There’s a lot of talk about the economy these days. And rightfully so.
I –as I imagine most of you--can attest to the pinch felt at the gas pump or grocery store these days or perhaps when checking IRA accounts.
And with these rising prices, and with the fed. reserve’s interest rate response while some markers stay strong, the GDP by estimate has declined for a second quarter and experts are asking: are we in a recession? And if we are not yet, is one coming? The crazy thing about the economy is we usually don’t know we are until we are already long into one.
So there are all too understandable feelings of uncertainty being felt widely.
You would not be alone if you have been feeling these feelings. And in fact, as a church, we too know these feelings. We know the pinch of the gas costs on heating bills. We know the pinch of rising prices on materials and labor needed to keep our beloved buildings and ground afloat. As is no surprise—you heard it at the annual meeting--yet again we face a deficit in our budget.
Our Concerts on the Hill are going splendidly thanks to the volunteer crew and committee driving it. These proceeds surely will help.
And if you haven’t heard yet, we are delighted to be partnering with the Easton Parks and Recreation department and the Cemetery Committee to host a 5k we’re calling, “Chasing the Legend: Easton’s Lady in White.” The town is fronting the costs for organizing, we need just supply the volunteers on the day of and we’ll be splitting the proceeds (so start getting your trainers ready).
Yet even still unless we are able to raise up more funds among us, we may be forced to draw from our endowment, so undoubtedly, if there is room to consider with all that you have given already if there might be room to give a little more, I ask your consideration. I’ve also asked the Vestry to take any talk of bonus off the table for me this year for this reason and as one small way of responding.
These economic questions for our individual and church homes and of our society will be ongoing in the weeks and months ahead, but today we are invited to pause to consider more generally, how do we approach these challenges, as followers of Jesus. In these uncertain economic times, as people of faith, What is our role to play? How do we proceed?
The brother in the crowd in today’s Gospel text, too, has the economy on his mind, but he seemingly comes at it the wrong way.
To his demand, “Tell my brother to the divide the family inheritance with me.” Jesus refuses to arbitrate. (There’s an irony here because Jesus who we know to be our Lord and Savior says who am I to judge? This reminds me of a move parents often make with their children… “Work it out.” I have bigger fish to fry.-(‘Like the thousands who are hungry whom I fed, in one small example.’ I imagine Jesus thinking) But instead of the rebuking the brother, Jesus calls him Friend. Even when we get a little skewed in our priorities, the invitation from God is one of friendship,
And as his friend, Jesus offers the friend and actually the whole crowd there gathered—and us still his friend—a warning and a story.
The warning reminds us to Beware of all kinds of greed for one’s life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. Beware of all kinds of greed.
At Christ Church I have witnessed such generosity… so this seems a little odd to offer, but I think all of us stand to take pause now and again and be warned of the costliness not just of the excessive greed that hoards resources and exploits the poor but the more slippery kinds, like, we should beware of
· Greed that doesn’t recognize the abundance in our midst and keeps us imprisoned by thoughts, actions, and feelings of scarcity.
· Greed that prevents us from opening our hands to the hungry.
· Greed that prevents restitution and repair of injustice.
· Greed that poisons what we call and consider valuable.
· Greed that is contagious and that can surround and even wound us in its demanding grasping. --- you know social scientists have proven that generosity is contagious…so too is greed, when all those around us are valuing the next best job, next best title, next best car, gadget you name it.
So first step: be wary. But what then? What about after we’ve taken due steps to avoid greed? Jesus offers us a story. Consider it...
There’s a rich man and farmer who’s production was considerably more than usual that year, considerably more. And so he thinks about what he should do and, wildly, what’s the solution he comes up with? Not share the extra produce with his neighbors… Not share the excess with the poor. Not even store what he can fit in his barns and share the rest, but rather TEAR DOWN the existing barns and build up larger ones.
And if this wasn’t ludicrous enough, tearing down what is perfectly adequate in order to accommodate excess wealth with so many in need, then consider what he does next: this man of Jesus’ story decides to have a chat with his soul—the very seat of friendship with God, of eternal life, of what is truest and purest, and the man concludes,
“I will say to my soul; Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink be merry.”
As the story goes God tells that rich man, “fool” (a far cry from friend)… this very night your life is being demanded of you.
Now, I don’t think Jesus is condemning merriment or rest here or even storing what is needed… in fact sabbath is built into the foundation of the world.
But rather elsewhere in Isaiah or Corinthians with Paul who quotes from Isaiah there is a spiritual risk among those who whether out of avoidance of the heartache of the world or from refusal to die to sin and turn toward a way of sober faith say instead quote “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”
Meaning, to our soul we should not be counseling escapism of any form. Meaning, to our soul it is foolish to be offering greed or extreme wealth as a good thing. Meaning to our soul, we should not be offering the economies of the world at all but a very different way of considering the wealth of the world around us and our role in it, nothing short of a piece and parcel of the divine economy.
The word economy has interesting etymology --- the original Greek OIKONOMIA suggested management or administration of the home (OIKOS means HOME and NOMIA means law or order, so economics, the ordering of the home.
There’s lots of competing models out there on how we might understand wealth and the ordering of our finances including personal, national and global economic systems, but it changes something doesn’t it to consider the task at hand, to be the ordering of our home. There is something so personal, so intimate in this understanding. This ordering of our individual homes, our church home and our collective home on this planet earth is understood in the Bible to be OIKONOMOS , or colloquially stewarding.
