Do not Covet: Luke 12 v16 -21
First of all I apologise if my voice sounds different this morning, no it’s not my preaching voice, like some have telephone voices, but I’m jealous that Simon Cowell is so popular so I thought I might try to emulate him. I already have the high waisted trousers (pants), with my figure I have little option, so I decided like him I would have some work done on my teeth. I’m beginning to realise that not all that glitters is gold! Although I guess some do chose gold teeth! After much pain, discomfort and a sloppy diet, it’s getting better and I guess I will eventually get use to having a denture, something that is an eventually for most as we age. I also rather fancy having a similar car to Simon, a Rolls Royce Phantom,…. but I guess that is just a pipe dream or maybe a little covetous!
At St. Chad’s we have just started a sermon series on the 10 commandments. Two weeks ago I was allotted to preach talk on You shall not Covet. I must admit I was a bit disappointed at first, I wanted one of the biggies, you know murder, theft or adultery, something I could really get my teeth into, if you excuse the pun! Or even one of the first 4 which instruct about our relationship with God. I thought I could even put on my Evangelist Suit which I bought in the USA a few years ago. But no, even though Covet is number 10 it landed on my lap, maybe because I’m the one with high waisted trousers!
However as I studied and prepared my talk based on J. John’s excellent book ‘Ten’ I realise how blessed I was to be given Covet. So I want to share parts of that talk with you. Some of you like me probably never realised how serious the sin of covetousness is. Although time doesn’t permit me to cover all the points J. John brilliantly makes in his book, I hope you like me will be challenges and maybe learn something new.
So what is Covetousness and why is it sin?
As J John points out at the beginning of his chapter on covetousness, coveting is not a word we use a lot today. Yet the concept of wanting what is not ours to have is well known. In fact the problem that the tenth commandment addresses is so familiar that it is expressed in dozens of popular sayings and quips. Consider just a few:
The other man’s grass is always greener.
However long you take agonising over the menu deciding what sweet to have, when the next person’s dessert arrives, you realise you made the wrong choice.
God made us a little lower than the angels, but most of us are concerned to climb a little higher than the Jones
People live in 2 tents…..Content or Discontent
Our yearnings will always exceed our earnings.
Whether it’s desserts, houses, salaries, talents, lifestyles or cars, we want what other people have. Although we have unique desires, we like different things, one thing most of have in common with each other is this: we all want what we haven’t got.
Of course it’s not always wrong to have a desire, some desires can be good things. For example to desire pleasure & joy, belonging and security, comfort and safety. Some may even desire a closer walk with God! So what’s the big deal? What’s wrong with a bit of dreaming, a bit of desiring?
In my time in the police I had to deal with a number of murders, colossal amounts of theft but I never arrested anyone for Covetousness. Why? Because it’s not a crime. However, you don’t have to look too far to see the effects that wrong desires have on people’s actions. The act of covertness often leads us to commit another sin. i.e. the desire for your next door’s wife, could in some cases lead to adultery. The recent looting had nothing to do with a rebellion or riot after an armed drug dealer was shot dead by police, it highlighted the sin of covetousness. The looters seized on the opportunity to steal what they desired or wanted, although having no right of claim on the goods. Looting is really serious, in many countries including the supposed civilised USA, looters are shot on sight! Maybe some of the liberal thinkers that have helped ruin this country shouldn’t be too upset when these poor deprived feral rats as someone called the looters, get some porridge, must be kinder than being shot! I come from a poor east-end background, but my Dad always taught me ‘Son if you can’t afford it you don’t get it’ He was referring not so much to looting, which fortunately is rare in our country, did much looting go on during the blitz? He referred to the dreaded credit cards, that were being encouraged even to the working class in the 60’s! Yes Maggie and I have credit cards, they are handy, but we try not to live beyond our means and unless it’s overlooked we settle our account each month! Sadly the balance between adult and child has changed. Once the parent ruled the child now it seems the opposite. How many parents bow to their children’s outrageous demands especially at Christmas often building up ridiculous credit! It only takes one child at a school to get the latest iPod and everyone wants one! And how about designer clothes, how ridiculous is that, when Primark, just like God, can supply all you needs if not your wants! Yet parents still bow down to the pier pressure inflicted on their kids! Listen God is not a kill joy, niether does he object to you wearing or buying nice things, it’s getting the balance right.
