Interrupting the Money Story [sermon 2.28.16, third Sunday in Lent]

by susan on February 28, 2016

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Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘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. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  – Luke 12:13-21, NRSV

There is a very old story that we have been told from birth.
It defines us, it shapes us and it tells us how to spend our lives.
For today, we’ll call it “the money story”.

It goes like this:
You were born to consume. You are not enough if you can’t produce, consume and store a surplus of money and stuff. The more you have, the better your life will be. You can’t have too much.

Multimillionaire, John D. Rockefeller, was once asked the question, “How much money is enough?” He answered quite bluntly, “Just a little bit more.”

The money story is a powerful one. It seduces us into:
jobs we do not like,
relationships that serve only to move us up the ladder and
possessions that we spend our time purchasing, maintaining and upgrading.
The money story tells us that money is the source of life.

I have experienced the power of this narrative in my own life. Nothing can consume me quicker than a dwindling bank account. Sure. I am concerned about all kinds of issues facing our city and world, but nothing makes me shift into action faster than what I determine to be a personal financial crisis.

Nothing can make me more stressed out, sleep-deprived or put me in a bad mood quicker than money. Maybe you can relate.

moneyLiving the money story has had some pretty serious consequences. Here are pictures of a few of them:

Debt. Living the money story causes us to buy things we cannot afford. we are drowning in debt.
Violence. Living the money story has led us into fierce competition; we commit violence over stuff.
Inequality. Living the money story has led to the creation of social classes and to a huge gap between the rich and the poor. This is a picture of wealth inequality in the United States. Look at how the wealth of the richest one percent compares to the rest of the population. Just imagine this inequality on a global scale.

It’s obvious. Our relationship with money is a broken one.

While we believe Jesus came healing all kinds of physical and mental illnesses, it’s harder to imagine him healing our broken relationship to wealth. It’s worth thinking about though, seeing as how Jesus mentions money as much or more than any other area of life. This story of a rich farmer is one example.

In many ways, we could say that this farmer was a success story. Whether by good fortune or his own choosing, this farmer ends up on land that produces a ginormous harvest. He worked, planned, saved and even thought to protect his belongings. Had he lived in America, we could say he was living the American Dream. Nothing wrong with that.

But he had a problem. He was consumed by his possessions. He had even begun talking to himself about them. The pronoun “I” is used six times in this parable and the possessive “my” five times, all in only six verses. At some point in his “I”/”My” conversation, he decided to build bigger barns to store his enormous wealth. Then suddenly, this ultimately irrelevant conversation came to an abrupt and surprising end. Like we all will, he dies.

What he had worked so hard for,
what he had given his life to,
what had consumed him no longer mattered.

According to the story Jesus tells, the money story is a myth.
It is a dead-end path. The life it promises does not exist.

Thankfully, there is another story.

Let’s call it “the kingdom of God story”. This story stands in stark contrast to the money one.

The kingdom of God story involves Israelite slaves who were freed from an Egyptian economy of production, surplus and storehousing goods into a wilderness where enough was provided for each day.

The kingdom of God story involves nations and people consistently lured away from God by wealth and power, and consistently disappointed.

The kingdom of God story involves a new community that formed to practice the way of Jesus together in a way that left no need among them.

God’s story interrupts the money story to tell us not what we want to hear, but what we need to hear: that our lives are about so much more than wealth, prosperity and possessions.

Jesus invites us to be rich, just in a very different way.

The farmer had been having this lovely conversation with himself about how to deal with his enormous prosperity. In The Voice of Luke, Brian McLaren translates the final part of the parable this way:

“Then God interrupted his conversation with himself. ‘Excuse me, Mr. Brilliant, but your time has come. Tonight you will die. Now who will enjoy everything you’ve earned and saved?’ This is how it will be for people who have accumulated huge assets for themselves but have no assets in relation to God.’”

The word assets is translated “riches” in the NRSV translation.
But, what does it mean to be rich in relation to God?

I’ve had several occasions lately where that word has come to mind. “My life is so rich.” Funny, it never involved material things. I’ve thought it leaving a meaningful conversation. I’ve thought it after witnessing a sunrise or sharing in a celebration or being part of important work in our community. I’ve never thought it when putting on a new shirt.

crows flyingThe picture Jesus often used to capture being rich toward God is this one: a picture of birds.

Later in Luke (and also in Matthew) he tells his followers to look to the birds. “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.” (Luke 12:24)

What kind of riches do you see in this picture?

We are learners of a new way.
Our identity is not in having & consuming more,
but in trust,
in sharing,
in making sure there is enough for all,
in disciplines and practices that make us rich in God.

Imagine if we allowed those things to consume us.
Imagine if we became obsessed with sharing.
Imagine if we became consumed with making sure everyone had enough.
Imagine if we became driven to store up peace and love and mercy.

Money can consume our lives. We can spend our lives worrying about money or we can spend our lives “rich toward God.”

lent practice 3Let’s interrupt the money story. Let’s invest instead, in the kingdom of God.

****

 

Preparation for this sermon included a few resources you might find insightful in further exploring this topic:

An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture by Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann, and John McKnight
Video: Wealth Inequality in America, Perception vs. Reality
Podcast: How to Practice Poverty and Reduce Fear

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