Silly rich.

Homily 523 – 23 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 20, 2022
Epistle:  (220) Ephesians 2:4-10
Gospel:  (66) Luke 12:16-21

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Today’s Gospel seems perfect for our time.  The acquisition of wealth has become epidemic in our society.  There are a bunch of reasons for this, not the least of which is the mistaken Puritan belief brought to this country that material blessings were a sign of God’s favor and a person’s holiness.

It isn’t hard to dismiss that proposition today.  God isn’t even a thought among the wealthy of the world today.

They have more money than they can use in several lifetimes.

Quick reality check – if someone gives you $1,000,000, you can spend $1,000 a day – $30,000 a month, give or take – for 3 years.

If someone gives you $1 billion, you can spend the same $1,000 a day – $30,000 a month – for 2,740 years.

Now, even the richest man in America, Elon Musk, after taking out the $44 billion he spent on buying Twitter, still has $207 billion.  With that wealth, he could spend $1 million a day – a day! – for 567 years.  Years!

I had to do the math on that twice – I couldn’t believe it.  $365 million dollars a year to spend, for 567 years.

And that doesn’t account for the interest he might earn on that money.  That interest, let’s say 4% per year in a very, very secure investment, would yield $8.28 billion per year.  By itself!

This is what I believe is silly rich.  Stupid rich.  Beyond even the man Christ speaks of in the Gospel.

The man in the Gospel was contemplating a bountiful harvest.  Yet, he also had (in his words) goods stored up for many years.

What he didn’t have – and can never have – is guaranteed life.  None of us have that.

St. James in his epistle puts it this way:  James 5:1-5 – “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.”

In the end, when our souls are required of us, the wealth we have will be consumed, and presumably enjoyed, by others.  That is inevitable.  That cannot be avoided nor changed.  The only question is – who?

There are multiple answers to that question.

First, the people who work for you should share in that wealth.  It is a fable when people think they are self-made.  There are always workers involved.  If nothing else, there are public facilities that help – think roads, bridges, schools, protection from theft and fire.

In our day and time, the owners don’t usually work – it is the people they hire.  If those who own businesses live in comfort, and their workers have to start a go-fund-me, something is messed up there.

I don’t know what the “right” number is.  I only know that in today’s world the inequity of worker versus owner wealth is way, way out of whack.

Second, there are the poor.  They deserve our wealth.  God gives it to us to distribute to them.

St. Basil the Great’s famous proverb – if you have two coats and two pairs of shoes and food in your pantry you have stolen – stolen! – from the poor.  Wow.  That’s harsh.  But he doesn’t stop there:

“But how do you make use of money? By dressing in expensive clothing? Won’t two yards of tunic suffice you, and the covering of one coat satisfy all your need of clothes? But is it for food’s sake that you have such a demand for wealth? One bread-loaf is enough to fill a belly. Why are you sad, then? What have you been deprived of? The status that comes from wealth? But if you would stop seeking earthly status, you should then find the true, resplendent kind that would conduct you into the kingdom of heaven. But what you love is simply to possess wealth, even if you derive no help from it. Now everyone knows that an obsession for useless things is mindless. Just so, what I am going to say should seem to you no greater paradox; and it is utterly, absolutely true. When wealth is dispersed, in the way the Lord advises, it naturally stays put; but when held back it is transferred to another. If you hoard it, you won’t keep it; if you scatter, you won’t lose. For (says the scripture), “He has dispersed, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (Ps 112:9).”

Blessed Theophylact reminds us that the storehouses of God are the stomachs of the poor.  For what does it mean to love our neighbor as ourselves if we are willing to watch them suffer without while we horde what has been given us?

Brothers and sisters, some will say that these words hurt and don’t edify.  Believe me, I know the pain, because I’m worse than most about these things.  I worry about the future, and I try to save for my future and that of my family.  So, first and foremost, I’m preaching to myself.

What I invite all of us to consider this morning is where our hearts are.  Do we desire true security and rest?  Or do we desire the false security and rest of relying on our own wealth and our own savings?

This world – wealth and all – passes away.  Share of what you have.  Generously, without consideration of the future.

And in so doing we secure the future in the Kingdom of God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.