Money just makes you more of who you already are. If you’re a jerk when you’re poor, then if you become rich you’ll just become a colossal jerk. If you are generous when you have little, you will have the opportunity to bless even more people when you have much. —Dave Ramsey
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
“Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.”
SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)
For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? —Ecclesiastes 2:21-22
PRAYER FOCUS: Storing Treasure
On his recent visit to Brazil, Pope Francis lamented, “Oh how I would like a poor church, and for the poor.”
What? The Pope, cloistered in the Vatican City, sitting atop the massive wealth of the Catholic Church, wants to be poor?
You bet. Pope Francis is not wishing to be poor in the sense that the Body of Christ has insufficient resources to do the Lord’s work in this world. Rather, he means poor in the sense that the church is not burdened with idle resources, and not puffed up with the pride that attaches to massive accumulation.
In this morning’s Prayer we ask our Father-God, in His mercy, to cleanse and defend His Church, to govern it by goodness. Then the Lectionary confronts us with not one or two, but four scriptures that all point to one thing: Keeping our hearts focused on heaven and not earth.
As you read today’s Old Testament selection, remember that King Solomon invested in more “toys” than any man of his time: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure” (Ecc. 2:10). And yet he complains that, in the end, he hated his toys because he was going to leave them for someone else. “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun” (Ecc. 2:18-19).
In the Gospel selection from Luke, Jesus warns a group of religious teachers, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Then He told this parable:
The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. So I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll tell myself, you have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”
But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:16-20)
Jesus underscores the parable with a warning: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). Right after that, He explains to His followers, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).
Is it the goal of our lives to accumulate wealth then kick back and “take life easy—eat, drink and be merry?”
By the same token, is it the goal of the Church to accumulate wealth and run swollen bureaucratic employment schemes (“General Boards”, “Global Ministries”, etc.) for well-intentioned but poorly deployed workers?
A container catches and collects stuff; if you pour something into a container it will stay there unless you overturn it. A container is often known by its label. In contrast, a pipeline is a conduit to transport whatever you pour into it to the place where you want it to be. A pipeline is more often known by what it carries. If it gets clogged, it doesn’t serve its purpose. When it comes to stewardship of God’s blessings, which one of these more accurately describes you? Which one describes your church?
Corporately, churches control staggering amounts of wealth. Most church denominations “administer” massive, expensive, inefficient bureaucracies that either retain or consume for themselves a large percentage of the financial resources poured into them. Churches, as much as any individual, have been prone to building ever-larger barns. If our churches were more like pipelines than containers, what kind of witness would that give to a lost, hurting, and increasingly hungry world?
• 12% of the world’s population lacks access to safe drinking water.
• 1 in 7 people worldwide today are hungry.
• 1.4 billion people survive on less than US$1.25 per day.
• 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity and modern forms of energy.
The point here is too many people—and too many churches—have overinvested in the stuff they’ve stored in their barns. That’s not to say that some level of planning and resource management is misplaced or inappropriate. But the Lord knows where our hearts are. We can get a pretty good idea by asking:
• Of the resources God has blessed me with, which am I a container for and which am I a pipeline for?
• Which do I love more—the stuff in my barn, or the people I share it with?
Greed. It’s one of the original seven deadly sins. Institutions are as susceptible as individuals.
As with Pride, Greed can be a deceptively subtle poison. The antidote is to give, and to give both generously and joyfully. How much giving is that?
—Until that’s where your treasure is, Christian.
It’s Monday Morning. What’s in YOUR barn?