While greed is something that we all recognize as antithetical to the Gospel, it’s difficult to recognize greed’s hold on our hearts.
Greedy is a way to describe someone else, someone who is probably a lot richer than us.
Oh sure, we like our stuff, but we’re not greedy.
This is a sermon about greed and the way in which Jesus invites us to overcome it.
In Luke’s 12th chapter, a man in the crowd approached Jesus in the hopes that he could help the man resolve a family quarrel.
“Rabbi,” the man said, “tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
Rather than give the man a direct response, however, Jesus, as he often did, took the question with which he was presented as an invitation to point his listeners to a deeper truth about holy living.
Speaking so that the whole crowd could hear him, Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Then Jesus told them a story about a rich man who worried about what he would do with all his stuff, only to die before he could do anything with it.
“So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
For all the esoteric parables Jesus told that left even his closest disciples scratching their heads, this reads like a cliché.
“You can’t take it with you.”
“Some things aren’t for sale.”
“Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.”
At first glance, this passage of scripture seems easily reduced to slogans such as these. It’s so simple, so straight-forward.
Jesus’ parable, however, leads his audience—including you and me—to an interesting and thought-provoking place.
It’s the parable’s closing words that catch our attention this morning.
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
Storing up treasures for ourselves is something we understand, but what does it mean to be rich toward God?
How does a concept as intimately woven into our understanding of the material world as “being rich” relate to our relationship with the Eternal Uncreated One, maker of all things, visible and invisible?
For our purposes today, I’d like to get at this aspect of Jesus’ teaching by looking at how some of the habits and practices we associate with being rich in material things can enlighten our understanding of Christian discipleship. Obviously, this won’t an exhaustive list of such characteristics.
I came up with three, because I’m a preacher and that’s what we do, but I hope that you’ll come up with more.
So, then, here are three things to help us understand what it means to be rich toward God.
First, to be rich toward God is to experience the Divine Presence in our lives as a source of security and confidence.
Wealth provides the rich a cushion with which to absorb the blows of life’s unexpected twists. This isn’t to say that tragedy doesn’t darken the halls of penthouses and palaces, but, in life’s most difficult seasons, the rich can draw upon their assets and savings to carry them through to better days.
Look, anyone can lose their job, but the family with a healthy bank account and real estate portfolio has the potential to experience unemployment very differently than the family living paycheck to paycheck.
In a similar way, faithful hearts draw upon the abundance of God’s mercy and grace to endure; even to thrive, in difficult times.
Ours is the “peace that passes all understanding,” the promise of living water that will never leave us thirsty, and the blessing of “daily bread.”
“Fear not,” said Jesus, “for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom…an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”
Being rich toward God must mean abiding in God’s presence and enduring life’s challenges with the confidence that “all I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.”
But being rich toward God must also mean that we have an investment strategy for making the love of God more tangible and incarnate in our community.
I suppose there’s a fortune out there somewhere built by a family that earned a wage and kept all their money under their mattress, but most fortunes grow by investing. Likewise, I suppose there’s someone out there somewhere who came to church one day, heard a decent sermon, sang a song and prayed a prayer and was completely filled with love for God and their neighbors, but most of us need time and discipline and a great deal of help to become so holy.
To get to where we want to be, we need to invest our time and our talents, our best effort and our heart’s desire in the ways of God—bringing Good News to the poor, healing the sick, binding up the broken, and loving the lost.
“Stop asking God to bless what you're doing,” said Bono. Instead of that “find out what God's doing. It's already blessed.”
We worship in a neighborhood—the Financial District--that is synonymous with the ability of people to assess what’s going on in the world and then to determine where in the world there is money to be made.
The measure of our faithfulness as a church, however, is our ability to assess what’s going on in the world, and then to determine where God is leading us to share grace, to shine Love’s light, and to work out our own salvation.
The richest disciples, as Jesus used the term, are those who invest in their neighbors and the God who loves them.
To be rich toward God is to experience the Divine Presence in our lives as a source of security and confidence.
To be rich toward God is to have an investment strategy for making the love of God more tangible and incarnate in our community.
To be rich toward God, finally, is to own our responsibility to be wise and faithful stewards of all that we have and all that we are to the glory of God and for the common good.
In the economy of Scripture, the believer truly receives a blessing from God when he or she shares a blessing with another. Jesus, for example, taught us to pray for forgiveness and for the capacity to forgive others and St. Paul believed the diversity of gifts given by God was meant to enhance the life we all share together.
Reflecting on this biblical witness, John Wesley summarized our responsibility, saying,
Employ whatever God has entrusted you with in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree, to the household of faith, to all men….Give all ye have, as well as all [you] are, a spiritual sacrifice to him who withheld not from you his Son, his only Son.Do you have money, time, talent, or energy?
Use them to do good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree.
Invest these things in God’s Kingdom.
And abide in God’s loving presence, confident that you are loved, you are blessed, you are a child of God, an heir to heaven’s treasure.
Do this and discover just how rich you truly are.
Do this, and know the Gospel message of Good News for all people.
Thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.