Pastor Kevin Powell
August 4, 2013
“We’re raping the planet!” one fellow bellowed over the loud music.
“I know, it’s terrible!” the other agreed.
You have to realize that these were not crunchy granola tree-hugging, vegan, hippies. These weren’t the ones you’d expect to worry about what’s happening to the earth. This was not what I expected to hear from these guys.
I was sitting between these two fellows in a local public house while watching the Blue Jays lose (again). Two self-described “rig pigs” who were home for a week from the oil patch. They were in a friendly argument about who hated their job more.
But it wasn’t the long hours, the filthy work, or being away from home that bothered them so much.
What bothered them the most about their jobs was what they saw they were doing to the earth.
“It’s awful. The trees are gone. The spills are disgusting and clean up is almost impossible.”
“And you can’t drink the water!”
So I stuck my nose where it didn’t belong, and asked, rather naively, “So if what your job is doing to the earth bothers you so much, why do you keep at it? Why don’t you quit and do something else?”
“The money’s too good,” the one guy replied with the other nodding in agreement.
“Really?” I asked.
“Oh, absolutely,” the other guy agreed.
My eyebrows raised.
“Do you want to know how much I make?” he asked me.
“Not really,” I replied.
I really didn’t. I knew that if we went paycheque to paycheque, I’d come out on the much lower end, and I had about 20 years on him.
“I own my own house and I paid for my truck with cash, and I’m only 26,” he said, unprompted. “Where else can I legally make that kind of money at my age?”
“But if your job is bothering you so much that it’s killing your soul, is the money worth it?” I asked.
“I like my toys,” he said.
But I knew that his answer was as much for him as it was for me. It was a question that it looked like he’d asked himself a thousand times, and didn’t like the real answer. So he just took a sip from his drink and turned his attention back to the Blue Jays’ terrible pitching.
In the corporate world they call it “golden handcuffs” meaning that the money is so great that people feel trapped in their jobs, even though they hate every second that they’re there. I don’t know if the oil patch has their own name for it, but I’m sure these guys weren’t alone. In fact, I know that they’re not.
I knew a guy in Lethbridge – a teacher – who went up to Fort McMurray every summer to make money. And he did. Piles of it. But referred to the place as “Hell.”
But the payout, it seemed, was worth it. It was worth sacrificing his time away from home, and enduring long days doing work that was, for him, morally ambiguous, in an environment that he hated.
But this isn’t about the oil patch. Or about the workers who go up there. After all, they’re doing what they have to do. Everyone has to make a living.
This is about all of us. And how we think about our time. And what God wants for us.
It’s in today’s gospel reading that hear…
…someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But Jesus said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them both, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
I don’t know why Jesus balked at this guy wanting to him sort out a disagreement. Especially since Jesus went out his way to present himself as one who had at least as much authority – if not more – than the guys in fancy robes.
It could be Jesus was hesitant to solve this dispute because he couldn’t care less about what their disagreement was about. He wasn’t at all interested in the squabbles of the rich. When most of his listeners barely had enough to feed their kids, this “problem” must have sounded ridiculous. The Real Housewives of Galilee could use a lesson in priorities here.
So Jesus told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then 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. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life could end, you could die. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
It’s easy to zero in on the dangers of riches in this story. But I don’t think that’s the whole story here. At least not the way this story has been commonly understood.
I think, for Jesus, the danger lay in the connection between money and time.
It’s like he’s saying, “You could die tonight. And where will your money be then? Will you be happy that you’ve spent your time building your bank account, while your relationships are flushed down the garburator? Is that REALLY what you want your life to be about?
This is a story about the shortness of time we have on this planet. Even though we have the promise of eternal life, our time above ground matters just as much, if not more than our life in eternity.
And life IS short. I think most of your know that. Especially as you age. I know, for me, the last ten years flew by faster than the previous two. And each year just keeps getting faster and faster. Birthdays seem to be getting closer together each year.
And as I reach the age I am, I’ve become more sensitive to the brevity of earthly life.
