Greed: the Deepest Form of Poverty – July 31, 2016

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NicholasA sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 31, 2016

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Luke 12:13-21

God of abundance, you demand our life entire and whole: lead us out from prisons of greed to a place of riches uncontained and always new; through Jesus Christ our common wealth. Amen.

Money. Most of us have a love hate relationship with it. We can’t live without it and yet it can get us into a heap of trouble. It can do great good. It can do great harm. It can buy you a house but not a home. It can buy you a Rolex but not time. It can buy you a computer but not knowledge. It can buy you the best medical care but not health. It can buy you an election but not respect. It can buy you a Porsche but not love.

Money isn’t everything. In fact it often causes pain and suffering. I tell you this because as your priest I want to take away your pain and suffering. So send me all your money…and I will suffer for you. Cash or checks only! Hey, what are friends for?

Actually, the lesson Jesus presents in the Gospel is no joking matter. The issue of what is of lasting value in life is a profound and sobering one. The reading begins with a man who asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute over a family inheritance. This was a matter that fell under the jurisdiction of Torah, written Jewish Law, so it was common practice not to seek a lawyer but rather a Rabbi to act as judge in such matters.

What is suspect about his request is that he abruptly interrupts Jesus who is teaching the large crowd that has gathered. Jesus had a nose for idolatry and self-centered-ness so he seizes the opportunity to launch into a difficult lesson about money and possessions and tells a story to make his point.

This rich man was a fool, not because he had wealth, but because he failed to realize his dependence on others. His monologue contains about sixty words, yet “I” and “my” occur twenty times. “What should I do? I have no place to store my crops. I will do this. I will build. I will store. My barns. My grain. My goods.”

There is no suggestion that the man is wicked or that he would delight in the fate of those who have less than he does. Yet there is no consideration here of others or recognition that the land itself is a gift from God. He just keeps building bigger and better and hording more and more forgetting that he is not going to live forever.

Death finally makes us generous because everything we have passes to someone else, including the government. God calls the rich man a fool not with mockery but with immense sadness for missing out on what it really means to be a human being.

This gospel is not meant to make us comfortable. The temptation for all of us is to think “Jesus isn’t talking to me. I’m not a wealthy person.” True or false? Well, both actually. Jesus never said we can’t have money or own a nice home or drive a good car or have cable TV or even a new IPad Air 2.

This story is not about owning things but rather about how we regard what we own and the balance between enjoying those things and sharing some portion of our financial resources for the good of others. The warning in this Gospel is not against wealth but against greed. When life is considered only in terms of material possessions, we live in fear of losing them and we cut ourselves off from others and from a richer, deeper relationship with God.

The Good News is that Jesus sees our futile quest to find security in our possessions and also sees beyond them to a more enduring reality: God wants to liberate us to use what we have to help build up the reign of God in this world. Our lives have significance, not in what we accumulate, but in the light of God’s love for us and how we bring that love to a broken world.

There is simply no evading it. This Gospel begs a genuine, honest, even painful, self-examination. Our possessions, far from being our great treasure, can also be the source of great delusions. How does this speak to us? Where does our life weigh in when we hear this Gospel? What are our “bigger barns” —those we have built or are tempted to build because our culture tells us that personal peace and security stem from acquisition and prosperity?

How much in balance is what we spend on ourselves and the needs of our loved ones and what we give back by radical contributions to things that matter, that sustain, that are life-giving like our commitment to support this sacred place that feeds us and wants to feed many others?

What does our check book or on-line banking or credit card statement tell us about how we spend what God has given us to help the hungry, the homeless, the underemployed and the oppressed—some who are in our own parish community? Tough, tough questions- and Jesus knew that.

There’s no doubt about it. God’s view of earthly living is a radical one. In the end, it’s not how much we have that matters; it’s what we do with what we have. The rich man in this story had a sad and lonely ending to his life not because he had a lot of money and possessions but because he didn’t bring any happiness to others by what he had done for them. Perhaps this is the deepest form of poverty.

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