Greed, or What’s Mine Is Mine, and What’s Yours Is Mine, Too

We’re visiting the seven deadly sins during Lent. Which ones can you name? [Greed, sloth, envy, gluttony, pride, lust, and wrath.] Next week, Jan Kinney is going to give us an overview of the Seven Deadly Sins as well as some virtues to counterbalance them. Today we are jumping into greed.


When we talk about sin, we’re talking about what separates us from God. Lent is a time when we are to reflect on whatever separates us from God and try to clear those things away so that we can draw closer to God. It’s not about God drawing closer to us—God is always closer than our breath. It’s about us opening ourselves to God’s presence freely and without holding back.


As we can see from our two readings today, greed not only holds us apart from God; it may urge us to declare that there is no God. In Psalm 10 we read,

    “[T]hose greedy for gain curse and renounce God.

In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, “God will not seek it out”;

    all their thoughts are, “There is no God.”

God is inconvenient when you’re trying to grab all the resources and all the power for yourself.


And in Luke we read about the rich farmer whose harvest was so abundant that he couldn’t even store it all. Let’s consider for a moment his context. Describing someone as “rich” means by definition that he has more than most of the people around him. He has more land—perhaps the best, most fertile land. And surely he does not manage it by himself. No, he hires many workers, has many slaves or servants who do all the hard labor for him. And he pays them something so that they can get by enough to keep doing the work. But they are not rich. Think of modern-day farm laborers. They are often migrant workers, moving from farm to farm throughout the season to plant the seeds, weed the fields, prune the grapevines, harvest the lettuces and cherries and asparagus and everything else. The work is brutal, especially when the weather is too cold or too hot. The women are at risk of being raped on the job. The workers may be cheated of their pay and have no recourse because most of them are undocumented immigrants; if they complain, they will just be deported.


So these are the workers who are tending the farmer’s crops, who are pulling down his barns and replacing them with bigger ones. And we hear no mention that this rich farmer is going to share the bounty with them. No, he wants to put it all in his new bigger barns.


And notice as well who he’s talking to. He says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” Crops are to feed the body, not the soul. So the farmer is conflating the needs of body and soul. But what feeds the soul is not greed but its counterpart, generosity. And that’s where, in this parable, God steps in and says, basically, that the farmer’s soul is corrupt and he’s being called to his personal judgment day right then.


How do we deal with greed when greed is an American dream: win the lottery, keep it all for yourself. Climb the corporate ladder, make scads of money, and then invest it so it keeps making scads more. Because how much is enough?


Do you remember when we used to be called “citizens”? And we were encouraged to do our duty as citizens: to support community, to vote, to participate in the greater good. We’re not called citizens anymore; we’re called consumers. And the more we consume, the better the economy supposedly is. And the worse off the planet is, because we can’t consume infinitely on a finite planet.


So we are encouraged as Americans to be greedy, to want more, to spend money that we don’t have in order to keep up with what society demands. As I’ve said before, marketing is based on trying to convince us that we are inadequate until we have bought a certain product: the lipstick to make us beautiful, the fancy car, the swank outfit. We are taught that we are not enough. No wonder greed wants to believe that God is dead: the messaging is completely contrary to what God tells us.


Greed is not the same as wealth. Greed is the mindset, no matter how much a person has. Andrew Carnegie had great wealth. He used some of it to build public libraries all over the country, places where people could come for free to read, check out books, just sit out of the weather. Greed always wants more—wants what they already have as well as what you have and what everyone else has. Gimme, gimme, gimme. All mine.


Greed is based in fear, in a scarcity worldview, a worldview that always worries: What if there isn’t enough? What if I am not enough? I have to have not only enough but the most—more than anyone else. Greed does not trust in either God or the future to provide for one’s needs and wants. Greed does not care that anyone or everyone else is suffering and in want.


Greed leads one country to invade another, to get its resources, its land, its ports. Greed leads to oppression, to robbing indigenous people of their land and resources because the colonists want it all for themselves. It leads to “othering” people, having to see them as less than human, because if we did these things to people who were equally as human as we are, we would have to feel very guilty.


And so we see even the Bible being used to justify slavery, even the Church creating the Doctrine of Discovery, which allowed European explorers to claim lands in the name of the king or queen without regard to the “heathen” or “savage” non-Christians who had already been living on that land for thousands of years. Greed says, “Doesn’t matter—it’s our land now. We want it, and we will kill you or run you off this land so that we can have it.” The movie that’s out now called Killers of the Flower Moon is about Osage Indians on a reservation who start dying mysteriously after oil is discovered on their land. White people want that oil, and they start killing off the Osage people to get it. That’s greed. It requires a total lack of compassion for the wellbeing or needs of others.


