Sunday, August 05, 2007

Set Your Mind on Things that are Above

Luke 12:13-21

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

Greed and Idolatry
Seeking the Things That are Above

The Gospel tells us this week to guard against all kinds of greed. If it is true that the love of money is at the root of all evil, then this is very good advice indeed. Life in America makes that ideal difficult, however. For instance, at the same time that the Gospel tells us to be against all kinds of greed, the minimum wage increased also from $5.15 to $5.85 and hour. It is the first increase in the minimum wage in more than 10 years. Some feel the adjustment is long overdue, and many others feel it will have an adverse effect on the economy. And as I write this Joe Naccio the ex-Qwest executive has been convicted of insider trading. In short, that means that while investors in his communications company watched their investments tumble from $60 to $2 a share, he "wisely" traded out his shares at a point that gave him a $52 million profit. Is there any greed in this dynamic?

Whatever the case, let me suggest that we have not altogether freed ourselves from idolatry and the "Golden Calf" mentality of our spiritual ancestors. I grew up in a home where we were taught to believe in "The Almighty Dollar" whether we were children of the working class or of management and the middle class. I am a product of a "mixed marriage". My mom came from a long line of "blue collar" folk and union people. She married into "management" and I remember vividly being snatched out of the coziness of the old neighborhood when they got married. Suddenly I found myself in a new subdivision complete with a privacy fence, an outdoor bar-b-cue and a sense of alienation between ourselves and our neighbors.

There was a cost/benefit ratio for me in the experience. In the old neighborhood schools few of us went on to college. In the new development everyone was "expected" to go to college. We had lots of homework and suddenly there were lots of books around to read, which was not the case in the "old" family. I became the first in my family to go to college, and I considered that then and still do a bit of an achievement.

I was rescued from a life sentence of minimum wage jobs. Most of the attractive union jobs held by my "old" family have gone overseas now. And I have gone on to the comfortable life of a respected clergyman. My family had appealed to me not to go into the church business. I protested. "I like people", I said..."then go into personnel at least" they pleaded.
Whether we were union or management, we all believed in the "bottom line". It was all right to go to church as long as you didn't take that too far. I took it all the way to the priesthood. That was way too far. We were a "born-again" secular family whether union or management and we believed the the power of the "Greenback".

Today's Gospel goes on to say that even when we lay up treasures for ourselves in our vast storehouses, our very lives are vulnerable to the very viccissitudes of life. We live and die. We are healthy and we get sick. We prosper and we loose our resources: just like the marriage service teaches us, in vows we so often take for granted and without a full appreciation of the truth they proclaim: we take each other for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, and until we are parted by death.

It seems to be dawning on many that as America grays, and as we horde our wealth, or health, or even life itself, all we manage to do is to tighten our grasp around the tangible. The tighter we grab onto what we have the more likely it will sift through our fingers as sand falls from a clenched fist. Have we forgotten that who we are and what we have is not ours but God's? Have we forgotten the simplest fact about us that we are "dust" and to the "dust" we shall return. This is what the Gospel is trying to remind the rich man in today's proclamation. You may indeed store up for yourself all kinds of grain in your vast storehouses, but if you forget that you belong to God, you risk endangering all that you have and all that you are. That's a risk we all face. We delude ourselves into thinking that what we have is "all mine". It is not. There is a wonderful collect that summarizes the reality in this turn of phrase "help us as we pass through things temporal, that we loose not things that are eternal".

Among those eternal gifts, are the gifts of life, and love and eternal life. Those are the things that matter. Those are the things that shall endure.

Sometimes we even think that if we give God 10% we're even. That could not be further from the truth. Everything we have and all that we are is from God. The 10% some give and some don't is merely the Biblical injunction to proportional giving...and proportional giving cheerfully! My dear friends 100% of it belongs to God. There is a turn of phrase in the Prayer Book Marriage Service that I'm fond of. As the bride and groom give one another rings they make this pledge "I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am and all that I have, I honor you." That's the ideal of the intimacy of human love. What a wonderful way to live in partnership with another human being; as a friend for life; as a partner whose very souls touch in the co-mingling of their lives. That image befits our intimacy with God as well. The plain and simple truth in the matter of our spiritual intimacy with God is that everything we have and all that we are is also God's. God is there at every moment knocking at the door, willing to be an open heart to us, eager to respond to our most humble and urgent requests. Yes everything we are and all that we have in life is from God. As we live out our lives we decide moment by moment how much we truly want to belong to God and to God's beloved. Nothing absolutely nothing goes with us, except for the thing that matters most; eternal life!

So while we have this breath to breathe, let us do ourselves the favor of doing it wisely and in the fear of God. As Paul advised rightly let us "seek the things that are above where where Christ is seated at the right hand of God". Let us put off the old self and put on Christ as we would a garment. Let us clothe ourselves carefully as we would any wardrobe to look our best, only let us remember that we are to present ourselves to God in the purity and in the joy of heaven.