All summer Jesus has “schooled” us on living the Kingdom of God; not some time in the future, but right here and right now. First of all, let’s not get distracted. This Gospel is not an indictment on wealth. Jesus never says it’s a bad thing to have money, authority, status, or any of the other things that come with possessions. What he warns against is being ruled by it; loving wealth and power to the point where they become what Don Henley called “little tin Gods.” At its core what the rich farmer does that’s so wrong was summed up this week at the DNC by Rev. William J. Barber II, “Pay people what they deserve, share your food with the hungry. Do this and then your nation shall be called repairers of the breach.” And I would add…Do this and God will indeed bless every nation including America.
Throughout human history when good people share their stuff freely; living together in just and generous lives, making sure everyone’s needs are cared for not just I, me, or mine, blessed things happen. But it only takes one set back to kill our dreams and send us scurrying back to what our confessional prayer called “safe slavery.”
Moses releases the people from such slavery and spends just a few days away with God, and that’s all it took for fear to push the people back to worshiping “gold.” After generations of missteps, the Apostles built communities of generous and diverse people; the kind of inclusive families Jesus lived and died for and it was all good, until the Founders moved on to the next town. And over the centuries, Jesus comes and goes and the church, instead of caring and caring for, became buildings, budgets, and bloat; arguments over power and prestige. “We the People” find it hard to get out of our own way, and just like that human power reasserts itself and fear topples God’s new thing. When our lives are ruled by possessions; the size of our 401-K’s, bank balances, our stuff we’ve lost our way. This is why when asked how to pray Jesus says the ultimate request of God must be, “Keep us safe from ourselves and the Evil One.”
And living this Good News can be even harder today. In the parable the rich farmer speaks only in personal pronouns: I, Me, and Mine. Notice when he talks he carries on a conversation only with himself. There’s no community surrounding him; no accountability to any needs but his own or his peer group. Today, this guy would be admired. A titan of venture capitalism, we’d lift him up as an example of the American spirit. Yet, Jesus calls such men “fools.” Most of us hear this story and know the guy’s a greedy jerk. But then we go out and in our own more subtle ways make the same poor decisions he does? Think about it. First of all, how many of us make church support a priority? Most of us spend more money on our own wants, giving to God from what’s left. When we’re short after spending on ourselves, it’s God who takes a pay cut.
Yet, we spend freely on coffee and micro brews, food, and vacations, and countless activities and purchases to entertain and distract ourselves and make our children momentarily happy. Like the Gospel story the silos of our lives get tended long before we get around to God. George Carlin called our homes “places to store our stuff.” When we end up with too much we just tear down the old house and build or buy a bigger one. In our own way we talk to ourselves just like this story saying, “Relax my soul; live comfortably and be merry. God can wait.” How is our story different from the Gospel?
Money can be a hard master. We can never have enough, and soon the pursuit of enough is never enough. Getting out of balance in our faith life is so easy we don’t even notice when it happens. The balance revolves around community. This “comm-unity;” a common union of equal persons is what God’s made of. We’ve got to create the same unity on earth if we want any part of God.
Like the story of Martha and Mary; anytime we allow one thing to dominate our lives, whether money, food, sex, anger, pride, our kids, our church, our clubs, our jobs, our politics, our houses, or anything else we’re out of balance and God can seem far, far away. The “better part” Jesus tells us comes from a balance; some for us and some for others. Our greatest challenge in this nation is between being consumers of American religion or followers of Jesus. We can’t be both.
But the Good News for us this day is we can do this. We can step away from “I” theology and join together with God in community. We can reclaim generosity and launch out as God’s people investing in ourselves and our neighbors in new and life-giving ways. The kingdom of God is waiting to be realized, and we’re just the people who can do it.