A Warning about Wealth (James 5:1-6)

Pay attention, you wealthy people! Weep and moan over the miseries coming upon you. Your riches have rotted. Moths have destroyed your clothes. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you. It will eat your flesh like fire. Consider the treasure you have hoarded in the last days. 

Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your field hands. These are the wages you stole from those who harvested your fields. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of heavenly forces. You have lived a self-satisfying life on this earth, a life of luxury. You have stuffed your hearts in preparation for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who doesn’t oppose you. (Common English Bible)

Everyone’s station in life has its own particular temptations.

In the church for which the Apostle James wrote his letter, the rich had completely succumbed to the temptation of using their wealth to build more wealth on the backs of the poor. And the Apostle called them out on it.

Just because you nor I might not be rich in assets and wealth, doesn’t mean today’s New Testament lesson has nothing to do with us. We all inhabit some position of influence or authority, as well as own something, even if it is not much. So, how we use what has been given to us by God is of utmost importance for everyone.

The poor are tempted to envy the rich. And the rich are tempted to trust in their money, resources, and business acumen with no thought to God. Both rich and poor can identify so closely with their respective situations that their primary identity is defined by wealth, or the lack thereof.

Hoarding Wealth

It’s not unusual for a person who appears middle or lower class to have hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed away. I have met more than a few of them in my life. Some people die millionaires, having been penny pinchers their entire lives.

Stockpiling wealth, whether hiding it or flaunting it, without the intention of using it for godly purposes, is tragic. No one is blessed by it. Money is temporary; but relationships are permanent. A wise Christian focuses on storing heavenly treasure and taking an eternal view of their resources.

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse! —stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. (Matthew 6:19-21, MSG)

Fraudulent Wealth

A person can become addicted to wealth. People can also desire to be wealthy to the degree that they use illegal and dishonest ways of obtaining it and holding on to it.

Withholding wages from workers is a crime, both legally and biblically. In the ancient world, and still in many places around the globe today, workers are paid daily, at the end of the workday. To not receive their pay means their families will go hungry that night.

Don’t take advantage of poor or needy workers, whether they are fellow Israelites or immigrants who live in your land or your cities. Pay them their salary the same day, before the sun sets, because they are poor, and their very life depends on that pay, and so they don’t cry out against you to the Lord. That would make you guilty. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15, CEB)

Self-Indulgent Wealth

The person who lives completely for self is only building wealth in vain, like a hog being fattened for the slaughter. Daydreaming and fantasizing about possessing money for personal indulgence, at the expense of others, will not end well.

Jesus said, “Be careful and guard against all kinds of greed. People do not get life from the many things they own.”

Then Jesus used this story: “There was a rich man who had some land. His land grew a very good crop of food. He thought to himself, ‘What will I do? I have no place to keep all my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘I know what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger barns! I will put all my wheat and good things together in my new barns. Then I can say to myself, I have many good things stored. I have saved enough for many years. Rest, eat, drink, and enjoy life!’

“But God said to that man, ‘Foolish man! Tonight, you will die. So, what about the things you prepared for yourself? Who will get those things now?’ (Luke 12:15-20, ERV)

Murderous Wealth

Whenever the rich and powerful are bent on accumulating and hoarding wealth, they step all over workers to get what they want. And the poor laborers possess neither the ability nor the authority to handle the injustice. They are helpless.

By withholding wages and resources, or purposefully paying a non-living wage, the neglect puts people in poverty. Then, the poor struggle to survive. They may starve, even die, through no fault of their own. And the ones who put them in such a position will have to answer to a higher authority – God. (1 Kings 21)

Stewarding Wealth

The Lord gives us money, resources, even wealth, for us to enjoy and give to others. We are stewards, accountable for the time, assets, and relationships, given us by God in this life. So, then, we must emulate godly models of asset allocation and thoughtful stewardship.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

May we all use whatever resources, gifts, abilities, and time we have to bless others and contribute to the common good of all persons. Amen.

