“…For he had many possessions.”
Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22:1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
“When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
How many of us here this morning consider ourselves wealthy?
- Do you have hot and cold running water in your home or apartment, and a toilet to take waste away? Consider yourself wealthy, not just by the standards of Jesus’ day, but in the modern world: 40% of the population of this planet get their water from a community well, or stream, or river, or pond, just as they had in Jesus’ time over 2,000 years ago. Imagine spending hours each day, usually women and children, hauling water on your back.
- Did you come to Church this morning riding in a car? Consider yourself wealthy, since in Jesus’ day nearly everyone, except the privileged, traveled by foot, and 72% of the world’s population today don’t own cars—they walk, or if they’re lucky, use public transportation.
- Do you have more than one day’s worth of food stored at home right now? Consider yourself wealthy, since most people in Jesus’ day lived day-to-day gathering food, and currently 1/4 of the population of the planet, and 10% of the people in this country, struggle with access to sufficient food every day. If that’s not shocking enough, the hungry are outnumbered by the number of people who are considered overweight.
So I ask you again, how many of you here this morning consider yourselves wealthy? Isn’t that just a question of perspective, especially in this country? Has your perspective changed?
I must confess, years ago I really despised people whom I considered to be wealthy, blind to the wealth I possessed living in this great country. I went to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and rather than be touched by the beauty of the art, I became angry about the travertine stone encasing the buildings, and the wealth of the founder of the Museum, J. Paul Getty, an oil magnate.
As I was leaving, I purchased Getty’s autobiography “As I See It”—Why? I have no idea—it must have been one of those Spirit-led ideas that rattle around inside my cluttered attic.
In reading that book, however, I came to a new understanding of this “wealthy” man. Most of Getty’s wealth was in the stock of his company. He purchased a manor house in England, but used it as his residence AND his corporate headquarters.
Getty had a vision that was balanced between
- providing returns for his investors,
- good paying jobs for his employees,
- and a responsibility to the community and country that had allowed his great success.
Where has that idea of balance gone in much of corporate America today?
Getty collected artwork from all over the world, not out of a sense of endless acquisition, but out of a dream to be able to provide access to this beautiful art to everyone, regardless of their means. He donated much of his stock, and his mother’s stock, to provide an endowment for this dream—this collection—now called the Getty Museum and Villa in Los Angeles.
As they were building the Museum, part of Getty’s plan included making sure a bus stop for public transportation was included in the design. It’s still there today. Admission to the Museum is free. You just pay to park your car if you don’t use the bus.
You may ask, “What does this have to do with our Gospel reading today, Deacon?”
In our Gospel reading a man runs up to Jesus one day and asks “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Isn’t that an odd question?
A prince may inherit the throne from his father the King when he dies. A son or daughter may inherit an estate, or money, when their relative passes away. This idea of “inheriting” implies that one is entitled to receive something because of what Warren Buffet calls “the DNA lottery”. “I’m the first-born son! It’s my birthright,” carries an integral meaning of ownership. Think of the argument and plotting between Esau and Jacob over their birthright. Is anyone “entitled” to entrance into eternal life?
The Gospel tells us that Jesus loves this man. (Not loved—loves!)
Jesus loves him because he can see this man struggling to live a life searching for God. Notice, though, the Commandments Jesus first quotes to him: they all are: don’t do this, or don’t do that…” These are passive rules for living in community, which this wealthy man readily testifies to following since he was young.
Where this man falls short—what Jesus can see in his testimony—is in the active pursuit of the Kingdom of God: Loving God, by loving your neighbor as yourself. The wealth of this man’s many possessions have taken priority over following Jesus and bringing the Kingdom into this world.
Remember, Mary Magdalene and Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chusa, and others, provided for Jesus and his disciples “out of their means”—out of their wealth. Being wealthy is not the issue for Jesus!
The question comes down to whether this man will continue to hoard his wealth for his own perceived security and selfishness, or whether he will use his wealth as a means of bringing the Kingdom into the world. You can’t be coveting wealth, and following Jesus.
J. Paul Getty was a Methodist—a sister Church to us. How did he answer that question of how to use his wealth?
The great danger of wealth is it leads us to create an idol of folly in our minds that if we have “just this much more” we will be happy, but, the fact is, the larger that idol of money becomes in our lives, the more that idol needs to be fed.
A few weeks ago I talked about how joy can only be shared in community. What is the opposite of joy?
If you think about it, the opposite of joy is not sorrow, but indifference. We can still be joyful in the midst of the grief of losing our loved ones, since we live with the hope of our resurrection, and share our grief and joy with each other.
But, the opposite of joy is indifference—of not caring about others because “My needs are more important than theirs”. The opposite of living in the Kingdom, is living in isolation. This is the result of allowing the false idol of wealth to overtake our commitment and belief in the community of the Kingdom.
During these times of forced isolation due to Covid, do you know what three products had the greatest increases in sales?
- Guns and ammunition;
- Emergency Food Kits; and
- Underground Bunkers.
Has this country lost its collective mind? How long do people think they can live in a bunker?
This is not a criticism of gun ownership! This is an observation of the dangers when worshipers of the false idols of wealth and self-security fall literally into a pit that they dug for themselves.
We live with a constant media bombardment of a message of shortage. We need “this one more thing” and “that one more thing”, and “this other one more thing” to be happy, when the reality is things will never make us happy.
If we are members of the Body of Christ—citizens of the Kingdom of God—then we need to live in the realization of our surplus. Each one of us has much more than entire villages did in Jesus’ time, and more than many people living in the world today.
Ultimately, every single thing that we own comes from God. There is nothing we will carry into the next life other than the love we have for our families, and the love we share with this community around us.
We have already said “Yes” to follow Jesus when we walked into this faith community called St. Paul’s. God has called each of us to this community of “all-inclusive” love—the love that God has meant to be shared into the World.
In this time of planning for this Church’s New Year, as we contemplate our pledges to this faith community, we should have confidence to live each day in the realization of our surplus, rather than with the false idols of wealth.
May each of us be blessed with the abundance of God the Source of All Being, the Incarnate Word, and the Holy Spirit.