Rich toward God

Sermon for Proper 13C

Aug. 4, 2019

Rev. Joshua D. Bowron

In my neighborhood we have a sign at the entrance, your neighborhood probably has one too: no soliciting. For our younger members, the sign is supposed to mean that people selling stuff directly to you at your front door is not allowed.

I sometimes see in knick-knack shops a sign that reads: “No soliciting: We are too broke to buy anything, we know who we are voting for, we have found Jesus, seriously, unless you are selling Thin Mints, don’t waste your time.”

Well even with our paltry “No Soliciting” sign, companies still send their folks out to beat the bushes for business. This week one such solicitor came calling. The solicitor was a young woman, professionally dressed. She displayed her official looking photo ID for the “big corporation.” She started with her identification and her corporate affiliation that sounded just official enough and she just kept on talking.

There must be some sort of verbal aikido that one can use to disrupt a sales pitch, but I was not bold enough to say, “You know there is no soliciting in this neighborhood.” I imagine that the sales pitch depends on the common decency of people to do nothing.

That’s the way it is I suppose with the indecent, they ride on the civilizational coattails of the decent.

Anyway, she launched into her spiel, it turns out she is from a home alarm system company and she said, “I’m sure you’ve heard about the recent problems of calls not getting out.” I agreed I had, but was thinking to myself, what calls? Getting out? Where? What’s going on?

Then I thought, there were no missed calls or whatever, if there had been any robberies my neighbors would have been talking about it replete with suggestions from our one cop-neighbor.

No, this salesperson was lying. Even if she was telling the truth I was uninterested. And after my third, “No thank you.” She finally left.

Upon reflection to this solicitation I realize that it was carefully calibrated to play upon my fears about protecting my family and my shame at not being “in-the-know” about missing calls or whatever. Fear and shame.

Fear motivates a great deal of what we do and say doesn’t it? When I pronounce the final blessing at the end of Holy Eucharist, I use a blessing from Clare of Assisi, it starts, “live without fear, your creator has made you holy.” “Live without fear.” You’ll notice, in the church, the things that we repeat the most are the things that you most need to hear.

Fear and shame. This salesperson, she was hammering on my fear and shame.

But don’t they all? Or at least most of them? I’ve heard it said that if American women boycotted the diet and cosmetic industries there would be a collapse of the economy like we saw from the airline industries after 9/11[1]. Our entire economic system is strongly supported by fear and shame. Fear and shame of not being “enough.” Fear and shame over not having enough.

I’ll remind you of something I’ve reminded you of before. I always use a definition for two terms in my preaching. Political and economic. Political means anything that we do that impacts another person, which is everything.  I don’t mean partisan politics, this much more interesting: public, communal existence. We are political animals as Aristotle said.

The other term is economic, it comes from two Greek words, oikos and nomos, oikosnomos, oikos means house and nomos means law. Oikosnomos, economics means household rules. How we have decided to conduct our common life.

And the chief way that the economics are run in our system are shame and fear.

It is certainly fear and shame that motivates the two men in our gospel reading for today.
One man walks up to Jesus and asks him to arbitrate on a family financial matter. There is nothing thornier than a family financial matter. One financial guru I like says that if you want to never see your brother-in-law again, loan him $100.

We don’t know about this inheritance or the nature of the arrangement. For all we know the guy who is asking about it might be excluded from or delayed in his share for a very good reason.

In any case, Jesus makes a warning about getting greedy. Jesus sounds a little like Tyler Durden in Fight Club, you start by owning your possessions and then your possessions own you.

Then Jesus introduces us to the second man, the one in the parable. The English gets close but the Greek, as usual, is better. You can play with Greek when you write it to layer on emphasis. So, in the English translation the rich man says “I” about six times, in three sentences. In the Greek it reads more like “me, me, me!”

There’s this self-centered person whose land has produced abundantly. Note that Jesus finds no fault in abundant production. It is not bad to be rich, but it does offer a great many obstacles. This parable is about that main obstacle.

