Do you have a teddy, blanky, or other soft or stuffed toy that brought you comfort as a child? I am never surprised to discover that adults still keep their favourite childhood stuffy hidden in a drawer or closet. Mine is a bunny and his name is Bunny Bookins. Bunny and I have been together since I was born and he has had so many hugs in his lifetime that he is pretty much bald (like me). And despite now having someone a little bigger to hug in bed, when I see him or hold him I still get a little pang of comfort.
We learn the comfort of possessions from an early age and I think, to a lesser or greater extent, we all carry this into adulthood, surrounding ourselves with things that bring us comfort. So what should our attitude be to this ‘stuff’? Is it okay with God to have lots of things, to be wealthy both financially and in terms of possessions?
This week, in our Sunday worship, we delved into a story where Jesus was asked by a guy to arbitrate in a financial dispute between him and his brother. It was quite normal for rabbis to be approached in this way, using their knowledge of the written and verbal law to pronounce judgements, however Jesus on this occasion, does not get drawn into taking sides with either party. He asks the first rhetorical question, “Man, who appointed me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” Let’s stop there and think. What is the answer? Who appointed Jesus? Got it? Therefore they had better listen to what Jesus says next, and he cuts to the core of the matter by addressing everyone present, stating, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” He then tells them a story about a man who has an abundant harvest, and who has to build extra sheds to store his grain. The story ends with the man about to drop dead and God asking him the second rhetorical question of the day, “And the things you’ve stored, whose will they be?” The answer is, of course, not his!
Jesus issues a command to all of us, to be on our guard, constantly, against greed. It is not wealth that is the issue, but our attitude to wealth that matters. Do we have a me-centred attitude to our wealth? For example, count how many times the man says I or My in the story Jesus told:
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
The man in the story says I or my ten times! He is incredibly wealthy, does not share his abundance, but keeps it for himself; for his own private use. That is the very definition of greed: keeping for yourself that which could be shared.
Today you and I are wealthy — and by worldly standards, unbelievably wealthy — and we are wealthy both financially but in other ways too. We can be wealthy in terms of land, possessions, clothing, technology, furnishings, and so on, but we can also be wealthy in terms of the time we have, or the particular skills or talents we have honed; and it is okay to be wealthy! Jesus does not condemn the use of our resources to bless our family and for others. Yes, we should provide for our children, prepare for our retirement, and so on. Remember, wealth is not the issue, it is our attitude towards wealth that matters.
The question asked of you by God is, how are you using that which is given to you to bless others? For example, I love my Apple Mac because it enables me to express my creativity through music, photography, video, design, and writing. My machine does not come cheap and I am extremely blessed, however I do try to use it to bless others – even using it to write these messages for the Royal Gazette which I hope are of some benefit! However, sharing does not come naturally and it can be something we need to override with our wills.
The message of Jesus is counter-cultural because it goes against our very nature — where we put ourselves before God, others, and the environment. Jesus urges us not to be rich for ourselves but rich towards God. In other words, to respond to our wealth in a way that honours God. In a very real sense, when we share our wealth with others, we are sharing with God.
Jesus says, in the gospel of Matthew, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but store 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 your heart will be also.”
Here is the thing. The treasures in heaven we store up are the treasures we share in the here and now, on earth, with others.
Do you remember the children’s song, “It’s just like a magic penny, hold it tight and you won’t have any, lend it, spend it and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor. Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away. Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.”
Perhaps spend a moment reflecting on your own wealth; your own treasures. In what way do you have an abundance of blessings stored up? It may or may not be financial, but perhaps you have time to give, love to share, a special skill or talent that could be used for the benefit others, a great view from your house, a full-to-bursting veggie plot, the ability to cater for friends, or perhaps even just the best hugs ever! Today, may you be rich towards God, and learn to share your abundant treasures.
Oh, and by the way, if any of you needs to give Bunny Bookins a hug, I am happy to share!