The Sunday Sermon: Second Sunday of Lent – March 17, 2019
Scripture: Luke 12:13-21
Greed: Enough is Enough
Week two of our journey through Lent with the “Seven Deadly Sins.” Last week, Pride, the greatest offense against Love. This morning, Greed – the next greatest offense against Love. I begin this morning with words written by Kahlil Gibran in his book The Prophet.
Would that I could gather your (possessions) into my hand, and like a sower scatter them in forest and meadow. Would the valleys were your streets, and the green paths your alleys, that you might seek one another through vineyards, and come with the fragrance of the earth in your garments.
But these things are not to be.
In their fear your forbearers gathered you too near together (and filled your houses with too many belongings that glitter like gold).
And tell me, people of (Pewee Valley), what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors?
Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?
Have you remembrances. The glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?
Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?
Tell me … have you theses in your houses?
Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort? That stealthy thing that enters (your) house as a guest, and them becomes a host, and then (the) master?
From The Prophet – On Houses, Kahlil Gibran
Pray with me …
So, it’s week two of our journey through Lent with the “Seven Deadly Sins,” indeed. Last week, Pride, the greatest offense against Love, according to Pope Gregory the Great. I have to smile at that now because last week Mike Yelton pointed out to me that we may find it ironic that Pride would be the greatest offense against Love for a Pope known as “The Great.” Maybe this next Deadly Sin spoke to him in particular, as well, for it is the next greatest offense against Love: Greed.
Last week, I suggested that Pride, the excessive belief in our own abilities, actually develops most insidiously from too little self-esteem, not too much. We doubt our own value and want others to affirm us, so we inflate our ego and “trumpet our worthiness.” What we do most of the time is try to “demonstrate our value to other people.” Likewise, our craving to acquire and possess “things” that is never quite satisfied – Greed – finds its origins in our feelings of deficiency. Our fixation on what we “lack,” turns our attention away from what we have, so we feel like we’re always “scraping by.” And then, of course, the “gathering” begins, the “storing up,” the hoarding.
Listen for the Word of God from the twelfth chapter of Luke. Read Luke 12:13-14.
So, I’m going to stop here for just a moment. Right out of the gate in our scripture this morning, we’re reading about someone trying to “acquire” something. He won’t be the main focus of the parable that follows, but still he want more than what he has. We can’t be sure if this is a “greedy” request, really – a craving from this person to possess something he (or she, perhaps, though most likely “he”) will never quite be satisfied with. Back in the first verse of chapter twelve Luke informs us Jesus is speaking to a crowd “of thousands,” so may than they are trampling each other. This unnamed individual in verse thirteen comes out of that crowd and interrupts Jesus with a demand of his own. What he wants is to divide the inheritance from his father with his brother equally. According to Judaic inheritance practices, and older brother would receive two-thirds of an estate while the younger would receive one-third. This individual, almost certainly a “younger brother,” wants Jesus to help him possess what he believes is his “rightful possession.” He’s been listening to Jesus, a part of the crown, and apparently believes him to be someone who has an “attitude” about those with abundant resources.
Again, it’s not clear whether this younger brother is greedy or just concerned with getting his fair share. But knowing ourselves as we do, the fulfillment of this request will most likely not satisfy the young man’s desires for long. In any case, Jesus doesn’t “bite.” He doesn’t respond to this wish, making it clear that he is not a mediator of family inheritance disputes! But, suspecting the ulterior motives of this one, he issues an emphatic warning to the rest.
Listen again for the Word of God. Read Luke 12:15-21. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Now, before I launch into how terrible this rich man is, how greedy he’s become and how unlike him we should be, let me acknowledge that this is a difficult set of verses for us to honestly, honestly, get our heads around. You and I take every opportunity and try every possibility we have to distance ourselves from this week’s deadly sin. In this room with this focus and “in the moment” we know how we’re supposed to feel and what we’re supposed to do. But if we’re honest, maybe later this afternoon away from one another as we’re thinking this parable over some more, we’ll start sliding backward some, siding with the rich man here, identifying with him even.
What is so wrong with storing an overrun of crops? Frugal minded people have long stashed excess food and supplies in silos, pantries, and on basement shelves; they’ve saved for rainy days, squirreled away for retirement, even tucked dollar bills under mattresses. Isn’t it wise to hedge against future uncertainty? If you’re really on the ball you’ll start thinking about one of our Old Testament patriarchs. Joseph had new silos built and store up a whole lot of “overrun” after interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams to mean seven years of plenty and seven years of famine.
And you’d be right. We’d be right. Saving for future material needs is one component of the proper stewardship of God’s gifts to us. However …. Appropriate concern for the future is a balanced concern. It is balanced between our own well-being and a sincere concern for our neighbor. Our needs must be met “in balance” with the poor and marginalized, with those who have little or no access to the world’s wealth or even to the basic needs of survival.
