Tag Archives: wealth

Blessed to share Jesus’ blessings Mark 10: 17-22 First St Johns Oct 11, 2015

[For the audio of this sermon click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who share God’s blessings with others said … AMEN!

Today’s reading should seem obvious to us, this is of course Mark’s take on the rich young ruler. To most of us today, we see charity as pretty much of a given, especially in the church. We do things here at First St Johns like the Food Bank, Panera Bread that we give to people on Monday mornings, helping people in job search, distributing clothing. A very few people give towards an “alms fund”, those funds are given to me and I use them to help people who are in genuine need. We do other things on a pretty regular basis. For the first century Jewish person, that kind of charity really wasn’t a given. There were those who were blessed because for some reason God obviously chose to give them great wealth and so they must have some virtue that they deserved to be especially blessed by God. Jesus makes His well known observation of the rich young ruler: “’Truly I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt 19: 23-24) What was Jesus saying here? Today we kind of nod our head, in agreement, yea you go get him Jesus, those rich people who hoard all that money; George Soros, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Rockefellers, Bushes. Ya, the problem is that when we sit there and say that, we’re kind of being disingenuous. Jesus is identifying a very obvious issue here, this man is obviously wealthy and obviously devoted to His wealth. The Concordia Self-Study Bible notes: “In his listing of the commandments, Jesus omitted ‘Do not covet’. This was the rich man’s main problem and was preventing him from entering life.”[1]

Now do you think Jesus just forgot about that one? Or just wanted to give the rich young ruler a cursory overview of the commandments? … We are like little children to Jesus, the oldest and wisest of us, don’t even scratch the surface of the depth and breadth of what God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit know. Have you ever taught a little child to count … One, two, …. Three? Don’t you think Jesus was trying to get the rich young ruler to come up with his own answer. In Matthew’s version Jesus says: “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” The rich young ruler replied “Which ones?” I have to interject my opinion as to Jesus’ reaction … What???? Are you somehow of the opinion that the commandments are some kind of smorgasbord? Pick from this one, don’t like that one. Have to tell you, that’s pretty much the consensus today. Ya, the commandments, some of them are good, some of them … nah, n/a, not applicable, at least not to me. Jesus leaves which commandment out that would apply? … Do not covet, number ten. Rather lengthy one too, seems that God wanted to make sure that we understood, we don’t covet anything. Yet here’s this guy who seems to come off as very devout, maybe expert on the commandments and he seems to have a very distorted view of them. Look around today’s world, it is clear the world has a very distorted view of the commandments, much like the young man. The world also seems to add some of their own commandments. One of course being “judge not lest ye be judged”. That seems to be a big favorite today. And other commandments, ya not so important; Have no idols, taking the Lord’s name in vain, Sabbath day, honoring mother and father, false witness, coveting? You can really see why the young ruler wanted to be clear on which ones, I would be willing to bet that first century Israel was much like 21st century America. Pick and choose, which one’s important, which one isn’t. They’re the Ten Commandments, not suggestions!

Let’s look at the Amos reading, we need to be a little fair here. It has almost become accepted today that if someone is wealthy, they had to have done it by either receiving it, or through dishonesty. I got mine honestly, but that guy with the bigger house, bigger car, bigger big screen TV, he must have taken advantage of someone to get all that. No, that is not true, I prefer to believe that most have done it through hard work, sacrifice, being smart. Are there people who achieve wealth in a way that lacks integrity? Yes! In the Prophet Amos’ reading, Amos is certainly saying on God’s behalf that many, seems even most, are acquiring wealth dishonestly: “For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins, you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.” (Amos 5:12) At this time in history, Israel/Judah, the kingdom has been divided by then, has become very corrupt. That is what prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah are warning the people about. God is not going to continue to tolerate this. And yet there is the recognition of the fact by Amos: “They hate him who reproves at the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.” (Amos 5:10). The men of a town would gather at the gate to the city where people would bring law suits or accuse someone of breaking the law. It was where people expected justice. For those who did act justly, according to God’s will, they were not appreciated, especially by those who held some level of wealth and power. They expected those who were judges to just roll over for them. They would cheat someone, be accused and the judge was supposed to turn a blind eye, that is why Amos refers to those who “afflict the righteous, who take a bribe.” I have to play by the rules, but apparently the guy who has money and power, he doesn’t, he gets his way regardless. I have to believe that while the rich young ruler talked a good game, which we see many today do, he really didn’t play by the rules. Remember Zaccheus, with Jesus? He offered, without prompting to repay any he might have not dealt fairly with. The rich young ruler didn’t. Much like people today and then, he seemed to have bought into this belief that because of his wealth that was his golden ticket in. That was not what Jesus was about. “Jesus looking at him, loved him…” I think Jesus felt compassion and pity. Jesus knew that the rich young ruler was too tied to his riches and while he said the right things, they were not where his heart was. He had bought into the world’s view that wealth meant he was blessed and had a stairway to heaven. Referring to the Led Zepplin song, clearly even in the 1960s and I think as much if not more so now, “there’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.” Peter doubts Jesus’ words too, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”(Matt19: 27) Jesus replied: I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, [the resurrection] when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matt 20: 28-29) Oh Peter, because of your faithfulness and the faithfulness of all who will follow, what that man has will look like petty cash compared to what you will receive, paraphrasing Jesus.

