We live in a time of unbridled greed. There seems to be no limit to how rich a rich person wants to be. And corporations are the greediest persons of all. I call corporations “persons” because that’s what the Supreme Court in its questionable wisdom decided to call them in 2010.
When is enough? Today I want to introduce the term “gospel of enough”, which I first encountered in the December issue of Sojourners magazine. But I view the gospel of enough in two contradictory senses. One is in the good sense of saying I have enough for my own comfort and for my family, let me see what I can give to others, to those in need. How I can contribute to the common good? That’s the good version of the “gospel of enough.”
But there is another version, the one we encounter in the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21).
The man in the parable amassed a large wealth and decided it was enough for him to stop working. Good for him! He wasn’t greedy like today’s super-rich. But it stopped there. He did not look beyond himself. He was satisfied with his success and wanted nothing more than to enjoy it all by himself or with his family, if he had family – the parable says nothing about family. He was rich for himself only; not rich for God. And how is one rich for God? By sharing with others – because that’s where you find God.
Okay, you’ve heard this message many times before, right? It’s one of the favourite themes of preachers. Well, yes it is, because it also happened to be the favourite theme of Jesus!
But today I see an even more demanding meaning in this parable. Is it possible for the church to be like this man? To rest on our successes? To go into cruise control? To say, okay we have reached a plateau here, we can’t go any further? We’re a respected church in our city, we have taken good care of our buildings, we manage to pay our bills and have a priest…we’re okay.
And that creates stagnation, sameness, lack of vision, apathy, indifference, lack of participation…. All of which we see in many churches today, including our own.
How do we inject new life, to become church as church, as the representatives of Jesus Christ, whose body we are! Here is Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians:
Brothers and sisters, Christ is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility… And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph 2:14-22)
That is Saint Paul’s vision. It is the foundational vision. Without it we can’t even dream of doing something outside of our walls. We are not members of the church, we don’t come to God’s house. We ARE God’s house, God’s dwelling place in the Spirit. God’s spirit blows where it wills, according to Jesus. God’s spirit is restless, constantly moving to animate life and new vision. May the Holy Spirit blow our way and get us up from our comfortable sleep.
But it starts with prayer. Without prayer, the vision is absent, or it turns into something else. Paul Holmer taught at Yale Divinity School, 1960-87. Here is a prayer he offered at Yale on 11 December 1973. This is the kind of prayer that can reinvigorate a people of God to our mission.
O Lord, Our God, Shepherd of the Fallen and Friend of Sinners:
We thank Thee for song that has enlivened our memory, for words that are promising, for love that made cradle and cross the means of our hope.
Once more, we live by a mercy we did not covenant, a joy we did not deserve, a love we did not seek, a victory we did not win, a peace that is not as the world gives. So, in grace we wander, thankful for Thee who art the light in our darkness and the sufficiency in our weakness.
Amid the splendors of health, of opulence of learning, of youth, of song and good spirit, we wish also to thank Thee again for the deeper dignity given us by belief in Thee, by following Thee and sharing the life and fate of Jesus in this world.
To that end:
Abide with us, and trouble us: when we are thoughtless of the work of others, when we forget the nameless toil and funded labor that gives such bounty to us all;
Abide with us, and trouble us: when we forget the suffering, the blind, the poor, those who are defrauded, oppressed, and betrayed—and may we, for them, learn Godliness and perhaps live for them, where we can not, like Jesus, die for them;
Abide with us, and trouble us: when we confront those who are hurt by hopelessness, tarnished by sins, bruised by grief, undone even by their own deeds, permit us, O God of light, never to forget our own frailty nor to lose sight of Thy image in others;
Abide with us, and trouble us: with the dishonesties that are powerful, the lies that have authority, the sins that are interesting, the gossip that is funny, the ignorance that is irresponsible though hidden—O God, never let us so conform to the world that the truth and life and way are hidden from us;
Abide with us, and trouble us: for the little ones of the world, who are terrorized by enemies, broken by envy, consumed by avarice—those who languish in prisons, fester in poverty, and are thwarted by their life and fate; help us right wrongs, befriend the helpless, bind up wounds. So use us and our talents that God’s glory might shine about them and us;
Abide with us, and trouble us: that with talent, we might not be wasteful; with ardor, we be not irrelevant; with passion, not helpless; with thoughts and learning, never without the love for God and neighbor;
Abide with us and comfort us — in well-doing. And now may God, the Father, Christ, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with us this day and forevermore. Amen.