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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 4, 2013

In the movie “Star Wars”, a small rebel force is fighting against the evil empire. Their mission is to destroy the Death Star, a space station from which the empire will rule the worlds by terror and torture. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker have been instrumental so far in helping the rebel alliance, led by Princess Leia. But as the battle plans are being drawn up for the final attack on the Death Star, Solo decides he is done. He tells Leia he is not in it for the risk of the attack, he is in it for the money. A very angry Leia tells him that if money is what he loves, money is what he will get when this is all over and the rebels have defeated the empire. And money is all that he will get. He will not get the satisfaction of having accomplished the really important purpose of freeing people from the empire’s rule. Han leaves on his ship, the Millenium Falcon, and Leia goes back to preparing for the attack.

St. Augustineonce said that God gave us people to love and things to use. Jesus tells us that we confuse the two all the time and that is sin (David Lose). The thing in question is money and the insatiable need for it. Jesus has just told the Pharisees that they are greedy – they tithe everything, all the way down to herbs, but they do not give alms from the inside – in other words they do not practice the justice and mercy of God with their brothers and sisters. Now, an irate brother shouts out to Jesus that he should tell his brother to share his inheritance with him. According to Jewish law, the elder brother received a double share of land and other assets, while younger brothers received a single share. It is possible an elder brother has not yet split the property or perhaps this is a younger brother, wanting half instead of a third. Whatever it is, Jesus’ reaction is a negative one. He is not going to get into the judging game. Instead, he is going to warn people against all kinds of greed because life is not about having an abundance of possessions. Greed has already had a negative effect – two brothers are fighting instead of being in harmony with one another. The one brother who called out at least loves money instead of using it.

Then Jesus tells a parable about a rich fool – one who also loves money and possessions instead of using them. Though there can be a negative attitude toward the rich in Luke, there is no evidence that the man in the parable is a bad man. He has not stolen anything to get rich; he has not abused his workers. His wealth is probably inherited, and he has made good use of it. But the man has a dilemma. He has a bumper crop and he does not have the room to store it. He wonders what to do and decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Once he does this, he will be finished. He will have enough for the future and he can relax, eat, drink and be merry. The story does not say what the man will do if he has another good crop next year.

The man does not express greed out loud, but it is clear from his words that he loves his possessions to the exclusion of all other things. First of all, he is talking only to himself. I, me, mine is his refrain. These goods are all his and he has gotten them all by himself. He is like Gollum in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings books. Gollum is an amorphous creature who has in his possession a very valuable and very evil ring. He calls the ring My Precious, and his whole life is tied up in protecting it from others.

Second, the man does not thank God for anything. He has forgotten that it is God who has blessed him with his inheritance and God who has given the good soil, the rain and the sun to make the crops grow.

Third, the man has no thought for anyone but himself and what he will have when he has everything stored. He does not mention giving some of his goods away to those who do not have any. He does not even mention having a party and inviting his friends.

In short the man is isolated. His sole focus on money has robbed him of relationships, of community, of love, and even of the desire to act on those missing things. Isolation is what happens to anyone who loves a thing. If a person loves money, they will lose relationship because they are so busy gathering it. Remember King Midas, who lost his daughter because he touched her and she turned to gold. If a person loves power, they may become a workaholic and be isolated from family and friends. If a person is obsessed with another person, they will lose that person because he or she will fight being held too close.

Fourth, the man has forgotten that he is out of control of his future. He is self-satisfied and has forgotten money cannot protect against disease, broken relationships or death. The end of the parable has God calling the rich man a fool because he is soon to die and then where will his wealth go? Ironically, the passage about eating, drinking and being merry from Isaiah is followed with “for tomorrow we die”

Sometimes people who are greedy get second chances. Ebenezer Scrooge, one of our iconic images of greed, gets warned by three ghosts and is transformed into a generous and loving person. The parable of the rich fool is sad, because the man will have died without ever really having lived. To live is to love God and others and to let God make your life in the image of God and practice God’s kingdom values.

How do we react to this parable? How do we love people and use money instead of the other way around. How are we rich toward God? Jesus is not speaking against prudent planning. Joseph told Pharaoh to plan ahead and store up food for the coming famine. The rich fool was storing food, but unlike Joseph he was not doing it to meet others’ needs but his own. It is OK for us to use our gifts wisely, to save for the future, to save for our children’s education, to save up for something we really want. Money does good things, like contribute to medical research, create jobs and take care of our world. But we are always to remember that the money we receive is a gift from God and we are, more than anything else, to do what God wants us to do with it.

In this parable, Jesus is not really speaking against being rich, either, as long as we are like Bill Gates, who gives millions to charity, and not like Ebenezer Scrooge. Then money is a tool and not the master. Then it is something we use to further the kingdom and not  something idolatrous, as Paul calls it in Colossians. Jesus is speaking against being self-focused to the exclusion of others and God.

It is significant that this story of the rich fool is placed between two stories that counsel the disciples against worry. When they must speak boldly about their faith, the Holy Spirit will give them the words. Jesus also tells the disciples not to be anxious because worry cannot add anything to their lives and because God knows what they need and will give it to them. It is our fear that God will think differently than we do about what we need that causes us to want the security we think money brings. It is not money but seeking thekingdomofGodthat finally satisfies us and meets our needs as well.

At the end of “Star Wars”, the rebel alliance is in trouble. They are having a difficult time destroying the Death Star when suddenly Han Solo swoops in to help Luke Skywalker get off the shot that blows the thing up. He has obviously done some thinking about what is important to him and decided he wanted a purpose in his life that was more than loving money.

That is our job too. In a world where 25,000 people die every day from starvation (O.C. Edwards), most of us are abundantly blessed. We have more than we need, and we need to be grateful for God’s gifts, using them wisely for ourselves, others and the glory of God. We need to pray and discern the best actions to take with what we have been given, so that we can have a full life, letting God meet all our needs.

AMEN.

  - Rev. Ann Barker
 

Works cited:
David Lose, “What Money Can and Can’t Do” in “Dear Working Preacher” blog post, July 29.
O.C. Edwards, Tuesday Morning, vol 15, no. 3, July-September 2013, p. 12