Wealth and Riches
We came to Tyler 25 years ago. Not long after we arrived I had the privilege to meet and know men and women who had carried public and charitable responsibility in this community for a long time and did so until they died. I don’t know if all of them would have described it this way but to me they had a call to this community. They had wealth and they had an ingrained sense of caring for others. They had allowed this community to have a claim on their lives.
Allowing others to have a claim on your life is what money is supposed to free us from isn’t it?. It is supposed to give us options and freedom to choose our life. For some it does. They live unconnected lives of constant travel enjoyment of rare experiences and the knowledge they are free from being tied down to any particular place with all its limitations and complications. But that is not wealth. That is the deceit of being merely rich. Wendell Berry in his fine book “Jayber Crow” puts it this way. “And so I came to belong to this place. Being here satisfies me. I had laid my claim on the place had made it answerable to my life. Of course you can’t do that and get away free. You can’t choose it seems without being chosen. For the place in return had laid its claim on me and had made my life answerable to it.” That is what these men and women who had become a part of this community had learned about wealth. It joins you to a community with an invisible web. Riches too often separates.
Scripture often talks about “wealth and honor” in the same phrase. They go together. God-given wealth and God-given honor are inseparable. But honor is not merely recognition for being rich. It’s far more than that. The Hebrew word is kabod – which means weight or substance. It means when God gives wealth He also gives weight and substance to a person’s life and a sense of responsibility for their community. You can be rich and irresponsible. You can be rich and weightless but wealth means you have accepted the responsibility that goes with it. Merely rich is about counting money. Wealth is concerned with what counts in a life well-lived. You can be independently rich but you cannot be independently wealthy because your community has a rightful claim on your life.
In Tyler we have both don’t we? We have merely rich people and we have wealthy people. As I have looked around this room tonight we have an abundance of wealth and weight. Wealth and substance. Wealth and commitment to our community. It’s natural to desire riches but it is better to desire wealth. All of us can choose to be merely rich or accept the calling and the claim of being wealthy.