The Rev. Allie Perry is the worship coordinator of Shalom United Church of Christ, New Haven and chair of the UCC’s Palestine Israel Network.
Scripture: Luke 12:15 (NRSV)
“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Warning: Greed is Hazardous to Your Life
On April 4th, 1967 in his famous Riverside Church speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ever the prophet, identified materialism as one of the triplets of evil, along with racism and militarism. Jesus would surely have agreed. The Gospel for this coming Sunday, “The Parable of the Rich Fool,” Luke 12:13-21, is proof positive. Jesus deftly sidesteps a request for him to take sides in an inheritance dispute, and instead, ever the raconteur, tells a cautionary parable about the lure of possessions. He calls out the seductiveness of greed and the concomitant dangers of amassing wealth. “Take care! Be on your guard.”
These warnings are relevant for us, as we witness our country looking more and more like a kleptocracy. Unconscionable inequities in the distribution of wealth, tax structures designed to benefit the uber-wealthy at the expense of most everybody else, and the brutal degradation of our environment are all consequences and symptoms of greed.
I have come to believe that the deadliest sin is not pride, but greed, although in truth, the two go hand-in-hand. Self-importance and self-centeredness characterize the acquisitive individual in the parable. His language is completely self-referential; it is all about him. He is a poster child of narcissism, disconnected from and seemingly unconcerned for others. In his world there is only him, no room for others, no room for God.
Ironically, his obsession with wealth, with storing up treasures exclusively to secure his well-being, is impoverishing. It contributes to, if not creates, his paucity of soul. Not only is he not “rich toward God,” he is oblivious to God’s riches toward all, riches that cannot, and will never, be measured by dollar signs. Neither the size of one’s barns nor the value of one’s stock portfolio counts in God’s economy.
What does count in God’s economy? Micah offers one succinct answer: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” The UCC’s “three great loves” offers another succinct response: love of neighbor, love of children, love of creation. Love is the currency of God’s economy. Love which by its nature cannot be stored up and will not turn away from others or the world. Love which moves us to open our eyes and hearts to the divine spirit animating all that is. Love, the capacity to delight in the wonder of all things now living. Love, the tie that binds us heart and soul with all that is.
In her poem “The Sun,” Mary Oliver captures, as only Mary Oliver can, such heart and soul connectiveness and provides an implicit commentary on, a kind of companion piece to, Jesus’ parable.
Unlike the individual in the parable, self-satisfied and, in effect, white-knuckling his “ample goods,” Mary Oliver invites us to stand empty-handed, overflowing with love and awe, taking in the wonder of it all, not to consume it, but to marvel and delight. Like Jesus’ parable, Oliver’s poem is cautionary. She writes, "have you ever felt for anything such wild love" and then askes "or have you too gone crazy for power, for things?"
If we choose instead to go “crazy for power/for things,” that choice comes with a price tag: our capacity for love, for “wild love.” If we choose instead to go “crazy for power/for things,” we too risk being called “fool”.
God, should we be tempted to go crazy for things, help us to forswear our foolish ways. Open our hearts anew to receive your wild and wonderful love and deepen our capacity to bear that love into the world. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving or suffering after a shooting at a festival near San Jose, CA, left 4 dead and over a dozen injured
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the staff, volunteers, and campers at Silver Lake Conference Center as they begin week six
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches
In Your Prayers:
Congregational Church of Union UCC
First Church of Christ, UCC
First Congregational Church of Vernon, Inc
Evangelical & Reformed UCC
First Congregational Church, Wallingford
This Week in History:
Aug 1, 1944 (75 years ago) Fifteen year old Anne Frank writes her least diary entry, three days before she and her family are arrested after hiding in a secret annex behind her father's business for two years in Nazi-occupied Holland. Frank died less than a year later at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. Her father, the only survivor of the eight who had hid in annex, published her diary in 1947. It has since become a symbol of the Holocaust.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”