"Luggage Racks"
Scripture - 1 Timothy 6:6-10 and 17-19
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Sunday, September 28, 2014

Author, Stephen Carter, is a popular speaker who addresses the topics of faith, ethics and politics. Sometimes he shares two personal experiences that shape his thinking. The first was a terrifying day when he and his five year-old daughter were caught in the crossfire of a gun battle between rival gangs in Queens. When the shooting broke out Carter and his daughter were separated from each other and he was unable to reach her until the shooting finally stopped. It was the most horrifying five minutes of his life.

When people hear Carter tell this story, they imagine how helpless he must have felt and how fearful he was of losing his daughter. Then Carter tells about another experience. He was commuting on the train from his home in Stamford, Connecticut to New Haven, where he teaches at Yale Law School. He shared the train with a number of teenagers headed for their private schools. There was a group of girls nearby that Carter could not help but overhear. They were locked in a heated debate over which community was more fashionable and exclusive: Westport or Fairfield.

A Westport girl dropped the name of an extremely wealthy person who lived in her town. A Fairfield girl struck back by naming an even wealthier resident in her community. The argument went back and forth until one of the Westport girls came up with an announcement she saw as the trump card. She named a world famous entertainer who she claimed actually lived in Westport. One of the Fairfield girls shot back, "Not true!" The celebrity did not live in Westport, but was only visiting a friend there. She knew this for a fact, because she had met this entertainer at her father's store.

Hearing this, the Westport girl hooted disdainfully, "Your father has a store?" The Fairfield girl, realizing her faux pas, cringed in shame. The Westport girl drove the blade home: "What does he sell there? HARDWARE?"

Carter then asks his audience which of the two groups of children is the more dangerous - the gang members or the private school girls. Most choose the gang members.

Then, Carter points out that the gang members, violent as they are, are closed in by their neighborhood, and will most likely be dead or in jail before long. However, the girls are attending the best schools in the land. They will probably go to the finest universities and step into important careers where they will make decisions that will affect a great number of people. In the long run, the values they possess and the choices they make may be more devastating than the gang's bullets.1

In this morning's scripture lesson, Timothy is instructed to tell others to be careful about the values they assume and the choices they make. He is told, "Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires. These temptations can destroy their lives. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil."

Timothy is instructed in what constitutes a fulfilling life by contrasting the path that leads to nowhere with the path that leads to somewhere; the path that leads to emptiness with the path that leads to fulfillment; the path that spirals down with the path that launches heavenward.

Note that the writer does not say that money is the root of evil, but the love of money. Most of the ways we use our money is for good - food, housing, clothing, transportation, and a long list of necessities. This passage is not focused on money itself, but our attitude toward it.

As the President of Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, Michael Jinkins must spend a hefty chunk of his time raising money for the school. He has come to categorize people according to three groups: Takers, Keepers and Givers. As their name implies, Takers want to get their hands on all the wealth they can by practically any means they can. They view life as a competition in which everyone must grab and acquire before someone else does. Acquiring wealth has nothing to do with financial need; its purpose is to best others. He says, "Takers might be characterized by the fellow mentioned in a new book about the dark side of Wall Street. The fellow says, "I'm not happy just to sit in first class. I'm only happy if everyone else I know is sitting behind me in economy." That's a taker. Someone who has been duped about the way to fill the emptiness within.

Jinkins calls the second group, Keepers. They begin with simple conservatism, but then go too far. They clutch everything they have and regard all of their wealth as "Mine." They forget that everything is on loan from God and we are simply temporary stewards. Song writer, Don Henley, characterizes Keepers with the lyrics in one of his songs. He writes:

You spend your whole life
Just pilin' it up there
You have stacks and stacks and stacks
Then, Gabriel comes and taps you on the shoulder
But you don't see hearses with luggage racks

What a great image for those who hold tightly to all they have, forgetting that life is brief and you absolutely cannot take it with you.

