Sunday, August 1, 2010

He who dies with the most toys LOSES

“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 store all my grain and my goods.’ And I will say to my Life, “Life, 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 (in to) God”

A brief note here, the word translated soul here is Psyche, which in previous citations in this and other gospels is translated as LIFE, not Soul. It puts a more intense interpretation of this text to me. For if we say “Life! You have ample goods, relax, eat.” This phrase, suggests to me that a person will have the desire or sense of no longer living to a potential or an idea.

I have wrestled with the gospel this week, over and over and over. IN one sense I come to feel that this is a commentary on wealth, for you see the rich man is defined as foolish. And we also have other examples of wealth in the gospels, the rich young man, who questions Jesus as to what must he do to inherit eternal life. Even the prodigal son is a commentary on wealth. Wealth is such a sticky topic to cover, especially in our 21st century Western Culture. We have pledges, bequeaths, unknown sources of Dollars. Sometimes we seem to be in the year round mode of fundraising and for what?

Robert Capon, in his book about the Parables of Jesus “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus” interprets this interaction in the terms of a warning. A WARNING?!? It is a warning “against our less refined desire for material wealth”. Capon frames the meeting with the young man as a conflict between justice based on wealth and the ultimate justice. “The man’s case, no doubt, was good enough” Capon states, “But Jesus’ ministry is not the incidental patching up of injustices. Rather it is the bearing of the final injustice – death- and the raising up from it of an entirely new and reconciled creation”. He adds “We clutch at our lives rather than open our hands to our deaths. And as long as we do that, the real life that comes only by resurrection remains permanently out of reach”. It is living, yes, but living in fear of death. If we truly are a resurrection people, then Death has no hold on us, no sting, it should be nothing to fear! No matter what balance ends up in your bank account or what material wealth you have hidden away.

How many people remember the bumper stickers and t-shirts that touted, “whoever dies with the most toys wins”? Flippant, and pithy and most certainly sure to bring a chuckle, BUT come on, we know that’s now the type of life God is calling us to be a part of. God is calling us into eternal life. Not this life here.

It is this individual first attitude of this life and this world that is so very troubling to my deacon identity. The let me take care of me first! I’ll donate time to do this, once the kids are in school this fall, once they are in high school, once they are at college. I will pledge to church when I get my next raise. This type of life and rationale of thinking is very self-centered. It’s all about the individual.

It doesn’t take into account the community as a whole. It doesn’t enshrine the basic tenets of a Christian faith. When we hide behind the “whoever has the most toys” attitude, we ignore the fact that there are persons all around us suffering. That just because we have been given the gift of affluence, which can be obtained a variety of ways, but often times it is an advantage of privilege, it does not meet with the Christian call to social justice.

And please just let me take a brief detour on this point. When we hear talk show hosts tell us that we should RUN from churches that preach a social justice gospel, what is our reaction? If we are shouting “YES Social justice is wrong!” from the top of our lungs are we truly Christian? Or have we fallen to a false idol of individualism? Saying that to not reach out to the least of us goes against the mandate of Christ to the Body, is heresy! The response of a Christian to the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is YES." Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbor. Loving your neighbor is a better Christian response than telling your neighbor to leave you alone, or you are responsible for your own lot in life. Or I got mine you go get yours, when inequities in our society inhibit them to do so. Both compassion and social justice are fundamental Christian responsibilities, and while the body of Christ is called to live out both facets, government is also held accountable to the requirements of justice and mercy. I want a government that works for the people not because of the people. One that betters peoples lives, not existing because of the office.

So what should be done with wealth? Wealth is a gift, whether rightly received through hard work and determination, or at a cost, or perhaps through sheer luck and circumstance, but what should be done with our wealth. I think this is a pertinent question at this time with the Pope bequest in our coffers. What do we do with wealth

How can this gift be used to better the community? And not just the community of Christ Church cathedral parish, but of the community of the diocese, of the city of St. Louis, how can it be used for the future good of all? These are sticky and very thought provoking

I would certainly suggest that we need to evaluate if our life was being demanded of us, and we had to give it all away, what would bring the greater return? Because that is what the gospel says to us, today. Gathering up treasures and storing them for a leisurely life is not what we are called to do. What we are called to do, is to live a life as if we are striving to die! Or more radical, that we are already dead! A life where we are plodding along to enter into that next phase of our lives in the body of Christ, the life of resurrection, a life of being without possessions and only in the communion of Christ within the holy Trinity. That life we are resurrected to is not one that is measured in wealth but in how much we helped our neighbors, and how much we gave away. It’s not about dying with the most toys; it’s dying without anything in our pockets. For we gave all we had, to the better of the body, the church of Christ.

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