Have you ever thought that whatever commandment you break someone gets hurt! Some are more obvious that others. About 15 years ago I ran an Alpha Course just for men. At the end of one session one of the guys said to me are you telling me I’m not going to heaven unless I make a step of faith, after all I’m basically a good person, I don’t steal, commit adultery and have never murdered anyone, I keep all the commandments! I then asked the men in the room to name the 10 commandments. They got what are often referred to as the big ones, murder, steal, adultery, they even got honour your father and mother. Then I asked them to name the first 4, they never had a clue. I then explained that if we break the first 4, all relating to our relationship with God, God’s heart is broken, the other 6 are more obvious, you steal someone loses a possession, you commit adultery sometimes the family on both sides can suffer, you murder someone gets seriously hurt! Etc. Etc.
Covetousness is strongly linked with greed, jealousy and dissatisfaction just to name a few, it might be unseen and impossible to legislate against, but just consider how many wars and conflicts are caused by covetousness of land, power and minerals. How many people bankrupt themselves trying to keep up with the Jones. Years ago you changed your car as it got worn out or you outgrew it, now we replace a car when the number plate runs out of fashion. You can’t be seen driving around in car over 3 years old even if it has low mileage!
Why does it take me longer to buy my paper on a Wednesday or Saturday? Most newsagents on these days have a queue of people often poor old pensions, getting their £20 worth of lottery tickets or luck dip! The National Lottery and Euro Lottery that offers a single win of about £80 million, typifies modern Britain’s obsession with money. Even my vicar’s wife would struggle to spend such vast amounts at Blue Water or Lakeside in a life time! In a week as a nation we spend over £82 million on lottery tickets, even though there is only a 14 million to 1 chance of a decent win and 99% of people who play lose money. OK I accept for some it’s a desperate bid to enrich their lives but many already have a comfortable life style. It amazing how many people who do win and win big carry on doing it. It seems the more you have the more you want!
The TV programmes that get the biggest audience are often based on wealth or greed. Who wants to be a millionaire…. don’t all shout out! A few weeks ago every night apart from when the football was on we had people trying to be lucky betting on Red & Black to become an instant millionaire. Some made it others didn’t! It’s not just money we crave but lifestyles, we want to be like other people especially, celebs! I didn’t really mean what I said about wanting to look like Simon Cowell,¦… I really meant I want to look like Gary Barlow!
Never underestimate the dangerous power of covetousness. The Bible is brutally honest about the effects of wrongful desires. King David, great psalm writer, noble warrior and excellent king who seemed to have every thing he could want being an example. Yet a single case of unchecked illicit desire almost destroyed his kingship and led to untold grief! By coveting his neighbour’s wife, led him to both adultery and murder. Hey Guys and Girls I don’t want to send us all on guilt trips as I can guarantee not one of us hasn’t broken or will break the 10th Commandment, or one of the others. The Good news is that God hates the sin not the sinner. If God can forgive King David after his deep repentance, repentance meaning a complete turn around not just saying sorry, God’s grace & mercy is sufficient for you and me when, not if, we mess up! However although forgiven and restored, King David suffered as a consequence of his sin. As we too have to consider the consequences of our sin. A few years ago for me it meant laying down my preaching ministry till I sorted myself out and got back on God’s path of righteousness!
