10th Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 17
August 1, 2010
Luke 12:13–21: 13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And 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.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then 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. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But 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?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
There’s no way to get around it. If this story doesn’t make you nervous, you’re not listening. Another rich man who’s missed the boat. Cutting God out of his thinking has made him a fool.
Riches are not neutral in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus shows mercy to the poor, the sick, the troubled, but has little generosity for the rich. Gaining wealth is a zero-sum game in these stories. If you are gathering great riches, someone else is losing their advantage and their way to make a living.
We see a similar story playing out in the Gulf Oil Spill. I am convinced that what’s making people so mad is how careless these huge multi-national companies were. With enough profit to insure that safety regulations for people and the natural world in which they operate were firmly in place, they were so busy guarding their bottom line that they have ruined lives, people’s livings and property. It’s greed, says Jesus in this Gospel, which makes people so insensitive to the repercussions of the way they do business and the way they live. The insensitivity which is the result of greed is what causes the perpetration of unjust systems, develops and underclass, and destroys community.
That is not the world that God created. It’s what the world has become. The prophets railed against community abuses caused by greed. Amos blasted the wealthy and well-connected for living in houses dressed with ivory while widows and orphans had no one to care for them. Isaiah rants against those “who sell the poor for a pair of shoes.” These are the reasons for the captivity of God’s people, say the prophets who speak for God, because they no longer see or hear God’s agenda for community, and amass comfort for themselves instead.
The culture in which we live is obsessed with things. The story is that you have a right to have whatever makes you happy. “You deserve it,” we are told. Everything in our culture shouts that we are entitled. Everything in our culture tells us that we don’t have to worry about anyone but ourselves. Individuality dominates how we are encouraged to think about ourselves. Working together for the common good has been all but lost in our cultural thinking. When we think of community, we often think ‘tribally;’ what’s good for my family, what’s good for my business. Anxiety and mistrust are in the very air we breathe.
I find myself so uncomfortable listening to Jesus’ story today. It is so easy to think of all the things we don’t have. It is so easy to miss our blessings. It is so easy to be anxious in this time of change and financial realignment. What does it mean to be ‘rich in God?’ Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you, says Jesus; he’s talking about what to eat, what to wear, how to provide, how to live.
I have had a check show up in the mail just the last day before the rent was due. I was working so hard, but earning a living was just beyond my reach. I knew that God was seeing to it that we didn’t go without what we needed. The stories we tell from those days still make us laugh. In some ways they were our finest hour because everyone knew they were important in keeping our life together. It was so isolating to be working so hard and not being able to make a living; I couldn’t really tell any other grown-ups about my struggle. It was my friend Charlotte who made me realize that I was not fighting the battle alone. She was the gift which made me see that God would never leave me without resources. “I’m in a pretty comfortable place right now,” she said, “so if money is the problem, promise you will let me know. I can help.”
Rich in God: does that mean that we who may have now, are the blessing for those who need our help? Does that mean that unlike the ‘rich fool,’ we might need to open our eyes to what is the center of our lives and see how starved and narrow it is? Does it mean that we must remind ourselves every day that this might be the last one we have in which to do the things that matter? Does it mean that we remember that everything good is a gift from God? Can we look beyond our own wants and needs to see how the love of God has been poured out on us and for us? When we remember the sacrifice which God has made to bring us into the Kingdom, does that change our hearts to turn outward from our own self-interest? The people who have the least are traditionally the most generous. They say that it is because they know what it means to be in need, and when they are asked to help, they give whatever they have. It seems that God has a special love for those who have the least – that is certainly how Luke portrays Jesus in his ministry.
Jesus died and rose again to give you new life, life that releases you from the demands of having to prove yourself in a greedy, self-obsessed culture. This story asks us to consider where we have stored up our hope. Is it security and certainty which drive our decisions about life and community, or is it seeking the riches which will last forever?
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.