I came across an article recently in the business magazine “Inc” entitled “What Every 20-something Worker Needs to Know” or something like that.
And the first item on the list surprised me. The first thing the writer wanted 20-somethings to know just as they’re entering the workforce was, “You will not live forever. You will die some day.”
Jesus’ promise of the resurrection to eternal life notwithstanding, the writer had a good reason to lead with that advice. Most young people have an irrational sense of invincibility and immortality. They have their whole lives in front of them. They do the math and they know that they have more years in front of them than behind them. And they can put off living, grunting in the trenches, building their bank accounts, believing that they can spend their later years doing what they REALLY want to do.
And they believe this despite terrible reminders that this is NOT always the case. This true in my life. A classmate of mine in grade three died of bone cancer. In high school, a kid just keeled over and stopped breathing during basketball practice. A friend from seminary died of meningitis just shy of her 29th birthday. These stories aren’t unique. And there are a few examples right in this community that we can point to.
The young highway maintenance worker, 18-years-old, who was killed by the truck that ran the stop sign on Highway 21 outside of Beiseker was on the Lutheran Campus Ministry board as the student representative. He had dreams of becoming a doctor. Now he’s resting in Jesus’ arms. 18-years-old.
And of course, many of you are related to or know the young man, just 27-years-old, who died recently of an asthma attack. A young man with everything in front of him.
We hear stories like this every day. And they break our hearts at the potential that is lost, and we get angry at the gifts that are denied us.
And we are reminded just how easily life can end. That ANY moment could be our last.
That’s why Jesus got angry. People forgot just how short and fragile life is and they were getting stuck in petty disagreements. That was why he was astonished, to the point of being offended by this rich guy’s request. It’s like Jesus wants to bang these guys’ heads together to knock some sense into them.
“Are you kidding me?” Jesus seems to be saying to the brothers, “Your dad just died and THIS is what you’re worried about? Are you REALLY willing to kill your relationship with your brother over money? Do you REALLY want that to be your legacies? Is this REALLY how you want both YOU and your DAD to be remembered?”
For Jesus this wasn’t just a family fight. This spat was indicative of a larger problem. A problem that we still have. A very human problem.
When profits are put before people, that’s a problem.
When human beings are put in service to the economy rather than the other way around, that’s a problem.
When financial growth becomes the baseline for morality, that’s a problem.
When money becomes the engine that drives our lives and our communities, that’s a problem.
When our bank accounts are more important than our families, that’s a problem.
It’s not that Jesus was saying that money doesn’t matter. It does. Just try living without it.
But at the end, what will it get us? When we look back at our lives will we despair that we’ve stored up treasures for ourselves but were not rich toward God?
What will we think of our lives? How can we be rich toward God?
Being rich toward God mean being rich in love.
Being rich toward God means being rich in forgiveness.
Being rich toward God means being rich in hope.
Being rich toward God means being rich in peace.
Being rich toward God means being rich in service to others.
Being rich toward God means being rich in worship, rich in prayer, rich in praise, rich in songs of thankfulness and joy.
These are the riches that endure. These are the riches that you have been given. As I look out into this congregation, I see that you are very wealthy, indeed.
And you ARE rich toward God, because God is rich toward YOU.
YOU are rich in the blessing of life that God has given you.
YOU are rich in the love that you show one another.
YOU are rich in the care that you give others.
YOU are rich in the forgiveness that you offer and receive.
This doesn’t mean that we aren’t, also, caught up in the schemes of this world. This doesn’t mean that we always escape the traps that the world lays for us.
It DOES mean that God has shown us a way out, and that God has taken us by the hand, and has led us to a different world, a world right inside this one.
A world where life thrives and death is destroyed.
A world where people, weary from the fight, come together in forgiveness.
A world where love soaks into every stitch of the fabric of your life.
This is the world that God is creating. This the world, that through your baptism, you were born into. This is the world – the new creation – that will, one day, come into its fulness.
So, at the end, when your life is being demanded of you, you can look around you, and see true riches, GOD’s riches. The riches that last forever.
May this be so among us. Amen.