Be Generous (Mark 12:41-44)

The Widow’s Mite by James Christensen

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you; this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (New International Version)

Money. Can’t live without it; can’t live with it. *Sigh*

If there’s a litmus test of one’s true benevolence and spirituality, it’s how money is handled and/or mishandled. And it isn’t as cut-and-dried as giving large sums of it away.

In today’s short Gospel lesson, the offerings of rich people were unimpressive to Jesus. To him, their big donations are insignificant.

On the other hand, a poor widow’s measly offering is validated as a rich contribution. In giving everything, Jesus holds up the widow as an example for us to follow.

This raises a natural and interesting question: Does this mean everyone should give everything they have? Maybe. Maybe not. Yet perhaps the very question betrays how we tend to think about money – that it’s ours, we earned it, and we can do whatever we want with it.

But the fact of the matter is that we really own nothing. We are merely stewards, entrusted with using that which has been graciously given to us by God. The Lord is the owner of it all. It was never really ours to begin with.

Taken from this perspective, anything we hold onto and refuse to let go, no matter how large or small, is a form of theft. We have taken something that doesn’t belong to us. We aren’t satisfied with being stewards; we want to be owners and masters.

What you do with your money shows your allegiance to the true Owner of it. If it belongs to Caesar, well then, go ahead and give it to him. And if it belongs to God, then there isn’t an issue in distributing money in ways which benefit humanity and uplift the poor.

The widow knew that her money, what little of it she had, belonged to God. She seemed to understand that God’s values are very different from earthly values. The kingdom of heaven expects us to hold all things, money included, with open hands. Whereas the kingdoms of this world fully expect that people will hold their money with tight fists – which is why we have so many layers of cybersecurity around our assets.

Money is a means to an end and not the end itself. It is the means to ensure the welfare of the common good of all persons. It’s a tool to shape a better society, built not on the backs of the poor, but for the benefit of the needy so that everyone can participate fully in the community.

To build a petty kingdom and become master of a small world is nothing more than stealing from God and withholding resources where they are needed.

And to make things more complicated and challenging, in today’s world, time is money. It’s easy to write a check, transfer some funds, or allocate some resources for others. However, it is never easy to grace people with the gift of time. Relational connection takes time and effort – the kind of time many people believe they do not have. Yet, time also belongs to God, and it is to be stewarded with care, just like our money.

The Poor Widow’s Offering by Unknown artist

Let’s come back to the poor widow. After all, she is our example of true generosity.

In ancient Israel, those in poverty were not required to give. So, whenever the poor did so, they simply gave because they believed in the need to maintain all it took for the worship of God to happen. The widow was under no compulsion to give anything, let alone everything she had. She seemed to understand what the Apostle Paul discovered later:

The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, NET)

A spirit of generosity is to be ubiquitous throughout Christianity. It is a spirit that doesn’t let the left hand know what the right hand is giving (Matthew 6:3). A generous spirit rightly discerns that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).

And the guide of altruistic giving is savvy to the reality that the accumulation of money often leads to the love of money. So, the generous person keeps temptation at bay by withholding love toward things so that love can be lavishly given to people. For some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Like the poor widow, we are to put our hope in God, who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.

Eternal God, we pray that stewardship will be our way of life. We acknowledge You as the source of all we have and all we are.

Loving Creator, help us to place You first in our lives by being prayerful, loving, and caring for our families neighbors in need, and by becoming less preoccupied with material things.

Sovereign Lord, help us to hear your call to be good stewards, caretakers, and managers of all your gifts by sharing them for your purposes. May Your priorities be our priorities. May we have an active and generous faith.

Blessed God, help us to serve the Church, our communities, and our world with Your good and gracious gifts; and with joyful and grateful heart, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 104:24-35 – Listen to Creation

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
    In wisdom you have made them all.
    The earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the ocean, vast and wide,
    teeming with life of every kind,
    both large and small.
See the ships sailing along,
    and Leviathan, which you made to play in the sea.

