August 4, 2019
Greed. That's an ugly word. Both the gospel and the epistle readings used that word today. Jesus said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Paul wrote that we should, “Put to death, whatever in you is earthly” and included in his list, greed. We like to be responsible with our finances, we want to invest our money wisely, we want a nest egg for our retirement years. So where does wise investing end and greed begin? Not an easy question to answer. Jesus told a parable about greed. A farmer building barns to store his overabundance of grain. Was this greed or just good management? Drive around the countryside and you will see lots and lots of bins for storing all the grain that farmers produce. Were they wrong to build more bins to store their grain? Are we wrong when we store up money and resources so that we are, as Jesus said, like those who store up treasures for themselves?
And believe me, Julie and I are as guilty of collecting stuff as anyone. When we moved from the farm with all the places to store stuff into our little house in town, piles of stuff went to Goodwill or the landfill. We couldn't keep all our stuff in our new house!
I quoted Jesus a moment ago, questioning the wisdom of storing up stuff for ourselves, but it was a partial quote. That particular farmer was used as an example of greed, not because we was rich and needed more storage, but because he was not rich toward God. Our lives must be directed toward God and not toward possessions. And that is not anything you don't already know. But sometimes we need a reminder. And sometimes we get our priorities mixed up because we look around us and we see what others have that we don't have. And greed moves in.
Greed can be all consuming. Two friends met in the street. One looked sad and almost on the verge of tears. The other man said, "Hey my friend, how come you look like the whole world has caved in?"
The sad fellow said, "Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me 50-thousand dollars."
"That's not all bad."
"Hold on, I'm just getting started. Two weeks ago, a cousin I never knew kicked-the-bucket and left me 95-thousand, tax-free to boot."
"Well, that's great! I'd like that."
"Last week, my grandfather passed away. I inherited almost a million."
"So why are so glum?"
"This week – nothing!"
The parable about the rich farmer is not about more bins but about our motivations. He was condemned because his heart was fixed on things of this earth; possessions, riches. We too often look at what someone else has and want that, our hearts turn to greed. Jesus teaches that we are to have our hearts turned toward God, be rich in the things of God.
When Heidi cleans the church, sometimes she has to bring the kids along and on those days I don't get much done during office hours. But often I will give them scrap paper and they draw. A few weeks ago, I found a paper that Viola had drawn. It was titled, “The Comparison Game.” She had drawn a series of squares with the names of her cousins, our grandkids, with something that she compares them to. A couple examples, Ariel-pie=sweet. William-Cheese=cheesy. Maggie-hyena=laughs. Naomi-flower=nice. Conor-coffee=energetic. Grandma=quilts...no trait added. In the middle was a big square with me and it said Grandpa=bald! In parenthesis she said just kidding and added awesome.
I thought today we could do something similar. Viola did include herself in the comparison game, Viola-smile=smiley. Each of us have received gifts from God. We are each different, we are each unique. Is there a word that compares you to something in this world that shows your gift?
In his parable, Jesus kind of did this with the rich farmer. Farmer-barns=greed.
Paul in his letter to the Colossians did some very negative comparisons. Earthly= fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. Disobedient life= anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. It is not a perfect comparison, but we have all had incidences with disobedience to God.
But let's keep this exercise positive as Viola did. Using some of Viola's comparisons, are you rich toward God in these ways: are you sweet like pie? And look around this morning, who sitting in here do you see as a sweet treat sent by God into our lives?
Are you smiley like my nickname for Viola: smiley Viley? In whose smile do you recognize the joy of the Lord?
Who here can be compared to a flower; fragrant, pleasant, nice?
How about coffee? Who is a bundle of energy, who gets things done, who sees things through and sees that things are taken care of?
Laughter, love, silliness, fun, crazy, cute are some other words Viola used in her list. As you look around the sanctuary, can we make comparisons to the wonderful blessings in God's creation and in the traits given to each. We are not to be jealous of other's gifts, that is not why we are comparing this morning. I encourage us all to give thanks for the gifts that we recognize in ourselves and in others. In whom do you recognize these characteristics: laughter, love, silliness, fun, crazy, cute? In last week's sermon, Judy talked about caring for our souls. I hope that we can find encouragement for our souls today and encourage each other. To quote Judy, “May we find the light in one another and fan it into a blaze of God's love.”
And I come now to a little different aspect of the comparison game, what does God see when the comparison game is directed at us? In our readings, Hosea tells us some ways, God sees us as children needing a savior, a parent. Hosea writes that God looks and sees us... “like a baby, to my cheek, that I bent down to feed. And who are afraid and need shelter: My frightened children will come running from the west. Like frightened birds they’ll come from Egypt, from Assyria like scared doves.” Frightened children whom the most high loves as a caring parent.
In Colossians, as I read, Paul has some evil stuff God sees in us. But that is not how God really sees us. As the banner here reminds us, in Second Corinthians 5:17 Paul wrote, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." And in today's reading, “you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self.” When we come to Jesus for salvation, we are made completely new. We are clothed with the righteousness of Jesus. And here is the good news of the comparison game with God: when we have recognized God's call on our lives and responded, God looks at us as sees only the righteousness of Jesus! As we receive the forgiveness offered by Jesus, we are new creatures, the old is gone, we wear the new clothing of righteousness in Christ! As we hear the communion prayer this morning, hear the promises of God's love: “In parental love you, God, stood by us in spite of our disobedience; to all who believed, Jesus gave power to become God's children, forgave our failures.” That is good news.
We are often tempted to look at our lives and see how many ways we have failed. We can compare our lives to others who are more successful, more popular, more accomplished. And we can fall short. Or we can compare ourselves to things that bring joy... how are you like pie? Like a flower? But even more powerful than that, we can remember that in this comparison game, God compares us to Jesus Christ and proclaims that we are co-heirs with Jesus. The righteousness of Jesus is what God sees. What a wonderful gift, given by the grace of Jesus Christ to us. May we know that we are loved, that we are holy in Jesus. And may we show that love in our lives as we encourage each other, seeing the gifts of God and acknowledging God's great grace.
Hymn: More Love to Thee, O Christ 359 PH