Jesus gave up the glory of heaven to live life as a man on earth. He sacrificed to be one of us and more than that, He sacrificed all He had in the torture of the cross, His very life, God the Son, perfect and holy, sacrificed to pay for our sins. God gives us what we need, we pray for our daily bread and He faithfully provides for what we need to live the life that He wants for us. That does not mean that we ignore His will and go out and grab for all that we can, to dishonestly enrich ourselves. For that matter He wants us to use some of the gifts He has given us for those who are in need, to provide for His church so that collectively we can reach and provide for those who are in physical need, and so they can also hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To not just live in the world today, but hear the promise of life and life more abundant in the eternal, perfect world of the resurrection. So, yes, take out that journal, take time in prayer. Are we too much about the world’s message? Or are we about the message of the Gospel. Do we believe that because we have much in the world, that God has blessed us to wealth, and yes, pretty much all of us here are pretty wealthy compared to the standards of Jesus’ time and of the rest of the world’s standards today. Do we live the life that Jesus wants for us by sharing our abundance? Or do we live the deluded life of the world that says our life should be plentiful here and also buys us a stairway to heaven?

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Concordia Self Study Bible p 1477

Wealth, yours or Gods? What’s the smart choice?

I worked in corporate finance for 20 years, I worked for some really great companies, Chase Manhattan, Motorola, Entex (bought out by Siemens), Fleet National Bank (bought out by BofA) and well, some not so great. Eh, we all have our experiences. I’ve been downsized, rightsized, merged, bought out, sometimes hosed over, but quite often knowing some great people, doing interesting travel and having some great experience.

I’m reading a book (on Kindle, believe me I love books, nothing like the feel of a real book, but boy Kindle makes studying easy), anyway, a book by  David Miller God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement. He observes: “Whether conscious or unintended, the pulpit all too frequently sends the signal that work in the church matters but work in the world does not.” He further observes: “there has been a turn toward a negative critique of work in general and the business world in particular, accenting its problematic aspects and ignoring its constructive and creative dimensions.” To be frank, I noticed a bit of condescension on the part of clergy, but frankly it goes both ways. My suggestion to both? Knock it off! The clergy need to get over themselves, they do not, by any stretch of the imagination have a corner on piousness. Business people need to get over themselves and quit treating clergy like they’ve just fallen off the tuna trolley. There are challenges that clergy have to deal with that would inflict great discomfort on the average lay person. You all need to lose the superiority attitude, neither one of you are all that and a bag of chips. I find it especially amusing when some corporate type treats me like I’m fragile and naive. I will match my resume and experiences with anyone’s in corporations or clergy. So let’s have some mutual respect for each other, because both do great things. If I come off as somehow patronizing or wagging my finger at either, please feel free to give me a good thrashing. Cuts both ways, I have great respect for many in either vocation and there are many who, well you just have to wonder. And believe me I do.

I just wanted to establish that because we are all simul justus et peccatore we all need to have some mutual respect. Also I hope that I don’t come off as accusatory in the following. Forbes Magazine does a “Forbes 400” issue every year, an in-depth view at the 400 wealthiest in America, those who have multi-billions of dollars. Yeah, must be nice, but well money isn’t everything. (Just keep telling yourself that Jim). Jesus certainly had His opinion, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt 19:24). Jesus is not saying that there is something intrinsically evil about a rich person, but He is saying that it is so easy for a rich person to be caught up in all their riches, privileges, perks, that he/she begins to think it is all about them. Having said that, and I know there  will be some raised eyebrows, but even the poorest among us in the United States would be, if not rich, very comfortable. The vast number of Americans have plenty to eat, have, at least a decent motor vehicle, a decent place to live and things such as cable/satellite TV and other luxuries that for the rest of the world is staggering. So if anyone wants to point their finger at the “rich”, well frankly you have three fingers pointing back at you, think about it.