A young woman was expecting a date. She was dressed up and waiting patiently. However, by the time he was an hour late she figured she’d been stood up. So, she took off her make up, put on her pyjamas, gathered all the junk food in the house and sat down to watch TV with the dog. As her favourite show was just coming on, the doorbell rang. It was her date. He stared at her wide-eyed: “I’m two hours late, and you’re still not ready?”……
I wonder how ready we are to meet, our God of Love, our lover? It’s not in it’s self wrong to have wealth or nice things, the Bible says it’s the love of money not money that is a sin. But we need to realise material things are only temporary. We enter this world with nothing and depart with nothing. In our reading Jesus tells a chilling story. The man wanted thing in excess of his daily needs, he built bigger and bigger barns. Now I’m not saying it wrong to plan for the future, the bible tells us we should be good stewards of our and God’s things. What Jesus is saying you are a fool to store up earthly things but not have a rich relationship with God, trust God for your security now and everlasting. In our reading Jesus is challenging us to think beyond earthbound goals and to use what we have been given for God’s kingdom.
So to conclude, how do we achieve this rich relationship with God as mentioned in our reading? Faith, service and obedience are the ways to get rich with God. God’s love is amazing, unconditional and so often undeserved. I’m not suggesting we can buy God’s love, but can you imagine how pleased He would be with us if we gave only a fraction (say even 10%) of what we spend on new cars, gadgets, designer clothes and lottery tickets to His Church, so that it can be used to His Glory and Kingdom. If only every member of this church gave a regular tithe, oh boy how you could expand the Kingdom of God here in Chadwell Heath and beyond! So often people state they cannot afford even the widow’s mite because of family commitments, they plead to give more to God would be impossible or cause hardship. Yet without sounding too judgmental, their material possessions tell another story, even if it is on credit! Hey Guys some of us need to give more credit to God not credit on a plastic card! (repeat)To quote J John ‘Jesus talked a great deal about giving. Why? Because giving is the antidote to materialism, and the infallible cure for covetousness” Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than receive”.Acts 20v 35. Jesus is also interested in the giving of our time not just money. I often ask the question, why is it the majority of work in my church is done by the minority!
I know many people at St. Chad’s were blessed when my Indian Pastor friend Suresh preached recently. One thing that really struck me was how big his commitment and expectancy was and how God honoured it and blessed his ministry. He has a degree in Civil Engineering and in a rapidly developing India could have been earning a fortune, yet he decided to dedicate his life to work amongst the poor! Most of us may have settled for a small orphanage but God blessed him with that magnificent building as a result of his faithfulness, determination and expectancy. At first when I saw the pictures of the orphanage and how well provided the children were, for a moment I question if the support Maggie & I offered could be better spent elsewhere, but then realised he wanted the best for the children and widows under his care. It’s strange that in our own lives we too often want (covet) the best available often what we can’t afford, yet when church is concerned we adopt the that will do attitude, when we do God’s work we should have high expectancy, think out of the box, give of our best!
You know I think just sometimes, breaking that 10th commandment could be a blessing. Let me explain before I get banned from speaking here again There are some Christians I meet, I in a sense covet, I’m envious, I want to be like them, they seem to radiate God’s love and Grace, they seem to be the perfect Christian, although they would probably admit they are not without fault. There are Christian I read about or have met, who never give up even under extreme difficulties, I want to be like them. I did a brief interview with Suresh before he preached. He shared how his mother became the first Christian convert in their village and was then bombed, blown up as a result. Yet despite horrendous injuries, she recovered and together with Suresh built God’s kingdom in a mighty way by showing the Love of Christ in caring for others.
I think many of us and I include myself, need a wake up call before it’s to late, like the man in our reading. We need to use and share what God has given us to expand his kingdom, and spend more time browsing the Bible and less time browsing the Argos book or online stores.
Let us Pray: Father God, we thank you for your amazing, unconditional and so often undeserved love. We thank you for your word the Bible and today’s chilling reminder that earthly life is fragile and only you know when the hour is nigh. May we be open in allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us along the path of righteousness and may our hearts and minds be made more generous with our time and money. So we can fully experience the richness of you love now and forever more. Amen