Christmas and Stewardship in August

Proper 13C’19

4 August 2019

Luke 12.13-21

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone+

 

Loving God, open our eyes so that we may see where true riches are to be found, and grant us your grace and strength to pursue them; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

I suppose the title I could give today’s sermon would be “Christmas and Stewardship in August” for in it you’re going to get a message on stewardship and Christmas at a time we aren’t accustomed to. The plus side to this sermon is that you won’t have to buy anyone a present or fill out a pledge card.

Every year Forbes magazine publishes a list of the wealthiest individuals in the world. Topping the list at No 1 is no surprise, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com, No 2 is Bill Gates, of Microsoft, and No 3 is Warren Buffet of, well, Warren Buffet. Forbes also announced that women billionaires are on the rise, in 2010 there were 91 women who were billionaires, in 2019 there are 244. Kylie Jenner of the Kardashian – Jenner family has recently joined their number at the age of just 21 with her cosmetic line.  

We fantasize about what their lives must be like with the luxury all that money can buy. The moralist is quick to judge saying that “having all of that money will bring a person to ruin.”  As the lives of some of the winners of the lottery would attest, lots of money has brought some of them lots of misery. Meanwhile a poor person says, “Yeah, I’ll trade places with them, I’d like the chance to see if all that money would ruin me or not – I’m willing to take the risk!”

Jesus, as usual has a different take on things. When he is asked to get in the middle of two brothers who are arguing over the inheritance left to them by their parents, Jesus sidesteps the smaller issue for the sake of the larger issue – Greed, and gives them a stern warning: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

The further I have gotten past that event the more aware I’ve become of just how possessed I was with greed, if only for a day or two it was a powerful force, that was tempting me to place money over lifelong relationships.

Solomon, reportedly the wisest person who has ever lived summed up the life of greed quite well: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity and chasing the wind…What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity”[1]

To illustrate the vanity and dangers of greed Jesus tells a parable about a wealthy farmer. As the parable goes, the harvests on his farm were going so well that the farmer decided he needed to build bigger barns. So, he did, and then sat back and said to himself, self…no, he said: ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ In his pride, and self-centeredness, God, or prayer hadn’t even entered the equation. Then suddenly God speaks to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  Jesus does not condemn the man in the parable for his wise stewardship of the land, or his financial prosperity. It appears that the money was not ill-gotten but came because of his hard work.

The problem with the farmer is that it’s all about him. The personal pronoun “I” is used repeatedly with no mention of gratitude towards God, or seeking God about how God might have him to invest his life and riches. As we in America would say, the farmer was a “self-made man,” or so he thought.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, The Outliersattacks America’s myth of the self-made man. Gladwell’s meticulous research has shown that enormously successful people like Bill Gates, The Beatles, and professional athletes, scientists and artists, all had people in their lives who helped them get there. The farmer never acknowledges any of the teachers, mentors, family, or friends who invested in him, and helped him get to the place in life that he did.

Here is where ‘Christmas in August’ comes in, the farmer was just like Ebenezer Scrooge in Dicken’s classic, A Christmas Carol, where he is visited by three spirits with the last spirit echoing what the farmer heard in the parable: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ Although the farmer was a skilled investor, he had been extremely unwise by leaving a ‘major player’ out of his portfolio – God! Jesus then says, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

How many have a roof over your head? How many have a car, truck, or motorcycle? How many had enough to eat this week? How many have more than one shirt or blouse or pair of shoes? If you answered “yes” to any of these then by the standards of the third world and some people in America, you are rich, but are we as Jesus puts it “rich toward God?”

What does being rich toward God look like? I think it looks something like Morrie Boogart, a 91-year-old terminally ill man who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Although he is bed ridden and dying in Cambridge Hospice Center, Morrie has managed to knit over 9,000 hats for the homeless. He is able to make one or two per day, and he adds a little more thickness around the rim of the hat; as he said, “Michigan winters are cold and it is hard for homeless to keep warm and survive, maybe I can at least help keep their ears warm.”[2] I believe Morrie, in his last days was becoming rich toward God.

Maybe being rich toward God also looks like someone a lot closer to home and like someone we know and love. This week I received an email from our own Becky Goins in her official capacity in the HR dept. at UAMS. She informed me that Annie Lea Shuster had worked at UAMS for the first few years beyond Y2K and that while there she had made St. Luke’s her beneficiary! St. Luke’s will be receiving yet another gift from Annie Lea for $10,000.00! Even after her death she continues to bless us.

When we turn our time, our talent, and our treasure over to God we open the door of faith trusting that the God whom we serve will take and multiply our gifts and bless the world. Lo, and behold, by our blessing the world around us, we find that we get blessed in the process! This is the life that Dicken’s spoke of through Ebenezer Scrooge, this is the life that Morrie, and Annie Lea are showing to us. May we go and do likewise! Amen.



[1] Ecclesiastes 1.2,12-14;18-23

[2]https://understandingcompassion.com

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