Preaching About Money Is Hard
Updated: Aug 5, 2019
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Luke 12:13-21
Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good, and God’s mercy endures for ever.
Preaching about money is hard. Some of us have more of it than others of us. Some of us grew up in families that didn’t have enough of it or, conversely, never had to worry about it. Some of us think way too much about money, and some of us don’t think about it enough. Some of us are comfortable and give our ten percent to the church and other causes while also storing a bit away for retirement or to give to our families after we’re gone. Some of us often face the hard decision between buying groceries or paying our electric bill.
Each of us probably needs a different message about money. Some of us need comfort, assurance of God’s abundance, assurance of a kingdom to come that will balance the scales, where everyone will have what they need. Some of us need to hear a message about self-care, about putting our own oxygen mask on first, taking care of your own basic needs and your family’s, before helping someone else. And some of us need today’s gospel, need a bit of a talking-to about how we hoard our abundance at the cost of generosity.
Preaching about money is hard. Money is the leading cause of divorce in this country. It’s at the heart of the feeling we get when we’re stuck at a red light at one of those intersections where someone is holding a sign that says, “Anything helps.” It’s the eye of the constant storm in government: taxes, entitlements, health care, social security—all about how we collect and spend money as a community, as a country.
But when we’re talking about money, we’re never actually talking about money. When we strip away the specifics of every situation, what we’re actually talking about are our values. What we’re actually talking about is who or what we believe is deserving or not deserving. What we’re actually talking about is grace and trust or vengeance and fear.
There’s no one message in the Bible about money. In the Hebrew scriptures, the people of Israel are instructed to set aside a specific amount of their abundance for those in need. Also in the Hebrew scriptures are lavish descriptions of how Solomon built the temple: the finest cedar, statues carved from olive wood, the walls and ceilings covered in pure gold. I don’t think they were building on a budget.
In the Gospels, Jesus approaches money in a few different ways. He holds up a coin, saying “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, render to God what is God,” which is such a nuanced take on money that it’s a dozen sermons in itself. He flips over the moneychanger’s tables for making a profit in the house of God. He tells his disciples to rely on the generosity of others.
And in today’s gospel, he tells the parable of the rich fool.
I think we need to be careful not to oversimplify this parable. I don’t think Jesus is saying that storing away our resources is inherently bad. After all, in Genesis, Joseph—God’s faithful servant—instructs Pharaoh to do the same thing: to store up the abundance of the land.
But here’s the difference. When Joseph suggested that Pharaoh stored up his excess of grain, it was to save it for his people for the time of famine to come. It was to supply for the needs of his community. When the rich man in the parable stored up his extra grain, he sat back and said, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” He saved it all for himself so that he may live comfortably for years to come.
It wasn’t the storing of abundance that troubled Jesus, it was the intent.
“So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
Our God is a God of abundance. First, God created this world for us. The ground from which our food grows, the water we drink, the sun and moon, the animals, and finally, us humans. God created all of this, smiled as Creators do at their creation, and called it good. Very good.
God gave us enough. More than enough. There is always enough.
Even in the darkest times, when the Israelites were wandering through the dusty and barren wilderness, God provided. Manna fell from the sky, water poured from rocks. When there was need, God provided.
God gave us enough. More than enough. There is always enough.
Until we try keep more than we need. When the Israelites tried to keep more manna than they needed, it turned rotten. When the rich fool keeps more than he needs, maybe the grain goes rotten, I don’t know. The parable doesn’t say. What I do know is that when we keep more than we need, it is the community that goes rotten.
People raising money on Go Fund Me for cancer treatments is a sign that something has gone rotten. A single mom needing to work 80 hours a week at three different jobs just to pay rent and feed her child is a sign something has gone rotten. And those jobs are all part time—no paid time off or health insurance. Seniors having to sell their homes and work long past the retirement age to survive is a sign that something has gone rotten.
So how do we know when the rot is starting to infect our stores? "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." The second we start to think any of this creation that God has given us is ours, God says to us, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Your life is being demanded of you. All you are. All God has given to you. It is all at stake. God is demanding that we trust in the abundance God gave us. All of us. Together. As a community. As a Church. As the Body of Christ.
That’s what a life of faith is.
When faith receives a windfall, like the rich man—When a faithful person realizes they are overflowing with joy, for instance—they share that surplus, because they know that it does not belong to them. It belongs to God, and to God’s people.
When a faithful person has extra resources, they ask God, “what would you have me do with this?” And, sometimes, they don’t like the answer, but they do it anyway.
Because when God gives us more than we need, we know the extra is for sharing. And it is in sharing that we will see glimpses of the kingdom of God.
Likewise, when a faithful person does not have enough, they have the courage to say, “I can’t do this on my own,” and they trust that God and the community God has given them will be able to patch the gaps.
We seek first what God would have us do: with our windfalls and our time, with our hardships, with our particular moment in history. We show up and we let go—into trust, into God’s endless abundance.