Delivered at First UMC Clairton, Pine Run UMC, & Glassport UMC. Just a reminder, this is pretty much a transcript of the sermon, so it's written as I spoke it, not how it would be written it for publication.
Scripture: Luke 12:13-21
As a new preacher, I’ve found the Methodist lectionary helpful. For those of you that don’t know, the Methodist church, and many other churches for that matter, suggest scriptures for each week. Over the next three weeks, all of the lectionary scriptures have to do with justice. Justice is a constant theme in the Bible. The entire Christian narrative is one of redemption – and justice is something that we as United Methodist have decided to place in a high place of value and in this passage, we see a very clear illustration of God’s intent for our resources.
Has Pastor ever told you that I am a millionaire? In fact, I have an estimated worth of over 550 million dollars.
As many of you know I love Zimbabwe. I had the amazing opportunity to go to the country in 2014 as part of our conference’s first ZimCamp trip and recently because of your efforts to lift youth up, our scouting ministry was able to connect with the scouts in Zimbabwe to create a partnership that will last at least until 2022. But in my hand, I hold millions of dollars. At one point after the Zimbabwean revolution, Zimbabwe was known as the breadbasket of Africa. It was a shining light on the continent for their ability to have industry, a stable currency, and a government that was perceived to represent the interests of the people. But then, very poor decisions were made by their dictator including hyperinflating the currency to pay off the country’s debt. What wealth people built up became worthless in a matter of months. Savings were worthless. Property was worthless. The economy crashed. The currency that I showed you became worth about $1 or whatever value a tourist would give it at a market. The stability that money had offered was gone.
In the United States we put a very high value on what people do for work. It’s how we identify ourselves to strangers. It’s often determines how we dress and how we act. It often determines or social group and our ability to influence others. Many even have biases against certain career fields. We don’t think of construction workers the same way that we think of CEOs. We don’t look at sanitation workers the same way we look at the white-collar workers that work in the same building. We let income define the way we view our fellow.
It is my belief that this is the case because as a society we have placed a very high value on making money. We call people who have made more money, “more successful,” we envy those who have larger houses than our own, better brands of clothes than we wear every day, and better 401ks and retirement plans. And it is a difficult thing because there is some truth to the perception that money provides us with some sort of security. I’ve met people that will likely never retire. I’ve met people who struggle daily to meet their needs living off of a fixed income. And in many ways, I think we all sympathize with the man asking the question. If we felt cheated out of income, we would likely seek this perceived justice.
The trouble with this belief is that money is not a secure thing. It is so finite. It constantly changes its value in the eyes of humans and has never had any value in the eyes of the Kingdom of God.
This is even visible in our own country. For those of you that were living in the 1950s, what are some things that a dollar could buy? I looked up some things. I found out that $1 in 1950 was about $10 today. Here are some things I found in 1950 you could buy for a dollar:
4 Gallons of gas
A pound of coffee
Two movie tickets
6 packs of cigarettes
A ticket to a professional baseball game
Money sometimes allows us to do things we would be able to do without. It allows us to feed people; it allows us to put roofs over people’s heads. To help the widow and the orphan as we are commanded. But the distinction between those things and the things that I just listed and building up personal wealth is that we do not covet helping others. We do not have greed in order to help poor people. We do not worry about the stability of those that don’t really matter that much.
In this passage Jesus is calling us to focus our attention on a higher purpose our resources. God gives us resources not to store up for our own security, but for the betterment of those around us. I know you were not expecting a message on stewardship but how we view our time, talent, and money ultimately determines how we view justice. We can either covet our resources and use them towards our own benefit, or we can use them for the benefit of the kingdom of God.
In the church, our ultimate mission is to Know Christ and Share Christ with others. If there is one thing that I have learned in the military, it is that mission comes first. Whatever is needed to accomplish that mission is given, because it is the most important thing. Our faith is the same way. We shouldn’t be holding anything back when it comes to our mission, which is so much more important than all others.
This circuit is in a unique time and place for this kind of justice. This town has already seen that the treasures of this world are fleeting. Honestly, I debated even bringing up Zimbabwe because I know that many of you have experienced the lack of stability the things of this world have to offer. But what amazes me is the resiliency of the kingdom of God. Throughout all of the ashes around us, our church remains, more unified in Clairton and Glassport. We are blessed with great youth, beautiful buildings and the perfect town to share the gospel in.
The man in the parable simply sought a good retirement. But he died sooner than he could enjoy it. Don’t be a fool as Jesus would say and seek security in this world. Seek the security that Christ offers: Security of cancelled sin, freedom from the debt we owe to God, and eternal salvation because of his sacrifice
For today’s Interactive activity, we’re going to do two things. The first thing I want you to do is write a personal mission statement. What do you see as important? This can be in the church. This can be in your home. This can be in your own life.
The second thing we are going to do is think about something you think have to offer the kingdom of God. If that is money, great. If that is your time. Great. If that is some sort of talent. Write that too. I want you to write that on the top of the sheet of paper.
After you finish these cards, were going to bless what you have to say and over the next three weeks during this sermon series on justice, I want you to put this in a place that you will see it every day. Maybe your bathroom mirror or your refrigerator, or even as your phone background. As we continue to learn and think about justice, I hope that we can find new ways to apply our mission statements to the outside world.