Jinkins names the third group, Givers. He says these are by far the happiest people he knows.2 Givers are not necessarily wealthy, but they know that they will not become happier or more secure by accumulating more stuff or by clutching everything they have.

Givers are generous. They understand that everything they have is on loan from God and it is intended to be shared with others.

Author Seth Godin says that people are confused about generosity. Conventional wisdom claims it works like this: "Success makes you happy and happiness permits you to be generous. But, in fact, it actually works like this: Being generous makes you happy and happy people are more likely to be successful."3

Generous people also know that by giving money they can make things happen. They can ease the burden of those who carry heavy loads. They can create opportunities for people who need a break. They can house and feed and heal people. They can transform the lives of others and in the process be transformed themselves.

That is why many who are generous with their financial resources are also generous with their time. They mentor a child or serve meals to people who are without food or build Habitat houses or listen to people who need to share their problems or drive someone to a doctor's appointment.

Did you know a beautiful ministry of hospitality unfolds every Wednesday morning at Westminster? People who need food for their families line up at our door to obtain a food referral. Our receptionist, Susan Alexander - we should call her Susan Angel - welcomes them with a warm smile and kind words, and several of our members volunteer their time to interview the people and help them secure food. Our members are generous with their time and uplifting with their words. When the clients leave, they are smiling and talkative and standing a little taller because they feel they have been cared for in a respectful manner.

Many have guaranteed themselves a life lacking joy and fulfillment by not accepting the fact that life is a gift. They may have a vague notion that their existence is an accident of the universe or they may even possess such hubris that they imagine they somehow created themselves. But by failing to comprehend that life is a gift of God, they do not wake up each morning with a grateful heart. Their basic orientation toward life is not motivated by gratitude. They take for granted the ability to think and see and hear and smell. They are not thankful for the opportunities to work and love and dream. Instead, their focus is on what they lack. They live with a feeling of scarcity. Their gaze is constantly drawn toward the person who has a better job or a more attractive mate or a larger house or a greater intellect. They are driven by envy of what others have or fear of what they personally lack or frustration over never ever feeling satisfied.

The best prescription for overcoming envy, fear and frustration is not acquisition, but gratitude and generosity. Joy comes not from succeeding at having more than someone else, but in being thankful for the opportunity to live and learn and laugh and love, and by willingly and naturally sharing whatever we have.

A village in the Middle East was cut off from supplies of food and water. This was a mixed community of Christians and Muslims. The members of the church gathered to figure out how they would support their families in this crisis. They developed a plan for sharing all their resources among the members of the church for as long as supplies held out. Then one older woman stood up and asked, "What about our Muslim neighbors? Don't we have responsibilities toward them?"

A heated discussion ensued about taking care of their own members and caring for their neighbors. When they focused on their faith, and thought about Jesus' words and his example, they unified. They decided to make no distinctions between themselves and their Muslim neighbors in sharing what they had.4 Some would call it imprudent, some might even call it ignorant. Jesus would call it generous.

We are beginning the annual Stewardship campaign when all of us are asked to make a financial commitment to the church for the coming year. Through worship, music, mission, classes, programs for children and youth, we touch many lives.

When you receive a pledge card, do not merely ask yourself: How much will I give? Ask yourself what kind of person you want to be. A Taker, seeking satisfaction by having more than others? A keeper, blind to the fact that hearses have no luggage racks? Or a generous Giver, who finds great joy in making good things happen?

Our reading from 1st Timothy says that followers of Jesus are "to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for ourselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of the life that really is LIFE."


  1. Mark Ramsey, "Two Worlds," October 27, 2013.
  2. Michael Jinkins, "Two Simple Reasons to Give," Thinking Out Loud, April 29, 2014.
  3. David Lose quoting Seth Godin in "Practicing Generosity," May 27, 2014.
  4. Mark E. Diehl, "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: V. The Practice of Extravagant Generosity," February 9, 2014.