Bread, cabbage, kale, cheddar–a recipe for disaster

Last week if you were blessed to be here, we were talking at least for some time about our daily bread. Well today we’re still talking about bread, bread also known as dough, chips, cabbage, kale, green, or maybe cheddar, benjamins, loot, moola. Money.
Money, the problem with having too much of it, or greed wanting, having, hoarding, desiring it is deposited in all our assigned readings for this morning. But I’m going to start this morning by looking at the passage from Luke, which begins with a question about inheritance, about most likely a younger brother hoping to have Jesus take his side and tell his older brother to share more of the inheritance than the law says he has to. The law of God in the Hebrew bible, the Old Testament in Deuteronomy and other places provided somewhat for younger siblings, by declaring that the oldest son could only have one half, and the rest were to share what was left over. Now that probably wasn’t all that much, but hey at least it was something.
Jesus, however doesn’t want to even go there. He’s not here to be a small claims or family court judge. Instead he tells a parable, a story about a farmer who is very successful. He’s so successful that he runs out of space to store all his good stuff.
And I’m going to stop right here because looking at both of these parts of Luke’s gospel, and looking (and well knowing so many of us) it just seems that this passage really doesn’t relate to most of us. I mean, let’s be honest, of all the problems in the bible, of all the problems in life–having too much stuff, an inheritance to fight over, having too much money well at least for many of us, that at least is not one of our problems. So we might be tempted to let out a sigh of relief, or be tempted to quit listening. Or others may have thought that a sermon on the list of despicable behaviors from the second reading, you know–fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire,), anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Now those are problems that are everywhere. You don’t have to be rich to own all that stuff–the Rich and poor, and the in between, well– we all got a fair share of all those things.
I’m sure that in lots of pulpits around this country and around the world there are sermons upon sermons, hand raising, and finger waving about these evils running rampant. And I too might be tempted, and some of us would be happy to hear preaching against fornications, against our sexualized society, prostitution, sex trafficking or the slander (meaning lies) we hear and read about from so many politicians, powerful corporations, and the paparazzi we call the press. But remember and before you get too comfortable, remember anger and wrath, they’re in the list too. And I’m pretty sure none of us has escaped the grips of that emotion. Everyone, with perhaps a very very few of us have something’s that make our blood just boil–things that make us if not froth at the mouth, at least spout off or post to face book a few choice words.
Money and greed on the other hand well that’s a whole different story. I can tell you as I perused, read the ELCA pastor group, now this is a whole other thing. You see money, the love of it, money the need of it, the wealth of it, it actually hits home, and for some of us way too close to home.
And if you may be tempted to think that this is something new, you know a problem of our affluent society, a problem that we are particularly experiencing because of the huge gap that is widening in our country between the rich and the poor, well you are partly right.
But here’s what another preacher preached about greed. And I am going to share just a bit of his words and before I begin. He’s using covet, covetousness to talk about greed: and he says:
For plainly the world, particularly in our day, is completely submerged in the vice of covetousness. It is impossible to enumerate the subtle arts it can invent, and the good and beautiful things it knows how to pass off whereunder it masks itself as a thing not to be considered sinful, but rather extremely virtuous and indicative of uprightness. And so idolatry ever does. While before God it is the worst abomination, before the world its appearance and reputation are superior. So far from being recognized as sin, it is considered supreme holiness and divine worship. …It is evident the vice is gaining ground. With its false appearance and ostentation, and its world-wide prevalence, it is commonly accepted as legal. Without censure or restraint, men are engrossed in coveting and accumulating to the utmost. Those having position and power think they have the right to acquire by violence as much as they can, daily making assessments and imposts, and new oppressions and impositions upon the poor. And the common rabble seek gain by raising prices, by extortion, fraud, and so on. Yet all desire not to be charged with wrong-doing; they would not they should be called unchristian on account of their conduct. … If you will not desist from the vice of covetousness, then know you are not a Christian.

A quick guess out there, who might have preached those words? Yes, Luther, Martin Luther in a sermon on the passage from Colossian. And what he is saying in a more modern world is that greed is truly the root of all evil, but what makes it worse, greed the acquiring of wealth, trying to get ahead, the very making of money, and the ways we go about it, well our world, our culture, back then and today just assume it’s normal. We, if not worship rich, those who have made it, we too want a piece of the pie, we want to be movin on up an apartment in the sky, or we want at least enough to make our problems disappear. And this quest to make money, money, money, to make profits–is so evil, is so nefarious because it masks itself, it makes us think that its’ normal, that it’s the only way to live. It’s the only way to meet our needs, and that is idolatry.
You see we all have holes in our lives, they don’t need to be empty pockets, wallets, and bank accounts if we’re lucky enough even to have them. We all have fears and insecurities, so we work, work, work like the writer of Ecclesiastes talks about, we hope to prepare and to take care of ourselves. All we are thinking about is ourselves.
That was the problem with the guy in Jesus’ story. He thought his bigger barn filled with food and good stuff would bring him happiness, would take care of him. He didn’t think about others. He didn’t think about their need, and he didn’t think about his need for them.
Remember If we call ourselves Christians, if want others to call ourselves Christians, it means follow Jesus. And Jesus is the one who fed the hungry, Jesus is the one who overturned the tables of the temples market place, Jesus is the one who reminded his people again and again to listen to the good news of the prophets Isaiah, and Micah, and to do more than even the laws of Moses which set up systems to care for the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger who in the Old Testament is the immigrant.
We will never have enough money to fix our problems, we will never have enough money to keep us safe, we will never have enough money. Because money isn’t the answer. Instead it is God, and what God gives us, forgiveness to heal our broken hearts, to mend our broken relations. It is God who gives us one another and allows us to live for and with one another, to truly care for one another. It is God who gives our life meaning and frees us from all empty things, who frees us from all things vain. Amen.

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Just be honest, please!

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St. Louis courthouse where the Dred Scott case was first filed. The Dred Scott Decision of the US Supreme court declared that according to the Constitution no one of African descent (slave or free) was a citizen or had the rights of citizens. Picture taken from the St. Louis Arch, summer 2010

 

As stories of the tragic and sinful killing of yet another young black man are in the news, my mind turned again to the words I hear so often: “We’re a Christian nation.”

My question is when and how?

Surely we can not delude ourselves into thinking we are a Christian nation in our present reality.  With laws like Stand Your Ground, with the animosity and name-calling on the air-waves, with the lifting-up of wealth, how can we even think we’re close to being Christian?  We’ve substituted faith in Jesus who calls us to love one another for a reliance on guns and violence to solve our problems.

Some folks may assert that we’ve strayed from Christian past.  But that is a mythical and revisionist past.  We are a people who profited from slavery, visited death and destruction on the first peoples who lived here stealing their land.  That is our history; it is the truth.  I could also point to our Constitution and many, many words of the founders of our nation as evidence that this country did not have an established religion.

It seems if we are Christian at all, it is not in our societal actions, our history but in word only.  Jesus had a word for those who claimed to be one thing and lived another way–hypocrites.  Hypocrites (and the wealthy which I confess I am) received words of warning and condemnation from Jesus.

In order for us to claim we live in a Christian nation, this country would look far different and I am not talking about women sporting long skirts and long hair–wealth would be shared, immigrants would be truly welcomed (no one would be labeled “illegal”), our military (both government and corporate) would be disbanded.  That’s the truth–that’s what it looks like to follow Jesus.  It’s in the bible.  Honest.