When Connie and I first married, we lived ten minutes away from my parents. My dad had a great workshop where I often worked on projects. One night dad sat on a stool visiting while I transformed a $10 garage sale find into what even today is our kitchen table. As Dad sipped iced coffee, I groused about the old table and my new wife. I did not notice or care when Dad’s brow furrowed and his mustache twitched. These both were sure signs Dad’s mostly retired drill sergeant skills might get called into active duty. As I finished my sad soliloquy on my various disappointments with married life, Dad cocked one eyebrow over his glasses, wrinkled his nose into a snarl and barked, “You’re dang lucky to be married to that girl!” Now, I have cleaned up Dad’s vocabulary a tad to honor my mother. A bit stung and angry I fired back, “WHAT?” “You heard me!”, Dad quipped. “You, Father, are supposed to be one my side!” Without a smile, the old E7 shot back, “I am on your side, but you are just too dumb to see it!” Dad, like all parents, was not perfect, however, just last week, 31 years later, I chuckled and thought, “I am dang lucky to be married to that girl.”
My dad loved me too much to let me wallow in self-absorbed shallows or take up a bad habit. Dad’s militaristic defense of Connie was not so much a put down, but a call out into the deep end of my vows to “love, honor and cherish”. Dad grew up in a love starved hell-hole. Dad knew love was not transactional but grew up from mutual sacrifice.
Someone in a messy family system shouted out to Jesus, “tell my brother to settle the estate with me!” Do our prayers align more with our desires more than seeking God’s will? Have you searched the scriptures to prove your point? Jesus refuses to be a pawn in our squabbles. God longs for us to leave the spiritual shallows so we might venture out into the deep end of ethics, character, and Love! “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Jesus meets “Teacher, tell my brother to settle” with a mirror into our motives: “watch out for a subtle greed that defines you by your stuff.”
Watch out for “all kinds of greed,” not just the consumption of billionaires and reality TV excess. Watch out for garden variety, everyday, market friendly greed. Is not consumerism our American idolatry? Let us not be smug because some jerk is greedier than us!
Life is not measured in stuff. We know this is true, but do we check our accounts and analyze how we spend the abundance of our income?
We so often fly past God’s caution labels, never reading, much less taking them to heart. Jesus knew this life-giving truth about money might not touted on bumper stickers, affixed to pocketbooks, or sewn on throw pillows so Jesus adds a story. A rich business owner had a banner year and wondered, “What shall I do?” I have no safe tax havens. So they stayed past midnight hatching a plan to protect the windfall. Finally, at 3am, they drank a fine whiskey and said to no one in particular, “Cheers! You did it! Take it easy. Eat. Drink. Be merry.”’ The next morning they did not wake up. What became of that banner year? Did the cleaning service drink the whiskey? When the well-off parent snuggled into their silk sheets, did they imagine their children cornering the pastor and demanding, “Hey preacher, tell my brother to settle the estate with me?” Life is more than stuff. Jesus bookends the parable calling us to “become rich toward God.”
Do you strive to be rich towards God? In “The Use of Money”, John Wesley describes money as “an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest of ends. In the hands of God’s children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothes for the naked, shelter for the traveler and stranger… sustenance for the widow and a parent for the orphan.” A relative stranger approached me at my dad’s funeral. They share how as a struggling college student, new to the church, my dad noticed the worn tires on their old VW. Dad offered a gruff safety lecture and then bought them four new tires. If you love those who you love, what is special about that? (Luke 6) Do I remember how many tires my folks put on my cars? As I settled my folks’ estate, I saw how formally generous my parents were. I am a much richer for the things my parents gave away.
Do we strive to be rich towards God? Do we release our wealth to God’ Kingdom or cling to possession that will not endure? Jesus woos us away from subtle greed: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing. Consider the ravens, they neither plant nor harvest, they have no silo or barn, yet God feeds them. You are worth so much more than birds! Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that dandy King Solomon wasn’t dressed as well as a single wild daisy. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully… how much more will God do for you, you people of weak faith!”
Mary Olliver’s ‘commentary reads like this:
When I moved from one house to another… there were many things I had no room for.
What does one do? … I rented a storage space. And filled it. Years passed.
Occasionally I went there and looked in, but nothing happened, not a single twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared about grew fewer, but were more important.
So one day I undid the lock and called the trash man.
He took everything. I felt like the little donkey when… his burden is finally lifted.
Things! … Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful… fire!
more room in your heart for love… for the trees!
for the birds who own…nothing
the reason they can fly.
Let us stop chasing after what we will eat, wear, or buy next. Stop worrying. God, our Divine Mother, knows our needs before we ask. Instead, let us strive after God’s kingdom and stuff will take care of itself. Don’t be afraid, our Heavenly Father delights in giving us the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief, rust, or moth destroys what we have already given to God.
Oh, dear ones, let us be on guard against subtle greed. Let us not be possessed by our possessions. We will never find abundant life inside things. Indeed, strangely our hearts will wander off following the trail of our purchases! The Market gods tempt us to believe that things, titles, and wealth make us who we are. Friends, we are God’s children. Only faith, hope, and love make it beyond this life and make life worthwhile! So let us be on guard against subtle greed, unnoticed consumerism, and the allure of wealth. There is no life in that. Life is found in giving things away and giving to those in need. Amen.