Tag Archive | wealth

19th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

19th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, preached 9/25/16

first reading:  Amos 6:1a, 4-7

Psalm 146

second reading:  1 Timothy 6:6-19

gospel reading:  Luke 16:19-31

*I was guest preaching at a congregation with three Sunday services, the middle service omitting the second reading and psalm – so while I could’ve commented on those readings as well, I did not.


As a Lutheran seminary student, at least when I was there 20+ years ago, we didn’t have to learn a lot of Latin.  But there were a few Latin phrases that we absolutely had to learn.  One of them was “Incurvatus in se.”  And I think it applies very well in ALL our scriptures today, because they are DARK.

They offer us warning of judgment, which on the surface revolve around one thing – the dangers of wealth.

Money is an idol for most of us, me included, and we need to be regularly shaken awake from the delusion that money brings real happiness or eternal security.  But even more than that, our readings are also about another one of our sins, the sin of not seeing our neighbors – of Israel not caring about the ruin of Joseph” and the rich man not caring for Lazarus, MISERABLE at his doorstep.

THIS is “incurvatus in se” – which means being turned in, CURVED IN on ourselves.

narcissus-by-caravaggio

  • When we believe the world revolves around us, around our desires; when our opinions are the most important and our “feeling good” is the greatest pursuit, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • When we don’t even think about the color of our skin, but get offended when others try to tell us that they suffer because of the color of theirs, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • As we mourn over yet another mass shooting on Friday – when we think (for any reason) we have the right to blow away the life of another, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • When we have a roof over our heads and food on our tables, but do not see or care about the hunger and health of our neighbors next door or in New York City or Syria, we are “incarvatus in se.”

And the more resources WE have, the easier it is to be curved in on ourselves.  When we close the doors to our nice houses, have tinted windows in our cars to protect us from what’s outside – when we surround ourselves only with people in the same social, economic and political world as we, we are indeed headed down a slippery slope.

Amos and Jesus warn us that this is self-destructive on many different levels.

When we are curved in on ourselves, we fail, like the rich man, to see the desperate needs of our neighbors.  When we lie on beds of ivory” and anoint [ourselves] with the finest oils” it becomes easy to forget that the gas station attendant, the cashier, the pizza delivery guy, and the hotel maid are people too.

It becomes easy to forget that the homeless person sleeping in the cold is a person too, and loved and valued by God just as much as we are.  It becomes easy to forget that ultimately we are all connected to one another – with every other person through our common humanity, and intimately with other Christians through our baptism into Christ.

When Cain asked God way back in Genesis, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  God’s answer was, “Yes.”

Over and over throughout scripture, and most especially in the teaching of Jesus we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Because in loving our neighbor we DO love ourselves, in the healthiest of ways.

And when we are turned in on ourselves, not only do we fail to see our neighbor, we fail to see GOD.

And because most of us have a desire for a relationship with a higher power, we will find something to fill that void. When we’re curved in on ourselves, chances are we will fill that void WITH ourselves.

WE become our god, or money does, or work, or sports, or whatever we use to fill the hole in our hearts, minds or souls, so that even when confronted face to face with the real thing, we won’t see.

Abraham said as much to the rich man in our gospel today.  “If they (the rich man’s brothers) do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” The One who rose from the dead, warns us that if we do not turn OUTWARD to see, we will miss HIM.

The good news here, is that in the middle of the dire warning, we have grace.

It is a grace that proclaims to us we are loved – not for how well we do in the world, not for how much money we make or how much power we have or how healthy we are.  Worldly signs of success are NOT signs of God’s love. Wealth cannot buy heaven, and poverty does not deserve hell.  Health does not earn paradise, and sickness is not a sign of sin.

The parable was meant to shake people awake, who believed then and believe now that those outward characteristics were signs of divine favor.

Truth be told, “incurvatus in se” isn’t something we can completely shake.  It’s part of human nature to think “me first.”  But it is our call, once we know it, when we see ourselves getting caught in it, to break it – or rather to have God break it for us; which is why we begin worship with confession – by admitting that we ARE curved in – and asking God to free us.

And God DOES indeed free us.  Through Jesus, the One who indeed rose from the dead, we are freed from our curved in selves – freed to be curved OUT –

out to love God who first loved us, and out to love our neighbors near and far, as we love ourselves.

AMEN.

