Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Humility as the container of grace- Jeremiah 1

Humility as the container of grace

There is a pattern that we often see when prophets first encounter God. First, God will call the prophet. Then the prophet will protest that they should not be the one to do what God is asking.  God then reassures them that He will be with them to help them carry out their task.
            I find it very interesting that these faithful people show a reluctance to respond to God’s call.   When God first calls Moses out of the burning bush Moses responds, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11); “What if they do not believe me or listen to me … I have never been eloquent …  I am slow of speech and tongue… Please send someone else” (Ex 4:1, 10, 13). We see a similar reluctance from Jeremiah who responds to Gods call saying, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young” (Jer1:6).   In addition to Moses and Jeremiah, we see this reluctance in the stories of Gideon, Saul, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. We see this in the lives of saints as well. St. Augustine of Hippo was dragged against his will to his ordination as bishop.
Certainly, being God’s prophet is a rare privilege, and so in some ways reluctance is a bit of a surprising response. There can be a certain prestige to being a prophet. People listen attentively to the prophet as they believe they hear messages from God spoken. If the prophet is speaking positive words from God then the prophet is much loved and respected. This desire to be regarded with honour and to have people’s attention has sometimes led to the rise of false prophets. False prophets speak the words people want to hear rather than the words God wants to be communicated. They like the spotlight. False prophets desire to please people. They speak falsely declaring peace when there is no peace to be had. The desire to be held in high regard by the people as a prophet who speaks the words of God can be powerful. Sometimes their desire to please people overpowers their ability to give an accurate word from God.          
 Certainly there is a positive side to being God’s prophet, but there are also reasons people would not want to be a prophet. Quite often they speak words from God that seem foolish. Their words sometimes go against the grain.  Sometimes the words they speak are not pleasing to hear. Prophets often point out sin and corruption that has been accepted as normal, or which is hidden. Sometimes they are upsetting messages that point towards a coming destruction. Their message is often countercultural. And because their message is not pleasing to the people the prophet will sometimes be persecuted and rejected, sometimes even killed. This might be why many of the prophets felt reluctant to accept God’s call. The life of a prophet is not an easy life.
I sometimes think of the difference between true and false prophets like the difference between good acquaintances and good friends. Acquaintances want to make you feel good and they usually want peace, so they will say nice things about you, or at least they won’t say anything negative. They might even bend the truth a little in order to make you feel good. It is kind. A good friend, however, will tell you the truth- even if that truth is hard to hear. A good friend will encourage you, but they will also give you a kick in the pants when you need it. And speaking that hard word will be difficult for a good friend because they care about you. An acquaintance might criticize you, but it doesn’t often involve pain on their part. A good friend will tell you what you need to hear, but not always what you want to hear. That is what a prophet will do. They will tell you what you need to hear from God, but not necessarily what you want to hear.
The reluctance of the prophets to respond to Gods call might have something to do with having to speak difficult words to people who would rather not hear them. But, I think there is also something else going on here. Numbers 12:3 says that “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth”. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Moses was considered was both extremely humble and one of the greatest prophets to walk the earth. There is something about humility that allows God to work through us in particularly powerful ways.
As we read through the Bible there are certain general principles about God’s character that are expressed. One of these principles is found in the book of Proverbs 3:34 “God opposes the proud, but shows favour to the humble”. This begs the question, ‘what is it about humility that matters so much?” 
One way to answer this is to look at the opposite of humility, which is pride. The author C.S. Lewis said this about pride:
There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else;  … There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”[1]
