Follow the Money
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 12: 32 – 40. Focus on why where we put our money determines what we really value. Actions speak louder than words. Check out Kelly Crandell & Mara Adler O’Kelly on their duet – Above All.
I recently read that the gap between the rich and poor is greater than it has been since The Gilded Age, when the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, Morgans and Carnegies dominated the American economy. Everyday seems to bring a new article, news report slicing and dicing the issue of wealth inequality in America. According to an April 23, 2016 Bloomburg article, “the Gini coefficient” (a statistical way of measuring the gap between rich and poor) has grown 20.2 percent in the last 40 years.
The current U.S. Gini is the equivalent to the figures for countries such as Ecuador, Madagascar and China. And according to a Pew Research study: “Wealth for the Wealthy; Declines for the Lower 93% (April 23, 2013). “During the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, (following the 2008 crash), the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%.”
And what’s interesting about this gap is how far removed our perceptions are from reality. As this video Wealth Inequality in America illustrates, not only is the gap between the rich and poor much greater than we think it should be. It’s also far greater than we think it is. The Occupy movement may have faded from the national scene, but the 1% are still with us – and they’re raking in the money in ways beyond our wildest imaginings.
Video: Wealth Inequality in America
Now conservatives and liberals may differ on how to address the issue of wealth inequality, but this is an issue that should concern all of us, whether Democrat, Republican or Independent. Societies risk becoming unstable the greater the disparity between rich and poor gets.
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett make this argument in their book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, which rates a number of the world’s countries based on problems that come with inequality. As they say, “The impacts of inequality show up in poorer health, lower educational attainment, higher crime rates, lower spending of social capital and lower cooperation with and trust of government.”
Now comes Jesus and his teachings about wealth and God’s reign. In our passage Jesus encourages his “little flock” of listeners not to worry about their place in the kingdom of God, but there’s a catch: they are to sell their possessions and give alms to the poor. Notice what Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Not where your heart is that’s where your treasure is. What Jesus is clearly saying – “Where you put your money, what you invest in is truly what you treasure.”
But wait, I’m often told when I talk about economics and wealth in Christian circles – Money isn’t the root of all evil. Love of money is! We like to think money is morally neutral, but unfortunately F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he said, “The rich really are different from you or me. They’re more likely to behave unethically.”
A new group of studies by researchers out of the University of California, Berkeley entitled “Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior”- published in the January 2012 periodical – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows “that people of higher socioeconomic status are more likely to break traffic laws, lie in negotiations, take valued good from others, and cheat on their taxes. And what is most surprising is the tendency for this unethical behavior to appear not only in people who are rich, but in those who are manipulated into feeling that they are rich.”
And the reason Jesus urges us to be so generous with our material stuff is because of the gift of God’s freely given kingdom to us. Gathering more and more stuff, building bigger and bigger barns simply has no place in God’s kingdom. We are called to focus on the teachings and actions of God’ Son – Jesus who knows that we are not good at spiritual multitasking. We cannot serve both God and mammon.
But what fascinates me even more is that Jesus’ command to give alms to the poor does not center on the needs of the poor, but on the needs of the wealthy. There is no talk about how much better off the poor will be but instead a hope that we might just be the one rich person who enters into the kingdom of heaven like that one camel passing through the eye of a needle. What Jesus is calling us to is a life of congruence with God’s will. A treasure that will truly last.
Then comes the final two verses in which Jesus says, “But know this, that if the master of he house had known what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. So be ready, for the Son of Man is coming like a thief at an unexpected time.”
Which raises the question why is Jesus likened to a thief? And I believe it’s because Jesus knows that we will do everything in our power to keep the thief from breaking into our homes and our lives. He knows we will use all of our psychological defenses and physical ones if we feel threatened enough to keep this thief out.
That’s why the Lord uses so much misdirection. He comes in ways we do not expect, and a time we don’t anticipate. He doesn’t bother trying to tear down our defenses. He sneaks around them instead.
By stealing around our defenses God is coming to free us from the anxiety that we have regarding our relationship with God and one another. . And by having God break into our lives we are freed from the fear of scarcity so that we can be generous with others. We are freed from the fear of condemnation so that we can forgive others. We are freed from the fear of failing, so that we can live with our neighbors sharing in the reality that there is truly enough for everyone in God’s kingdom. Amen