“…greed (which is idolatry).”

Services

Sunday— 9:30 AM Sunday School, 10:15 AM fellowship, 10:30 AM Worship Service

Oct. 29

Paul’s letter to the churches in Rome has dominated our Western understanding of sin and sin’s consequences. Paul puts it rather boldly and bluntly, so as not to be mistaken about human sin. Paul believes the foundation of human sin is our human tendency to put ourselves first before God.

According to Paul in Romans, human sin has its foundational origin in our human desire to self-idolatry. Paul says that humans “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:25). Human sin derives from self-idolatry, from worshiping and serving ourselves first, instead of God; honoring ourselves first, instead of God; adoring ourselves first, instead of God.

And this tendency to put ourselves first, before God, leads to our fifth and final sermon in a five-part series on the essential tenets of the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition: “The recognition of the human tendency to idolatry and tyranny, which calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God” (Book of Order, F-2.05). Idolatry is sin against God; tyranny is sin against our neighbor. When we worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, we are well on our way toward disregarding, even ignoring God, which leads according to Paul and our Reformed tradition, to sin against God (idolatry) and sin against our neighbor (tyranny).

Paul writes in our Romans’ passage that there is a truth about God. This truth about God is that God is Creator of all things, which includes you and me and this good earth and the resources we depend on for life. A life lived in gratitude and service to this God is a true life, a good life, a whole life, a life characterized by peace and well-being. The writer of Colossians believes that this truth about God is most fully realized for us when we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is our life; Jesus Christ keeps us “hidden,” secure, in a life of adoration and praise to Christ and love and service to neighbor. We are most human, most alive, most at truth when we love God in Christ and seek to serve God in the neighbor.

Problem is, human sin is close at hand. And arguably the one human sin that infects us daily and impacts our society constantly is greed, which is idolatry. This makes greed a ready, ripe topic for a stewardship sermon. Because the fact of the matter is, self-idolatry that leads to greed, is arguably the biggest obstacle you and I have to overcome in order to be generous, abundant givers of our time and financial resources to Jesus Christ through the life of Christ’s church.

The great 16th century reformer, Martin Luther, knew the impact of human greed’s hold on us – body and soul. Luther is known to have said that there are three conversations human beings must have to be fully committed to Jesus Christ. The first conversion is of the heart, the second conversion is of the head, and the third conversion is of the pocketbook. Jesus undoubtedly knew the impact of human greed, self-idolatry, upon us – body and soul. Fully a third of Jesus’s parables have property and money as their focus, and the only topic Jesus talked about more than possessions and money is the kingdom of God.

We do not have to look far in our society to see the impact of human greed upon our lives. Just across Williams Drive from us is a huge Extra Space Storage facility. If you do not know it, storage facilities have become one of the fastest growing businesses in the entire United States. The five largest storage facility companies in the United States are: Public Storage, Extra Space Storage, UHaul, Cube Smart, and Life Storage. Storage facilities are beginning to dot our urban landscape like fire ants!

At the end of 2014, there were more self-storage facilities in America than there were McDonalds and Starbucks Restaurants – combined! And that calculus has only increased. Today there is 88.6 square miles of self-storage space in the United States – nearly 3 times the size of Manhattan. And perhaps the most telling aspect of self-storage proliferation in America is that 65 percent of those who use self-storage have a garage…which means that the garage is full of stuff…which means self-storage space must be rented to store the overflow of stuff. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/21/self-storage-mcdonalds_n_7107822.html)

It is hard for us to keep remembering the words of Colossians that our lives are hidden in Christ. Because Madison Avenue can find us easily! T.V. commercials, brand labels, print ads, Facebook ads, Google ads, ads on your smart phone popping out of everywhere when all you want to do is check the score between the Astros and Dodgers – Digital marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements each day. (http://www.redcrowmarketing.com/2015/09/10/many-ads-see-one-day/)

Yes, we live in a consumeristic culture, in a capitalist economic juggernaut, where greed (which is self-idolatry) is not a sin – it is the driving force of the greatest economy this world has ever produced. Consumption, Consumption, Consumption is the heart beat of our American way. And we listen, we pay attention, we consume, even to the point of needing more and more and self-storage space to contain our greed (which is idolatry).

What in the world are we storing in all this self-storage space? We are storing anxiety which leads to impulse buying which leads to over-consumption. We are storing ego that cannot allow the Joneses to have more which leads to bigger and better and most-up-to date purchases that lead to over-consumption. We are storing greed (which is self-idolatry), because greed is not capable of knowing when enough is enough; self-idolatry is not capable of living modestly and reasonably because the self needs feeding, the self demands all it can possibly accumulate, the self commands more and more and more stuff to convince its(self) that it is…what? Happy, content, fulfilled, self-satisfied?

The fact of the matter is that the Apostle Paul is right. We are prone to worship and serve the creature, ourselves, rather than the Creator. And in so doing, in worshiping and serving ourselves rather than the Creator, we have built larger and larger homes, stuffed them full of stuff, stuffed our garages full of stuff, stuffed self-storage spaces full of stuff, and we are demanding as consumers more and more self-storage spaces be built to continue to hold more and more and more of our present stuff – and stuff we have yet to acquire!

The problem is, there is graced potential locked up in all that stuff. What do I mean by graced potential? I mean simply this – for those baptized in Jesus Christ, money is a not a commodity, it is a means of grace. Money is an exchange medium for God’s grace and the works of God. Money is used to practice justice; money is used to promote mercy; money is used to further love and to help build an alternative kingdom in this world where the least and the lowest are not run over or exploited by the more powerful– in the kingdom of God they are provided the finest seat at the table. (See for example Luke 14:15-24)

The great 4th century preacher and theologian, John Chrysostom, is quoted as saying, “The luxuries of the rich are the necessities of the poor.” Even in Chrysostom’s day it was easily noted that money spent on stuff is money withheld from the poor; money spent on stuff, is money withheld from God; money spent on more and more stuff is less and less money that can be put to the means of grace of doing justice, love, and mercy demanded of baptized Christians.

Our Reformed tradition is well aware that there is a human tendency to idolatry and tyranny, which calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God. You and I are being called today to examine ourselves, examine our spending habits, examine our understanding of money and possessions in order to root out greed, which is self-idolatry, from our being. And one of the surest ways to begin to break the hold of self-idolatry in our lives is to give more of our money to God and to the ways of God in his world.

God doesn’t demand your firstborn; God does not want you to empty your 401K; God does not want you to liquidate your brokerage accounts. God is asking you to stop serving the creature with your money and start serving the Creator. God is asking you to live a life of truth, not stuff, truth; a life hidden, secure in Christ; a life of acknowledging with your money that the only wholeness and true purpose and well-being you are going to achieve in this life come from serving God and loving neighbor – with everything you have and everything you are.

This means we will have to pay attention to the ways greed (which is self-idolatry) has a hold on us. This means we will have to be more intentional about slowing the purchasing of more and more stuff in order to release the graced potential of our money to serve the things of God.