Luke 12:13-21 • August 4, 2013
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
I hope you were paying attention during the gospel reading today. If you were, hearing this good news may sting just a little – even if you aren’t fighting with a relative over an inheritance or worried about what you are going to do with all of your success as the result of being the most amazing farmer to ever live on planet earth.
We live in a time and place and culture that makes it difficult for us to wrap our heads around just how much wealth is available to us. And the challenge that I think we face as people who seek to follow Jesus is how do we remain faithful to our life in Christ in the midst of wealth.
Economist and Historian, Robert Heilbroner challenged his students studying economics to do a little exercise. Heilbroner hoped that it would help students who had lived their entire life in a first world nation like the United States to better understand the wealth that was before them and how easy it is for this wealth to consume them. He challenged them to try and imagine living their lives in the same way as one and a half billion people in the world do. The way that 1,500 million of God’s beloved children live each and every day of their lives – yes, even today in 2013.
– First, he said, take all the furniture out of your home, except one table and a couple of chairs. Use a blanket and pads for a bed.
– Take away all of the clothing except each person’s oldest dress, pants, shirt, blouse and coat. Only one pair of shoes per person.
– Empty the pantry, the refrigerator and the freezer of all food except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few potatoes and onions, and some dried beans.
– Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.
– Better yet, let’s take away the house itself and move your family into the garden shed in the backyard.
– Move out of your neighborhood into a ghetto of makeshift buildings and mud streets.
– Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers and magazines and get rid of all your books. This is no great loss, since none of you can read anyway.
– Get rid of TVs, cellphones, computers and all other electronic gizmos. Leave one radio for the entire community.
– Move the nearest hospital or clinic to at least a day’s walk away. Replace the doctor with a midwife.
– Throw away all your bank accounts, stock portfolios, pension plans and insurance policies. Your family has $10 of cash hidden in an empty coffee can.
– Give yourselves a few acres to grow crops on, from which you earn $500 a year. Pay a third of that in land rent and 10 percent to loan sharks.
– Lop off at least 25 years of your life expectancy.
(Robert Heilbroner, “The Great Ascent,” Chapter 2, numbers adjusted for inflation)
By Hielbroner’s comparison, most of us sitting in this worship space today are among the richest people in the world. And it is as rich people that I think you and I are being invited to listen to Jesus today.
Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller “How much wealth does it take to satisfy a person?” To which he replied, “Just a little bit more.”
Brothers and sisters, please don’t hear me trying to guilt you into thinking wealth is a bad thing. Wealth is not necessarily wrong or sinful, according to Jesus, but it can expose problems that are. And the primary problem with wealth for those who seek to follow Jesus is revealed when wealth, and acquiring more and more of it, becomes the sole focus of our existence. Instead living out our life in Christ by loving our neighbor as ourselves, we end up loving only ourselves and completely ignore our neighbor.
Saint Augustine said that God gave us people to love and things to use, and sin, in short, is the confusion of these two things.
There’s a great Jimmy Stewart movie from the 1965 called Shenandoah. I’ve always been fond of this Civil War film because my dad was an extra in it. Jimmy Stewart plays a crotchety old farmer that in many ways resembles the farmer in Jesus’ parable today. Here’s how Jimmy Stewart’s character Charlie Anderson prayed at every meal.
Pastor Kathryn Huey is quite passionate about the subject of wealth. This week she wrote, “Jesus knew that material things – no matter how fun and wonderful and lovely and useful they may be – will never truly satisfy us. We will always want more.”
I share Pastor Kathryn’s passion. I have no doubt that our endless quest for more will never satisfy us. And all too often, in our endless quest, we actually end up feeling a lot more like Stanley Johnson.
Again, I’m not saying that you need to get rid of everything you own and go live in the garden shed in your backyard. Money is not all bad. But in light of the gospel reading before us today, I want us to seriously reflect upon how our attitude toward money affects us and others around us.
I challenge each one of us to take a look in the mirror this week. Is the reflection you see, an individual whose only focus is on acquiring more and more? An individual who is tirelessly building bigger and bigger barns that are filled only with I’s?
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon in 1967 called “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool”. In this sermon Dr. King said, “There are a lot of fools around. Because they fail to realize their dependence on others. Finally, this man was a fool,” Dr. King said, “because he failed to realize his dependence on God.”
So when you look in the mirror this week, I hope and pray that the reflection you see is of a beloved child of God who is rich toward God. And in your richness toward God, I hope and pray that you see the reflections of others in that mirror too. Other beloved children of God who love you and who are lived by you – your family and friends; your pastors and community of faith; your brothers and sisters in the body of Christ from every corner of this world.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, God has placed in your hands all that you are and all that you have. Everything, right down to the last breath that you and I take, God has given to us. When we are rich toward God, we live our lives as children who are completely and totally dependent upon God and each other in the body of Christ. You see, in the barns of God’s kingdom, there are no I’s.
- “Wealth Versus Relationship” – 08-04-13 – Proper 13 – Cycle C (scripturecomingalive.com)
- God Loves. God Provides. God’s Kingdom (womenwhospeakinchurch.com)
- Being Rich toward God (sermon 8/4/13) (enarcheblog.wordpress.com)