Deadly #2 in Series for Lent
GREEDitis, can be fatal. GREED: the Bible calls it avarice or covetousness. It’s so important and so insidious that God included prohibition against it in the Ten Commandments, “Thou Shalt Not Covet.” It is included in the list of Seven Deadly Sins. Because, Greed unchecked ruins lives and relationships.
Greed can be described as the gratification of my desires, my wants, my appetites at the expense of yours. Greed really is all about me, sometimes to the detriment of others and detriment to the common good. Unfortunately, we all have a need for greed. Believe it or not, we’re born greedy.
We’re born with the need to get. The Hebrew word used to describe us in the Creation Story is Nephesh. Picture if you will and bunch of baby birds in the nest, mouths open, demanding to be fed. That’s what the word brings to mind. My OT professor said, the literal translation means, “bundle of appetites.” And it describes us perfectly. The issue of course is when we let those appetites rule our lives, instead of us ruling them. Let’s look at the passage from Luke 12:13-28 (NRSV)
 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”
 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.
 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’
 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
 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?’
 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.
 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?
 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!
We hear this story and at first we might think, “Man, I’d like him for my financial advisor.” He’s already successful, he’s already rich, even before this bumper crop comes in. His barns were already full he had to build bigger barns to store the current crop. I don’t know any farmer who wouldn’t want to have a couple of years like that. But then Jesus goes and calls him a “fool.”
I. GREED DESTROYS:
A. So, what’s the deal? What did this guy do wrong? He didn’t DO anything wrong. This parable isn’t about money or success. This parable is about values and what’s important in life.
To paraphrase Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor, “Sometimes parables like this are like the cod liver oil that mothers used to give their kids to cure what ailed them: You know it’s good for you. You trust the one who’s giving it to you, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow!”
I think what this parable is basically saying is that when we clutch our wealth and our stuff as if they’re the most important things in life, we’re missing the boat. The old bumper sticker, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins,” is wrong.
You know i it would be easy to talk about the greediness of the Enron executives and certain celebrities, pop stars and sports heroes It’s easy to point out the Greed in other people’s lives but not so easy to see it in ourselves.
I read about a couple who had an eight month old granddaughter who was now crawling at full speed and exploring everything. Her older sister was 26 months old, she was the center of attention, the star of the family until her little sister came along. One day in a conversation, grandpa asked how the oldest was handling the new addition to the family? “Well, so-so!” said Dad. “She likes to count her sister’s ‘s toes, but when it’s bedtime, she gathers up all her toys and hides them in her bedroom so her sister can’t play with them.”
Greed. It runs in the human family. We are taught to be greedy. It’s the American way. And yet this unchecked, unrestrained greed and covetousness, that God warned us about in the Ten Commandments, is destroying us as individuals and as a nation. It has sucked the soul of the Christian spirit out of most of our country. We no longer think the best of each other. We now longer seek the best FOR each other. We no longer act out of Christian compassion for each other. Now it’s every man for himself. That’s why people get trampled and killed on Black Friday trying to save a $100 on a TV. Greed destroys.
B. Stock market guru Jim Cramer, host of television’s Mad Money, says, “Bulls make money.” Then he adds, “Bears make money.” Then he tosses out the punch line, “Pigs get slaughtered.”
“Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs get slaughtered.” Basically he’s saying, “Beware of being greedy when you are investing in the stock market. You may overreach and lose everything.”
Jesus said pretty much the same thing, just not as directly. The guy in the parable just wasn’t satisfied. He wanted more not because he needed it or was going to help people with it but simply because he wanted more. But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
This guy didn’t get a second chance like Scrooge or Silas Marner. That’s what happens when God isn’t first; and when we “don’t store up treasure in heaven and seek to be rich toward God.” Jesus didn’t say it as indelicately as Jim Cramer did, but the message is the same. Greed can be your undoing. “Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs get slaughtered.”
II. GENEROSITY BUILDS:
A. Author and spiritual director Richard Foster says, “The great moral question of our time is how to move from greed to generosity.”
We all need possessions. Jesus said, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things,” such as food, shelter, and clothing. But greed is having our needs met and yet never being satisfied. Every day we are bombarded with the idea that we only two goals in life: ONE, to be successful; and TWO, to feel good. And the way to be a success and feel good is to have more and more.
According to Herb Miller, at the beginning of the 20th century the average American had 72 wants and thought that 18 of them were essential. At the end of the century, the average American had 496 wants and thought that 96 of them were essential for happiness. (1)
That’s a six-fold increase. To satisfy that craving for more, we now have twice as many shopping centers in our country thans we do high schools. People complain if taxes are raised to educate our children for the well-being of the future, but if a new shopping center is constructed nobody complains because now there’s another outlet in which to indulge our Greed.. There’s something upside down and wrong side up about that.