 Pride has been called the root of all Sin. It is that part of us that turns away from God and rejects Him thinking we can do better on our own. Pride is feeling better or more important than other people. Pride causes us to use people for our own ends. It is essentially selfishness. It is pride that caused Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. And It is pride that ultimately leads us to all other sin. In stealing we think we deserve to have something someone else has. In murder we believe we have the power to decide if someone should live or die. In not honouring the Sabbath or our parents we believe we are self-entitled and deserving of what we have received and so have no desire to give thanks and respect. All sin has pride as its root.
 If pride is where all sin originates, then it makes sense that the opposite of pride, humility, would be the source of all virtue.  Humility is marked by selflessness, and respect. Humility is not depression or self-hate. Humility is seeing yourself clearly before God. Humility is being aware of your limitations and sins, but it does not mean rejecting your strengths. It means the reason you do something is less about you and more about others.  Humility is recognizing that we are creatures- created by an amazingly wise, powerful, and loving God. Humility is recognizing that we are His and that He knows how best to live and that He deserves our love, respect, and service. Humility is the natural position of the human heart in the presence of God.
Christ was the perfect example of humility. He is the King of kings, but was born as a human baby to poor parents and laid in an animal’s feeding trough.  Christ did not deny the reality of who he was. He did not have low self-esteem or pretend he wasn’t the son of God. Humility is seeing yourself accurately. That is how Jesus can say “before Abraham was, I AM” (Jn 8:58) and ay in the gospel according to Matthew (11:29), “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” There is no contradiction between his knowing he is the son of God and being humble. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians Christ’s humility is set as an example for us (Phil 2:8)- “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”  Jesus selflessly places the good of others and the glory of God before his own wellbeing and comfort.  Jesus also instructs we who would be students saying (Matt 23:12) “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus exalted humble fishermen and tax collectors and made them his apostles. He ate with outcasts and those on the fringe of society. Jesus valued humility greatly and so did his early followers.    
St. Paul says (Romans 12:3) “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Paul is teaching us to see ourselves accurately. The development of humility was extremely important for the early church.
The pursuit of humility has been a major pursuit by Christians throughout history. It is the historic belief of the church that humility is essential for a person to be used by God in a powerful and ongoing way. So Christians have sought to purify their hearts and minds from egotistical actions and desires so they can better be used by God and so they can be drawn closer to Him. Through a variety of practices, like prayer and fasting, Christians have sought to learn that they are completely reliant on God for their existence. They want to live in that knowledge at all moments. Of course the Holy Spirit is already working in us to draw us to humility, but this is where we can be effective with our effort. When we work with the Holy Spirit and allow ourselves to be made humble by the Spirit we will become like someone kneeling before God with our hands open and empty. When our hands are not full of our own ego then God fills them.
It is this empty-handed humility that we see in Jeremiah and that is why God can use him so effectively. If Jeremiah was made to be a prophet, but was full of his own pride, then it would be easy for him to not hear God and hear his own desires instead. If he was full of his own pride, then he might use God’s message to gain wealth or prestige instead of glorifying God and calling people to serve Him. If God was to try to use Jeremiah when he was full of his own egotistical desires, then he would not be able to handle the desire to misuse God’s power living in him. Only a humble self-less person is capable of having God’s power dwelling in them and not being overcome by the desire to twist that power to their own ends.
The philosopher Peter Kreeft said it this way, “Spiritually, our strength is our receptivity, our active passivity to God, our emptiness … if we come to God with empty hands, he will fill them. If we come with full hands, he finds no place to put himself. It is our beggary, our receptivity, that is our hope.”[2]
 Jeremiah’s reluctance is evidence of his humility. Jeremiah recognized his humanity before God’s power. Jeremiah knew his people and knew that God would ask him to do something that was not in his power to accomplish. Jeremiah knew that he had nothing to accomplish the task. Only God’s power working through him could do what God was asking.
It is the way of God to use the humble to do great things- To use a shepherd boy who was the smallest of his brothers to be the greatest king of Israel- To take a group of slaves and make them His chosen people- to use fishermen and tax collectors to be his apostles- to use a man on a cross to bring salvation to the world. I wonder what God could do with little St. Timothy’s church in Edmonton?                    

