Our Pastoral Prayer today was a Prayer of Confession. A Prayer of Confession is a prayer that confesses sin that we as a church are prone to commit. Other Christian traditions include a Prayer of Confession every Sunday as part of their worship service. Each week the church recognizes their propensity to sin, a sin that most can confess they commit.
Many Disciples churches don’t have Prayers of Confession often. Some may reserve Prayers of Confession for Lent, which is a season of repentance. I was talking the other day with a friend about Prayers of Confession in the Disciples tradition. The truth is, we don’t often corporately confess our sin. As a people of the Table, that is a church that partakes the Lord’s Supper every week, we tend to focus on the forgiveness offered to us in Christ versus the sin that needs forgiveness.
Today, I included a Prayer of Confession in our prayer time, because I thought our parable today begs us to confess our sin. We confessed our sin of the desire to collect things and our innate thinking that stuff will satisfy our desires. I know that we all are tempted to collect stuff and buy stuff to try to fill emptiness. I know we are all tempted by culture to buy stuff, new stuff, better stuff. I also know that many of us do not give into that temptation. Either quickly or after some length of self-talk, we put stuff in perspective and are able to prioritize God, family, things.
I watch the financial guru, Suze Orman’s show on Saturday nights. She closes each show with the reminder to prioritize, “People first, then money, then things.” For her, the welfare of us and our families is the first priority. By welfare, she means needs. Then, money comes as a means of building security. And, once you have built security through savings and investing for immediate emergencies and long-term needs, we can enjoy buying things.
My life was financially unstable for a long time. I wracked up some serious credit card debt in my 20s trying to buy as much stuff as I could not afford. Once, I got out from under that I still didn’t make saving or investing a priority. Then, I quit my job and moved to Kentucky for graduate school living on less than ½ of what I had been earning. Now, finally, I can manage my debt, buy the things I need and put a little bit away for savings and retirement. Suze would say that I need to work harder to save more, but I’m proud I’m doing something.
The one thing I’ve never heard Suze talk about is tithing. She grew up in a Jewish home, but I can’t find details about her current religious affiliation. I also couldn’t find concrete information about how Jews tithe today, because tithes in the Old Testament had to do with the Temple and priests. Still, I’m sure many of her callers are Christians and tithe. She just never talks about tithing specifically. I suppose that is supposed to be included in your household budget as you see fit.
Suze does focus a lot on saving for emergencies and retirement. She says 8 months of an emergency fund and enough in your retirement to produce a monthly income that is slightly more than you are making when you retire. There is nothing that says saving is a sin in the Bible. Many places in the Bible say that farmers and societies should gather a reserve expecting a famine will eventually follow an abundant season. For instance, in Genesis, Joseph stores up from a seven year abundant season enough for the Egyptians to survive a seven year famine. From his good planning, Joseph’s family from Israel to come and thrive in Egypt once again united.
The rich man in our parable today is not judged for storing up riches. He is judged for being greedy. Rather than saving only what his barns would hold and giving the rest away. He decided to tear down his barns and build bigger barns to save as much as possible for himself.
The Scripture we read today begins with a man asking Jesus to intervene in a quarrel between him and his brother. The man wants the brother to give him his portion of the inheritance. Jewish law set forth the stipulation that the eldest brother would receive a double portion of the inheritance compared to what the other brothers would receive.
The Scripture does not say that the man wants an equal share of the inheritance as the older brother. It doesn’t say that the brother was being greedy and wouldn’t give him anything. We are left with little knowledge of what the man thinks he is entitled to. We only know that he feels like he isn’t getting what he deserves and wants Jesus to settle the matter. Jesus won’t be trapped in the family feud. He instead teaches a parable that will illustrate the solution to the man’s problem.
Jesus tells the parable of a rich man who’s fields have yielded an abundant harvest. He tries to figure out what to do with all his crops. He decides to tear down his existing barns which won’t hold his yield to build bigger barns that will hold all his grain. He thinks with his surplus stored he will be able to live it up. He won’t have to work for years and will be able to live an easy life enjoying much food, much wine, and merriment. At hearing the man’s plan, God intervenes. God says, you will give up your life tonight, then who will get all the riches you have stored up.
The hearer of this parable will make many associations to the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Wisdom tradition, like Proverbs, one is reminded that abundance is a gift from God and must be prudent with their wealth. Psalm 49 gives the same warning. I think about Job who was rich and lost everything. I also think of the gleening system whereby farmers are to leave the edges of their fields unharvested for the poor and widows to come to gather food for themselves.
The rich man’s greatest sin is greed which is really a matter of self-sufficiency. He believes he is the source of his blessing and he will be the one who reaps and enjoys the reward without a thought of God. The rich man plans for his will – he will pull down his barns, he will build bigger barns, and he will store the grain. He forgets God’s will of generosity.
He has focused so much on his will that he has pushed away any one in his life. There is no one else in the story. There is just the man and his possessions. There is no one to eat, drink, and be merry with. There is no one to receive the inheritance when he dies. He is alone with his storage barns. He is relying on the ethereal security of his possessions and has foregone the security of friends and family. He has ignored God’s will of community.
The parable Jesus tells sets in stark contrast the life reliant on wealth with the life dependant on God and God’s abundant blessings. Colossians 3 implores Christians to seek the values of Heaven over the values of Earth. It says: “if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. Think about the things above and not things on Earth. You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the Earth…Take off the old human nature with its practices and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it.”
Greed is one of those values of Earth that are to be left as we are made new creatures in Christ. “Because we are the same in Christ, we are to discover our life in Christ and seek to become like God. Although the wealthy man feels secure and comfortable in his earthly riches, such wealth becomes meaningless in death. Christ challenges his followers to seek a rich relationship with God instead of material wealth.”
Ubuntu is an African ideology known throughout southern Africa. Ubuntu is roughly translated as human kindness. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have spoken about this value of humanism. Ubuntu is a philosophy that man does not exist in isolation, that a human is a human because of other humans. Ubuntu is the recognition that one’s humanity is affirmed by recognizing others as human beings unique and different.
It is especially applicable to farming communities in Africa. It is an ideal of collective responsibility within society to assure that everyone survives and guards against individual failure. This isn’t about the redistribution of wealth, but the responsibility to care for one another. This is the value of Heaven which is generosity.
There is a story about an anthropologist leading a game with children in an African tribe. He put a basket of fruit near a tree and told the kids that the first one to reach the fruit would win all of the fruit. When he told the children to go, they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying the fruit. When the children were asked why they ran like that, as one could have taken all the fruit for him or herself, they said, “ubuntu, how can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?” Ubuntu says, “I am because we are.”
The rich man of the parable had pushed all of the people out of his life. He had forsaken the value of community and mandate to care for the poor, orphans, and widows. Some might say that his wealth was what took his soul, leaving him with no one to give his estate to and no one to share his wealth with. Greed was what ceased his soul long before death.
Saving or storing up riches is not a sin as long as you are practicing the Biblical mandate to tithe. Tithing isn’t about giving your wealth away ‘til you have barely enough to get by. Tithing is putting God as a priority in your budget. Tithing is the Biblical value of being generous with God. With your eyes on Heaven and its values, the food you eat and the libations you drink and the company you keep are merrier because you are generous with God and loving your neighbor.