The Bible study group has just started reading a book on the Gospel of Mark called “Say to This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship.


The experience of wilderness is common to the vast majority of people in the world…. This wilderness has not been created by accident. It is the result of a system stacked against many people and their communities, whose lives and resources are exploited to benefit a very small minority at the centers of power and privilege. It is created by lifestyles that deplete and pollute natural resources. It is created by the forced labor of impoverished farmers who strip steep mountainsides in order to eke out an existence from infertile terrain while the most arable land produces profit for a few families. Wilderness is the residue of war and greed and injustice….


Globalization of the economy, based on freedom without accountability, is exacerbating the spread of this wilderness. That is how the system survives: One group of people thriving at the expense of others and the earth; one belching on the other’s hunger; one powerful because the others have no power. [Ched Myers et al., Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), 11.]


Greed can be a black hole of want. A truly greedy person can never have enough—enough money, enough stuff—because those things, those possessions, won’t fill the hole of feeling like we are not enough. Perhaps that’s why it is so telling that the rich farmer in the parable talks to his soul: he’s been trying to fill that black hole of feeling inadequate by collecting lots of material stuff rather than by opening himself to the love of God, which would tell him that he is enough whether he has lots of stuff or nothing. He is enough without the lipstick, the fancy car, the swank outfit.


Here’s what is needed: love. Being seen and heard. Being valued, just as we are. Learning explicitly to love our neighbors as ourselves and to live from a place of abundance. The apostle Paul says he has learned to live in whatever circumstances he finds himself: hungry or fed, imprisoned or free, housed or not. Because his sense of abundance and value and purpose in life depend on none of those outward things. They depend instead on his relationship with God.


Here’s where the Church comes in. Peter Ilgenfritz writes,

[A]t our core, communities like ours were formed out of the conviction that there is a different way to BE in the world.

Communities like ours are custodians of ancient traditions and texts that at their best call us to remember what it means to be human and our responsibilities to each other.

Communities like ours at our best remind us of our place in the world and our connection to the land we live upon and the peoples and communities we are part of.

Communities like ours at our best are bearers of the flame of imagination that dares to dream of a different way to be, a different way to follow as we navigate our way through life.  Jesus called it life in “the kingdom of God.” [Feb 3 2016, Why He’s Worth Listening To: Alastair McIntosh at UCUCC this Weekend |]


The opposite of greed is generosity. Look at the model that Jesus sets for us. He came not as a rich and wealthy king. No, he came out of the wilderness, from a little nothing town in the north called Nazareth. He didn’t go to the finest schools or wear the finest clothes and jewelry or have a fancy house in Jerusalem near the Temple. And when he called his disciples, he did not guarantee wealth and comfort. Just the opposite. But they saw that what he offered would feed their soul, so they left their nets and followed him. They were not building bigger barns or making bigger nets to catch more fish. They were just trying to get by in a system that was rigged against them.


There’s a weekend radio show on KUOW where the host ends each episode by saying, “Take care of yourself—and, if you can, someone else, too.” That’s the antidote to greed: to take care of each other. Make sure everyone has enough and no one has too much.


When we ground our lives in the love of God, we come to experience, on a regular basis, that it doesn’t matter how much stuff we have, or how much earthly power. All that matters is that God loves us, no matter what. We can practice giving that love away, sharing it freely, because we all need to hear that Good News all the time.


Jesus made the ultimate gift by sacrificing himself on the cross for the sake of the truth of God’s love. We may not be called to make that particular gift, but we can explore how to be generous with what we do have: our time, our talents, and our financial resources.


I heard a story about a parent walking down a city street with their young son, who had just begun to receive an allowance. He had a whole dollar, all his own. They came upon a person who was destitute. When the little boy understood the situation, he gave his dollar to the person on the street, because we are called to take care of each other, and for the first time he had some money to share. While that dollar didn’t solve the person’s financial woes, it still bespeaks a generous heart, because this little boy gave all the money he had.


So may we be generous in spirit toward all whom we meet. May we stand against the oppressions that have historically required that people of color be seen as subhuman. May we work toward the realm of God where everyone’s needs are met with compassion and sharing is as natural as breathing. That’s the world I want to live in. Let’s build it. Amen.


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