Luke 12.13-21; Colossians 3.1-11; Psalm 49; Ecclesiastes 1.2,12-14;2.18-23
How many of you watch Made in Chelsea? We seem to have a fascination with the super rich. There was an article last week in the ES magazine as well as programmes on the TV. about the Instagram generation. One enthusiastic Instagram user is a son of a clothing tycoon in India who doesn’t understand why one would sit in traffic if one has a perfectly good helicopter, unless it is to show off a golden Rolls Royce in the streets of Knightsbridge.
We are fascinated by this lavish and over the top lifestyle. But doesn’t part of us want them them to be unhappy. Surely there is a certain justice in the super rich not having everything. a level of unhappiness sort of redresses the balance.
And isn’t there a judgement that we make? What if I had that money? What sort of person would I be?
Money should be a lubrirator – it should flow and liberate and enhance and enrich. Where it gets stuck it begins to fester and rot like stagnant water.
Again look at the recent news – wealth does seems to get stuck – and is surrounded by need and misery. We juxtapose Phillip Green’s muliti million pound yacht with 12k people about to lose their jobs in BHS. We marvel at Mike Ashley’s £50million divorce settlement, lavish football club extravagances compared to thousands of workers in Sports Direct working in “Victorian” conditions. The wealth gets stuck in log jams and the rest of the land gets smelly.
And isn’t it a natural, human response to wealth – to accumulate it and also to develop a lifestyle that grows in proportion to what we earn.
For example when I was a student I survived on a grant, I had somewhere to live and I did not starve. I earned my first salary, I did not starve, I had somewhere to live; my salary got bigger, I did not starve, I had somewhere to live. But strangely and inexorably my tastes and requirements seemed to get more expensive to fill the space, to grow alongside the salary increase.
There was never a point for me that I said anything above this amount is a bonus – I can give this away I do not need it! There are super saints in this world who do just that. They reverse tithe – 10% is enough I will give away 90%. Wow, that is not me but I have deep admiration for them!
Matthew 6.24 ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
And the thing is this if wealth if not mastered becomes our master.
So let’s talk for a moment about tithing. Tithing helps us to get our wealth in perspective – we are masters of our wealth – our wealth does not say to us: you cannot afford to give me away , you need to worry about the future, you deserve to have a little luxury,. We are very good and justifying why we cannot be more generous to God.
And we need to learn to be generous to God in the way that God is generous to us.
And the starting point to this is a really difficult lesson and it is this: all of our benefits and privileges are undeserved and unearned – they are gratuitous blessings – accidents of birth and upbringing. Our ability to work hard is a gift. Our courage to search for work is a gift. Our resilience is a gift, our intelligence is a gift. My father told me that if it hadn’t been for Harold Wilson, I wold not have a degree. If it wasn’t for God’s gifting I would have nothing.
This is such a hard lesson because we like to think that our lifestyle and possessions are the result of hard work and thriftiness. No they are undeserved and unearned. They are accidents of birth, upbringing and inheritance. They are gifts from God’s bounty.
And if we get that we get the next lesson which is that we are given these gifts so that we can learn how to be generous – how to develop the heart of God. Not because I deserved them. This is so important I have to repeat it. I was given gifts by God so that I could learn how to be generous – to develop God’s heart. The more gifted I am the more generous he expects me to be – the more opportunity he is giving me to develop his heart.
Let’s take a look at another difficult passage:
Matthew 20.13-16 – the bit after the vineyard owner has paid the workers who have worked for one hour the same as the workers who have worked all day . The latter are complaining: this is unfair!
But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
Are you envious because I am generous? The great mastery that wealth has over us is that we deserve our wealth. The next is that we need to hoard it because we live in a world of lack and disappointment rather than abundance and gratitude.
A world view of lack and disappointment allows no room or possibility for satisfaction, a sense of enough. We end up chasing after wind and smoke and illusion. There is no enough, so there is none left over. If we live with a sense of abundance and gratitude the little we have will be enough and more than enough for us to have a sense of extra and give some of the extra away.
I wonder what kind of conditions the clothing magnate provides for his workers – I wonder whether he provides schooling, medical aid, decent housing and living wages to his workforce. Who knows? God knows. If the super rich are in that place because of their exploitation of others, God will judge, not me. The state of their hearts are only known to God.
Interestingly there is a post script. Mike Ashley has gone back to his wife – love was more important in the end than the luxury villa or judicial settlement. The couple realised that that was a Pyrrhic victory where no one wins. There is hope!
But the point is that it is easy to look at the super rich and judge, but that distracts us from looking at our own attitudes to our own wealth
The man in our gospel reading with all his barns and buildings and who knows what else lost his opportunity to use the gifts that God had given him.
Luke 12: 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.
God says , you fool, I gave you the opportunity to be greater, to be happier, to be my child in the world and you blew it. it is too late now to learn to know my heart and live with satisfaction, abundance and joy.
Luke 12 15 And Jesus says to his listeners, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’
The abundance of God is all around us if we choose to see. His generosity towards us is infinite if we choose to ask him. He wants us to have the generous heart that he has.
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.
We do not give away from abundance because the recipient needs it , we give because we need to give. As we get closer to God and know his heart, we become more like him: abundant in attitude, overflowing in generosity and reckless in love. My giving is a sign of my maturing in the heart of God. And the more of his heart I have the more I will master wealth.
Colossians 3,1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
We will be revealed in him in glory because we will be living with his heart in the world. We can only develop his heart if we stop chasing after wind, and smoke and illusion.
And the final lesson is this. The poor are vital. If we know that our wealth is unearned and undeserved and we live with an attitude of abundance and gratitude the poor become an opportunity to grow into the heart of God.
When we have the heart of God, the next time we meet a brother and sister in need, we do not think: what did they do to deserve that? We think, my wealth is undeserved, it is a gift, what I do in this situation is a development of my spiritual maturity. This person is my equal. No judgement, no fear, just abundant, grateful, reckless love.
So let’s allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with God’s abundant, reckless love for us so that out of our gratitude we can be his generous heart in the world. This is the kingdom of glory that we are called to be for the world. Amen