Buying God, Pastor Fred sermon
How much does God cost? Do you have enough stored up to buy God?
Hopefully, that sounds preposterous to you! Maybe even blasphemous!
As good Lutherans – and, we most certainly are! – we know, that God’s Grace is a free gift. Or as Luke says a few verses after our Reading today, “don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!”
God wants to give us the realm and kingdom of God, for free! At no cost! Is there anything else of value, that we get for free? When so many struggle to put food on the table for their families, how is it that the life of God, ‘the life that is life,’ comes gratis, no strings attached? When the 3 richest individuals in America have more wealth than the bottom half of all Americans, it’s important to ask how our money is connected with our lives of faith, in our everyday life? How is it, that the most important thing – our life in Christ – is gifted to us by God, and our life in relationship with the world and our neighbors, can be so costly?
Jesus told the crowds, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” What ‘Life’ is, is definitely key here! Then he told them a parable about a man with many possessions, barns of stuff saved up, that he would never be able to use!
“The land of a rich man produced abundantly,” begins Jesus! This is the American Dream! 40 acres and a mule! Win the Lottery! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Except, when has there ever been a boon for one person, that didn’t negatively affect another, to put it nicely? 40 acres and a mule was created from the theft of Native American land. Just as the commercial and financial success of America was built on the labor of West Africans brought to this country against their will, to become an enslaved unpaid work force, that still affects us as neighbors, today.
And today, the rich are in control more than ever. Not because they work harder than the rest of us, but mostly by how the system of state and federal laws are crafted to protect and benefit them. The modern myth of American neoliberalism that has invaded all sides of Washington in the past couple generations, claims that our economy works best, when taxes are slashed, and government is shrunk. And it has worked gloriously well, for the already privileged and moneyed classes!
I don’t know how many times this past decade I’ve chanted, “banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” Whatever chant or curse word you’ve been using – this “greed,” as Jesus called it, doesn’t just benefit the rich, but it comes out of our pockets – and not just in dollars, but at a cost in lives. Those who have, can get more, and build bigger barns. But it’s always at the expense of those who have less, or the environment – or both. And the toll is spiritual as well as material. Greed knows no bounds. It is the opposite of the ‘life’ that Jesus came to offer us. The life that Jesus came to offer us, is a life of abundance, not in possessions, but in love and grace, peace and unity. And for free!
So, a contemporary, more familiar parable, might be about a man, who lived in the biggest city of the land, who owned property at a young age. Not that he pulled himself up by the bootstraps, which is a myth anyway. The money he had, was given to him by his (rich) father. He tore down perfectly good buildings to build bigger ones. When his deals fell through – because he kept trying to make Glittery Towers and Casino’s, that were monuments to his own name – his father bailed him out with more inheritance money. When he created a business college, without any teachers(!), and the students demanded their money back, he sued them, until they couldn’t afford their lawyers any longer.
And soon, he began to feel like he could do nothing wrong. And that if you weren’t rich like him, you deserved just what struggling poor or working class station you had. He dined at the finest restaurants, relaxed and was merry with the most beautiful people – and laughed that he could take whatever he liked. He listened to know one, and often talked about himself in the 3rd person. “I said to myself, you have everything a man could want. You’ve done so well. Take it easy and have the time of your life!
Which is just how the rich man in the parable spoke. According to Jesus, he said, “I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
The rich have no need of others. They are their own best consultant’s. Their decisions are final. What they do cannot be criticized.
Jesus calls this ‘storing up treasures for yourselves, instead of being rich toward God.’ The rich don’t need God’s treasures, or are perhaps blinded by the pleasures of this world. They don’t need to seek God’s counsel. They are their own best confidant. Jesus paints a picture of their loneliness, vanity, and narcissism.
If I’m sounding like I’m about to get vindictive, please, let me know, I beg your good counsel!
We know what Jesus says – he says, don’t make me a judge over your money decisions. And, ‘Take care’ to live rich toward God.
And to the rich man in his parable, he says, ‘You fool!’ Because, as he was making his decision to increase his possessions, without any input from his family or friends, without sharing a whit with those in need around him, Jesus tells us, the rich man died that night. His desire to get richer at the expense of everyone else, was ended. So Jesus asks the crowds, and us, what about the ‘abundance of possessions’ the rich man had? Whose will they be?
All his possessions did him no good with God! Maybe he knew that he couldn’t ‘buy God.’ But for some reason, he had no idea of the priceless nature of God’s kingdom and realm either! “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
The rich man, of course, couldn’t ever have enough stored up to buy God, even if he wanted to! God’s grace is a free gift!
Our lives lived ‘towards God,’ do consist of something – not possessions, but this ‘living towards God,’ points to a relationship. We build our relationship with God on our gifts of faith, hope and love. And we do this with the tools of worship and prayer, by love of neighbor, and love of justice.
“Whenever you give a cup of water to one of the least of these, you do it to me,” said Jesus. Our relationships with our neighbors, is the working out, of our relationship with God. ‘You cannot serve God and money,’ Jesus said elsewhere! The ‘life that is life,’ the realm of God, is not compatible with a life of greed.
Jesus taught us to pray that the ‘kingdom of heaven’ would come and fill this kingdom on earth where we live right now.
We cannot ‘buy God.’ It’s foolish to think we can even, ‘gain our own life.’ We are not our own best counselor – for that’s the job of the Holy Spirit! Abundant life, the life of the kingdom and realm of God, is a life lived richly toward God, and a life that lifts up our neighbor’s welfare and life, just as much as our own.
We pray, ‘give us this day our daily bread’ – and keep us from the ‘greed’ of building up bigger and bigger barns. Let us live rich toward God!