Be on your guard against all kinds of greed
The gospel text for August 1st was Luke 12:13-21. Here is some of the sermon I preached Sunday morning at Peace Lutheran Church, Vernon.
Our desire to have more has impacts more far-reaching than we may think. Materials needed to put together computers, cameras, and other electronics that have become “expected” consumer items in our culture end up meaning that people in the Congo are fighting to have access to those resources which are extracted there. People in Asian countries are expected to work for low wages so we can have our stuff at low prices.
All of this is relational – and I think that was what Jesus was getting at. If you expect your inheritance in advance, or if you expect to have it all and have it now, you and I are also expecting the death of someone else so we can have the life of several now. You’ve probably heard the statistic where, if everyone in the world lived like us North Americans, we’d need several worlds over to accommodate all we take for granted and what we have come to expect to live on. (If you haven’t heard that before, take a look at the free video online – storyofstuff.com)
As Christians, it goes without saying that we must show generosity and hospitality. We have coffee after every service; we have potluck meals – we know how it feels to have life in this way. No one goes away hungry. No one thirsts. And that is how we’re called to live always.
The opposite of greed is – I think it’s fair to say – sharing. Do we always share? Are we selective about who we share with?
What if we were asked to share with those not like us? What if life together called us to give of ourselves to those who didn’t fit the norm we’ve come to know?
Charity is one form of sharing, but it should never become a substitute for involvement in life – that is, giving to a person or organization so that one’s sense of guilt is abated. I wonder about how we involve ourselves in church, and whether that becomes a concern with some. If we give offering in a token way, or begrudgingly, or “because we should,” we lose sight of why we do it. Same goes for involvement – whether it’s the amount of time committed to church on Sunday mornings or on committees. A satirical cartoon portrays a well-dressed and obese person chomping in to planet earth while throwing a few crumbs to a tiny, emaciated person wearing only a loin-cloth. That is charity at its worst. In effect, it’s not charity because there isn’t love.
The point is: we’re called into relationship with others. If we have abundant resources – which (I think I can safely say) we all do – and we are constantly turning towards our own wants and pursuits and missing the need of our neighbour, we are participating in greed.
The good news is found in that the parable is not the real story. The parable is the story within the story, today.
The person who asks Jesus to play judge and arbitrator is given a new opportunity. All he could see was his own desires and agenda – he wanted to have his chunk of money, even as it would likely mean the severing of any relationship with his family (father or brother).
But Jesus gives this person a different choice: choose life! Choose wealth that does not necessarily manifest itself in the accumulation of things! Be rich toward God!
A saying attributed to Martin Luther goes something like this: if I were to die tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today. The message is: live always as if life could end anytime. In effect, that’s the case for any of us – life is unpredictable. But in life, God is. And God is even when life, as we know it, is no more. …so be rich toward God always! And we experience God through others, and through creation – animals, plants – all people, like us and not like us.
When greed consumes us, we can not be rich toward God – and then even our wealth loses its meaning.
We know from the prayer that Jesus taught – which we heard last Sunday – that God provides “us our daily bread.” It’s not bread for years from now, or even bread for tomorrow; it’s bread for today. Enough to sustain us on the journey.
Our system of money and interest, and then our expectations for acquiring wealth, has so skewed our expectations as well as a natural balance in creation that we can’t imagine actually living our faith where we believe God will provide for us daily! …and so we fear those not like us to the point where we hole up with our own things and dare not share.
As far as our Lutheran church goes, I think we could do well to give ourselves away. Offerings support the community around, and work being done elsewhere in the world – such as our companion synod, Peru, and our Lutheran pastor there, Fran Schmidt.
Even children know the rule: “you have to share,” but while we expect that to happen on the play-ground, we certainly don’t expect that to happen later in life. Get what you can! There may not be a pension for you later in life!
Friends, as Christians, we must model a new way of being. This must change how we do things in a drastic way. We can’t continue to directly or indirectly support companies that rape and pillage the earth by extracting resources while poisoning watersheds; we can not frequent low-price stores that treat their employees poorly; we can not drive our cars to places where we can as easily bike or walk; we can not vote for candidates who won’t put people and environment first. As Christians, we must model a new way of being!
Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed!
We’re being called to alternative living. The life Christ invites us into is not to support oppressive, detrimental systems. The life we’re called in to always turns us outward – toward others and need around. It’s what we’re baptized into. It’s what we remember as we share in the loaf and cup.
Be rich toward God.