11th Sunday after Pentecost
August 4, 2013
Luke 12: 13-21
Back in the day, Jack Benny built a whole career as a comedian on being the cheapskate. He hated to spend money. So on his TV program, a robber meets him on the street and points a gun at him. “Your money or your life!” demands the robber. Benny does one of his slow takes, putting his hand to his chin and looking out at the audience. “Your money or your life!” yells the robber, “your money or your life!” “I’m thinking,” drolls Benny, “I’m thinking.”
The man in the story Jesus tells in today’s reading wouldn’t hesitate. It’s his money and his resources that are the source of all his pride and the center of his world. What Would Jesus Do was a big fad a while ago, calling kids and adults to think about behavior. We were called to think about Jesus’ kindness and compassion for others and asked to compare our own behavior toward others as a way to measure our Christian life. But I don’t remember ever hearing WWJD as talking about money. We hate to talk about money in church. We don’t think it has anything to do with our life of faith. But Jesus certainly thinks it does.
Jesus never talked about abortion or about homosexuality, today’s hot topics in the Christian world, but he sure did talk about greed and about how living the life of God’s people changes how you think about money and things. That’s not such a hot topic. This is so hard for us mostly white, middle-class Americans who work hard and expect that we will have the rewards of it. We expect that if we work hard enough and are smart enough, we will be able to retire and live comfortably in the style we are used to. And we tend to look down on anyone who doesn’t share our skill and resources.
I don’t think Jesus is saying that my IRA and my savings for retirement are bad and show a lack of Christian love. I don’t think he want us to go back to the day when Christians were scandalized if you bought life insurance, because it showed a lack of faith. Luke’s Gospel talks a lot about rich and poor and about building relationships as part of the life of God’s people. Jesus continues to emphasize how the love of God becomes the love of neighbor. When love of God and love of others are in their proper place, life is sweet, relationships thrive, and when relationships thrive the people in them thrive, too.
When we talk about money in church, it is to talk about what gives life meaning. How is it that a life of faith and trust in God, revealed to us through Jesus, changes how we see our money and things? Is there something important that we miss if we don’t talk about our standard of living in context with our faith? I think there is.
How many of you have ever spent time in a 3rd World country? Or maybe it should be called a 2/3rds-World country, because 2/3rds of the world lives way, way below what we consider the poverty line. Imagine that you lived without electricity or plumbing. Imagine that you could not read or write and the only jobs available to you were unskilled labor. Imagine that you traveled an hour each way at $4 per trip to stand on a street corner hoping for work, which would pay you $7 total for the day, if you actually got work. This was the story of a family who fed me in Guatemala. They are not poor because they don’t work hard. They work harder than you can imagine. They are poor for so many reasons beyond their control – just because of where they live. The first I went to Guatemala, I was a grad student and broker than broke. I though I was poor. It is a shock to see how the things you take for a standard in life make you rich in the eyes of so much of the rest of the world.
Jesus wants you to stop to think about how blessed you are, and to realize that you didn’t do it all yourself. The rich man forgets that good crops are a blessing of good soil, fair weather, rain at the right time and not at the wrong time. You live in a country in which the rule of law is guaranteed, banks don’t fail, highways will take you everywhere you want to go and bring you whatever you need. You can go to church wherever you please, and talk about your faith without fear. Even when we don’t have much, we have so much that makes life secure for us.
Jesus refuses to be the mediator between brothers who are fighting it out about their parent’s estate. But he’s right there with the Teacher in Ecclesiastes who recognizes that the end of a life of struggle to have and hold onto money and stuff can come suddenly, and then all your hard work can end up in the hands of an idiot who doesn’t appreciate it. It’s so important to see our earthly wealth as a benefit, not the core of our life. What is at the center is God’s grace, the overflowing love for us that covers all our thoughtless compulsions, all our need to hang on things that don’t last, all our craving for more and more of what the world values to make us feel good about ourselves. Jesus wants us to see God’s astonishing generosity to us – giving up his heavenly glory to live among us, and suffering every evil that can harm us, even to the point of death to show his love for us. In a world of craving, Jesus wants to transform our grasping into generosity. He holds out real life, forgiveness, giving away care and teaching and healing, seeing ourselves in the shoes of another and acting out how we would like to be treated. When we talk about money in church, we are talking about the meaning of life, the core of our trust in God’s love for us and God’s generosity toward the world, often mediated through God’s people. If you took this story seriously – thought that God would demand your soul today, would it change anything? Would it change how you thought about money and all you’ve achieved over a lifetime? Your money or your life? What do you choose? Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord, Amen.