Dealing with Wealth

Luke12v13to21_2013Money.

Some call it the root of all evil, parroting the bible verse. Some see it as the means to accomplish great things of value to all mankind. There is every position in between.

The first reading today from Ecclesiastes is the dilemma I often see for the atheist. Life is harsh. Life is all about working. And in the end, it is all for naught. One ends up leaving their property to people who don’t deserve it. What is the point? The writer of Ecclesiastes seems like someone in deep depression.

Paul, in Colossians points out that greed is one of those nasty “earthly” evils that we must turn from in our quest to live in the heavenly realm.

And Jesus reminds us that greed leads us to focus on that which at a moments notice can be taken from us. For it will do us no good in the end.

As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you.

So how do we relate to wealth?

Jesus points to the answer surely in suggesting that hoarding wealth will not serve us at all. Yet much of what we do is just that. We think it’s good business to plow back profits “into the business”, growing it even larger. We are all concerned with the “bottom line”. We want to read our balance sheets as improving each and every year. We want that bank balance to grow.

Not all of this is bad of course. As much as we do know that our lives can be forfeit mere moments from now, we are obligated as good citizens and good family members to take care of ourselves in our older years. We invest, save, and plan for the days when we are not going to earn a salary any more.

Yet how much is too much?

Jesus’ parable is not just to suggest that greed is bad. He also speaks to what we do with our money. The rich farmer, rather than save up his grain to enhance his own wealth and perchance sell it at exorbitant rates in lean years?, should, after providing for the lean, offer the rest to those less fortunate.

Spread the wealth. Jesus asks, if something happens to you tonight, to whom will your wealth belong? A good question that takes us back to Qoheleth who moans that it will end up going to those who have not worked for it.

A ran into an interesting quote from Bill Gates, Sr., from something he wrote in Sojourners Magazine:

Society’s claim on individual accumulated wealth is … rooted in the recognition of society’s direct and indirect investment in the individual’s success. In other words, we didn’t get there on our own” (Jan-Feb, 2003)

In other words, it is the height of arrogance to make the claim that “I’m a rugged individual” and “I got where I am by hard work.” Surely these things may be true but they are hardly the entire story. People have died for your ability to set up a business and operate it in a manner that brings individual wealth. People have paid taxes so that you could enjoy free schooling. People have toiled in your factories because of their own pride in a job done well. People have protected your inventory because others raised them to be honest and fair.

Nobody gets there on their own.

Another point Jesus seems to make is that the uncertainty of our future should lead us to another thought.

We often put off charitable efforts until we “have more time.” We put off our families because the business needs our full attention. How many marriages suffer from the parent or parents who are too busy to get home for dinner or attend the soccer game? How many of us are too tired on Sunday to get dressed and attend our church? How many say we will get to mediation, that spiritual book, soon but just not now when we are so busy with LIFE?

What excuse will we use when the time comes and we may be asked to explain why we couldn’t be there for a friend in need, or spend that time in prayer? Will we say, “Gosh Lord, here are the numbers of my accounts. The money is all yours!”

The vanity is not the work. The vanity is not the desire for a nice home or a comfortable retirement.

The vanity is losing sight of all that is just as important, and that is not something to be put off until tomorrow, because that is a profound vanity. The vanity of thinking that we are in control. If we can see that God is in control, then we can order our lives accordingly.  We can prioritize more effectively when we step aside and get out of the way of our egos and recognize who is our guide and boss.

Wealth, work, and planning then fall into perspective. They are service to the kingdom, and nothing more. We work and accumulate to achieve much greater goods than our own small visions. We position ourselves to be of service in whatever manner is presented to us by a loving God.

Amen.

 

What Has He Risen To?

The Lord is Risen!

Such exciting words, such a joyful song.

Our hope and our salvation reside in those words.

And for some, that is the end of the story. Jesus is risen, and we are saved.

But are we?

Is it that simple?

Plenty of folks would say that it is.

The evangelist Luke says as much in the words he places in Peter’s mouth:

 that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”  (Acts 10:43)

Plenty of evangelicals today tell you that you are saved if you are “born again”, accepting Christ as your savior.

And Paul, worse yet, encourages us to ignore the world that surrounds us.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. (Col 3:1-3)

All this will pass, seek heavenly things.

Yet we live in this place and time, living human lives. And we bear the responsibility for what we have “created”.

Jesus rises today to find a world divided in more ways than we can count.

We divide ourselves into “kinds” of Christians and “kinds” of people. We are “kinds” of religions, and “kinds” of political systems. We are “kinds” of economic plans, and “kinds” of social networks. We are all about division and exclusion and us and them and we and they and me and the Other.

