Sermon delivered June 6. 2010.
Perhaps you have heard of a person named Warren Buffet. He is a multi-billionaire who built up the holding company Berkshire Hathaway. Warren’s son, Peter, an Emmy Award winning musician, has recently written a book titled: Life is What You Make It. In a recent interview to promote the book, Peter said his essential message is “Do what you love.” In other words, follow your passion and do not worry about money or anything else. This theme is more poignant, considering that Peter Buffett, like his brother and sister, received a large quantity of Berkshire Hathaway stock when he was 19 years old. He decided to sell it shortly afterwards, netting about $90,000. Asked what it would be worth today if he had held the stock, Warren said about 60 million dollars. One almost thinks, “Oh, poor guy, he really missed an opportunity.” Many years later, Peter and his two siblings were given a billion dollars of stock by their parents. Now I am thinking, “this son finally gets his second chance to receive his parents fortune.” However, the gift of stock was not to cash in for themselves, but to give to charity.
Now, I don’t know Warren or Peter Buffett much beyond the brief interviews and articles I’ve seen. However, this is a powerful story about a person’s relationship to material wealth. What lessons are we teaching our children, grandchildren and godchildren about life and money? Do we tell them to follow their dreams and do what they love? Peter Buffett said this is what his parents taught him and it was an easy lesson to learn because his parents lived it. Peter said he and siblings never knew how wealthy his father was until they were adults because they lived in the same middle class home and neighborhood growing up as kids.
More importantly, but not unrelated, is teaching our children to follow God’s calling in life. As Fr. Thomas Hopko wrote, every one of us has a calling. Each one of us the same call to be holy as God is holy. This we said last week on the Feast of All Saints. Yet, each one of us has a unique, unrepeatable calling to serve humanity because God has created each one of us as a unique, unrepeatable person. In today’s gospel, the Second Sunday of Matthew (4:18-23), Jesus calls two brothers, Peter and Andrew, who were fishermen. He tells them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people” (v.19). A short while later, He calls James and John to do the same (v.21-22). We need to ask ourselves, what would I do if Jesus calls me from my office, my place of work wherever it may be, to a different profession or vocation? This vocation is not necessarily as a worker in the Church but it may be. It may be a call from one field of study to another for a college student.
In today’s epistle reading (Romans 2:10-16), St. Paul says that the Gentiles did not have the Mosaic Law written on tablets but by nature do the things in the law (v.14) and show the work of the law written in their hearts (v.15). In other words, God has given each one of us an internal guide, a conscience to help us make good decisions and right choices. Our conscience will not fully develop if left alone and neglected. It is likely to diminish if we are exposed from a young age to constant abuse and selfish modeling. Yet in spite of these adverse circumstances, God’s voice within us is never completely obliterated or snuffed out. He still speaks to us always, calling us to Himself and calling us to love and serve other people.
Let me give you an example, some of you may know about the Westboro Baptist Church and Pastor Fred Phelps, who preaches primarily a message of hate. Their theology is so twisted and perverse, that his followers stage loud demonstrations at funerals of soldiers killed in battle. Their logic goes like this: American society tolerates or condones several sinful behaviors; God hates sin; therefore God is causing American soldiers to die in battle as a judgment against America. On the most recent episode of ABC’s 20/20, one family from Westboro Baptist was interviewed. Sadly, their seven year old son was quite versed in the message of hate. The bright side of the story, was their young adult daughter, who despite being raised in this family and church, do not accept the “God hates” teaching. For this she was ostracized from both. In the midst of a lot of hate, she listened to her inner voice, her conscience, God calling out to her, and she followed Him.
In conclusion, let us continue to examine what we teach each other. Is it to devote as much time and energy as possible to making as much money as possible? Peter Buffet said, “It’s simple. It’s either money or your life.” What will be the driving force in our lives? Studies show that people who love their work are generally more wealthy than those who do not. That’s not to say that every wealthy person is a happy person. Rather, if we pay attention and follow God’s calling in our life, including our vocational calling, we will be more joyful, productive people, remembering that whatever wealth God gives to us, we are merely stewards of it. It’s not ours, it belongs to God but He has entrusted it to us so we may learn how to serve others with it. Just like He did with Peter, Andrew, James and John, God the Father calls us through our conscience to give everything sacrificially and generously in support of Christ’s continuing ministry of teaching, preaching and healing (Mt.4:23) in the life of the Church. Amen!
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.