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Abundance, Moral Witness & the NC Protests Luke 12: 13-21, Colossians 3:1-11

Despite being offered as a warning “against all kinds of greed,” the story of the wealthy landowner presents us with a man who isn’t really much of a villain. He comes across as a pretty normal guy, a sensible man who has had remarkably good fortune. He doesn’t mean harm to anyone, and his response to his good fortune can even be seen as being fairly prudent, if maybe a little bit self-serving. And yet, he is the star of a parable that ends badly. The man is able to capture and store the abundance of God, and saying “well done!” to himself, he builds bigger barns to accommodate his wealth. Now it was time to relax, party and coast into the good life. Except, of course, his life is demanded of him that very night. God asks him then, “The things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is, says Jesus, with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God. To Jesus’ mind, this falls under the umbrella of “all kinds of greed.” Which brings up a tricky question for all of us: At what point does comfort become greed? At what point does our need for security cross the grim threshold that leads to avarice? At what point does our fear of scarcity (or our fear of losing the things we have) take over our life, to the point that the fear becomes our life? When is that moment when, by laying exclusive claim to the abundance of God’s creation, we turn it into a zero-sum game? Rarely can we point to the moment, in any of our lives, when that happens. Nor can the man in the parable. It probably didn’t happen the day he realized that he was sitting on a cash crop. Nor did it happen the day he razed his barns, and built them up bigger. And yet, it did happen. Greed had to begin at some point. And so Jesus gives us wise words: Be on your guard. Yes, Jesus loves us. But I get the impression that he doesn’t trust us so much. He probably doesn’t trust us to ride a wave of prosperity to the threshold where comfort meets greed, sagely discern which way the wind is blowing, and then magnanimously turn back towards the good side. Rarely do we human beings work like that: our fear, our hunger for security, our vanity, all these things take root in our lives and bind us to the earthly things that surround us. So much so, that we forget the eternal. That’s a lot of what this passage is about: seeing the abundance of God as a gift that is supposed to snap us out of our self-centered little worlds and see the presence of grace around us. Yet the earthly things don’t quit, they crowd out the heavenly things, they compete aggressively, and indeed stealthily, for our hearts. Paul uses vivid imagery to make this point in the letter we read this morning: “Put to death whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry.)i” Paul offers us a great insight in that footnote: the deepest problem of greed isn’t stinginess. The problem is that it is idolatrous. It replaces God with things that, while seductive, have nothing to do with the holy.

In matters of poverty. rabbis.These things keep us from being present to the eternal. It is a voice which draws on centuries – well. the Christian moral witness had been marginalized. in Christianity and Social Order (and being that this is an Archbishop of Canterbury. imperfect though it may be. And I am not going to suggest that the protestors have it all figured out. and the protests in our state capitol that have received national attention. What I want to do is speak of the church folks who are involved. really – of moral witness.)v . spoke of God’s abundance in words the clearly recalled the imagery of today’s Gospel passage. He got his windfall. speaking of priests. as the protestors include a great many people. Throughout history. But I do want to say that I believe very firmly that the church has an important witness here.”iv Certainly. But the abundance was something different: this gift was more about the sweetness of life that God offers to us. and thought that it was the prosperity gospel bearing fruit. but we’re only going to know the sweetness of that basket of fruit if it’s shared. and we ought to be listening to it. going back to the Hebrew prophets and continuing to our present day. I realize how tricky it is to address this in a sermon. The landowner completely misread the meaning of this gift. “God gives us abundance. and the poor. the issues at the core of the debates are complex. the weak.) and that it is playing the part of the busybody when it lays down principles for the guidance (of other areas. Temple was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War. the church most certainly has a voice. as Bishop Curry told the Episcopal News Service last week.. If he was truly present to the gift. and he spoke of how the in the economic and public life of Britain. She said.”ii Bishop Katharine may have been recalling the parable of the landowner.S. but she was speaking of something very specific: she was referring to North Carolina. Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U. Just two weeks. “Christian moral witness must always focus on how to help and support the vulnerable. and the very abundance that comes with it.It is commonly assumed (that religion is one department of life. That person is going to spend his energy protecting what he has from somebody who might come and ask for a piece. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Short. and laypeople. with varying desires and messages. even by those who are Christian in personal belief and in devotional practice…. bishops. iii They are there because. William Temple worked to make this same point in the 1940’s. ministers. Anybody who tries to hoard it might be able to enjoy one piece. and that the legislators do not. ethics and public policy. the elderly and the vulnerable. try reading this in a British accent) that “The claim of the Christian Church to make its voice heard in matters of politics and economics is very widely resented. keeping it to himself simply wouldn’t have made sense. He wrote. who have been part of the protests in Raleigh against legislation that they believe disproportionally impacts the poor. the church has (when it was properly being the church) witnessed to the reality that our economic life is intimately tied to our religious life. millennia. but not the whole pile.

