38C Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Rich Toward God
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Luke 12:13-21
Have you ever bought new stuff to organize and hold your old stuff in order to make room for more stuff? Do you sometime find and bring home “good boxes” thinking that someday you’ll probably have some stuff to put into those boxes? Container stores and storage businesses thrive on this kind of thinking and these kinds of impulses. “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”
Have you ever been so envious of another’s life that you are unable or unwilling to celebrate their successes, abilities, and good fortune? You look at them and say to yourself, “What about me? That’s not fair. Why isn’t that me?” “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”
Have you ever been fearful or angry at what you regard as yours being taken by another? Is that not what we hear in the public square these days relative to the many who have made their way here in an attempt to escape desperation? Why should they have access to our jobs, our schools, and our medical care? “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”
Has the grammar of your life been predominately in the first person singular, I? I want, I need, I did, I hope, I achieved, I accomplished, I will. “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”
Have you ever bought something to make yourself feel better? Maybe because you were sad, lonely, angry, or scared. You wanted a new life or a new feeling more than a new thing, but you bought it anyway. “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”
If any of this sounds familiar, then you just might know something about greed in your own life. As individuals and as a society we can be as much barn builders as the guy in this morning’s parable.
As Jesus warns, greed comes in many forms. It might be attachments to tangible things. It might be amassing wealth. But greed can also be about time, attention, approval, love, knowledge, power, control, being right, being in charge, or a thousand other things.
And then there is the profit driven economic sea in which we swim – capitalism without conscience. That sea is as polluted by greed as the oceans are polluted with plastic and toxic waste. It is not by accident and not without an ever-deepening exploitation and victimization of the poor, that 1% of the world’s population owns more than 50% of the world’s resources. We don’t come by detachment naturally. It is a spiritual disciple borne of growth in the Spirit.
But ultimately greed is not about any of these things. Expressions of greed are symptomatic of a deeper issue. Greed is just a way of dealing with feelings of inadequacy and emptiness. It is not so much about having enough but about being enough. It is essentially compensatory behavior.
When we believe ourselves to be deficient, when we feel we are not enough, then we get greedy. We use things and other people to fill the gaping hole inside us. The January 6th investigation thrusts an icon of greed into every day’s headlines. For all the stuff that he has and all his pretense and bluster about being the most extraordinary person who has ever lived, the icon of fascist and racist Americans, is as vacant, hollow, and barren as an echo chamber. And the minions who continue to identify with him must be as vacant, hollow, and barren as their hero.
Greed deceives and convinces us if we just have more whatever, then we will be more and be regarded by others as more.
Greed uses external things and measures to deal with internal matters, but it rarely works. It leaves us wanting more, always seeking the next dollar, the next word of approval, or the next and larger crowd of fans. The problem is that greed steals and deprives human beings of what they most want. Greed is a thief that robs us of nothing less than our very lives.
That does not mean that possessions are inherently bad or wrong. But to be possessed by our possessions is death. The antidote to greed is not necessarily clearing out the closets or giving away all our belongings, though in some cases that might be a necessary starting point. The real work is interior work. Greed shows me that I am living in poverty toward God. The antidote to greed then is to be rich toward God. Jesus teaches us to do this by living a life of selfless service and sacrifice for others.
This means that we invest in ourselves, each other, and the community in the same ways in which Jesus invested Himself: We invest in ourselves as created in the image of a self-giving God. We invest in each other with the same passion as we have been loved in Christ Jesus. We invest in the community as the sanctuary in which God dwells. We invest through love, mercy, compassion, justice, hope, courage, acceptance, truth, beauty, and generosity. This is the wealth of God. This is the life God shares and invests in us through Jesus Christ.
So, to be rich toward God begins with knowing that we already are God’s beloved treasures. There is freedom in that. It is the freedom to live rich toward others and the world. It reveals that there is enough. It declares your life to be as important and valuable as mine. It eliminates the need for comparison with and judgment of myself and others. Being takes precedence over having.
Is not greed at the core of today’s political vitriol, of the violence in our society and in our world, and the dysfunction and hurt in our relationships? To the degree that greed is present it robs us of God’s wealth. When the boxes, shelves and closets of our lives are already full, we have no need, no desire, and no room for God. Greed isolates us from self, others, and God.
Greed works its deception and turns us back on ourselves and the grammar of our life soon becomes first person singular.
I know what I will do.
I will pull down my barns.
I will build larger barns.
I will store my stull in my new barns.
I will relax.
I will eat.
I will drink.
I will be merry.
When that happens, greed has robbed me of you, and the possibility of us. There is no second or third person. There is no other who matters. There is only me, a “fool” Jesus says in the parable; a fool who closes the barn door after the thief has escaped with my life.
“Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” Jesus says. Somewhere deep within we already know this. We really do.
Think about the day you held your child or your grandchild for the very first time. Think about the time you pulled him or her close and whispered your dreams into tiny ears. Recall the last child you saw baptized. Recall the day a friend introduced you to his or her newborn child. Recall the faces of schoolchildren or kids on the playground. Do you remember that day? Can you picture their faces?
What were your greatest hopes and dreams for that child? What were your sincerest prayers for his or her life? What did you desire more than anything else for the little one?
Was it a big fancy house? A closet full of shoes and clothes? Did you pray that they would always be on the winning team, that they would be rich and wealthy? Did you hope that they would be number one in their class, or that they would be more powerful, important, and successful than everyone else? No, that is probably not what you hoped and prayed for that child. Certainly not, I you really and truly, loved that child.
I’ll bet that you prayed that the child would find meaning and purpose in their life. You hoped life would be filled with joy. You wished her a world of peace. You prayed that they would look in the mirror and see their own beauty, that they would trust their own goodness, and discover their own holiness. You prayed that they would find that special one and know what it is like to love and be loved unconditionally. You wished them to imagine and realize all the possibilities for their life.
The reason those were your prayers, hopes and wishes is because somewhere deep within, you know and want those same things for your own life. You touched your own richness toward God. You caught a glimpse of the treasure that you are and want to be, the treasure God knows you to be already.
What if you lived that way? How would your life be different? What possibilities would that create in your relationships? What might you need to do to claim yourself as God’s treasure, to be rich toward God? “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
July 31, 2022