Well, I am sure that there are some of you sitting here in the church and some of you watching from home, who have storage units – that you rent storage units. You pay a monthly fee, month after month, to store your possessions that you don't have room for in your house. Then there are others of us who have attics and garages and outbuildings that are filled with belongings and possessions we don't even know that we have, we haven't used them in years. And maybe we'll never even use them again for the rest of our lives, but we're still holding on to them.
I don't want you to feel bad, or guilty. And I certainly don't want anybody to be offended by today's Gospel reading, which is called “The parable of the rich fool.” For as we heard the story that Jesus tells of the man that keeps building more and more storage units to house all of his goods, God says the man is a fool.
But this parable is really for all of us. Because even those of you who try to live simply, the fact of the matter is that we as modern-day Americans, all of us have more stuff than we actually need. So Jesus with this parable is continuing what he says throughout the Gospels. You know, throughout the Gospels Jesus had a lot to say about rich people. And he had a lot to say about money.
And none of it, I'm afraid, is very good, I'm sorry to tell you.
Jesus said, “Woe to you who are rich.” He said, “You cannot serve both God and money.” He said, “Do not store up treasures for yourself on Earth.” And he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
And so my question for you this morning is, Is money really a stumbling block on the spiritual path? Are possessions really that bad?
Well, you know, most of us, we grew up in a materialistic world, in a capitalist country. And the goal of capitalism, of course, is the accumulation of wealth. We were taught that that's a really good thing, something to aspire to. In fact, that's the goal of capitalism, to make a profit.
But the way of Jesus is radically different.
Jesus said to everyone who wanted to follow him, you have to sell everything. You have to sell everything you own. Leave everything behind, take nothing with you, and come and follow me.
And you may remember the story of a young rich man who came to Jesus and asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus says, ‘Oh, you have to sell everything. You have to get rid of all your stuff.’
And you’ll remember that the young man walks away, so sad, because he doesn't want to do that. Who would want to do that?
But many Christian Mystics and Saints throughout the centuries have done that. You may know the story of St. Francis of Assisi. He grew up in one of the wealthiest families in Europe, and he gave up his family fortune to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Now, some of you know that when I was a young man, I was a religious brother in the Catholic Church. And one of the vows that I took was the vow of poverty. Now, I want to be clear, nobody should be seeking poverty for themselves. In fact, I believe one of our calls as Christians is to eradicate poverty from the planet. But what does the religious vow of poverty mean? Well, for me as a young brother, it meant freedom. I watched as my contemporaries were consumed with owning cars and homes and trying to climb the corporate ladder and make it to the top, and make a name for themselves. And I chose not to own anything. During my years in religious life, I didn't have a credit card. I didn't have a bank account. I didn't have a 401 K. And I didn't own anything. I didn't own a phone. I didn't own any furniture. I didn't own a car, And I was free. I was free from the stresses and burdens that come with trying to make it, make a name for myself, and free from from the burdens of possessions, which often can possess us.
But that goes against what we were all taught as kids. You know, when we were growing up, we were taught to do good in school. And we said, ‘Well, why?’ Well, so you could get into a good college. And what was a good college? Well, a good college meant you were going to get a good job. And what was a good job? A job that paid a lot of money And why did you want a lot of money? So that you could buy stuff.
This is the American dream. This is what we have all been taught.
But the way of Jesus is the exact opposite of that.
I'm sorry to tell you, as we heard, in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning from the late spiritual writer, Henry Nouwen – and if you've never read any books by Henry Nouwen, please go find some. They are absolutely so beautiful. But he reminds us in this passage that the way of Jesus is not the way of upward mobility. It's the way of downward mobility. It's not going to the top, it's going to the bottom and standing with the least of these.
That's why Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the poor, the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.’ So what does that mean for all of us who are materially wealthy? Does that mean that we're bad people, and we're not going to get into heaven?
Well, I'll let you know that I know a few millionaires, some who are sitting here in this church today and some who are in our community. And they are some of the best people that I know, some of the best people I've ever met. They are so kind and giving and generous, and they help so many people in this community.
And then I think of billionaires, I think of Oprah Winfrey or Melinda Gates, people who have given away a large chunk of their fortune, to lift up others and to serve the world.
I think the point Jesus is trying to make is what he would later say, just a few sentences from this passage. If you kept reading Luke's Gospel, Jesus says, “To whom much has been given, much is required.” Those of us who have been given, we are required. That's what our faith teaches us to do.
We are required to give our gifts, give of our blessings, our abundance, our wealth, our talents, we are to give those in service to the world. That's what our calling is.
Now, we know that there are some Christian churches, who teach what's known as the “Prosperity Gospel.” You see that here in our country in these big mega-churches. They teach people that God wants you to be rich.