The great message of this parable is one. Let us not forget that concern for those who have been left behind are at the heart of our story of faith. perhaps moreso than any other formative influence. “that economic growth should be accompanied by an increase in social justice.” Three decades later.Archbishop Temple rejected that. to the witness of the present day. to the parables of Christ. His story was one of greed. we are reminded that the economic sphere of life is not to be balkanized. Or. when we tell ourselves that an increase in growth is going to be accompanied by an increase in equity. then the church ought to speak up. “Speaking up” means putting ourselves out there. The abundance of God is a gift. But what I do want you to do is take the conversation seriously. But. But when his life was demanded of him. the outsider and the oppressed. the church can put forward principles (much as Archbishop Temple did in the 1940’s) around which we can shape both our common life and our faithful witness. an Episcopal Priest and ethicist named Earl Brill (from NC!) put this another way. to the Acts of the Apostles (as we read in our class this morning). getting into the public sphere. and you may not agree with everything you hear. however. of abundance. but we see in the story that he wasn’t particularly avaricious. and the care of the poor and the weak. and why it is told as a warning to us. Year C . The Rev. that clerics and other church folk should start writing policies and laws simply because they were familiar with scripture. but he lacked something more precious. and as such. In our gospel passage. and what we do with it gives shape to our entire lives. He didn’t suggest. and what we do with it. ultimately. He pointed out that economics were (duh) complicated. as I think happens most often. He had comfort and security. mind you. Bernard J. He had things. argue that economics are “subject to noneconomic criterion” such as justice and equity. He believed that economic shaped character. an economy that is contracting is no good for anyone and is especially hard on the poor. He didn’t hold anyone in contempt. separated from the faithful sphere of life. But let’s close by remembering his story. Owens Proper 13. from the Hebrew scriptures. “Christians would maintain. I know that I don’t. he had luxury. and that ethically speaking. he didn’t actively do anyone harm. So there isn’t much room for simple moralism. a holy gift.” he wrote in 1979. but a critical look (and the experience of memory) tells us that it’s probably not going to actually happen that way. “assuredly the church must be concerned with it. we see that he sure did miss the mark.” vi When that does not happen the church is right to speak up. in particular when it raises questions about poverty. even if it also means being wrong on occasion. You may read in the news what many of the folks are saying at the protests. something that was before him the whole time: he did not have the sweetness of life that came from trust in God. But he did. The landowner is confronted with this reality much sooner than he expected. by widening opportunities for the poor.

whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ But he said to him. ‘Teacher. tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.com/ens/2013/07/30/north-carolinians-stand-up-for-the-poor-vulnerable-onmoral-mondays/ iii Bishop Michael Curry. 2013 luke 12:13-21 Someone in the crowd said to him. eat. “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones. for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said. Earl H. 3:1-11. The Christian Moral Vision.St. William. .’ i Paul’s letter to the Colossians. NRSV http://episcopaldigitalnetwork. be merry. and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And the things you have prepared. Italics added. Archbishop of Canturbury. who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them. relax. Christianity and Social Order 1941. Greensboro NC August 4. for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.com/ens/2013/07/30/north-carolinians-stand-up-for-thepoor-vulnerable-on-moral-mondays/ iv ibid v Temple.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly.” But God said to him. you have ample goods laid up for many years. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork. “What should I do. And I will say to my soul. And he thought to himself. Soul. drink. ‘Friend. 1979 . ii vi Brill. New York: The Seabury Press. “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.