Benediction Online

Sunday, August 01, 2010

When is enough enough?

When the rich man in today’s parable found that he had enough to meet his needs he just built a bigger space to hold it all. It didn’t occur to him to give it away or even to sell it. Even though he had enough, he wanted more. Does that sound familiar?

Lots of people wanting more money helped create the recession - a situation in which everyone loses. It’s easy to point the finger at the very rich, especially when we are not. It’s easy to laugh at the rich fool who built bigger warehouses but then died before he could enjoy any of his stores. But we are the richest people on earth even if we’re not millionaires. Most of us could manage on less than we do. Most of us also have at least one area in our lives where we always want a little more, where we have difficulty seeing when we have enough. We are constantly exposed to advertising which is intended to make us want more. Our consumer society is geared towards making us greedy.

But as members of the household of God, we are called to be good stewards of all that we are given. That means knowing when we have enough, and being willing to give away what we don’t need. It means taking care of what we have and not amassing stuff just for the sake of it.

As good stewards we are called to live frugally and invest wisely so that we have plenty to share. The rich fool had enough for himself and plenty to share but he couldn’t see it. All he could think of was himself. He was rich in his own eyes but he wasn’t rich towards God.

Rich towards God. At this point in the sermon I could start talking about all the ways we can be spiritually rich. But I’m not going to do that because spirituality is not something separate from how we spend our money and how we deal with our things. I often talk about practical spirituality in terms of how we relate to one another, but this morning I want to stay with how we deal with money and possessions. The way we use what we have is our walk with God. It is not separate.

Sometimes a church member will join the vestry and find themselves surprised at how much time we spend talking about money and about ‘stuff’, including of course this building. I’ve had people tell me they thought it would be more “spiritual”. But there is no separation between our spiritual paths and the way we live our lives as householders. Money is spiritual. Stuff is spiritual.

We know that God likes stuff. God made it. The whole Creation story is about how God made everything that exists and made us creative so that we can come up with endless new ways to turn matter into stuff that we like. The story of the Incarnation is about how God came as Jesus into the physical world in a more intimate and complex way than ever before. So it’s not having stuff that’s wrong… we don’t have to turn our back on the material world in order to love God. In Genesis 1 God celebrates creation, every day he looks at what he has made and says “It is good, it is very good”. God wants us to look at what we have created, the lives we have made for ourselves and that we share with those around us and say “it is good”. The problem comes when like the rich fool we don’t know when to stop, we don’t know when enough is enough.

We have seen the terrible effects greed can have on our economic life. Over the last 25 years the gap between rich and poor in this country has increased dramatically. The median income for a CEO of a large company in 2009 was $6.6 million. That’s down from $8 million two years earlier. In comparison the median household income in San Luis Obispo was $60,000. The annual income of someone working full-time on minimum wage is $16,600. By paying workers the lowest wage they can get away with, CEOs increase the profits for their shareholders and get paid a princely sum to do so. That’s the way capitalism works.

Part of the cause of the recession is that gap between the poor and the rich. The rich have been getting richer. Instead of the people who do the work benefitting from the profits they create, those profits have gone to the managers and the owners of capital. That was exacerbated by the 2001 tax-cuts for the wealthiest people. So the rest of us borrowed on our credit cards and our home equity loans, sometimes just to stay afloat, sometimes because we didn’t know when enough was enough. If those profits had been shared more equitably then those at the bottom wouldn’t have needed to borrow so much. If they hadn’t wanted to borrow then banks wouldn’t have made sub-prime loans. Those who made sub-prime loans did so because they wanted to make more money.

So it’s not just a personal issue. The way you use the money and possessions that God has given you is not just a personal decision. It affects everything. The less you use for yourself, the more you have to give away so the more you can support God’s work in the world.

Becoming rich in God is what enables us to loosen our grip on stuff, to let go of the need to hold tightly on to all that we have in case there is not enough. Becoming rich in God happens as we turn to Christ in daily prayer and loving surrender. As our fears and anxieties are calmed and as we are filled by the love of God, we no longer need to sooth and fill ourselves with things. We no longer need to be seen to be successful and wealthy. We find that ‘enough’ comes much sooner.

The early church gave away or sold their possessions and held everything in common, and at different times in history other groups of Christians have felt called to do the same thing. Because Jesus lived with few possessions, we his followers are also called to live a simple life. We are called to live lightly on the earth, in a way that does not produce pollutants and carbons which affect the air we breathe and contribute to global warming.

We are called to live carefully and compassionately in a way that honors God and does not leave trash for the generations coming after us to clear away. We are called to live simply so that others may simply live.

This last week I spoke at a rally to protest State budget cuts in health and human services. Once again we are in a deadlock position with the State budget and the Governor is determined not to raise any revenues but rather to cut services and subsidies for those who are already the most vulnerable - services which have already been cut by $20million over the last four years. Once again this is letting the rich get richer at the expense of the poor and at the expense of the jobs of those who help the least able.

It’s a mindset that invades every one of us. We are afraid that if we give anything away we will not have enough for ourselves. So we amass more clothes than we need, more square footage than we need, bigger cars than we need - we forget that we have enough and we go on wanting more. We don’t think about the effects our greed may have on others. And when we can’t get more, we feel inadequate as though there’s something wrong with us, and that we are being left out. As our incomes shrink or our abilities fade due to ill-health or age, we get scared. What if there isn’t enough?

God’s economy does not obey the same rules as the world’s economy. In God’s economy what you give away is given back to you. In God’s economy, living frugally so that you can give generously leads to greater riches. Many people find the idea of tithing hard. They look at their income and imagine how difficult it would be with 10% less. What they don’t realize is that in God’s economy, what you give comes back to you. It doesn’t usually come back in the form of checks in the mail, but your wealth increases.

Wealth is not big storage units filled with stuff. Wealth is having enough and to share, being peaceful and content with loving relationships and a life-giving knowledge of God. My prayer for all of us is that as we find ways to live more simply, with less stuff, so our wealth will increase and our lives will be poured out as a blessing to others.



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