Now, this may surprise you. But I do believe that. I believe that Jesus was teaching us prosperity principles. Just look at his miracles. His very first miracle was the wedding feast in Cana. They ran out of wine. Jesus didn't see any lack. He saw abundance, and he was able to turn water into wine. And then you remember when they only had five loaves of fish and to two pieces of bread to feed all those people? And they said, Jesus, what are we going to do? We don't have enough food. Jesus didn't see lack. He saw abundance, and he was able to multiply that food and to feed everyone.
Jesus was teaching us prosperity principles that we could use in our lives. I've used them myself, but they're not about money, and possessions. They were about consciousness. Where other people saw lack. Jesus didn't. He saw abundance. Because he knew that God was the source of his supply.
Jesus didn't have a lot of material possessions. He didn't own anything. But all of his needs were met, on time and in full.
So I have found that there are two types of people in this world. There are those who have an abundance consciousness. And there there are those who have a lack consciousness. And again, it has nothing to do with money. I know millionaires who live from an abundance consciousness, but I also know millionaires who live from a lack consciousness, they're always so focused on their stock portfolio and their retirement. Will there be enough for their retirement? And that's why they have storage units, because they're so afraid that they're going to need that stuff at some point. It's a lack consciousness.
Conversely, I know people who don't have a lot of money in the bank, some of them live with a lack consciousness. “Woe is me, there will never be enough, who's going to hire me, everybody else has stuff I don't. But then I know people who don't have a lot of money in the bank who live from an abundance consciousness. They’re so peaceful and joyful, happy, because they know all their needs are met, on time and in full.
God is the source of their supply. And they go forward in trust.
And do you know that's what the word prosperity means? If you look it up in the dictionary, it means to go forth in trust.
People who lead prosperous lives, they live a life with a trust in God.
Now, one of the people who lived that way, and was a spiritual teacher to millions, was a woman who was called Peace Pilgrim. I told you about her a few years ago, I gave a whole sermon about Peace Pilgrim, and you can watch it on our YouTube channel. But I learned so much from her teachings. Peace Pilgrim was a middle-aged woman, a woman in the 1970s, who said, I'm going to sell everything. Sell my car, Sell my house, I'm going to sell everything. And I'm going to walk across the country. And I'm not going to carry anything with me. Because that's what Jesus said, take nothing with you on your journey. So she wore a smock. And the only thing she kept in the smock was a toothbrush. She carried no money, no food. Her friends thought she was crazy. And she said to them, when it is time for me to eat, someone will offer me food. And when it's time for me to sleep, someone will offer me shelter.
And she was right.
She walked across the country and back. And every single time she was offered food, drink, and shelter. She walked in trust, so prosperous, that's that's a prosperous life. She wrote a little book. And you may remember a few years ago, everybody got a copy, I'll make sure to order more. But the book is called Steps Toward Inner Peace. And in the book, she says this.
“In my early life, I made two important discoveries. I discovered that making money was easy. But that spending it foolishly was completely meaningless. And so in the second phase of life, I began to live to give what I could, instead of to get what I could. And I entered a new and wonderful world.” And when we start to live that way, to give what we can rather than focus on what what can we get, we enter into a beautiful new world. Peace. Peace Pilgrim knew that. And Jesus knew that.
Now, my friends, we have been given eternal life. That's what our faith tells us, that after this incarnation, our souls and spirits are going to go on. So the material possessions that you have, they're not going to go with you. It's why Jesus is saying ‘Why are you amassing earthly stuff? You can't take that with you.’ But you are are an eternal being. So why aren't you storing up spiritual riches? Why aren't you using this incarnation to build up spiritual wealth, because that you do carry on with you.
We, my friends, are being called to build up things of the spirit, to build up spiritual treasures. For as Jesus said, where your heart is, there is where your treasure is.
Remember, prosperity means trust in God, know that God is the One True Source, the source of all your supply and abundance. May we go forth to live a prosperous life and to give, or as we heard from Peace Pilgrim, it's about giving rather than what we can get. That's what it means to live an abundant life.
May it be so.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration and Guidance
By Henri Nouwen
The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record - that's what draws attention and offers us the rewards of money and fame. The way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid. Who will freely choose a low-paying job when a high-paying job is being offered? Who will choose the hidden place when there is a place in the limelight? Who will choose to be with one person in great need when many people could be helped during the same time? Who will choose to withdraw to a place of solitude and prayer when there are so many urgent demands from all sides? The descending way of Jesus is the way of downward mobility. It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal -- toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God. The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place. Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way that brings everlasting life. The great paradox which Scripture reveals to us is that real and total freedom is only found through downward mobility. The divine way is indeed the downward way, and so the downward road is the road to heaven.
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