So this issue of Forbes has different takes on the issues of the mega-wealthy. One of the articles is talking about people who are now billionaires but started with nothing. Larry Ellision of Oracle Computer (interestingly there is a biography about Ellison titled The Difference between God and Larry Ellison: God doesn’t think He’s Larry Ellison by Mike Wilson.) Yeah, much could be said of many of the very wealthy. According to Forbes Ellison contracted pneumonia and was give up for adoption as an infant. John Paul DeJoria of John Paul Mitchell Systems was told by his mother that at one point they had 27 cents between them. Shahid Khan of Flex-N-Gate, and of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars emigrated from Pakistan and started working as a dishwasher earning $1.90 per hour. Oprah Winfrey born to a single, teenaged mother, eventually ran away from home, now produces television programming and publishing books, magazines. Howard Schultz of Starbucks was raised in a housing project in Brooklyn, his father lost his job after an injury, leaving his family destitute. There is no question that these people have achieved great things and there’s no reason not to admire someone who has accomplished so much, so long as it’s with honesty and integrity.

David Green, number 90 on Forbes’ list, is a case in point of a Christian who honors God and knows that God has given Him what He has. Mr Green is the founder and owner of Hobby Lobby. Forbes writes: “Preacher’s son started business with $600 loan in 1970. The company now has 559 locations, all closed on Sundays. Has given out nearly 1.4 billion of gospel literature in more than 100 countries mostly in Africa and Asia.

So now we go to an article in the same issue (Oct 7, 2013 pp 101 – 114   ) on Mr Stewart Rahr. Mr Rahr is the extreme example of what most of the very wealthy are much more subtle about. The gist of the article can, in my humble opinion, be boiled down to I do “good things” so I can do whatever I want with the rest of “my” money. As Steve Bertoni writes: “What happens when a man has more cash than he can ever spend and no rules on how to spend it? Stewart Rahr’s answer: an unhinged, hedonistic bender, filled with girls, guns, sex tapes – and a lesson in whether money really can buy happiness.” Rahr makes a $10 million  gift to Make-A-Wish Foundation, that’s a good thing. Then receives a very public award for same. Matthew 6:2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:2)

At age 60-something he abruptly sells the business he inherited from his father, albeit building it to much greater heights. He certainly did grow his net worth, but seems to gloss over the fact that his father installed an already sturdy foundation. He went on to end his 43-year marriage in a similar manner. “Cause I wanted to be me – do my own thing, says Rahr. ‘Wake up in the morning, not have to be responsible, just go and be happy.'” Oh how so adolescent of a sixty something year old. “…Rahr forwards FORBES an e-mail exchange  with the Robin Hood Foundation to show off both his giving and his relationship with his ex-wife. In 2006  Rahr and Carol donated $1 million to help build schools. A plaque has been erected in their honor on a building in Brooklyn and Rahr confirmed that he’d like to take Carol to see it for her birthday.” Ok, sweet, but of course have to have that ego feeding plaque. But Bertoni goes on to write: “In the same e-mail, though, Rahr discussed the plaque soon to be installed at a second school, in the Bronx. On this one, he said, Carol should be left off.” Oh how perfectly petulant. Especially when it seems like his wife Carol is the innocent spouse here. Have to give some credit to Rahr, Carol will never be hurting for money and judging by the article she’s probably better off considering some of the things he’s made public such as a sex tape with three prostitutes in the back of a limousine, oh yeah, real class act.

So please don’t think that I’m some kind of clerical crank, bitterly wagging my finger at the ultra- rich, there are many I respect. In my corporate life, I came to know and genuinely respect many. I was part of the Marketplace Network in Boston, largely made up of some very senior corporate execs (how I slipped through I’ll never know). Being a part of a group of Christian men and women trying to live their Christian life in the corporate world was a great experience and I would very much like to duplicate the group here in York. But let’s be honest, for far to many in the corporate world, there are, albeit subtler versions of “Stewie Rah Rah” and believe me, in my corporate life, that was the predominant mode of life. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes to mind. Those who have been successful, have anything and everything they need in terms of the material, once we’ve met our needs for sustenance, security, love, we then come to expect respect and even adulation, recognition, we expect ego strokes and reward. Why is it that Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than a rich man enter heaven? Because when they become rich, and that can mean pretty modest sums compared to Stewie Rah Rah, then it’s all for their gratification, their recognition. They somehow believe that they are entitled and when they do good things, they forget the source of their wealth, and feel that they should be recognized. They can deny it, but that is what is called worship, self-worship and worship from those around them. They’ve made the call, it’s all about them and not about God. Remember Lazarus and the rich man? “19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” (Luke 16: 19-31) According to legend the rich man’s name was Dives, he had the gall to try and give Lazarus orders from hell. He had never done anything for Lazarus, but it didn’t matter it was all about him, Dives. That is why he is in hell, because he honestly thought it was all about him. God’s pretty explicit, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” When you make yourself god, you dictate your own fate and God allows it, like it or not that is the attitude of most Americans today.

Go ahead, be rich, enjoy life, buy me a, uhmm, I mean you, a new Mercedes, but remember the source of your blessings and that God surely intended for you to remember the least among us and to use your gifts to glorify God.

There won’t be a Coffee Break Bible study Wednesday, but we meet on Wednesdays at ten am, First St Johns 140 W King St downtown York, Pa.