[1] Mere Christianity
[2] Kreeft, back to virtue, p105

Sunday, 18 August 2013

you are part of a bigger story Heb 11

The letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of people who had become discouraged. They were probably Jewish Christians living in Rome sometime before 70AD. They were probably feeling discouraged for a variety of reasons. There were likely divisions occurring within their own communities. They may have disagreed about the role of non-Jewish people in their community. Or, maybe they disagreed about their relationship with the greater culture, or a variety of other things. Maybe they were under the impression that Jesus was coming back right away. Maybe they were facing persecution from the Roman people, or maybe they were being criticized by their Jewish community for their belief that Jesus is the Messiah. There is no end to the list of things that could have led to their discouragement, and all these things and more were a part of what the early Church was facing. We sometimes glamorize that time, but it was not necessarily an easy time to be a Christian.
Most of us can’t imagine the kind of persecution Christians have experienced.  Even right now, there are Christians around the world who risk their lives for their faith in Christ, just as many Christians throughout history have done. We have it pretty easy by comparison. Our lives aren’t in danger by showing up here this morning.  We don’t have to hide from the government or our neighbours to worship at church. We do have challenges, but they aren’t those challenges.
We do still face discouragement.  We struggle in a quickly changing culture. It seems as though there are dwindling numbers of people who take Jesus seriously. Representations of Christians on TV are becoming increasingly negative and show us to be out of touch with reality, foolish, or even dangerous. Popular attitudes about Christians include words like “judgmental” and “hypocritical”. Christians are being shown picketing funerals and burning the Koran.     
A former head of Religion and Ethics at the BBC, Michael Wakelin, commented that, “in 1986, religion was certainly more high-profile on TV…I’m afraid the media do tend to treat religion as a problem, and only as a problem. In some ways, [it is] like only covering football from the point of view of hooliganism and never actually showing the game being played” (Bailey 186, 189).[1]
To be fair, sometimes we deserve the bad media attention. There are scandals that need to be exposed and people that need to be held accountable. Apologies need to be made and forgiveness needs to be sought. But, there has been a leaning to show Christians in a negative light. We are not being thrown to the lions by the Romans. We need to keep our perspective. What we experience is pretty mild, historically speaking. Mild, but still discouraging.
What perhaps leads to greater discouragement for us are the day to day issues we deal with. Like illness, family breakdown, anxiety, or the confusion we are presented with by having too much information blared at us and too many screens catching our eyes mixed with a lack of solitude to be able to hear ourselves think, let alone hear God’s still small voice. All these and more can lead to us being discouraged about who we are and about God’s presence in our lives.  
The discouraged Hebrews are drawn by their teacher into a bigger story- A bigger story than their present troubles. He gives examples of the lives of God’s faithful people throughout history.  Their lives were often marked by struggle against great odds. In the life of Moses we see Hebrew slaves face off with the Egyptian army. In the life of David we see him as a little shepherd boy facing off with the giant Goliath.  We see Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. We read about three young men thrown into a furnace at the command of the king because of their faith. We read about prophets facing off with death and giving parents their children back.
But, faith doesn’t always look like earthly victory. Some are tortured. Some are ridiculed, persecuted, imprisoned, or left homeless. Some are killed for what they believe- sometimes in horrible ways. Faith does not guarantee worldly success and victory. Faith means participating in a story that is bigger than you are, and that often means we don’t know the whole plotline. Sometimes we are a part of a victorious part of the plotline. Sometimes we are a part of a struggling and tragic part of that plotline and so we endure the suffering trusting that even though we might not see victory in our present life, we will be a part of the ultimate ending of the story.
The overall plotline of the big story is that in the beginning things were as they should be. Human beings had perfect relationships with God and each other and the rest of creation. It was beautiful and good, but all of that was damaged when human beings turned away from God and turned inward on themselves. Selfishness and pride entered the human story, but God did not give up on us. Eventually he chose Abraham and Sarah and worked through their family to reestablish a relationship with humanity. God worked over time and throughout history with this people to show them who he is and how to have a relationship with him. The culmination of God’s plan was the incarnation, when God showed himself to humanity as one of us through Jesus. Now the church is attempting to live out the consequences of the life of Jesus, empowered by God to transform the world and themselves so that they can reflect God’s image more and more perfectly in a life of never ending growth. That is the basic plotline of the big story.  
