Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Sermon - Luke 16:19-31 - Lent Midweek 6
Lent Midweek 6
April 13th, 2011
Pride, Coveting, Lust, Anger and Gluttony. We're almost to the end of our excursion into 7 deadly sins. Today we come to greed.
While there's certainly some overlap between Covetousness or Envy and Greed.... here's the difference, perhaps. Coveting or Envy has to do with wanting what someone else has. Jealousy. A sort of spiteful sneer that says, “why do they deserve that nice thing?”. But Greed isn't even concerned with the neighbor at all. Greed just wants things – and lots of them. We can dress it up and call it “materialism”, but really it's just a straightforward idolatry – making created things into God.
In our world, that usually means money. Because it's money that gets us everything else we want – or so we are told. Fast cars, fine dining, a big house, nice clothes. The more money you have, the better you live. So get more money. And often, the more money you have, the more money you want. So get more money. And, what, wait... there's someone else in the world besides me?
Greed is good... so goes a famous movie line. But we Christians would disagree. We see it for the sin that it is. Greed not only takes our eyes of our true God – it also takes them off of our neighbor. When all we are concerned with is accumulating things for ourselves, it's impossible to love God with all our heart, strength, or soul. And we give no thought to loving our neighbor as ourselves.
And we're not talking about some faceless corporation that is often blamed for greediness, though that may often be the case. We're talking about individuals with a greed problem. People like you and me. People who have to answer for their sins before a righteous and holy God – unless some other way can be found...
Take the rich man and Lazarus. The world would look at the two of them and say the rich man was far better off. He had it all! ...
But Lazarus was just the opposite. He lay at the gate, covered in sores. The dirty dogs were his only friends. Bereft of friends and health and wealth. But we do learn something Lazarus has that the rich man doesn't. We learn it when they both die. Lazarus had faith.
Jesus tells this parable not to show that the rich will go to hell and the poor will go to heaven. But there is a warning not-so-thinly veiled here about the danger of greed. Like much of Jesus preaching, where he repeatedly condemns greedy sins – whether committed by tax collectors or pharisees or the rich young man.
Greed is a sin, but it's also a symptom. It is caused by a lack of trust in God's provision. Like another rich man Jesus talks about who wants to build extra barns to keep all his wealth – but then he suddenly dies, and oops, you can't take it with you! But where is the trust that God will give us our daily bread – clothe us, feed us? Don't we believe what Jesus says about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field? No, we don't like we should. We think it's up to us to make it happen. It's up to us to watch out for ourselves – and so we'll do it to a sinful degree if we have to.
Is there a fine line between good stewardship of the gifts he does give us – and a greedy misuse of the same? Of course. God doesn't condemn wealth itself. In fact, he makes it clear to Abraham and David and others – that he MADE them wealthy. He gives all good gifts. But what do we do with what we have? Do we manage it well? Or does it tempt us to want always and only more?
Do we blur and cross and break that line like crazy? Yes. We're sinners, after all, it's what we do with good things. We corrupt them. And we fail in the virtues that are opposite these sins – like the opposite of greed – charity.
Giving freely to someone with less. We hardly do it. When we do it, there's always some impurity of motivation. God still uses our imperfect charity, but it's not like we can claim any righteousness by it.
So once again we are left with no solution to deadly sin that we can find in ourselves. We can't just decide not to be greedy and do a better job with our generosity. There's no point in berating ourselves into cheerful giving and grateful contentedness with what God gives. There's only one answer to deadly sin – the life that comes in Christ.
And by now you can probably guess where we are going. Once more see how Jesus takes this twistedness of ours and straightens everything out. First by his perfect life. He had no greed for gain. He had no earthly wealth, no place to lay his head. Certainly no grand palace or fine clothing, no grand trappings of a king – though he was a king. Though he deserved all the gold, frankincense and myrrh, his cradle was with farm animals. Though he was far above the mighty men – Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod – he slummed it up with fishermen and tax collectors and prostitutes. And Jesus was always the giver – providing fish and loves, wine from water, healing and wholeness and even... life.
But more than just an example of perfect charity and lack of greed – Jesus did all this for us! His life, his work, his righteousness – God counts it as ours. You wonder how, even as a Christian, you can ever do everything God requires – and you realize you can't. But Christ did, for you! In your place. And that's what God sees and reckons as your righteousness.
And best of all, God the Father, in his generosity, gave his only Son. And Jesus, in his generosity, gave his very life. And God the Holy Spirit, gives gifts like crazy – abundant gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus paid for them, after all – on the cross. Not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. You were bought with a price. Your salvation, and all the spiritual blessings of his kingdom are yours.
Wealthy or not, the repentant and believing child of God has a place in Abraham's bosom – next to once-poor Lazarus, and all the other recipients of God's grace in Christ. No need for greed where this is concerned – it's all ours by God's grace. And with such treasures in heaven, why clamor for anything less, anything below, any earthly thing that moth and rust will destroy? No, greed is not good. But God is, in Jesus Christ our Lord, for you, always. Amen.