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11th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

11th Sunday after Pentecost, year B (preached 7/31/16)

first reading:  Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Psalm 49:1-12

second reading:  Colossians 3:1-11

gospel reading:  Luke 12:13-21


Today’s readings have a strong message, one that’s uncomfortable for many to hear, because especially in our culture, we have a strong attachment to STUFF.  We like our stuff.  We LOVE our stuff.

It’s the American dream to have nice things in a nice house and drive a nice care with a nice bank account.  But dang it, Jesus calls us on it.  And not only Jesus, ALL the readings call us out.

The writer of Ecclesiastes is depressed and hopeless because they’re realizing that all their hard work and toil is ultimately pointless – “chasing after wind.”  They also realize they must pass on the fruits of their work to unknown heirs, “and who knows whether they will be wise of foolish?”

Our psalmist writes, “for the ransom of a life is so great that there would never be enough to pay it, in order to live forever and ever and never see the grave.”  “Their graves shall be their homes forever… though they had named lands after themselves.”

The writer of Colossians reminds us to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth…  Put to death therefore, whatever in you is earthly” including “evil desire and greed (which is idolatry).”

But Jesus hits the hardest, where it hurts.  “Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” and “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.”  

OUCH.

This IS a strong message, and one that IS uncomfortable for us.  Not that we in this congregation are in danger of being called ostentatious.  I can’t speak to the greed that might be in our hearts, but I know we don’t show it on the outside.  None of us have big houses.  I know most of you live modestly on more or less fixed incomes.  What are WE, who live simply, to take from these readings that focus on greed and mortality?

We focus on the end point of the gospel – the zinger – storing up treasures ourselves, but not being “rich toward God.”

What does this mean?

Rembrandt. Parable of the rich man, 1627.

Rembrandt. Parable of the rich man, 1627.

Well, first of all, Jesus is NOT condemning the rich man simply for being rich.  There is a difference between wealth and greed.  The man is a fool because he focuses his whole life on his possessions.

On a podcast called “Sermon Brainwave” that I listen to every week, the commentators described this man as living in a “1st person universe.”  He’s all wrapped up in himself.  Look at the language in the parable.  It’s all in first person.

“What should I do, for I have no place for my crops?” “I will do this,” “I will pull down,” “I will store,” “I will say.”  He “thought to himself then spoke to himself.  He’s completely turned inward and there’s no room for anyone in his world but him.

Jesus calls us to a life BEYOND ourselves.  Jesus calls us to see our neighbors.  Jesus call us to love God AND our neighbors in word and deed.

The man is a fool not because he was productive and had abundance – he was a fool because he hoarded it all for himself, and FORGOT about his neighbor AND his God.

Instead of finding the poor around him and sharing from the crops of the field, he built bigger barns to keep them to himself, and “relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

Being “rich toward God” means fighting against the urge to make everything about ME.  It means setting our “minds on things that are above” as we read in Colossians.

Now, even though you and I may not be building bigger barns, I’m sure there are “things” in our life that distract us from loving God and neighbor, things that compete for our attention.  It doesn’t have to be money or “stuff.”

I think Jesus uses greed as an example because it’s easy and obvious.  It’s a temptation because the more worldly successful we become, the more likely we are to think we did it ourselves and deserve more.  It’s a rare person who can be wealthy and successful while being humble and generous.

But there are certainly other things that can distract us from being “rich toward God.”  We can go back to Colossians again for some examples.  The writer gives us a pretty good list of things that distract and/or tempt us from the “things that are above:”

“Fornication, impurity, evil desire, greed,” but also “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.”  Notice that greed is only one among many distractions or temptations.  And notice too, that many things on this list have to do with how we treat our neighbors.

It is a constant theme in Jesus’ preaching.  It is the ONE thing he called the new commandment for us who follow him – that we love one another.

Love of God and neighbor is central to our faith because it is what Jesus calls us to do.

We have been claimed by a loving God.  A God who SO loved us that Jesus came and gave HIS life for us – HIS neighbors – so that we could live.

We have been forgiven by a loving God.  All the sins which weigh us down God raises up on the cross.

And we are called by a loving God to love others.  To show them in word and deed what God has done for them too.

Being “rich toward God” means paying attention to God’s relationship with us – our first relationship – the one that gives us life.  Then, as we often pray at the end of communion, we live “in faith toward [God] and in fervent love toward one another.”

AMEN.