Valuing What Matters
So….I get home from my holiday and there’s this huge pile of mail. There are lots of things in it…Bills, Requests for support from several good causes, thank you notes, wedding invitations, and then there’s this big stack of letters about investments and RRSPs; Howard and I look them over carefully the next day to make sure our investments are still OK so that we can have a secure future in our old age so that we’re not a burden to our children (who have no money anyway to support us!) And then the next day I take a look at the scripture for this Sunday about barns; and greed; and stockpiling; and I’m thinking Is this me Jesus is talking about? And I start to get really uncomfortable.
Like many of you, I have been raised to believe that we need to conserve what we have. Financial companies urge us to set aside enough money for our retirement, scaring us with the prospect of poverty.
That is especially true if we were born before 1950. Living through the depression, 2 wars and rationing taught at least 2 generations how to make ends meet in tough times, and to save. Is this what Jesus is talking about? Saving for retirement?
And then I started to think about the next generation that grew up at a time when there was more affluence; who generally have a whole different take on conserving versus spending. Indeed I saw recently that well over half of people in the US have less than $1000.00 in savings. And I”m not talking just about people below the poverty line who can’t make ends meet let alone save….I’m talking about people with a different kind of greed than the man in the story Jesus told. Rather than saving for the future, they have to have it all today. Our world is built on anxiety. We are encouraged to buy consumer goods that we don’t really need; to maintain a high standard of living. Spend spend spend. Go into debt further and further. So what might Jesus say to this kind of greed I wonder?
And then the Gen Xers have yet another way of viewing things. They donâ€™t expect to have enough for the future..Indeed they donâ€™t have a very positive view of the future…Something we in the church need to take seriously.
I find a real tension between wise conservation, hoarding, and being a total spendthrift with no thought for the future. So this tension got me looking again at the scripture and trying to see if this guy Jesus is just out to lunch? or if there is something else going on. There usually is!
Luke, in his planning of the gospel, puts this parable story in a section between not worrying about the consequences of a life of faith (of the risks that involves) and not worrying about where our food or clothing is going to come from. Jesus in this whole section is challenging people to a life of discipleship; to make choices to live from God-centred values, rather than the values of the culture. Maybe this scripture has something to do with discipleship…with anxiety? with worry? with fear? with what we trust? Maybe even it has something to do with values we live by; and choices we make about how we live rather than just being about money?
Let’s look a little closer. Someone from the crowd runs up to Jesus asking for legal advice. In New Testament times, it was the custom for a rabbi to settle disputes. He comes to settle a question about inheritance. His older brother wonâ€™t share the inherited family farm with him. He begs Jesus to intervene and to straighten out the stingy brother.
Jesus refuses,to be drawn into this role. Jesus’ mission is not to enforce the Law, but to show a new way. Instead he warns against greed. Jesus must have detected a spirit of greed in this younger brother who wanted to make sure he got his fair share of the farm. Life, Jesus says, does not consist in the abundance of possessions. The real question here is not how to get a larger inheritance, but how to be rich toward God.
Jesus knew that wealth did not just simply drop out of a sky. It was part of a system of norms and social rules which control its acquisition and its use. Typical inheritance practices give distinct advantage to the children of the rich. Jesus does not ever say that material things are evil, but he does say they are dangerous, that they can quickly assume a demonic character that unseats the rule of God in our lives. A Tyranny of things can strangle spiritual life, diverting us from our growth in kingdom values. It can become an obsessive preoccupation with security , as is the case in todayâ€™s gospel. All the man’s energy seems to go into accumulating.
Perhaps Jesus was not only identifying this manâ€™s greed, but also pulling the rug out from under the inheritance practices which gave this man a free farm while others had none.
And then, like a good rabbi, Jesus tells a story to lift up what he was trying to teach; about a wealthy man who filled his life with self, and not with God. A rich farmer has good yields. God provides more richly than he could ever have imagined., Rather than thankfully recognize the Source of his fortune, and take responsiblility to use it in Godâ€™s value system, he expands his storage space and grasps the grain for himself. That night God calls him a fool and demands his soul. Jesus replies. â€œSo it is with the one who fills his barn with self and not with God.â€
He is called a fool, a very serious accusation biblically, not because he plans for his future, but because he lives as if God is not around, as if God had no call on his life.
His barn was his god. He lived by fear and greed. with no care for how his accumulating affects others who do not even have fields to plant.
He is the victim of his own poverty thinking–he socks all the stuff away, even builds new ware houses for it; then he locks it up, keeps the key himself so when the lean times come, the proverbial “rainy day”, it’s there ready and waiting for him. He might have given lip-service to religion, but by his economic behaviour, he was a practical atheist trapped by the power of things, his materialized insecurity and fear. Jesus said he had his priorities, his values all wrong. He’s putting his trust in the wrong place.
However, there is secondary warning in the end of the parable. All that he locked away may not be there when he needed it anyway, because moth and rust (and other agents of decay) may well have got to his treasure trove by the time he needed to use it.
The parable raises some serious questions. Questions I take into my own economic planning. What is responsible use of resources? How much is enough? When does saving become hoarding? When does wealth become a god we worship? What is the balance between caring for our future, and living in our present, and investing in the future of our community, our church, our world. And an even bigger question, what is the source of our security? real security?
The United Nations defines human security as having 7 elements. Economic security is there, the ability to work and to be assured of a basic income. But so is food security, Health security, environmental security, personal security (freedom from violence) community security and political security.
The man in the story had a very small vision…focused on me and mine. The UN vision is much more communal, recognizing that the individual does not exist in a world of his or her own. That the interconnection with others, with nature, with the planet are what defines security. How do we walk that fine line between “being responsible” -and being too self-centred – seeking to keep it all for ourselves, out of fear that we’ll lose it all?
The parable of the farmer challenges us to look at our lives and to consider our attitude towards our possessions.
What in our lives is demanding our souls? God is rich in loving care for us. How do we become rich toward God? and use our resources in harmony with God’s dream for our world. How do we love God back?