Guarding Against Greed

Luke 12:13-26
Gratitude Season #3/ All Saints
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Sometimes we have to station an adult near the snack table at church to guard the children against greed. What does greed look like at the snack table? The kid version is racing to the table and piling a plate full of snacks, with no regard for whether there will be enough for the rest of the people. The adult version is more covert, a lingering by the table or returning with regularity. Or giving into the compulsion to finish what was left behind by everyone else, even when you have had enough.

Guard against greed. We can be greedy with time. My time’s more important than yours. At least we behave that way. Perhaps your Sunday morning relaxation is more important the five or six people who arrive here each Sunday at 8:30 to set up this worship space for you. Greed with time. Do you manage to keep yourself looking busy when your spouse or someone could use a hand with the dishes or the yardwork or the kids. Do you greedily dominate the conversation by your tone or talking.

Greed is the desire to have more than I really need. It is the propensity to put self ahead of others, to buy more than I can really afford, to cling to more than I need, to think that I deserve more stuff than others. Greed can be expressed in so many places and so many ways.

Jesus says, “Be on your guard against all kind of greed. Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” He says this in response to the complaint of a brother, presumably a younger one, who wants his older brother to share the family inheritance. This is something we would consider only fair, but in Jesus’s time inheritance was heavily weighted toward the first born son. So he had the option to be generous or greedy. Jesus says, “Be on your guard. Be careful. Be alert. Greed will creep in gradually and take over. Your life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Hear the word of the Lord to us today from the Gospel of Luke:

Luke 12:13-26

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15 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." 16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 20 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?' 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." 22 He said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Did you know that in the 1950’s the average size house was half the size of the average size house now? Social research tells us that the same number of people reported they were very happy in the 50’s as in our decade. Here’s what is even more surprising: there were no self-storage units in the 1950’s. Now there are nearly 50,000 such companies in the United States. Not many in other countries at all. So with our houses twice as large as in 1950, we still cannot find enough space for all our stuff. We have a problem, folks. It’s called greed.

We encourage the greed of children on Halloween. Do you know Americans are projected to spend nearly twice as much on Halloween as we spent in 2005? And we’re in a recession? We will spend 6.9 billion dollars on costumes and candy for a holiday which started as the Eve of All Saints Day, a time to remember those who have died. All Hallows Eve. Halloween. 6.9 billion. Can you imagine how much that is? It’s actually a dollar for every single person on the face of the earth. On the other hand, if you divide that 6.9 billion by 307 million Americans, it comes to $22.50/person. That’s doesn’t sound so bad, unless you have a family of six. (That would be me.) But let me suggest this: if we gladly spent $22/person buying candy, costumes, and pumpkins, we can certainly put in an extra check this Sunday or next for 22 dollars per person for the Manatee Food Bank to feed people with real food.

We encourage greed in our culture. We celebrate overconsumption of food, alcohol, clothing, entertainment, and stupid knick-knacks. We countenance the overpayment, the monetary greed of certain professions -- movie stars, athletes, CEO’s, specialized physicians, just to pick on a few. Of course we all expect the well-educated, high-achieving CEOs to make much more than the average employee. But listen to this: the ratio of CEO to average worker went from 40:1 in 1960 to 500:1 in 2000 and is now about 300:1. I’m not going Occupy Wall Street, but I do think that it is unethical for the person at the top to make that much more than the person at the bottom. It does not seem right to me that the top 1 % of our country’s population would control 30-35% of the nation’s wealth. And that we in North America, with 1/20 of the world’s population would be consuming 1/4 of the world resources. All this is to say we are the rich ones who have built bigger barns. We may not feel very rich in this season of recession but we still are.

One bit of good news is that in the last four years, the average American went from saving 2% to saving 5%. If only we could all save 10%, give 10% to God, and live on the other 80%, then life would be in balance. Of course, there are some who can live on less than 80%. You could give away more than 10%. You have the opportunity to make a big difference. I dream of being the pastor of a church where people take tithing seriously, where they actually do it, lots of people. Call me an idealist, but I know tithing is possible for most of you. It’s a matter of deciding to be rich toward God and building on your commitment.