Did Jesus rise for this?

Are we once saved, forever saved?

Do we then go back to lives of cheating and lying, and mistreating of others? Do we claw to the top of whatever world we seek over the backs of those less able? Do we clutch in our hands all that we have and guard against sharing it, except most begrudgingly?

Do we decide how it is best to live and be and then demand that others conform to our standard of right?

Did Jesus rise for this?

Are we once saved, forever saved?

Do we invoke His name as a hammer to beat our “opponents” into submission. Do we use our religion as a wedge to force others to conform? Do we twist and warp history, using, always using, faith as some barometer of goodness? Do we say it, and not think about any of its implications?

Did Jesus rise for this?

Are we once saved, forever saved?

John informs us that the disciple whom Jesus loved came to the empty tomb.

and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead. (Jn 20: 8-9)

If he did not understand the meaning of the scriptures, then what was it he believed? What did he have faith in?

They believed, or retained their loyalty to all that Jesus had stood for, had lived for, and had finally died for.

He died for love and justice and equality, and fairness, and gentleness, and sympathy, and compassion, and brother/sister-hood, and caring, and laughter, and helping each other, and empathy, and peace, and for joy and kindness.

That is what he rose for.

And we are not saved unless every day we do our best to embody all those things. We are not saved unless we struggle with the issues that divide,  and overcome them. We are not saved unless we embrace humanity and realize that not a single one is excluded. We are not saved until we take ownership of all that we have created, and work to fix it all–to make amends for all the harm and ugliness we have allowed to happen.

We are not saved until we beg forgiveness of each other.

We are not saved until we forgive ourselves.

We are not saved until we finally LOVE HIM enough to BE HIM in the fullest way we mere mortals can.

Amen, and Happy and Joyous Easter.

The Feast of the Holy Family

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family:

                    Ecclesiasticus 3:3-7, 14-17
                    Colossians 3:12-21
                    Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Matthew tells the story of how Joseph in a dream is told to take the child Jesus and make haste for Egypt to protect him from Herod who has designs to kill the child. After Herod’s death, Joseph is informed again in a dream to return home. He does so but finds that Herod’s son, Archelaus, is now ruler so he journeys not home but to the neighboring region of Galilee, in Nazareth.

We learn that Joseph is the epitome of fatherhood, taking his son and wife to new lands to protect them and then being cautious upon return, keeping a “low profile” in a small backwater town, called Nazareth (can anything good come of Nazareth? indeed!).

Most of us can relate, knowing that our parents too would have done whatever was necessary to protect us and keep us safe.

The other readings are more problematical.

In Ecclesiasticus, we are told that the offspring should honor father and mother, indeed our sins are forgiven as we do so. We will have a long life if we respect and serve our parents. Even if they suffer from a failing mind, we are to be sympathetic and kind.

These are fine words of course. The readings leave out the end of this chapter which accords one who does not honor parents as no better than a blasphemer and one who will be accursed. These are harsh and punishing.

Yet what of those who have suffered at the hands of parents. Many people have not been given the benefit of parents. Many have been raised with only one, and that one hard pressed to do an adequate job when circumstances may require multiple jobs just to keep the family afloat. Many have never had contact with the absent parent, and may not even know who they are.

Of equal trauma, if not worse are those who have suffered at the hands of physically abusive parents. Whether sexual or not, deep scars psychological and otherwise take a lifetime to heal. And though not given as much press, those who have been psychologically abused by verbal and more insidious mind games, also suffer life-long wounds.

What of these? So many of us are the product of dysfunctional families. When you expand to grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, the opportunity for abusive treatment are magnified. Are those who are victims of such families to simply forgive, forget, and honor?

They would find it hard to do so, and plenty of experts say that asking is unfair. Victims need to confront the hard facts of their torturers and need to confront them and make them face themselves. So the experts say. Where do these victims find solace? How can they read these admonitions to “be respectful” and be anything more than even more hurt and discouraged?

I think the pathway can be found by enlarging the concept of “parent.” All of us parent when we interact with another human. We pattern behavior, we offer advice, we commiserate, we empathize. All these are human responses of the same nature as traditional parenting.

This idea becomes more apparent when we look at Paul’s (or pseudo Paul) advice to the Colossian community.  Paul tells us to “clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness and patience.” We are to “forgive when a quarrel begins”. Over all this we are to drape a cloak of “love.” We are to be at peace. Teach each other, advise each other.

All this Paul exhorts us to do as a community of believers. As parents, if you will, to each other.

While we may not find purchase in our own immediate families with which to relate, we can look to our broader “family of humanity” and realize these same attributes. We can honor and respect our fellow humans. We can care for others in their infirmities and failing minds. We can be gentle and kind to their errors.

