Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Being Rich towards God - Proper 13C

31 July 2016
Luke 12:13-21

They say that everything comes around again in popular culture, and recently, I have seen people posting online about the game, Hungry Hungry Hippos. Not just the board game anymore, it is also being played, all the way from preschools to nursing homes, with people acting as the hippos trying to capture kickballs. The object of the game is to gather as many of the balls as you can possibly get without anyone else stealing them. 
Hunger is an interesting aspect of our lives. Our first experience with hunger is the chemical signals our stomachs send to our brains telling us that our bodies need nutrients. This is definitely a good thing. We don’t want to starve to death. Beyond our bodies, we experience hunger in many other ways. We are hungry for good relationships, for peace, for comfort, for justice, for reconciliation. But some hungers can be destructive as well. When we hunger for more power, ambition, always to be right, or perfect, or for drugs of any sort, these drives can push us beyond our own safety and destroy our lives. We can be hungry for just about anything. When there is a figurative ‘pit in the bottom of your stomach and nothing can satisfy it,’ you just keep wanting more, more, and more. When we are always being hungry for more than what we have, we experience greed. 
Greed is a type of hunger. Usually we use greed to describe insatiable hunger for things like money, power, and fame.  Society teaches us that if some is good, then more is better. Right? The American commercial advertising byline tells us that we need more, need the newest thing, we need better. But more isn't necessarily better. The old examples are the facts that we need water and fire, but with both, more and more of them isn't a great thing, you can drown or be burned. But when it comes to buying things, we fall prey to the advertising. Apparently, "Two out of every ten Americans have surplus possessions in storage.” What do we need with all those things when we aren’t even using them? Perhaps we need to take a hard look at what we are hungry for in our lives.  And, it is not just individuals that are hungry, but also institutions. Some institutions are based around the goals of acquiring more money, more power, more security. But this greed is based in fear, yielding only sorrow and worry.
In the gospel passage this morning, what strikes me is the man's answer to his own question. "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?" He asks himself.  And then we only hear one answer, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods..." What surprises me is that he doesn’t go through multiple options. He doesn’t think to himself, “I could sell the goods and have more money,” or “I could give some away,” or “I could store it up myself,” and weigh the options.  He goes completely for the option of storing it all up for himself.  And the man doesn't just say he will build another barn or build additions on his existing barns, no, he has to tear down the ones he has and start all over. He would probably be one of those people who had to get the newest version of the iPhone as soon as it came out every time, even if the old one was still properly working. 
The parable also begs the question about the man’s community, “Whose will they be?” Where will his possessions go when he dies?  We don't hear of any sons or friends in this story. There doesn't seem to be much community for this man, so when he dies all his goods will be left lying around and will go bad. Humanity has been asking the question, “What goes with you when you die?” for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians are famous for burying their dead with their possessions, but others before them and since then have been buried with their possessions because we somehow believe that what we are buried with goes with us. Jesus, in this passage, doesn’t seem to believe that any of this man’s possessions will be going with him.
All of this points to our human need for a feeling of security. We hunger for security in so many ways. Do some of us pray for security? Probably. One of the major hungers these days is for security. We worry about our own safety and for the safety of those we love. We want to make sure that our loved ones are safe, are able to live in freedom and find happiness. We look for ways to protect ourselves. We used to live in towns where no one ever locked a door, but now we have major security systems. The news is full of stories of gun abuse and terrorism. We don't always like the feeling of not knowing, of the unknown, of being vulnerable. We try to protect ourselves, but we never can get fully covered. Storing up possessions is just one form of trying to shore up our feelings of security.  
However, Jesus was not concerned about security or safety in this life and world. His focus is on God and spreading God’s word. In this passage, Jesus’ focus moves to being rich towards God. What does it mean to be rich towards God? 
Timothy Johnson, a theology professor, says, "Luke has a very particular understanding of stewardship: “Wealth with respect to God [being rich towards God,] has two levels of meaning for Luke; the first is the response of faith, the second is the disposition of possessions in accordance with faith, which means to share them with others rather than accumulating them for one’s self.” (LTJ, 199)" 
When Jesus sends out his disciples, two chapters earlier in Luke, into the world with nothing more than what they are wearing, he expects the people they will meet to be generous with them. Sometimes we think we have to do it all ourselves. That is what the world tries to teach us, that we need to take care of everything in our world by ourselves. We need to attend to making sure we have all the security, new possessions, and power we can attain. But that is not what Jesus teaches us. Not only Luke, but in our lectionary readings for this week, the author of Colossians also says, "Seek the things that are above." Our treasure is not what we fill our stomachs with, but our treasure is our relationship with God. 
So what does it mean to be rich towards God?  If we look through Jesus’s teachings for what he thinks we should be giving to God, it is “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and above all love.  That is being rich toward God.  Our wealth is in what we value.  We value God by valuing each other.” (Bob Eldan)