They all depend on you
    to give them food as they need it.
When you supply it, they gather it.
    You open your hand to feed them,
    and they are richly satisfied.
But if you turn away from them, they panic.
    When you take away their breath,
    they die and turn again to dust.
When you give them your breath, life is created,
    and you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
    The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
The earth trembles at his glance;
    the mountains smoke at his touch.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
    I will praise my God to my last breath!
May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
    for I rejoice in the Lord….

Let all that I am praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord! (New Living Translation)

The earth is a complex ecosystem, alive and teeming with all kinds of creatures and exuberant nature. All of creation knows and depends on its Creator. The earth bears its Creator’s fascination.

The world is wonderfully intricate, its vast natural systems working in sync to flourish across the earth. All creation lives with confidence in God’s sustaining grace. Humanity, along with the rest of creation, is to sing and praise the God who has made life possible by means of the powerful Spirit.

This same Spirit which worked in creation, animates all creatures, and has left the imprint of God’s likeness on humans, is the very same Spirit which came upon the little band of believers at Pentecost, as well as being the very same Spirit which is given to you and me as followers of Jesus. 

Just as we listen to the ancient voices of Holy Scripture lift up the name of Jesus; and, just as we listen for the Holy Spirit to guide us in the name of Jesus Christ, so we are to listen to the voice of creation praise God.

In a society expectant of all things fast – fast food, fast cars, fast service, fast everything – there is something profoundly spiritual about slowing down to listen to God’s Spirit speaking through God’s creation. Even though we, at times, encounter difficulties which limit us and slow us down, these very situations afford us the opportunity to listen.

Today, when you eat your meals, I invite you to take the time to chew slowly, thanking God in a rhythm of praise which is connected to the gratitude of each bite. Connect with the reality that eating comes from the earth’s generosity.

When walking the dog, do it slowly, listening to the sounds of creation around you. Hear the wind blowing, the trees swaying, the water rushing, the birds singing. They all give praise and adoration to the God who is pleased to fill creation with divine splendor.

The lack of listening, the refusal to truly hear, was at the core of Adam and Eve’s fall from paradise. Ever since, people have been tainted with spiritual deafness. We must, once again, learn the vital skill of listening well.

Opening to the sounds of creation can reopen us to our divine image, which has never been lost – perhaps just buried so deep within that we are many times not in touch with it. Listening to creation also enables us to hear how it groans under humanity’s poor stewardship of the earth.

The whole of creation is always singing; it is just a matter of whether we are listening, or not.

When spending time in nature, ask yourself:

How is God’s glory and love reflected in creation?

In what way is your hope renewed or your heart stirred in response?

How might I be a proper and faithful steward of this earth around me?

Do I feel a connection with the land? Why, or why not?

Every morning for generations, the Native American Iroquois people have greeted the dawn with thanksgiving.

“It is an honor to be a human being and to have been invited into the circle of Creation,” they say to the Creator. Beginning with the grass and the trees, the Iroquois express gratitude for the other plants, the water, the wind, the sun, the moon, and the stars.

I myself have also found a deep connection with God in the morning amongst nature. Greeting the Creator, as well as the oak trees and lilac bushes near my home, give me the ability to frame my upcoming day with awareness. As I am present and mindful to creation, so I find myself more present and aware to the people who need my focused attention.

Sadly, there are people who have never known the joy of walking barefoot through the grass; the wonder of staring into the night sky full of stars; and the sublime silence in which to hear the voice of God.

There are whole segments of our global family who have never had clean water or enough to eat. There are people who have lost their very identity because of exploitation of resources and greed. So, we need to connect with creation.

We must discern that our connection with created things fosters a stronger and deeper connection to our fellow humanity.

For when we observe the beauty in all things, we train ourselves to see the beauty in others. And where there is beauty, there is appreciation, gratefulness, and compassionate care. God speaks to us through creation. Nature is our teacher. Let’s make sure and treat her with the respect and care she deserves.

