Sunday, August 08, 2010

What makes us rich?

This week 38 US billionaires have pledged to give at least 50% of their wealth to charity either now or after they die. It is part of a a campaign called The Giving Pledge. Some of these 38 will not be unknown to some of you and include Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, George Lucas and Michael Bloomberg. They are committing time and their money to causes such education and healthcare for all.

Last week we began to explore what makes us rich. We heard Jesus tell us that he hasn’t a problem as such with wealth and possessions as such. His problem is when we allow them to lull us into believing that they can make us feel independent. It promises us that we can transcend the everyday vulnerabilities and needs that remind us that we're mortal, created beings ultimately and always dependent on others and, most especially, on God.

We have pretty much bought into the assumption that equates money with personal worth and yet Jesus reminds us again this morning that our to riches should be found in God and He challenges us to fill our lives with things that have eternal value, ‘...unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also....’ We all have to make a choice between earthly and heavenly possessions - where do we trust? In possessions in this world or treasure in heaven? No wonder the unknown author of Hebrews celebrated Abraham - not just for his trust in God to provide him with descendants but also for his willingness to leave behind all the securities of his past life and to place his faith and trust exclusively in God.

What is faith? We talk a lot about it as Christians, and we speak about it as though it was something that everyone understands; as though it was something as tangible as money in my pocket. Faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see. Faith provides a guarantee, the peg on which we hang our hopes. Because of faith, our hope is no flimsy dreaming; it has substance and reality. Faith provides a ground to which we may hold fast. But that grounding also points us toward the future and gives us courage to move forward, launching out into the unknown. Faith moves us forward. By faith we understand, if we are to understand it at all, that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth….

The author of the letter to the Hebrews is not interested in leaving faith as some sort of abstract concept. He does more than provide a definition. He skillfully calls to mind stories that clothe these two dimensions of faithfulness with flesh and bones and sinew and breath. To know fully what faithfulness is, we must remember the stories about Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abram and Sarah. In the lives of this couple especially, two dimensions of faith shine forth. They show us that faithfulness requires both holding fast and moving forward.
First, faithfulness is holding fast to the promises of God. God had promised Sarah and Abraham countless descendants and a land that God would reveal to them. But both promises were "things not seen.” 

Would God give these wanderers from Ur descendants as numerous as stars in the sky even in old age? That is why Sarah laughed so hard the first time she overheard their visitors tell Abraham he was soon to be a father. That is why their son's name would be Isaac, "Laughter." His name marked God's joy in upending human expectations.

Abraham and Sarah also held fast to a second promise of land. That promise was equally impossible, for these two were wanderers, pilgrims who set out not knowing their destination. Even when they arrived in the promised land of Canaan, they lived like strangers in a foreign country, in tents, always ready to pack up and move. 

But they did more than hold fast to this promise. They knew that the promise of God is also a call, and so they lived out the second dimension of faithfulness, that of moving forward. They lived in tents because they were not ultimately called to the land of Canaan. That was not their final destination. The journey was part of their obedience, but Canaan was not their home. They were looking for another city, the city with foundations not made with hands, "whose architect and builder is God.”

They did not receive that promise in their lifetime. They only saw the promise on the horizon, beckoning, calling them onward in their journey. Because they experienced the promise as a call, they held fast to the promises of God, and they also moved forward in response to God's call. They knew that faithfulness is a form of courage that launches out into the unknown, moving into the future with God, knowing the future is God's. 

So how do we measure up to these two dimensions of faith? Some of us find it easy to "hold fast." We know the stories—stories of the Bible, stories of faithfulness and sacrifice. These stories matter because the stories we tell and make our own give us our bearings. They help us work out where we stand, who we are, and what we ought to do, but we find it harder to "move forward" into the future. We are not that fond of tents, and we travel with lots of baggage.

Others of us have little trouble moving forward. We like to camp. We travel light. We ask, "Where can we join what God is doing now?" We are a people on the way, on the move, knowing that the future belongs to God, but we need help "holding fast," learning the story of God's faithfulness to promise. We need to know of loyalty and endurance that persevere even when the path is rough and long. Friends we need both dimensions of faith. We need to hold fast to the promises of God and to move forward into the future which is God's.

Beneath it all, however, there is a greater and more powerful but unseen reality for us all that’s not about being billionaire or giving away your fortune. I wonder what drove those rich to do as they did? To generate headlines? To do the right thing? Or because they felt a discontent deep within them?

We all sense that discontent from time to time. We're all homesick for what we cannot see but what we know, deep down, awaits us. In our lives, we have glimpses of what's in store for us in every moment of love, of light, of peace we experience here and now. And we have glimpses in every moment, every taste, of justice and healing in our lives and in the life of our communities, glimpses of the "new Jerusalem," a home that is shining and beautiful to which God calls us all. Amen.

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