Sunday, July 31, 2016

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Set your hearts and minds on things above

This is a story full of love
Psalm 49:1-12; Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14, 2:18-23; Luke 12:13-21; Colossians 3:1-11

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    A quote I saw recently said, “Show me your checkbook and I will tell you what you believe”.  It was on the back cover of a book I am reading, called, Money and Faith: the search for enough.
    How do we ever know when we have enough?  And who decides?  Our relationship with and use of money reveals a great deal about our values.  The lifestyle we choose, the cars we drive, our home, how we dress, where we go on vacations and how often, the stores where we shop, what schools our children attend, ....all of these things and more, make statements about what is important to us, how we spend our money and what we value most.
    Our scripture texts for today all have something to tell us, teach us, remind us about wealth, greed, God and even death!  (Sounds pretty grim and sobering.  And it can be, but it doesn’t have to be)
    Covetousness was a widespread problem in the early church.  Is it any less of a problem today?  To covet: “to desire or crave enviously that which belongs to another.”  Greed...also a problem.  Greed: “a desire to acquire more than one needs or deserves”.

    The problem lies not in wealth isn’t a bad thing, but the problem is in the way we often orient our lives around the acquisition of it. Too often it controls our very lives.  Wealth disorients people in their relationship to God and often in how they relate to others.  Our thoughts and opinions about money, create tension and lead to heated arguments in many marriages, and between parent and children.  We disagree on how much we think we need, on how much to spend or what to spend it on.  We disagree on how much to save, invest or give away.

    So what do we see in our lectionary texts for today?
1.)  Psalm 49:1-12 - We heard part of this in our opening call to worship.  It is a wisdom psalm and a teaching psalm.  It is addressed to people everywhere, rich and poor, persons of every economic scale and status.  Apparently those who were poor and powerless lived in fear of the rich and powerful. Sounds familiar.  The psalmist reassures them that death is the great equalizer.   In the end, we all die! It levels everything and everyone out.  Knowing that, it still doesn’t make life easy here on earth for many who are poor and powerless. But no matter how much real estate one owns or how large a bank account one has, none of it goes with us.  The LORD rules the world; the rich and powerful do not!  Death is inevitable and wealth is all transitory.  We can’t buy our way out of dying.

2.)  Our Ecc. passage...we hear of a teacher who is lamenting the unfairness of life.  Toil is meaningless...all is vapor..a chasing after the wind!  Is it worth it all...what you are doing day after day?  Nothing makes sense.  Dos this sound familiar?  We put our heart and soul and body into our work/career, but what happens?  Well, we can’t take it with us.  When we die, we turn it over to someone else who will have control over it and determine what to do with it.  And you know what, that person who inherits it might be a fool!  It might be a person who cares nothing about what you worked hard to accomplish throughout your entire life.  That person may be one of your very own children!  We leave it all behind us.

3.)  Luke 12:13-21 We hear of a man who was having a problem with his brother about the family inheritance and he wanted Jesus to get involved, to settle the matter, but Jesus didn’t fall for that.  And in that interaction, Jesus reminds or warns the man and the crowd about greed!  But if they didn’t really get the message, Jesus proceeds to tell them a parable.  They have a second chance to learn the lesson!
    The rich farmer who has a bumper crop doesn’t have room to store his surplus of grain.  What to do?  He comes up with a plan...a rather self serving plan.  Tear down the old barns and build bigger ones, then he will have plenty of room for the grain and, actually for all of his goods!  Problem solved and he can retire, relax, go on a cruise.  He is set for a lifetime, or so he thinks.  Jesus says, “You fool!  Tonight you die and who will get all of your stuff?”

Peterson’s The Message says for the last verse, “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”  This man lives for himself, talks to himself, plans for himself and even congratulates himself.  In the end his possessions are worth nothing.  They are all treasures turned toward self, stored in bigger barns, with the doors closed.  No plan to redistribute and share the surplus
    Three years ago when these texts came up in the lectionary cycle, I also preached on them and John and I happened to be building, for real, a bigger ‘barn’ in a corner of our back yard.  Well, let me clarify was a storage shed replacing one that was about the size of a walk in closet.  It was old, rotting, and little creatures sometimes crawled underneath it.  It was time to replace it.  And we did.  It is serving us well.  We felt totally justified in doing this, ...building something simple, useful and modest.  After all, we have no basement, a small one car garage, little storage space in the house and it seemed the right thing to do.  But I know that even as I was preparing for that sermon 3 years ago, I had to stop and think about what we were doing, knowing how easy it is to slip into a way of thinking whereby we can justify doing most anything we want to, without giving it a great deal of thought and discernment. We want to enlarge/remodel the kitchen, finish off the family room, add another garage, update our computer and all the rest of our technology.  We are convinced there is nothing wrong with any of this.

