Proper 13c, August 4, 2013

August 5, 2013

Unconventional Wisdom
Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 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.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 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?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

I was on vacation last weekend. I got my body back to work Tuesday afternoon, but I’m not sure that my mind has made the transition yet. And when I started thinking about today’s sermon text I went to a strange place. This story Jesus told about the man who had such a big idea reminded me of one of George Carlin’s monologues. It’s the one where he defines himself as a modern man. It’s not his funniest sketch, but it was an amazing exercise in memorization, and as always, he had his finger on some truth. So bear with me as I share with you a slightly edited version of the way George Carlin portrayed a modern man – which very well may describe the attitude of our man in today’s parable:

He’s a modern man, a man for the millennium, digital and smoke free — a diversified multicultural postmodern deconstructionist, politically anatomically and ecologically incorrect.

He’s been uplinked and downloaded — inputted and outsourced.
He knows the upside of downsizing and the downside of upgrading.
He’s a high tech lowlife — a cutting edge state-of-the-art bicoastal multi-tasker.

He can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond.
He’s new wave but old school, and his inner child is outward bound.
He’s a hot wired heat seeking warm hearted cool customer — voice activated and biodegradable.

He can interface from a database which is out there in cyberspace.
So he’s interactive. He’s hyperactive, and from time-to-time, he’s radioactive.

He’s behind the eight ball — ahead of the curve — riding the wave — dodging a bullet — pushing the envelope.
He’s on point, on task, on message, and off drugs.
He’s got no need for coke and speed. He’s got no urge to binge and purge.

He’s in the moment, on the edge, over the top, but under the radar.
He’s a high concept, low profile, medium range ballistic missionary — a street-wise smart bomb — a top gun bottom feeder.
He wears power ties. He tells power lies. He takes power naps. He runs victory laps.

He’s a totally ongoing bigfoot slam dunk rainmaker with a proactive outreach — a raging workaholic — a working ragaholic.
Out of rehab and in denial.

He’s got a personal trainer, a personal shopper, a personal assistant, and a personal agenda.
You can’t shut him up — you can’t dumb him down.
‘Cause he’s tireless, and he’s wireless.

He’s an alpha male on beta blockers – a non-believer and an over-achiever — laid back but fashion forward.
Up front, down home, low rent, high maintenance, super size, long lasting, high definition, fast acting, oven ready, and built to last.

He’s a hands on, foot loose, knee jerk, head case.
Prematurely post traumatic, with a love child who sends him hate mail.

But he’s feeling, he’s caring, he’s healing, he’s sharing — a supportive bonding nurturing primary care giver.
His output is down, but his income is up.
He takes a short position on the long bond, and his revenue stream has its own cash flow.

He reads junk mail, he eats junk food, he buys junk bonds, he watches trash sports.
He’s gender specific, capital intensive, user friendly, and lactose intolerant.
He bought a microwave at a mini mall.
He bought a mini van in a mega store.
He eats fast food in the slow lane.

He’s toll free, bite sized, ready to wear, and he comes in all sizes.
A fully equipped, factory authorized, hospital tested, clinically proven, scientifically formulated medical miracle.
He’s been pre-washed, pre-cooked, pre-heated, pre-screened, pre-approved, pre-packaged, post-dated, freeze-dried, double-wrapped, and vacuum-packed.

He has an unlimited broadband capacity.
He’s a rude dude, but he’s the real deal.
Lean and mean.
Cocked, locked and ready to rock.
Rough tough and hard to bluff.

He takes it slow.
He goes with the flow.
He rides with the tide.
He’s got glide in his stride.
Drivin’ and movin’, sailin’ and spinnin’, jivin’ and groovin’, wailin’ and winnin’.

He don’t snooze, so he don’t lose.
He keeps the pedal to the metal, and the rubber on the road.
He likes to party hearty, and lunch time is crunch time.

He’s hanging in — there ain’t no doubt.
And he’s hanging tough — over and out.

That’s a modern man right there. That’s the man in our scripture this morning. He knew what to do when he had a bumper crop – build bigger barns so he could have commodities on hand when everyone else was hungry. He was so happy to think about how much money he was going to make when the price of olive oil reached 100 sheckles/ephah! This man was ahead of his time. He didn’t belong to Hebrew culture – he was made for America!

But I guess we should all take comfort in knowing that we aren’t the ones who created the concept of greed. Greed is an old problem. It’s been around for a long time.

But what exactly is greed? If it’s simply the desire to have more money there isn’t anyone in the room who isn’t guilty. And if we are all guilty what’s the point of this story? Honestly, I don’t think the problem Jesus was pointing to is just our affection for money. I’m not sure how to live in this world without access to resources and it’s a problem for all of us when some of us don’t have as much as we all need.