The writer to the Hebrews invites his readers to find themselves in this larger story. If they thought only in terms of their own personal story- only in terms of their individual lives- they might only see tragedy. However, the heroes of our faith see themselves as a part of this larger story and through that perspective they obtain the courage to stare down lions and face impossible odds. Even if that means their own death. It might mean victory, but it might mean suffering as well.       
Jesus was very aware of the big story. He is our ultimate example of faith. His faith led him to victory, but also through suffering. He brought his friend Lazarus back to life. He walked on water, and turned water into wine. Jesus’ faith allowed him to do amazing things, but it also led him to be rejected by many of his own people and ultimately to die a torturous death on a cross. The end of the story is resurrection and victory, and that is his promise to us too. In the midst of our suffering we are to have faith in his promise to us. The end of the story is victory even if we are called to endure suffering.
Saints live knowing they are a part of God’s big story. Even though they don’t always know what part of that story they are a part of. Their faith connects them to that story, and faith can lead us to endure in the midst of suffering or to victory in the midst of impossible odds. God’s people have been called to both- they are called to both.  
Faith can lead us to very different places. It can lead us to endure in the midst of all kinds of struggles. By faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer opposed the Nazi program. By faith, Francis of Assisi left a life of privilege to enter a life of prayer and of service to the poor. By faith, Francis Xavier left a comfortable life in Europe and his family to share God’s love with those in Asia who had never heard the name of Jesus. By faith, William Wilberforce helped to end the slave trade in Europe. By faith, St. Patrick returned to the people who had enslaved him to show them the love of God. Our faith connects us to this same story, but we all have different parts to play in this story.
Being faithful to this big story means sometimes looking a bit strange to others. The story our culture tells about what it means to be successful doesn’t always line up with the Big Story God has told us. The saints can look odd and out of tune with the world’s story, but that’s because they are a part of a different story. The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a part of a different story than the story the Nazis were telling. When we find ourselves in that position we may be called to endure suffering. The Hebrews, who this letter was directed at, were attempting to be faithful to a story that was drastically different than the story of the Roman Empire. This was the source of their discouragement. You are being called to live a different story than our culture is telling us. Our culture is telling us a story about comfort, wealth, security, recognition, self-interest, consumerism, and fulfilled desires. Jesus is calling us into a story about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.    
I have been speaking about the big story that we are being called to be a part of, but the writer to the Hebrews uses a different metaphor. He (she?) is speaking about a long distance race rather than a story. It is a race that has been set out by Jesus. He marked the path, and he ran the race before us. We follow his steps in the dirt. Sometimes we are running up a muddy hill and sometimes we are running down a slow decline on a beautifully wooded path surrounded by the scent of lilacs. Sometimes we get our second wind and sometimes we are asking why we are doing this at all. Sometimes our sin weighs us down. Our own selfishness or our apathy can act like weights tied to our ankles, and like boulders that block our way. The writer encourages us to keep running and to not give up. Jesus hasn’t given up on you so don’t give up on him- keep running. Keep praying- keep serving- keep worshipping. The writer imagines us running this path and the sides of the track are packed with all the saints from every generation cheering us on- Abraham and Sarah, and Francis and Clare, and Mother Theresa, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A massive cloud of those who have run the race before us and who have seen that the finish line makes it all worthwhile.           
So keep running, and know that you are not alone. If you are discouraged know that you are in good company. If you face impossible odds, know that you are in good company. If you are tired and weary, now that others have faced that cross before you and are now cheering you on. You are a part of a bigger more beautiful story.