    Hoarding, collecting, storing, accumulating, is so easy to get caught up in this.  When we crave more and get more, we often end up putting these things in the place of God in our lives and disregard the needs of others.  One person wrote:  “We say we want only enough but no one knows how much is enough until one has too much.”

4.)  Col. 3:1-11   In Colossians we are reminded that since we are made alive in Christ, raised with Christ, as Christians we need to set our hearts and our minds on things above, on things that Christ is doing, not earthly things or things that society around us pressures us into thinking are important and needed.  Our old self died and those old practices of an earthly nature, like greed, should have died with it.  God is to be the center of our life.  Christ alone matters.  Not wealth, but God.  Unfortunately, too many of us in our Western materialistic society are bent on chasing money and building bigger barns.  It afflicts most of us in some way.  Greed is seductive and controlling.  It can pull us away from God.  Too often wealth creates a false sense of security.  We feel we no longer really need God.

    In the book I referred to at the beginning, Money and Faith, a search for enough, one of the contributors, Killian Noe, wrote an article called “The Ultimate Question; Where is my security?”  The author has lived in many intentional communities around the world and has learned much from that experience.  She lived in D.C. and was a member for many years of the Church of the Savior.
She relates her own early experiences of tithing and then proportionate giving and shares some excellent practical advice given to her by Gordon Cosby when she had a young family and was trying to balance their own needs with the needs of the larger human family.  Cosby counseled her to take time with her husband and discuss openly and honestly their needs for housing, food, clothing and medical needs, but also to include needs for recreation , vacation and occasional treats.  After determining your family’s financial need, put a cap on that need.  Adjustments would need to be made as the family grew and unexpected and expected expenses would be planned for, but within reason put a cap on your needs.  “If you do not you will never be free.  Faster than your income rises, what you think you will need will rise.  The need for more will always be two steps ahead of what you earn.  You will never feel free enough to share financial resources with the poor and you will not know the joy of giving.” (Gordon Cosby)

    Killian Noe writes that when she received that advice she had no idea the power of the compulsion to want more.  Letting go of more money, and its buying power can be hard.
    “We in the United States live in a culture addicted to the pursuit of more.  The compulsion to consume is an unrelenting force.  We cannot on our own hear an alternative, more life-giving message.  I have discovered I must stay planted in the soil of authentic community if I am to have any chance of breaking free from my compulsion to seek more and more of what will never satisfy my deepest longing.  In the context of authentic community, I grow more free of what I ‘possess’ and begin to view money as a resource, like all resources, to be used for the purpose of building up the whole community, the entire human family, not just my own biological family.” (p. 167)

    She includes some other important insights that are helpful , encouraging us to practice being in authentic relationships with some individual or group of people who suffer under the weight of poverty.  Real relationships have the power to transform.
    Along with building relationships with the poor, and sharing resources, we begin to see how we also need to confront systems and work for justice.  We may not always see change in systems and laws, but in the process of working in ways we can, we discover we are being transformed. 
    As we take some of these steps, we see that things are shifting for us.  Our hearts and minds are being transformed and we begin to find balance in our life.
    Elton Trueblood, in his book Confronting Christ,, wrote:
Christ does not say that is it impossible for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.  Instead, he says that it is difficult.  Part of the difficulty arises from the sense of security, with lack of need, which often marks the person of wealth.  Security is itself a barrier to spiritual growth.  The broken and needy are far closer to the Kingdom than are those who feel adequate and successful.  God reaches us more easily when there is a crack in our armor.”  (p, 171 of Money and Faith: a search for enough.)

    If we are serious about living this new life with Christ, then we need to act like it.  As The Message states in Col. 3:1:
     “Pursue the things over which Christ presides.  Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you.  Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is.”

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