Preacher: The Reverend Kate Wesch
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
An Associated Press article from July 28 revealed that four out of five US adults will struggle with joblessness, near poverty, or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives. While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 70s. The poll defines “economic insecurity” as a year of joblessness, reliance on government aid, or an income below 150% of the poverty line. In the current economic climate, it seems economic insecurity is on the rise, and according to this poll, particularly among white Americans.
At the same time, most of us enjoy a level of comfort and security unseen by generations before us. In my own family, we reflect frequently on our good fortune. Through our bedtime prayers, my 2 year-old has picked up the refrain, “Thank you God for the food we have to eat, the clothes we have to wear, and the house we have to live in.” We then say, “Please God, be with those who don’t have enough food to eat, clothes to wear, or a house to live in.” As young as she is, I want to instill a sense of thankfulness to God for the abundance of blessings in our lives. At the same time, I want her to be aware that not everyone has the basic things we take for granted, such as food and housing.
Sometimes it feels like walking a tightrope, finding balance between the wanting and the satisfaction in our lives. I was warned and it is true, that no matter how much or how little money you make, you can always find a way to spend it. We scale our lives in accordance with our resources and yet, I always find myself wanting just a little bit more.
It feels awkward to talk about money and yet, Jesus talked about it all the time both directly and indirectly. I didn’t count myself, but found this fact in an article that one out of every ten verses in the gospels is about “stuff” – the human quest for treasure. I don’t doubt it and know that our culture depends on this perpetual quest. In times of broad economic insecurity, we are encouraged to spend more money, to stimulate the economy. The next best thing is always out there and we want it. I know I’m guilty! Last week, I traded in my 4th generation iPhone for a shiny new Samsung Galaxy s4. My old iPhone worked fine, but I was sucked in by the salesperson’s promises of how the Galaxy s4 would be even better.
Jesus says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed: for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (12:15). The Greek word for greed is “pleonexia” and literally means the “insatiable desire for more.” The fool in the parable is kind of like us, not a crook per se, but a little self-absorbed.
But don’t worry; Jesus isn’t so simple as to shame us with a story to invoke guilt and fear. Jesus is more complex than that. Like the fool, we have been seduced by society, by television and Internet ads. Our sense of purpose is too small; too limited and we lose sight of what truly matters in the very human quest for treasure.
The parable in today’s gospel directly counters the prevailing American attitudes about stuff. So, if life is NOT about the acquiring of possessions, the WHAT is it about? What is the purpose of human life? If we dig a little deeper into the meat of this text, I believe what Jesus is hoping is for us to consider a deeper search for meaning.
During the daytime, I fret about juggling the mortgage, car payments, childcare costs, bills, groceries, and other expenditures. I worry about providing the best for my children – the best food to help them grow, the best education, the best gymnastics class or music lessons to set them up for a lifetime of success and happiness….
But when I lie awake at night, when the world is still and quiet, I hear a different voice. All of the stuff in the world can’t drown out the voice of God reminding us to nurture our souls, not just our brains and bodies. It’s back to the original question: if it’s not about things, then what is the purpose of life? What larger purpose draws you out of bed each morning?
Jesus never says what it means “to be rich toward God.” He leaves that to us to figure out for ourselves.
As Barbara Brown Taylor expresses it in her own exploration of this parable:
“My guess is that every person here has a different purpose, a different way of being rich toward God. Some people really do need to quit their soul deadening jobs and find work that is richer in purpose. But a whole lot of other people could wake up to the purpose that is available to them in their lives right now. One of the saddest things in the world is to talk with someone who believes that what he or she does is small change in God’s pocket, not even worth counting. As far as I can tell, there is no such thing.
The world is in terrific need of mending, and no stitch is too small. As discerning Christians have been discovering for almost two thousand years now, it is possible to pick up a straw off the floor for the love of God. It is just as possible, I believe, to diaper a baby, or roof a house, or simply to sit in a wheelchair and be a friend for the love of God.
The important thing is to sense how your life and God’s life are flowing in the same direction—and if you are clear that they are not, then to do something about it. Get yourself a purpose as soon as you can—one that helps God mend the world, and mends you while you are at it—maybe even one that costs you more than a new laptop or a new car but which promises to do you a whole lot more good when God shakes you awake in the middle of the night so that you can spend some quiet time thinking about what your life is worth.
Until then, if you have to be greedy, then be greedy for love. Be greedy for justice, and wisdom, and significance. That way, when it comes time to show God what is in your treasure chest, there won’t be any doubt in either of your minds that you are rich, rich, rich.”
Taylor, Barbara Brown. “Treasure Hunt: Luke 12:13-21.” Review & Expositor 99.1 (2002): 97-104. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 31 July 2013.