B. So, what do we do? The answer is one of the 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations that my old Seminary classmate, Bishop Robert Schnaze wrote about. And that’s Extravagant Generosity.
Think of Giving and Generosity like a glove. By itself the glove is limp and lifeless; it can’t pick up anything. But slide your hand into it and it acquires the power to do all kinds of things. Money is like an empty glove, it’s neither good nor bad, but put it into the hands of a person it takes on that person’s personality. Money in somebody’s hand can create a grasping hand or a giving hand. (2)
Generosity is a giving hand. Extravagant Generosity is giving with both hands. Like Tom and Georgia Barnett who own and operate 24 Burger King stores.
They and were recently awarded “Franchisee of the Year” by Burger King, an award given for outstanding reviews and inspections. Burger King rewarded Barnett Management with a Rolex watch and the keys to a brand new car. Instead of rolling around town in their new convertible, Tom Barnett and his partners did something more meaningful.
Barnett and the other franchise owners sold the car and watch, added more of their own money to the pot, and divided it up among their employees. More than 100 Burger King employees received bonuses, which ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Employees were overjoyed:
“I just couldn’t believe it. I was in shock,” Charity Callahan, a 15-year employee, told her interviewers. “It was almost an entire month’s worth of pay for me. They made us all feel appreciated.”
Barnett’s partners said it was an easy decision to make. Franchise co-owner Shelley Krispin said, “The award needed to go to the people who got us here. It was the right thing to do. We’re all better when we have people who work for us long term.” That’s Extravagant Generosity which helps deflate and defeat Greed.
C. Another way to be a part of Extravagant Generosity is to focus on others. Pray for others before you pray for yourself. Do something for others before you do something for yourself. Do it through our Change for a Change Lenten Offering.
Don’t just toss you change into the can or bowl or jar: offer up a simple prayer for the ministries to which it will be going. Make a list of our special offerings from the handout and pray for them each day. There are 15 of them, divide them up. On Sunday pray for 3 then every other day of the week pray for two. Ask God to bless them, to bless those whom they touch and the leaders of that particular ministry. Offer a prayer of encouragement for them. You may not know them but God certainly does.
Or take something else on like putting together School Kits and Health Kits for UMCOR. Our District Newsletter reports that the supply for these kits is critically low.
You can go to the UMCOR website and find instructions for putting together these kits or you can make a donation with the money you saved from fasting from lunch one day. If you don’t fast, then give an amount equal to the most expensive lunch you’ve eaten during the week.
This is UMCOR’s 75th year of service. They were officially founded on March 15, 1940 at the 1940 General Conference held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Since that day they have helped millions of people across the world through small gifts like the ones we make.
Break the cycle of Greed. Give with both hands, GIVE EXTRAVAGANTLY.
Have you ever heard the old Cherokee story of the two wolves? A Cherokee man once told his grandson about a fight that was going on inside of him. He said it was between two wolves. One was evil and filled with Anger, Envy, Greed, Arrogance, Self-pity, Gossip, Resentment, and False Pride.
The boy sat wide-eyed. And then Grandpa described the other wolf. The other wolf was good and filled with Joy, Peace, Love, Hope, Serenity, Humility, Kindness, Generosity, Truth, Compassion and Faith. The grandson thought about it for a few minutes and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf do you think will win?”
The old Cherokee smiled and replied, “The one I feed.”
Which one do you feed? Greed or Extravagant Generosity? Lent is about getting closer to Christ wo we can be transformed into becoming like Christ. Transformation happens when we dare to trust God; when against all odds we trust God. Because Faith is grounded in Trust.
Greed is grounded in fear. We’re afraid we won’t have as much as our neighbors. We’re afraid we won’t have what we want. And we’re afraid we won’t have all the necessities of life – food, shelter, safety, stability – so we keep saving for a rainy day. Or we keep buying more and more stuff. So, when is enough, enough? When is it time to look beyond our greed to the needs of others.
Generosity builds, repairs, reconciles and renews. But it’s up to you. This morning as we come to share in the Sacrament o Holy Communion, take a moment to ask yourself, “Which Wolf are you feeding?”
Be honest with yourself and honest with God. Then ask God, what God wants you do about it? It may not be easy be it’s the only way to cure GREEDitis.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Herb Miller, Money Isn’t Everything: What Jesus Said About the Spiritual Power of Money (Discipleship Resources: Nashville, TN, 1994), p. 5
2. Ibid., p. 6.