Sermon delivered November 23, 2008.
Our economy continues to be troubled and we along with it. As we watch our stocks, our 401k's and our home prices plummet, we wonder where it will end. We wonder what to do. What are the financial experts saying? One thing they say is don't panic and don't start selling-off everything. Why? Because when we sell a depreciated asset, we immediately realize the loss. It becomes real, tangible. However, if we hold on to the stock and don't sell the house, the market will eventually recover and we will see prices return to or exceed their previous levels. In fact, many wise investors say that during times of economic downturn, one should keep buying stock because at its low price you can get that much more so that when it does appreciate again, one will have several times more than before the depreciation. What's the lesson here?
We should approach our charitable giving in the same way. We must avoid panic and exercise faith that our continued generosity will reap benefits far beyond our wildest imagination. It seems to be the opposite situation for the Rich Man in today's gospel from the 9th of Luke 12:16-21. He had recently experienced an economic upturn with an abundance of crops and did not have enough space to store all of it. He was ready to tear down his old barns and build bigger ones but God rebukes him calling him a fool. Jesus' closing words of the parable are instructive, "He who lays up treasure for himself is not rich towards God" (v.21).
Therefore, we must ask ourselves: Where are we investing our money? In ourselves or in God? It doesn't really matter if the economy is good or bad. Either we will be rich or we will be poor. Some of us will be in need of assistance and the rest of us will be in a position to help. If we can help, we must no hold back. In fact, we who are rich have a greater obligation and duty when times are tough and more people are in need. Therefore, the rich must continue buying stock in the bellies of the poor. We rich must continue investing in the Church so she may continue to minister to everyone. We cannot hold back for ourselves waiting for times to get better so we may feel more secure. Worse yet, we cannot keep building or buying bigger barns, houses, cars, vacations, jewelry, clothing, meals when others suffer want. We can't even to do this when times are good because building bigger barns always means we are putting more trust in our own riches, than in God's mercy and providence, to provide us security.
Listen to what the Psalmist says,
God shall likewise destroy you forever; He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place, And uproot you from the land of the living. The righteous also shall see and fear, And shall laugh at him, saying, "Here is the man who did not make God his strength, But trusted in the abundance of his riches, And strengthened himself in his wickedness" (Psalm 52:5-7).
Jesus says something similar in the Gospel of Matthew:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21).
Where is our heart? Is it in the belly of the hungry? Is it in the clothing for the naked? Is it in the Church and her ministries? Or is our heart in our home, or our second or third home? Is it in our luxury car or SUV? Is it in our 50" TV? What our the treasures in our life? That's where our heart is.
For those of us who consider our selves poor, consider the gospel reading of this past Thursday. In the Parable, Jesus tells of the rich man who had an unjust steward. The rich man demanded that he give back what was entrusted to him. Jesus then offers the following lesson:
He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own? "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Luke 16:1-9).
We should think also of the poor widow who offered two coins (Luke21:1-4) or in the Parable of the Talents, the steward with one talent (Matthew 25:14-30). We who think we are poor also have a great responsibility to God to place our trust in Him.
Or we should consider the righteous Joachim and Anna who offered their little three year-old daughter, Mary, to God to live in the temple, not figuratively, but literally. We just celebrated this Feast on Friday, November 21st. Certainly, Joachim and Anna were literally living the words of Jesus from Tuesday's gospel:
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions ((Luke 14:25-35)).
Let us close with advice from Proverbs:
One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. 25The generous soul will be made rich, And he who waters will also be watered himself. He who trusts in his riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf (Proverbs 11:24-25,28).
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.