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Jesus, the Beatles and the Barenaked Ladies: Love and Money.

11th Sunday after Pentecost, Common Lectionary year C

Luke 12:13-21;

©2013  Elisabeth R. Jones.

Audio file

It’s been said and written in many scholarly places, that Jesus talks more about money and possessions than any topic other than the Kingdom Dream of God. More than he talked about prayer, more than he talked about forgiveness, more than he talked about his own death.

Now if that’s the case, you’d think we would too… we, being the communities of discipleship who seek to follow Jesus’ teachings, “to make his message relevant and real in our complex world.”

But here’s the thing….. we don’t. We don’t talk about it,  very well, or very confidently. We don’t pray about it. We certainly don’t sing about it. There is a deafening silence in the church about money.

In fact, a persistent and valid complaint heard from people, many of whom have given up on the church, is that we have but one warped and whiny message about money: “Money, possessions, wealth are all somehow bad, unless you give it to us (the church).”

What many of us are desperate for is healthy Gospel -fuelled conversation about money and possessions; how to earn it, save it, give it, spend it, share it. How to use the currency of money with that ‘glad and generous heart’ of which St Paul speaks, to enrich our trust in God as Source and Sustainer of all life, and to enrich our work of bringing the  Dream of God to life on earth.

And the thing is, if we don’t get bold and begin to have those conversations, then you can be sure that the only voice we’ll hear is the cultural voice of the ages filling our faithless silence about money with * (begin sound track BNL…) a cacophony of cultural jingles, one-liners, hyperbole and delusion about the power of money to buy happiness, beauty, influence, …(pause to listen…to”buy your love”)

Ouch! “I’ll buy your love.” The Beatles aren’t so sure that’s true, after all, they sang “ I don’t care too much for money money can’t buy me love!”

But back to the BNL: if you didn’t spend your summers driving through Alberta and BC  with three kids in the back of a Taurus wagon happily belting out this song, then it probably doesn’t readily become to you, the sound track to this particular parable of Jesus, than it does to me. So let me unpack this just a little.

The song is a whimsical flight of fancy where the singer imagines what he would with a windfall of a million dollars, that can buy everything from a ‘nice reliant automobile, to Dijon ketchup, all the Kraft dinner you can eat, a nice chesterfield, a fur coat all to create the illusion of happiness and self- sufficiency.

Well, just so in Jesus’ parable, we listen to the whimsical flight of fancy going on inside the head of a farmer whose bumper crop – the equivalent of our songsters’ million dollar windfall. He dreams of barns big enough to hold the harvest of a decade, and every knickknack, gadget, tortilla press,  hedge strimmer, fish poachers, bobble-head collection, oh let’s be inclusive,  1000 book library, you include your own ‘must haves’ here…. A  big barn full of ‘stuff’ upon which to rest content, to ‘eat, drink and be merry..” in newfound self-sufficiency. If I had a million dollars…

Let me put it another way, to show how insidious and easy it is to fall into the trap: the endowment or the legacy,  or grant, or the fantastically successful fundraiser which suddenly showers the congregation with enough money to fix the flat roof, finish this chancel with a hardwood floor and a grand piano, flashy flushing loos here there and everywhere,,  a tasteful state of the art sign on the re-landscaped wheelchair accessible front lawn, a top notch updated fully equipped  kitchen stuffed with Dijon ketchup for meals on wheels and church suppers, so that we too can eat, drink and be merry…..

To which Jesus cries in a loud voice…… “Watch out!! Be on your guard!!” Don’t fall into the cultural trap door, wide as a smile, but deadly to life as God dreams it!” Jesus doesn’t buy the delusions of self-sufficency caused by a balanced budget, nor does he preach the cultural gospel that possessions and money will provide security, happiness, love. And neither should we.

So we’d be smart to listen up close to his parable. One of those ‘thrown out’ tales, with as many questions as answers, one of those stories with a beginning but no ending, because it’s ours to write. In our reading I hope you spotted the not so subtle way that Jesus  exposes the true cost of  that fearful trust in stuff that bedevils us so easily, as individuals, and as communities of faith. This famer, you recall, in her state of ecstatic good fortune….. stares at overwhelming abundance, and there is not a friend, not a neighbour, nor a spouse nor children, not even a stranger on the horizon with whom to share it. In bluntness worthy of a Lancashireman,  Jesus’ God says to the farmer “Idiot.  What use is all that if you’re dead? Can’t tek it wi’ye.” And more to the point,  you’re not rich where it counts. “Rich toward God.”

It’s an old  parable, but it’s one we know too well. It’s played out all around us, maybe even as close as our own bank accounts if truth be told. I am as guilty as this farmer in my own way, of heeding more than is good for me the cultural litany of promises that my life will be safer, richer, happier, cooler, with a 21 speed bicycle, the higher yielding (but ethically more suspect) RRSP…. Our churches for the past 2000 years have managed to ignore the poor homelessness of Jesus just long enough to amass vast amounts of land, building, financial equity, and too easily to become and remain convinced that therein lies the security of our future.

I’ve been thinking all week why it is that Jesus spends so much time talking about money and we don’t. That’s one reason; we haven’t a leg to stand on. But also, it’s because he knows that ‘stuff’ is tangible, whereas this “Dream of God”  -  what he called “the Kingdom” isn’t. Because, in the end, the Dream of God is not something we can buy, but only be “given” it is, ironically, a hard sell,  and that takes more talk and teaching.

So he spends his time contrasting stuff and possessions, greed and fear, with talk about Dream of God. Which is about love, relationship, fidelity, about the strange elusive capacity of compassion to win out over greed. Of that sort of love that overtakes us, provoking us to hospitality towards  the stranger, to generosity above our own security. It is about that intangible welcome and acceptance within a community which shares common identity and values. The Dream is not ‘stuff’ you can buy, but it’s what all our buying and longing is deeply about.   This is, like the parable, just the beginning of a much longer conversation with Jesus and with ourselves as a community of his disciples. We are going to sit long enough to get our heads and our hearts around his Dream Kingdom economics. Which is about how the currency of love and fidelity, of welcomeand purpose  are the stuff of our trade, the core of our identity, with money occupying a more limitedplace as a tool, not a prize, as something to share, not hoard, as we imagine the Dream coming true, here, now and tomorrow.

Only the beginning.

 

[1] See e.g. Charles Lane Ask, Thank, Tell ,  p.33

[2] Quoting our Identity and Values Statement.

[3] “Currency of money” is a nod to Eric Law,  Holy Currencies: Six Blessings for Sustainable Ministries. (Chalice, 2013), especially chapter 13.

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