Fr. Steve Teague, Rector

Being Rich Toward God

The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

When my parents buy their first and only house, it was the perfect size – even accommodated me a few years later. But before my sister arrives they add on to the house. Later, they add more “house.” After we move mom and dad to assisted living, we clean out the house. It seemed after 55 years living there, mom had a real gift for filling the space – throwing nothing away, saving everything from used wrapping paper to plastic bread bags. The house grew into a bigger barn. That said, she did teach me to be rich toward God.

Unlike my folks we’ve have moved a bit. You move periodically – you declutter, in theory. When we moved here, our basement became a repository for stuff that wouldn’t fit upstairs. We didn’t have to build a bigger barn. For about nine years, we filled the basement with more stuff.  Don’t ask me about books. And I try to be rich toward God. Why do we keep storing “stuff?”

What’s with this guy who interrupts Jesus? From out of nowhere: “Teacher, tell my brother to give me my share of the inheritance.” Sounds like a legitimate beef. Jesus declines, warns him against greed, and offers a parable – which is not what he wants to hear. You know the story. Bumper crops, bigger barns, and then God shows up, “Fool, you die tonight, and you can’t take it with you.” So what’s the problem? His land, his harvest – the man is fortunate, blessed, wealthy, and thinking he’s secure – through no fault of his own.

Greed – greed takes many forms. The farmer’s out of touch. He’s merely the beneficiary of soil, rains and sun. All he sees is himself, talks to himself about his wealth, future, and his plan to protect it. God and others get no mention. He’s worldly rich and heavenly impoverished. Greed blinds him even to human mortality. The future is always tentative. Otherwise he’s a pretty decent guy. And Jesus ends with a zinger: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

How do you hear this message – especially in this present climate of fear, insecurity and violence? “So let’s get more law and order.” “They can’t be trusted, don’t belong. Their religion is dangerous. Keep them out.” Fear breeds greed for the wrong things. Two weeks – six countries – eight terrorist attacks and 247 killed in the world, according to the NY Times. And what is the solution? Bigger barns can make us secure – really?

Pope Francis received a cool government-sponsored reception in Poland this past week. Politicians there think he’s too lax on social issues. Politicians are not the only tweeters. The Pope tweets: “Let us offer the world a mosaic of many races, cultures and peoples united in the name of Jesus.” Is he crazy? You can get killed that way. Or is it the gospel?

Across France this morning, Muslims attend Mass to be in solidarity with Catholics, because a priest there is murdered by terrorists this past week. I know a church member, not here by the way, who professes: “In God I Trust. But just in case, I carry my concealed weapon.” My mother taught me to be rich toward God.

A few weeks ago Presiding Bishop Curry called the Episcopal Church to prayer for the human family. Police officers, black and brown people, gay and lesbian people, Muslims, Christians, women have all become victims of violence and death in recent weeks.  Bishop Curry also calls on churches – to educate and work for Racial Reconciliation and Justice. Prayer and acting like we follow Jesus makes us rich toward God.

At St. Paul’s we are diverse. All are welcome. I find I have some things in common with the farmer. I am white, educated, male, straight, live in a democracy, and worship freely. Know what that is – privilege. I am privileged. I find safety in those barns that protect my privilege.

Read Jim Wallis’ latest book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America. We continue to mistreat and oppress indigenous people and people of color – most of us not intending to or realizing it. People like me, don’t always connect the dots, though. Two things hit me. We don’t really know each other – how the world looks through an unprivileged person’s eyes – through a police officer’s eyes – through white privileged folks’ eyes. Wallis says his black friends tell him, “If white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less to fear for their children.” We need to hear that – all of us. Second thing: Do you know what the talk is? I didn’t either – now I do. The talk explains what to do and say, and what not to do and say, when you find yourself in the presence of a police officer. Guess whose kids get “the talk,” and whose don’t. We all need to talk with each other so we can build a life and world together as God intends us to live. What’s it like to mistrust systems that are supposed to help and protect you? What is it like to live with fear that someone might shoot and kill you, including police – or maybe you are the police, not knowing who might kill you? Deep down, it’s a spiritual issue. We turn from God, attach to the wrong things, and end up detached from one another. But we know better – we can do better as Jesus’ followers, to love, serve, and bring God’s kingdom for all – rich toward God.

(Today we baptize Sam, as we have baptized his older brothers in recent years. We shall welcome him, too, into the household of God. What kind of household of faith will he find here? You’ll promise to help his parents, to teach and support him, as he grows in knowledge and love of God – as Christ’s Body to make this church a growing beacon of light for a better world. You, with him, will continually keep the vow to strive for justice and peace, and uphold the dignity of every human being.)[1]

Remember who you are. Each of us is God’s child created in the image and likeness of God. To God all lives do matter – and especially those who, left out, live in fear. Any system or anyone who segregates and divides us – is not rich toward God. When we forget who and whose we are, we’re foolish. It’s called sin – and we all, privileged and marginalized fall short. Only the fount of God’s love and grace can empower us to tear down the walls and barns that keep us apart – talk together and learn from each other. Unless we are rich toward God, at best, all we can be is nice people. Rich toward God – we create a better world.

[1] From 10:15 Service of Holy Baptism and Eucharist