Bailey, Michael. “Media, religion and culture: An interview with Michael Wakelin.” Journal of Media Practice 11.2 (2010): 185-189.

Monday, 12 August 2013

live from your future- Luke 12

Throughout Luke 12 Jesus is calling us to reexamine out priorities. He brings to mind many things that we could be worried about and then shows God’s perspective. Are we afraid of being killed? Jesus reminds us that God does not forget even a sparrow who dies, God will take care of us even in death. He values us so much that He has every hair on our head numbered (Luke 12:4-7). Are we so afraid of our uncertain future that we disregard the needs of others in order to accumulate possessions? As we saw in Jesus’ parable last week, the rich man who had so much wealth he tore down his barns and built new barns could not take his wealth with him when he suddenly died (12:13-21). Are we worried about food or clothing- starvation or nakedness? Or, are we consumed by specialty coffees, designer clothes, fancy cars, and other signs of success and comfort? Jesus reminds us to not let these worries distract us from what is most important- Life is more than food and clothing. What is most important is striving for the kingdom of God (12:22-31). Place your attention on eternal things, not temporal things. God is taking care of you. God cares even for sparrows and lilies. God even desires to give us His kingdom. God is for you, he is not against you .    
Jesus is teaching us that the fears and worries we have evaporate when we look at them through the eyes of eternity. He is encouraging us to set eternity as our perspective- to live with the eternal reality as our present reality. Reexamining and transforming our perspective and priorities is a theme that runs throughout the entire Gospel. Over and over Jesus calls us to metanoia.  We translate it as “repentance”, but its full meaning has to do with transformation of the mind and heart. It means shifting our priorities and shifting how we see the world, others, God, and ourselves.
It is the first step in most, if not all, religions. We encounter some truth and then we adjust our lives and out thoughts and feeling to that truth. It can be a joyful experience, or it can be a painful experience, but this kind of encounter is never a dull experience. … We can ignore the encounter with truth and shut ourselves off from experiencing it, but that is the road to spiritual blindness.
To give a very concrete example, we can look at the present environmental crisis and we can ignore it, … or we can allow that truth to affect us and bring us to metanoia. We can allow our emotions, our thoughts and our actions to be transformed by the truth of the environmental crisis we are facing.
Falling in love can bring about a metanoia. When we are confronted with the truth that we truly do love this person our emotions are transformed, our thoughts are transformed, and our actions are transformed in such a way as to bless that other person and draw you closer to them.  
If it’s true that God has made us a part of an eternal reality, then that truth will have an effect on how we think, and feel, and act.
Jesus is calling us to continuous metanoia- transformation of heart and mind- repentance. Repentance has gotten a bad rap. It is a word that has all kinds of negative connotations. It is true that metanoia can bring about tears and the realization that one needs forgiveness and has acted in destructive ways, but metanoia also includes transformation from ways of thinking and feeling, and ways of behaving that are not beneficial and that don’t ultimately lead to lasting happiness.    
Repentance has often been associated with fear of fire and brimstone. But, notice Jesus’ first words to us in this Gospel reading “do not be afraid little flock”. Jesus is not calling us to fear. Jesus is calling us to Metanoia in order to receive what God wants to give us. “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (12:32).  It is as if He is wanting to hand us the Kingdom but we aren’t paying attention. We are distracted.  
I remember going through some of my childhood things. I remember coming across a picture I drew and as soon as I saw it all kinds of memories flooded back into my mind. I think I was about 8 years old and it was a picture on me reaching for a yellow belt. It brought to mind a belt test I attended as a part of my Karate class. I didn’t pass the test, but I wasn’t ready for it and the rule of the school was that everyone tested when there was a belt test- ready or not.  I remember feeling crushed by that experience. I received numerous belts since that time and I studied martial arts for quite a few years, so when I look back on that picture it’s actually quite embarrassing to see how worried I was by that experience. I felt that embarrassment numerous times going through those memories. It didn’t get any better when I found my journal from when I was a teenager.  I look back on those fears and worries that haunted my mind and they seem fairly trivial now, even to the point that they embarrass me to remember them.
I wonder if we will feel the same way looking back on our lives from our deathbed, … or from the point of view of eternity with God.  Will we look back at our present fears and worries and feel embarrassed that we spent so much energy on will then seem trivial?
This is why Jesus says “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He is telling us that our concerns about wealth will be one of those worries that will seem trivial from our heavenly eternal perspective. He is telling to not let ourselves become distracted by these temporary things. He wants us to think with an eternal perspective.
What if you could write yourself a letter from the afterlife? What do you think that letter would say? What advice would you give yourself? What would you tell yourself to do? What would you say to yourself about your present worries from that eternal perspective?
I sometimes imagine what it would be like to be a teenager again knowing now what I do. I think I wouldn’t worry so much about a lot of the things I did worry about. Jesus is wanting us to be our eternal selves right now. He wants us to live our lives now from the perspective of eternity right this moment.  
Jesus calls us to be awake. He wants us to be awake to the fullness of reality- Including the eternal reality. Living in that eternal reality means living conscious of God’s presence and action in the world. Could it be that we are so distracted by our trivial worries that we fail to notice God right in our midst? The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (13:2). Could we be so distracted by our worries and fears that we pass by angel without noticing them? Jesus does not want us to go through our lives sleepy and numb. He wants us alert and awake and ready.
Jesus says “be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (12:35). Expect God at any moment. Be ready to receive Him at any moment. Jesus then tells us that if we are ready then when He arrives our master will come and serve us (12:37). Be ready. Be awake so that you will receive his blessing.   
We might be tempted to say to Jesus, “well those are beautiful words, but I live in the real world Jesus. What you’re saying just isn’t realistic. I live in the real world.” … But, if Jesus really is who he said he is, then he knows the real world better than we do. It might seem daunting to transform our minds and hearts this way, but just try is with little everyday worries. When we learn to think with an eternal perspective in little everyday things, then we will eventually be able to deal with bigger worries this way.    
          Jesus’ goal in these teachings is that we will not be enslaved to the worries of this life. He wants us to see a greater horizon than the one we often use. When we are able to see with this greater, eternal perspective we will find that our fears and worries evaporate. Then our attention is free and we are fully available to receive what God wants to offer us.