It has been my pattern over the years to be very honest with you about money. Money should not be such a taboo subject. It was a frequent topic of Jesus’. So I need to tell you that your giving is not a secret from me, your pastor. It is not public knowledge either. I will do my best not to judge you by your giving, just as I do my best not to judge you by what I see of your kindness or faithfulness, your worship attendance or involvement in Lively learning or ministry teams. Plus I will be honest with you about what we Deiberts are doing. We’ve been giving $200 /week for the last couple of years, although we are little behind this year, I’m sorry to say. Just in case your wondering, my salary is public knowledge. I make approx. $73,000 plus benefits. When Richard completes his 6 month provisional Florida medical license period and can earn an income again, we will increase our giving to Peace. Our finances are not stellar. We waste money. We have not been good savers. We’ve been going into some debt with college expenses these last two years. But it is our conviction that God comes first, then everything else. Despite some strain, we are trying to hold to our commitment to be rich toward God, and fulfill our pledge of 10,000 this year. I know if we cannot quite make it, it will be okay, but we’re trying. Whatever you’re giving, I hope you can say that it is challenging you, stretching your faith in God. If not, then well, maybe you need to re-evaluate.

Have you thought about giving to God in your death? Statistically speaking, many of us will be gone in 20 years. What about setting up an annuity to take care of your end of life needs and make an immediate gift to God through the church? Mark Shoemaker of the Presbyterian Foundation can help with that. What about endowing your pledge? Multiply what you are giving now by 20 and make a plan now – before something happens – to ensure that the church doesn’t suffer when you are gone. What about tithing in your death, even if you never fully tithed in life. Surely the kids could be content dividing 90% of your estate. There are many ways to be rich toward God in estate planning.

Guard against greed. Be rich toward God. In the Renaissance period, people built massive cathedrals, which took more than a generation to build. A stone mason and his son could spend their whole life-time working on one cathedral. By comparison to the house they lived in, the cathedral was unbelievably majestic and large. Some might call them a waste of money, but those cathedrals have endured for centuries. Their sheer size and beauty speak of the glory of God. I’ll never forget little four year old Rebecca walking into the the Ely Cathedral and saying, “Wow!” Compare that with modern day church and society. Shopping malls and country clubs, hotels and sports arenas, bank buildings and some houses are much more glorious in size and architecture than nearly all of our churches, especially in Florida. Houses of God look like barns around here, and some of them are pretty small ugly barns. Something is wrong with that picture.

Will we have a hard time next year when we begin to talk of raising capital funds for a church that costs about the same amount as 5-10 of our houses? I sure hope not.

Will we lose our home here at MAR? I sure hope not. I wish we had 3 or 4 people who could step forward as a private investor group and buy this building for 900,000, and lease it back to Peace and MAR for the next four years while we prepare to build.

Will we be able to give increases to hard-working part-time staff? I sure hope so. I hope we can increase the hours of Pastor Tricia and of Director Gia, because they both put in many more hours of ministry than we pay for. The shopping mall, the baseball stadium, and the restaurants will continue to be fully staffed. Will the church?

Will we be able to meet again our goal of being a 20% benevolence church, contributing as we intend to Mission Beth-El and to Family Promise and other valuable missions, because we are rich toward God and care about suffering people. I hope so. We were not able to make that goal this year, but we did tithe, giving away at least 10%.

But here’s the real question for you to answer in your heart of hearts: Are you being rich toward God, or are you giving God your leftovers? When you die, will God be happy with the way you used your money? Or will God remind you of your foolishness in spending on frivolous or selfish items?

I know many of you are trying to downsize, to simplify, to scale back, to live on less, because less is truly more fulfilling. But it is a constant battle in our culture to guard against greed.

There are multiple ways to simplify, but it begins with a commitment to be rich toward God. God gets the top 10, right from the beginning. Then you have to try to live on what’s left. Peace will not send you a bill, but if you make a pledge, it helps you to keep your commitment to God. “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Jesus declares. “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your reward.”

Jesus challenges his followers at the beginning and he comforts them at the end. He names the sin of greed and through the parable names us all fools, but he reassures us that God will take care of us. So, whether I am up to my ears in medical bills like the Tuite family, or whether I am struggling month by month to pay all my bills or whether I am trying to change a lifetime of living too comfortably to begin to be sacrificial generous, I can become rich toward God. No matter the economic circumstances, God is telling us to trust, to not be discouraged, and to keep reaching further in giving, in being be more generous than we think we can. (singing) “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come?” Jesus says “Do not worry about your life – food, clothing, or anything else. Look at the birds. They don’t have bigger barns, BMWs, boats, or bank accounts, but God takes care of them. Jesus loves you and will care of you too. “His eye is on the sparrow. And I know he watches me. I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.

Lord Jesus Christ, give us the courage to trust you with our pocketbooks, our lifestyles, and our bank accounts. Lead us, Lord to make investments in your heavenly treasures, the ones that last, where no thieves can break in and steal. Give us the will to live more simply so all may simply live. Take our lives, our hearts, our budgets and let them be consecrated Lord to you. Amen.