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, does all creation belong.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through Brother Sun,
bringing us the day and giving us light.
He is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Most High, he bears your likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water.
She is very useful, humble, precious, and pure.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night. He is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth.
She sustains us and governs us; she produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living person can escape.

Woe to those who die in sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Let all creation praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility. Amen.

–A Prayer from St. Francis of Assisi

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – It’s Time

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So, I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. (New Living Translation)

Maybe we enjoy celebrating the first day of a new year because it gives us a sense of having a clean slate. Perhaps we internally and/or unconsciously realize we wasted great chunks of time in the past year. So, we look forward to amending our ways and making new resolutions.

Time Is Finite

We cannot get it back once we lose it – hence, the lamenting of so much squandered time. We want to use our time in ways that reflect our most cherished values and commitments. For that, we need wisdom to know what to do, what not to do, and when to do it.

There needs to be a sense of purpose – of values which drive our goals and our actions – if we are to use our time in redemptive ways. Time is a gift, bestowed to us by a Creator who desires we steward that precious gift with sage understanding and wise discernment.

Time is a temporary commodity to be used for good purposes before the end of all time comes.

One of the realities of time is that our lives are full of seasonal rhythms and change over time. These are built into the life God has given us. The book of Ecclesiastes, throughout its contents, explains that nothing we pursue has any permanence to it. We throw ourselves into some work or activity, but what does that activity really do for us in the end?

Time Marches On

Time marches inexorably forward, no matter what we do or don’t do. Therefore, we must respect, and learn to work with, it’s slow and constant movement.

When I was twenty years old, I thought nothing of playing a round of golf in the morning, three sets of tennis in the afternoon, then staying up late at night with friends. If I did that same thing today, I would be in the hospital well before the sun sets.

We all, at some point, try to defy time and act like we can do the things we once did in the past. Sometimes it takes a lot for us to accept our limitations, whether it is our play or our work. Ecclesiastes teaches us that outside forces always seem to dictate what we can do and not do.

Time Is In Control

The cycles and rhythms of life can appear meaningless. We may feel as if we are prisoners of time. Yet, for the believer, time can be redeemed with godly purpose and meaning, no matter what the season of life is.

Because there is time, and all things will someday come to an end – all activity, or the lack of it, will be judged according to how we denied or accepted our limitations due to time. 

Ecclesiastes also offers to us what seems a subversive perspective that is counter-cultural to our society. Many Americans believe that by working hard and doing the right thing, we can shape our own destiny and prosperity.

However, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes insists we submit and move with the events, rhythms, and seasons God has established. Apart from God, time is futile and meaningless. In our denial of the power and effects of time, it is no wonder many Americans are so unhappy with their lives.

In the experiences we have from birth to death, the conclusion of Ecclesiastes is that everything is out of our control. Too many of us try to exert control over events, people, and circumstances when, in truth, any control we have is an illusion. I call this the “c-clamp syndrome,” trying to clamp down on others to get them to submit to our agenda.

Self-Control

Instead, Holy Scripture directs us to practice self-control – to focus on myself and my own actions:

Moderation is better than muscle, self-control better than political power. (Proverbs 16:32, MSG)

Prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. (1 Peter 1:13, NLT)

The end of everything has come. Therefore, be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7, CEB)

Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful. (2 Peter 1:5-7, CEV)

We cannot force time to stand still. So, instead, we must focus on how we spend our time now.

It is time for us to lay aside lesser pursuits and diligently pursue what is right, just, and good. We each must give ourselves to the unforced rhythms of grace and let God redeem the time.

What time is it?  It’s time to live in harmony with the clock, with God, and with others.

God of all time help us to know ourselves. Teach us to recognize our weaknesses and work to walk in holiness. Let us follow you in all things, submitting to the times you have for us. Thank you for your unending grace and mercy toward us when we need it most. Help us to trust you with our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.