Sunday, 4 August 2013

greed and transformation

The other day I had my first meeting with a financial advisor. He is the brother of a friend and a really nice guy. Frankly, I can use the help. So we met and had a discussion to get to know each other a bit and so that he could get a sense of where we could use his help.
Eventually he showed us a picture of a healthy financial plan. It was a bit like a puzzle that was made up of a variety of pieces. Each piece of the puzzle represented an important piece in a financial plan. Some pieces represented insurance and savings that would protect my family in case of non-controllable events that might happen- like illness or disability.  Other pieces represented planning for retirement and paying off student loans. At the very top of the puzzle were the gold pieces “maximizing wealth” and “estate preservation”. I’m still not completely sure what those mean, but the goal of the plan was to eventually retire comfortably, and be secure in the thought that my family will be taken care of.
I read the Gospel for today and I feel like I am supposed to plan to be the man in the parable. I should plan to have enough that I can say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry' (Luke 12:19).  
This leaves me feeling awkward in all kinds of ways.  First, I’m left wondering how to be obedient to Jesus regarding money and still plan for retirement and for my children to go to school. Second, I’m conscious that a number of you are retired or are planning you retire, and I love you and don’t want to offend you. Third, I’m conscious that we live in a hyper-consumerist world and I’m not quite sure how to not live as a consumerist in the world we live in. We are surrounded by advertising that is continuously trying to convince us that we are in need. We live in a world that thrives on lending money at interest, which was against God’s law and called usury (Ex 22, Lev 25, Deut 23). Usury has been condemned in many cultures throughout the world, but it is pervasive in our world. The whole stock market and banking system is based on it. It can be a system that allows greed to run rampant. It was greed that caused the near economic collapse just a few years ago. We have seen some of the effects on our neighbors to the south where many homes have been foreclosed on after interest rates inflated. This is the world we live in. If we have money in the bank we are a part of this system. If we have stocks and mutual funds or GICs we are a part of this system. The system wants us to be the man in Jesus’ parable who is able to make the system work in his favour. We accumulate so much that we need to tear down our barns and build bigger barns to hold all our wealth.  We accumulate so that we can say to ourselves in retirement, “you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
We are told to be this person, but what does Jesus say in the parable? God says to the man, '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." (12:20-21).
Anyone who loves Jesus and has any savings in the bank is feeling a bit bothered right about now. There are three questions that arise out of this state of anxiety- What is wealth for? What does Jesus intend by his parable? And, can we trust him?
First, what is wealth for? We have attached to wealth notions such as security, power, successfulness, and happiness. And there is some truth there, though it is a partial truth.  We have become convinced that all we need to make our life better is more money. I was in a coffee shop the other day and I overheard the person next to me lamenting the fact that a lottery can be won for 50 million dollars. “Why can’t there be 50 winners of a million dollars”, she said. “Imagine what that would do for your life”. … You don’t have to be rich to be consumed by wealth. Anyone who places their ultimate trust in wealth- rich or poor- has fallen pray to greed. It is an especially deep trap because it is insatiable. There is always more to have. I read that John D. Rockefeller, who I’m told was once the wealthiest man in the world, once expressed to a reporter that he was not really happy or satisfied. When the reporter asked how much money it would take to make him happy, Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more”.[1] The ability of wealth to satisfy all our desires is limited. Like Rockefeller, we will eventually reach the limits of our wealth to give us security, happiness, success, etc.
One response to this dilemma by Christians has been to reject wealth- To leave it all behind and enter the wilderness like John the Baptist, like the dessert fathers and mothers, like St. Francis of Assisi, and like numerous monks throughout history up to the present day. I believe that this is a valid response. In fact, some may be so stuck in the trap of greed that getting rid of it all will be the only cure, just as an alcoholic might have to commit to leave the world of alcohol showing themselves unable to drink in a responsible way. Jesus told at least one person to give all his wealth to the poor (Luke 18). It is one path to free oneself from greed.
Not all of us are called to take such a step. In fact, the spiritual writer and philosopher Dallas Willard thinks it would be disastrous for all faithful Christians to abandon their wealth. He believes that we need faithful Christians who know what wealth is for in order to bless the world.[2] It would be a disaster if all faithful Christians gave away all their wealth and fled to the desert because they might be leaving the world’s wealth to be managed by greed-filled powers of this world. I believe the monastics have their place in the Christian world, but that won’t be the path for most of us.         
The majority of us will be called to a life of simplicity where our needs are met, but not necessarily our wants. We are called to live not being possessed by our possessions. But, ultimately this isn’t about ‘stuff’ it is about our hearts. We can have very little and our heart can be twisted with greed, but we can also have a lot and have our hearts twisted by greed.
In Jesus’ parable the rich man isn’t necessarily criticized for his wealth. He is criticized for his lack of wealth towards God. God said to the rich man who died with full barns, '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." The rich man planned for his retirement, but he didn’t plan for his future. He neglected to plan for the fact that he is going to live forever. He planned for his retirement, but not his future. This is what St. Paul is teaching us today, (Colossians 3:1-2) “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth…

