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Be Rich Toward God

  • August 4, 2019
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 4 August 2019 (Proper 13 Year C)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Colossians 3.1-11; Psalm 49.1-11; Luke 12.13-21

Title:               Be Rich Toward God

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12.15).

My dear friends, how many different kinds of greed are there? If the Lord calls us to guard ourselves against ALL kinds of greed, how many kinds are there? I mean, how difficult is this task, really?

And the primary question for us is this: are we ready to turn away from greed, from self-centered idolatry, and to follow Christ in a life of deep generosity?

We hear about this today in both of our readings: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (Luke 12.15).

And “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed (which is idolatry)” (Colossians 3.5).

In both cases, the same word is translated here as greed: pleonéxia is the Greek word.

It means to covet, to desire. It also has a meaning like to gain at the expense of others, or to take advantage of others.

It is a relational word. Greed, coveting – these things have to do with the desire to have what your neighbor has and you do not. OR to have more than what your neighbor has. It is a comparative word, a relational term.

Now, remember what Jesus taught from the very beginning? “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4.17).

Repent – change your way of thinking in light of a vastly greater and vastly more important reality – which is the actual presence of God surrounding us always!

Change your way of thinking, Christ teaches, to keep THIS reality from and center in every moment of our lives.

On one of those hot days last week, a woman pulled up in her car just outside of my office window. Her window was down, but she kept her engine idling.

And all of my windows were open – there is no air-conditioning in our buildings. So after three minutes of breathing in the exhaust from her car, I walked out and asked if there was anything that I could do to encourage her to turn off the engine.

She did it immediately and said, “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry. I was not even thinking.”

Not even thinking. THAT, my friends, is exactly what is wrong with humanity! Going through life, doing things without even thinking!

Look, idling the engine of your car – it’s just a little thing. No big deal, right? But the reality is our lives are made up of lots of these little things, all strung together, like threads woven into one of our needlepoint kneelers.

These small choices we make, when multiplied together in the millions – in the billions – well, these have enormous consequences for the health and well-being of others, of ourselves, and of our entire planet.

These little choices matter. And going through life without thinking of the consequences of your choices is not what it means to follow Jesus.

Just the opposite! This is what today’s passage from Colossians is trying so desperately to convey to the community there. What you do matters – all of it! Everything you do.

All of the little things – the words said in anger, the snarky and sarcastic and biting comments, abusive language like name-calling, idling our engines and polluting the air for no reason, or the simple greed of buying things that are not needed – all of these actions are symptoms of a debilitating spiritual disease.

Self-centeredness. The old way of being, which is pretty much what happens when we do things “without even thinking.”

But the truth is that all of us find it difficult at times to keep the reality of the kingdom of God from and center in our minds.

So what happens is that most of us end up acting just like the foolish man in this little parable – even those of us who worship in the church, those of us who claim the title of Christian.

In general, we are functional atheists. We might SAY that we trust in God, but when the rubber hits the road, what we really trust in is the bank, or the government, or whoever is going to give us the money we want, when we want it.

But there is another way to approach this life. Abba Antony was the early leader of the great monastic movement in the deserts of Egypt. He was born around the year 250, and he spent years in prayer, learning how to be totally and completely attentive to God.

He did this because on one Sunday he heard the Gospel proclaimed at the Eucharist which recounted the time that Jesus turned to the rich young man and said, “You still lack one thing. Sell your possession and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18.22).

And for whatever reason, on that particular Sunday, Antony heard those words as spoken directly to his heart. As the voice of God penetrating his inner being. And he knew what he had to do. He followed this word from Jesus, sold his possessions, gave the proceeds to the poor, and he went out into the desert to figure out how to follow Jesus as best as he could.

Antony spent years trying to figure this out – 20 years in solitude with God, in fact. He became somewhat of a celebrity. People came from all over the Roman Empire to see what he was up to and to harvest a little piece of wisdom from his experience.

And yet, after all of that, one time Antony heard a voice that said: “There is someone in the city [just] like you, a physician by trade, one who provides for those in need with his extra income and who sings ‘Holy, holy, holy’ along with the angels of God all day long” (Apophthegmata Patrum Alphabetical Antony 24).

Whether we are in the wilderness or in the city, living in solitude or working with people, the path of holiness is ALWAYS the path of generosity, keeping for ourselves only what we need, and giving the rest away.

The call to walk in the way of Jesus is a call to follow his path of generosity, of self-giving for the sake of the other.

But it is not always easy to be generous in our current society, is it?

On Thursday evening, as Erin and I drove over to our cabin in New Hampshire, we were talking about this exact thing. We were discussing a hope to be generous and to give some money away, maybe make a donation to an urgent need or support someone who is struggling in life. We came up with a plan, and it felt good.

But then, on Friday morning, we met with a roofing contractor to talk over how we are going to repair the woodstove chimney that was damaged over the winter from falling ice and snow. We decided that there is a correct way to do this which will ensure that we won’t have to worry about this problem for 30 years or more.

This is a good way to go, and this is how we will proceed, BUT … that long-term solution will cost us much more than we anticipated.

So our wonderful plan for generosity, made just the night before, was shot right out the window.

But all is not lost! For in the realm of the spirit, in the sight of God to whom all desires are known, what matters most is the intention of our hearts. And the question always is, what would you do, if you could.

At the Navy Chaplaincy School, the Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant who guided our class explained to us that, in his mind, seventy-five percent of success in whatever we needed to do could be accomplished with three simple things:

Right Time. Right Place. Right Gear.

It really is that simple. Show up at the right time. Be in the right place. Have the right stuff with you. If you can do these things, most of the time you will succeed.

To this list, I want to add one item. If those things – Right Time, Right Place, Right Gear – lead to success in seventy-five percent of life, then adding just one more thing takes care of nearly all the rest. And that is, Right Attitude.

A God-centered attitude is what was lacking in the rich fool of the Lord’s parable, and this God-centered attitude is the sign that our lives have been transformed by the self-sacrificial love of Christ.

“Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 2.2-3).

Those “earthly” things that no longer belong in the lives of believers are those things that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, anything that puts our selves and our needs at the center of our equations.

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (Luke 12.15).

My friends, are you ready to turn away from greed, from self-centered idolatry, and to follow Christ in a life of deep generosity?

Together, let us set our minds on this path. Amen.

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