We are called to be stewards. Not owners, not even always producers, not hoarders, not greed-mongerers, not penny pinchers even, and nor are we saviors, but rather stewards. Stewards of what --if we really were to have some good soul talk we would recognize--- is God’s. Thus in any economic vision, we should understand ourselves steward’s of God’s house.
How many of us go about our days and think of any question of economy in the context of home management? How many of us remember whose house it is?
Within God’s household, of which we are stewards, there is a different model than those of the world and one that can and will guide us through the uncertainty of this moment and of any still to come. This requires though a shift in thinking, acting and feeling… because at the very root of God’s house is a different kind of way of being.
Consider just three major differences separating the economy of God’s household from the economies of the world:
1. Rather than the transactional way of the world, God’s economy is primarily relational. True riches, I think any of us can recognize are not found in the gadgets we own but in the relationships. And we are truly rich in relationship here at Christ Church.
When Jesus calls the man friend, he means it; he’s not doing so to sell something, but rather to initiate friendship—abiding relationship. And so too with us. How is your friendship with Jesus today? Is it time for a catch up chat? Or a get together?
When we find ourselves in close relationship with God and one another, we discover the truest riches and the fallacy of the transactional way of being is even further revealed.
God’s friendship with us is freely chosen, freely offered, and without limitation. We call this friendship grace.
We, therefore, Peter writes, are ”stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
God’s grace of which we are stewards is freely offered and freely given and without limitation.
Meaning to be a steward in the household of God is first and foremost to be a friend of God and out from that relationship we realize our model for stewarding is not to arbitrate this abundance but to recognize it, enjoy it, share and spread it. Even in the midst of scarcity.
Let me say this again: in the household of God, if we are living into our identity as stewards, we are tasked with recognizing the abundance around and between us and to enjoy it and spread and share that abundance—even in moments of scarcity.
To have as our ultimate good to be and dwell in relationship with God and our neighbors necessarily changes how we see the world and its challenges and it charges us and equips us to act with a spirit of abundance that mirrors God’s abundant love. Rather than an economy of transaction, we have embraced an economy of relational living that brings us into a spirit of abundance.
2. And this raises the second major difference between the economy of the faithful and the economy of the world I’d like to highlight: our currency. Unlike what the economies of the world say are most valuable: money, productivity, material goods, excess, titles, individual accumulation of wealth, good paying jobs, etc, the economy of God has at its core, love. Love of God and love of neighbor.
Today, sitting here worshipping, and tomorrow balancing our check books, our true value is not attached to any false model of perfectionism or saviorism, but rather simply as children of God, loved by God, friends by God, enough as we are, just as we are. More than enough as we are.
Do you know this truth of your value? Valued simply because we are God’s creation? Treasured even. And in this recognition do we know our neighbor’s value? Do we recognize the radical equality of value of our many forms of labor---whereby cleaner and banker and manufacturer and sex worker and teacher alike are all equally children loved by God? The trees and insects and birds too?
Do we know ourselves by the values of the world which would have us to believe we and what we’ve got is never enough or by the value of God who has called us and supplied us with infinitely more than we can ask or imagine? What do we value most with our hearts and minds and souls?
If we are caught somewhat by currencies of the world or the transactional ways of the world in our thoughts actions or feelings, perhaps we have some reorienting to do before we can even tackle the challenges and questions of the world’s economies. In Corinthians Paul writes, Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3. But if we let our hearts and minds be transformed and renewed, this divine economy is different in yet another major way. And indeed this final different brings us full circle.
Unlike the ways of the world where we are encouraged it go it alone and in fact find ourselves going it alone all too often…as stewards in the household of God, we are friends of Jesus and we will never be alone.
We are not alone as we tackle the economic challenges and questions of our age---those plaguing our own house, our church home and our global one, because we dwell in God’s home.
Loved and Treasured, in the household of God, we can trust God our parent who is our ultimate provider. We can surrender to God even in our unknowing and confusion and doubts.
It’s not always easy to understand how we balance the abundance of God and God’s love and our call as stewards with what are finite resources here on earth… But yet in our doubts before we move to discernment and action, our first step always and again is to turn to God.
As the prophet Hosea almost sings the voice of God, we are to turn to she who loved us as children and called us and taught us to walk and took us up in her arms, God who feeds us, loves us even when we go astray… leads us with cords of human kindness, bands of love.
God leads us not with power or might or threats or bribes, but rather with cords of human kindness, bands of love…. And let these be what we strive for first, let these be what orient us even as we do what needs to be done, roll up our sleeves and strive to balance our budget and weather these difficult times…If we do, we need not fear.
Now the lectionary is funny and this pericope stops here…but I’d like to remind you of the teaching with which Jesus concludes this parable. The very next line in Luke is “therefore,” “therefore I tell you”which signals the conclusion to our pericope.
Having echoed the warning against Greed and counseled us as stewards of God’s holy house on earth, richest in relationship, blessed and never alone in God’s economy, let me leave you today with the words of Jesus as our conclusion,
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your span of life?[d] 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,[e] yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, you of little faith! 29 And do not keep seeking what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations[f] of the world that seek all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
Let us walk forward as stewards of God’s home, privileging an economy of relationship, exchanging a currency of love, never alone yet bonded to God, and let a consideration of the lilies and ravens and all good, living things of this world offer us peace beyond understanding as our starting place in tackling any question of earthly economy.
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God/ And His righteousness/ And all these things shall be added unto you/Allelu Alleluia