He wants to tear down his barns to build bigger ones to store all his abundance. Have you noticed the proliferation of self-storage companies in Charlotte? It’s one of the fasted growing areas of the economy, self-storage. Just hear that in light of this gospel SELF-storage. We are trying to store or selves, “and where I will store my crops.” We can build thousands of climate controlled self-storage units but we can’t seem to bring ourselves to building affordable housing.

Then, in the parable, God enters the picture. As a story, Jesus was so good at this, as a story it’s so powerful to bring God onto the stage because it relativizes the need to store. Hey, who granted all this abundance anyway? It’s also hilarious that the man, when speaking to himself, calls himself “Soul.” But when God addresses him, God calls him, “Fool.” God further relativizes the desire to hoard by reminding the man that he will die and very soon. You can’t take it with you.

Jesus finishes the parable with a moral. He doesn’t always do this and we are reminded in it that Jesus deployed this parable as a response to the man who asked about the inheritance. “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Ok, lesson learned. But what does “rich toward God” mean? I guess my first response to that question is, have you tried? Have you tried being rich toward God? In the parable, the rich man could have been rich toward God by not tearing down his barns to make new, bigger ones. Then perhaps, I don’t know, sharing his abundance. Don’t think too deeply about this, it’s really not complicated.

“But preacher: if the rich man had flooded the market with free goods then the glut would have driven down prices for everyone and then where would we be huh? You know, this altruism is actually oppressive.”

Stop.

Stop!

This isn’t Keynesian Economics, it’s a parable about how to conduct your entire life. Rich toward God.

Being rich toward God looks a great deal like the kind of life that is outlined on our baptismal covenant. We are baptizing today, little Chase will be welcomed into the rich life of God and we will all reaffirm our response to God’s abundant grace.

Being rich toward God looks like a life shaped by the end of that covenant, namely:

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

This is not complicated people. G.K. Chesterton said that the problem with the modern world is that we make simple things more complex than they need to be and complex things more simple than they should. This is not complicated or complex. This life is fairly simple, not easy, but simple: proclaim in word and example the Good News of God’s acceptance, forgiveness, and love. Seeking Christ in others and loving your neighbor as yourself. Implicit in this is love for yourself, in our so-called enlightened age I think we have forgotten that we should treat ourselves as it we were someone that we loved. And finally we commit ourselves to justice, peace, and to maintaining the dignity of every human being.

This is what rich toward God looks like, consideration for God’s creation, for God’s people.

This fear and shame of our system. It’s not just the corporations that feed, literally feed, upon the fear and shame of people. Our so-called leaders do the same thing, especially now at election time: fear and shame. It is fear and shame that compels someone to stage a mass murder, three in our beautiful, sick country this week alone. 32 mass shootings in our country this year.

Fear and shame that feed our judgements of others. Some of this fear is rightly placed. There are forces at work in our world that actively work against the rich life that God wants for us. There are forces that continually denigrate the dignity of other humans. And please don’t get high and mighty about your favorite political party, all of us are guilty of using fear and shame to manipulate others.

But there is another way, it’s the way of abundance over scarcity.

There is another way, it’s the way of creation over commodity[2].

Fear and shame have no place in a life that is rich with God. “Perfect love casts out fear[3]!”

You know, as a priest sometimes I will be at an event and people will complement me for the weather. If it’s raining or some other foul weather, I’ll be asked if I can do anything about it. As if I can control the weather. I suppose folks think that I’ve got an “in with the man upstairs.” It’s actually an old notion of the priest as divine stand-in. Of course the work of Christ has made us all priests in that we are able to take all that we have been given and bring it back to God, like we do in our Eucharist, to be transformed by God into something even more than what we brought.

I know that people are not thinking of such things when they ask me to do something about the rain.

When they do complain or give credit about the weather I always answer: “You know I’m in sales, not management.”

That’s what we are all supposed to be doing. You are hereby free from managing the world or other people.

Instead, be in sales about the abundance of God’s love and don’t just be a salesperson, be a customer.


[1] Brene Brown, the Power of Vulnerability.

[2] Walter Brueggeman, Money and Possessions, 192-193.

[3] 1 John 4:18

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