Rev Anita Venter
St. Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias
Sunday (year C) 04/08/2019
Colossians 3:1-11 & Luke 12:13-21
Rich Toward God
Let us pray:
Merciful God, for this beautiful day we give you thanks. As we prepare our hearts to receive from you this morning I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen
We live in the greatest era of wealth creation in history. We are trained to use our vast resources to improve our standard of living and build nest eggs that ensure the comfort lasts a lifetime.
Blessed with wealth historically reserved for kings, we constantly search for new places to store our excess. Today, most personal finance guidance focuses on how to accumulate more and reach a state of financial independence.
Wealth and power has such a tight grip on our world that prominent leaders stare each other in the eyes with threats of war as the economy of one country is about to surpass that of another.
Turning to Scripture for justification, even if supporting verses are few and far between, Christians spend a lot of time arguing about the meaning of biblical prosperity. We have many discussions on who is “in” and who should be “out” of the church. More to the point, who is in or out of God’s good graces.
Mostly we use the lack or superabundance of wealth as a standard for these judgments? Our money and belongings seem to be significant as the Bible refers to them very often, however mainly warning us about the hazard of greed placing our trust in material goods, or making them our object of worship.
Our material possessions represent many things in our culture. I can think of security, power, status and self-esteem, independence, luxury, enjoyment, and yes even worry as we never know when we could lose it all.
In our passage from the Gospel, Luke tells us about an incident where Jesus was approached by someone in the crowd who was obviously involved in a family vendetta over an inheritance and needed a religious authority like Jesus to render a judgment against his brother.
At that point, Jesus was encouraging his followers not to fear being faithful in preaching the Kingdom of God, and along came this man complaining about a problem that sounded petty in comparison.
Rather than giving the kind of judgment found in many religious texts, Jesus seized the moment and gave the man, the crowd and us, a warning: “Beware! Watch out! Be on guard against greed! For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”.
It is quite interesting to think about what might be in the minds of those listening to Jesus. It is reasonable to think that Jesus’ story undoubtedly rang a bell somewhere in their memories of Joseph in Egypt who built new barns to hold the abundant harvests during the fat years in order for the people to have enough to eat during the lean years.
So, since when is desiring fairness the same thing as being greedy? What is wrong with living a comfortable life? With saving for a rainy day? With making prudent choices when it comes to wealth management? Should we then not plan ahead for the education of our kids, for our retirement and ultimately for an inheritance for our children?
Jesus is clear in his answer when he says: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
In his version of the text, Eugene Peterson (The Message) puts it this way: 21 “That is what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”
Joseph was not scheming for his own profit neither was he motivated by greed. The rich fool, however, thought only of himself.
Jesus knew that material things, no matter how fun, comforting, lovely and useful they may be, will never fully satisfy our deepest yearnings. We will always want more making plans for the future without thinking of the need of our neighbor. Jesus was preaching a gospel of spiritual values centered on the one true God warning us against the many, petty, fragile little gods that by some means grab our attention and too often imprison our hearts.
So how do we live rich towards God? How can we possibly learn to avoid greed? How can we curb our appetite for accumulation, when we live in a materialistic society that does everything to encourage it?
In our reading from Colossians Paul sheds some light. Again according to Eugene Peterson’s version it says:
So if you are serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective”.
We live in a world where gigantic wealth and persistent poverty stand side by side. Jesus calls us to wrestle with the question of money and material possessions in relation to our spiritual welfare and the common good.
To live ‘rich toward God’ does not mean we do not look ahead or save for the future. After all we see how Joseph of the Old Testament aided the future of Egypt with the emphasis being on helping the people that once imprisoned him.
This lectionary year we are emphasizing Jesus according to St. Luke teaching us what it means to ‘be rich toward God’.
It means using out of the overflow of our resources for the benefit of others – like the Good Samaritan using from his resources to help a stranger.
Compelled by God’s love he had compassion on the victim, he took from his time and he nursed the man, he sacrificed his comfort as he let the man ride his donkey while he was walking beside it, he took from his money to pay for the victims stay at the inn and offered to come back to check on the man and pay more if necessary.
St. Luke goes on telling us that being rich toward God means intentionally listening to the teachings of Jesus as Mary did while Martha was distracted by many things.
Being rich toward God means prayerfully trusting that God will indeed provide for the needs of life as we participate in the presence of Christ among us in relatives, friends, refugees, neighbors and even strangers.
It involves selling possessions and giving alms so that others may be fed and sheltered and cared for.
It means being the hands of Jesus that feed the hungry, bring healing to the sick and a touch of compassion to those who mourn. Being the feet of Jesus standing up for the oppressed, being the voice of Jesus speaking on behalf of the speechless and encouraging the hopeless.
Living a life rich towards God is unconditional trust in God alone, not to worry about anything but to steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative and God-provisions.
And out of this unconditional trust in God, we are set free from the bondage of greed and sin. We are able to let go of our possessions serving our neighbors and even our enemies building the Kingdom of God.
Jesus tells us in Luke 9:23-4: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?
My question to all of us today – Is it not better to have Jesus and gain life, than to have riches and lose your life?