The rich man in our morning’s parable demonstrates no concern for the “other,” the alien, the widow, or the orphan of Old Testament law. Go back and look at these verses later this afternoon as you start to slide backward and side with the rich man. Notice how many times the pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my” dominate the story, particularly the middle three verses. There is concern only for himself, not for his neighbors and not for those who have no land to produce their own crops. A quick reminder here about the parallel with Joseph and his building and storing in the book of Genesis: After discerning the times, the present and future, Joseph did what he did for the benefit of all those who were, and who would be, in need. Our man this morning is no Joseph.
No, with all this excess at the center of his life, our man plunges into the trap of idolatry. “Fool,” he is called … by God … on the lips of Jesus. It’s not a criticism here, from Jesus or the writer of Luke so much as it’s simply a vivid description of the man and the situation he’s in. He’s foolish and the end of the parable comes quickly with the end of the rich man’s life. Once again, you have an opportunity later in the day to go back to your old ways. “This isn’t going to happen to us.” We aren’t going to die this very night. Odds are greatly, tremendously, in our favor that this isn’t going to happen to us so soon. We’ve had our check-ups. We’re taking our medications. We’re eating right and exercising.
But here’s the thing. If we are craving to acquire and possess “things” that will never quite satisfy us; if we are fixated on what we “lack,” and are turning our attention away from what we have; if we are “gathering,” “storing up,” and hoarding to ourselves, in any way already … the we are already dead. We have died to the life that is ours through the Love of God in Jesus Christ. I’ll go a step further by saying that if all, or any, of that is true in our lives now, there will be no Easter for us.
How do you distance yourself from it? I reassure myself that other people have larger incomes, bigger homes, and fancier cars. I just want to be comfortable and provide for my children. Perhaps you point out that it’s not possessing things or even desiring things that’s the problem. It loving things. So, you insist you’re maintaining a detachment from the “stuff” you have. Or here’s one we know is used a lot by religious people like us: We sanctify our accumulation by attributing it to God, as if our wealth fell from heaven with no relation to our social, economic, or cultural inheritances. Oh, how we do distance ourselves from this … deadly sin. Try as we might, though, greed is not so easily dismissed.
It’s more than just a craving for material goods, too. Greed encompasses the intangible things in our lives, too – our honor, our knowledge, our authority and our power. We can never get enough once the acquisitions start. Greed is finally a quest for security and for esteem, for mastery and control, for all those things we imagine will aid us in attainting security. Ultimately, it is a spiritual problem, a lack of trust in God (and if the word God gives you problems, call it Love). It’s a lack of trust in the other, in one another, in your neighbor, or the person siting right next you. And if you think all of this is simply “your problem,” you’d be wrong about that, too.
The economic realities in the first century world of the rich man in our parable are no different from the realities we face today. Insatiable greediness has communal implications. If one person becomes richer and richer, it means others are becoming poorer and poorer … (think about this).
I know. I know. We don’t even have to wait until later this afternoon to start distancing ourselves from this message: “Money is not a zero-sum game. We can share the wealth so all will be content.” But when, in the history of the world, has this theory ever been practically successful. No matter how close we may have come, or will come, any “sharing of the world’s wealth” only begins after the silos of those with silos are full, after a few more silos have been built, and after they, too, have been filled. And by then, we have all died, if only a little. Being rich toward God doesn’t “trickle down.” It flows out! Being rich toward God means using our resources for the benefit of our neighbors in need. It includes intentionally listening to Jesus’ teaching through parables like this one of the Rich Fool and following his Way. It involves trusting that our needs have been and will be taken care of. This is who we were created to be nd what we were created to do. Kahlil Gibran, whose words began this message, puts it this way:
(We are) children of space, restless in rest, (we) shall not be trapped or tamed. Our (possessions) shall be not an anchor, but a mast … (We) shall not dwell in tombs made by the dead for the living … (And our) houses shall not hold our secret nor shelter our longing. For that which is boundless in us abides in a mansion in the sky … whose window are the songs of (Generosity).
Where is there greed here at Pewee Valley Presbyterian? Greed in our personal lives, or at our places of work, or in our families, or right here when we are gathered in Christ’s name? How is that greed keeping us from offering ourselves, from seeing the truth, from connecting to those who need to experience the Love of our God the most? Where is the greed in your life that keeps you from being all you were created by God to be and that keeps others from doing the same? What does it mean to “be rich before God?”
More questions for Lent … the journey continues. We continue to seek our God, “our faithful God. A fountain every flowing.” When we acknowledge the greed and find ourselves sufficient in Love just as we are, we will make it to Easter again. May it be so.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church, March 17, 2019