 At times Christians haven’t taught very helpfully about life after death. Because of that we now tend not to teach about it hardly at all.  But, the Christian hope and promise is that we will live forever and we are on a journey of transformation. We are learning to be saints. This is about what it means to be human- the way God wants us to be human. That doesn’t start after we die. It starts right this moment with every decision we make. Each choice we make transforms our heart, even if just a little. The choice to be kind to someone who doesn’t deserve it transforms us a little. Little by little we cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He makes us into a new kind of person. If we allow the Holy Spirit to work on us we will grow to reflect God and our life will be filled with the fruit of the Spirit.  
 Jesus wants us to be rich toward God- this is what is means to be a saint. He wants us to invest in our own transformation and relationship with God.  It is a life and relationship that starts in this life, but it doesn’t end in this life. It continues. And it continues to develop and be perfected in eternity. This life is marked by love of God and neighbor.  We slowly learn to want what God wants, and even love as God loves. The result is that we start to look more like Jesus as we learn to live like him and spend time with him. This is the investment advice Jesus offers us. Invest in your relationship with God.
The question we need to ask ourselves is “do we trust his advice?” Do we truly believe that there is an eternal reality? Do we believe that we can be rich or poor toward God? Do we believe that God will protect us and hold us in his hand no matter what happens? Do we trust our future to Him? That doesn’t mean don’t plan and that we aren’t responsible with our money, on the contrary, we will plan with God’s priorities in mind. Ultimately is our trust in God and not in what we have in our barns? 
If we do believe that there is an eternal reality and that we will live forever, and if we do believe that God loves us and is taking care of us and that he desires our transformation and salvation, then we are free to live the way he told us to- seeking to serve God with all we are and all we have. We can trust that if we seek first the kingdom of God that God will take care of us (Matt 6:33) and that by doing so we will be storing up heavenly treasure (Matt 6:19-21).  And that is an investment in our future.   

[1] Good and beautiful life, James Bryan Smith, p. 157
[2] The Divine Conspiracy
Follow @RevChrisRoth