We can protect our greater family against the errors and dangers they are pursuing by speaking truth with compassion; we can admonish with love, knowing that we too are prone to err ourselves.

Paul in the end reminds parents, “never drive your children to resentment” for that will “frustrate” them, inhibiting their ability to honor and respect, as they are called to do.

Many in this world live alone. This was not the norm in the times when the writer of Ecclesiasticus, or Colossians wrote. In fact, it was highly abnormal. Large family units of parents, grandparents, sometimes children with spouses and young children inhabited the same household.

Yet, we can all respond to the words by seeing ourselves rightly in the family of humanity. No one is alone, we are all interconnected, and the Trinity, though deeply mysterious, at least seems to suggest that God expects for us to live in community, as God does. As Emmanuel (God with us) did and still does.

Amen.

Entering the Kingdom

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We are wont, I believe, when we think of Christ as our King, to think of images of coronation and imperial power that we are historically familiar with.

Certainly we recall Napoleon’s coronation, and many of us recall the grainy black and white film of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. We see pictures in history books of other Empresses, Emperors and Kings. We recall Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus.

When we think of kings, we think of royalty although we are none too clear what that means. We think of palaces, and crowns and precious gemstones, ermine, and purple gowns and trains. We think of sceptres and thrones, and ladies-in-waiting. It all seems quaint and far removed from our daily lives.

So it is natural, when we announce that Christ is King, that we picture him returning in a glory of crown, robes and sceptre, upon a throne of gold and diamond, and millions prostrate before him. In one sense the Church has done little to dissuade us from that image.

Certainly to the people of his day, a king was perhaps thought of somewhat differently. Some may have recognized that courts of various kings existed, but few if any had seen such grandeur. Few had been to the courts of Herod, or Tiberius. There were stories of King Cyrus no doubt, but only stories.

The most important king to the Jews was no doubt King David and King Solomon. Something of the grandeur of both of them remained in the Temple. Yet, both were more renowned for their military exploits and building programs than for ruling their people I dare say. There was little of pomp and ceremony that came to mind regarding them.

But to the degree that these were real kings, stories of which abounded, then it is natural that those in Jerusalem placed Jesus alongside these ancient kings, and what? No doubt they found him wanting. In Luke, at the time of the crucifixion, Jesus is mocked. “Save yourself, King of the Jews!” they snarled. If you are this king, then act like one!

The “good thief” seems to have a sense that this is king in a very different sense. He asks only to be remembered when “you come into your kingdom.” Jesus promises that he will be with him in paradise that very day. (Lk 23: 35-23)

And what are we to make of this? What is this kingdom over which Jesus presides?

It is not a kingdom in any sense that either the Jews or we would expect. It had nothing to do with palaces and thrones, sceptres and robes. It was a kingdom of full interconnection with the very Godhead itself.

Jesus, was and is the in breaking of  that kingdom. As Paul tells us, “he is the image of the unseen God,” the “first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and invisible, . . . .” (Col  1:12-20)

Jesus is the way to the kingdom. Not a kingdom of idyllic life free from work or sweat or pain or aging, but a relational connection with God that brings us into full unity with all of creation itself. Paul further describes Jesus as the head and the Church as the body. Together we co-create with God, Father and Son and Spirit, to build a world of justice and love, freedom and compassion.

The harshness of the mocking by the soldiers and others at the cross always strike me with a shuddering audacity. Even the Roman soldiers believed in gods, and surely the Jews who believed Jesus to be no more than a fake, still believed in Yahweh as the only God.

The remind me of some unbelievers today, who are not content to not believe, and make public argument to that effect. They are most free to do that of course, and we need to have that discourse, lest our own faith become thoughtless. But to mock believers, to make fun of Jesus, whose life is well-documented-whatever you believe of his divinity, seems more than thoughtless, it seems stupid.

For no non-believer “knows” the truth. They only in fact “believe” what they profess. There is no way to disprove the existence of a real “invisible” reality. And so when I read the mocking words of those who sought Jesus’ death or who sought to discredit it, the echos I hear are the young men and women of today who taunt and bully, mock and joke, about those who believe and about what they believe.

Believers, on the other hand, need to remember that they “believe”  rather than know. They have no business threatening unbelievers with hell and damnation. They do not speak for God.

As Paul shows us that Jesus is the “image of the unseen God,” then it seems to me that what we should be about, simply is imitating Jesus as best we can. If we believe that the kingdom enters into history through him, then our job is to build that kingdom, one step, one person, one heart at a time.

And if we do, perhaps we shall be as lucky as the “good thief” who was promised a vision of paradise THIS very day.

Amen.

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