The King of Kings and the Lord of Lord’s has left you with a glorious inheritance.

     Thanks be to God!

From Rags to Riches

Small Group Questions

Ephesians 1:15-23

November 26, 2017

The world tends to define being rich as how much money you make or how big your house is.

Why do you think the world defines how rich we are in terms of money and possessions?

The Apostle Paul defines being rich very differently in our Ephesians 1 scripture. Being rich means that we have a life-changing and growing relationship with Jesus Christ who is the true king over all creation. Specifically, Paul tells us in verse 18, “so that, with the eye of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”

What spiritual riches have you experienced in your life and how have they been a blessing to you?

Pastor Robert shared the story of Lawrence, a Christian who lived just a couple hundred years after Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written. When Valerian, the Roman Emperor demanded that Lawrence hand over the riches of the church to the empire, Lawrence who was serving as the church treasurer assembled the poor, the widows, and the orphans who the church had been helping and told the emperor, “These are the treasurers of the church.”

Share how you see the church claiming the poor and the needy as the true treasures of the church.

In the sermon, the story was shared about a man who was very wealthy. He owned an expensive house, had a lot of money, and owned 40 cars! He was considered “rich” by the world’s standards, but he was empty inside until he accepted Christ into his life. He said that it wasn’t until he became a follower of Christ, that he truly felt like he was the richest man in the world.

Which of Paul’s riches/treasures from our Ephesians reading do you want to receive in a new way today? 1) Other fellow Christians who encourage you! (Eph. 1:15-16) 2) A spirit of wisdom & hope! (Eph. 1:17-18) 3) Christ’s great power! (Eph. 1:19)

During this week that we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, pray this prayer together:

Almighty God, who rules over all that is, by your presence among us, may your reign of righteousness and peace, joy and love, justice and mercy be evident in our lives. We lift our hearts, bow our knees, and open our mouths to sing your praises this day. We rejoice in your goodness and we seek the transforming power of your love and grace. Fill us, we pray, in the name of Christ the true king, who has conquered the forces of sin and death. Amen.