I don’t have the time or enough understanding to engage in a lecture on how we need to fix our economy, but I wish somebody could figure out how to help more people make more money. I heard someone on television yesterday point out how expensive it is to be poor in this country, and there’s a lot of truth to that. If you are poor you have to pay to have a checking account. If you have a lot of money the bank pays you to keep your money. And just this morning I saw another case of the expensive nature of being poor. I saw a guy buy two cigarettes from another man for a $1. Now I don’t know how much a pack of cigarettes cost, but I’m guessing they are less than $.50/cigarette when you have enough money to buy a whole package. I’m no advocate of anyone smoking cigarettes, but it’s very clear to me that it’s particularly expensive to smoke when you are poor.

There are certainly a lot of systems in place in our country that victimize poor people and are propelled by greed, and many of us are connected to those systems in ways we may or may not understand. I think those of us who have assets should try to pay attention to what it is we support, but I don’t think today’s parable is a blanket indictment of being financially shrewd.

We’ve all heard the old saying, You can’t take it with you! And that’s true, but you can leave it behind, and I can testify that it’s a nice thing when your parents leave you a little something. My parents left me some assets and I hope to do the same for my children. I also hope to be able to help some other people as did my parents. As did our late friend, Louise Barber. If she had not been wise with her money our church would be in a far poorer condition right now.

But clearly we are dealing with a slippery slope. How to be wise with money without becoming obsessed with money is a delicate balance. I think it’s an easy thing for any of us to go from being financially wise to becoming the kind of fool that Jesus described in today’s passage. It’s not easy to be rich and to be rich toward God. Of course it’s not easy to be poor and to be rich toward God either.

The pressure most of us feel is not to exhibit richness toward God, but to generate the kind of richness we see can take to the bank or leave for our children. People don’t go to seminars on how to be rich toward God. People go to seminars on how to become financially independent. I think there are seminars on how to get rich by becoming more religious, and it’s easy to get those agendas mixed up. We preachers have done a good job of blurring the lines between being rich toward God and giving to the church. And frankly it’s not unreasonable for you to think of giving money to the church as being a good way to give money to God. In fact I’m going to say right now that giving money to the church is an excellent way to show richness toward God.

But there is some confusion here. And the problem has to do with how we church leaders choose to use the money that has been given to God. That’s where the problem lies in regard to the blurring of the lines between being rich toward God and giving to the church, but I don’t think any of us should simply reduce the message of this parable to the need for us to give money to the church. God knows this church needs your money, and I hope you will be generous to our church, but God wants more than our money.

God doesn’t want us to be foolish people who think that money is the most important thing in this world. This is the message I get from this morning’s scripture. Jesus was prompted to tell this story of the foolish rich man by a man who thought money was the most important thing in life. This unnamed man in the crowd saw Jesus as a powerful person, and he assumed Jesus would be willing to use his power to address his financial problem. We tend to think our most significant problems are financial, and that just isn’t the case.

Jesus didn’t want money to be the primary orientation point of our lives. Jesus wanted us to keep God at the center of our lives because he wanted us to understand the nature of true richness. He didn’t want us to give our lives to foolish pursuits. He didn’t want us to just be good modern people – he wanted us to be richly faithful people.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making a lot of money. There are some bad ways to make money, but we shouldn’t confuse having a lot of money with being truly rich. God alone will be the judge of that.

None of us are prevented from being rich toward God, and it’s only by the grace of God that any of us find our way in to that most abundant form of life – the life of faith in God.

Thanks be to God – Amen.


One Response to “Proper 13c, August 4, 2013”

  1. This is right on target for me who since July 13 have renewed me commitment to practicing and remembering the 10 Abundance Principles by John Randolph Price in his small booklet titled: The Abundance Book. It has 10 Statements of Principle that lead us to absorb & live by the axiom that God, our own Inner Self, is our richest possession. By coming to terms with our identity as a spiritual being, not a physical body needing all the things that bodies require, we rise above the need to accumulate or hoard things for our well being.

    I’ve often countered peoples mumblings about the negative state of the economy with the fact that: “the economy is nothing but us living beings, and how we live in and make choices in this physical world.” There is no economy cloud looming over any of us, of course unless we hold a solid, fixed belief that’s the way it is! I’ve wondered many a year: “if the Kingdom of Heaven is bountiful & abundant beyond our earthly imagination, then why wouldn’t this physical life be a place of preparation for that unlimited state?”

    Finally, I’m seeing (from having worked with the unemployed for several years) that the main problem in our or maybe any countries economy is people working at a job they detest just for the money to support themselves. When a person takes / receives payment for doing something, their enjoyment should be maximal; i.e. they love what they are doing, and put their full zest into it. They’re glad to receive remuneration for it, but their joy is in the doing, cause they love for example baking bread for the baker, or calculating profits & losses for the accountant.

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