Rich Toward God

This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.

The Bible has a nuanced and hard approach to riches. We have Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and the entire book of Deuteronomy stating that if you follow God, you’ll get rich. Yet even in Deuteronomy 8:17–20 says, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’  You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.  And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.”

While Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph were all well off, they were not only about profit. They were about family and identity grounded in God. This God who is one. This God who provides. This God who saves and looks after the nobodies who become the nation of Israel who become enslaved who then are liberated by the God who never abandoned them. Yet the same community that were slaves in Egypt build a temple to the chain-breaking God… using slave labor. This God sends the prophets to them saying, “If you keep valuing things over people, you’re gonna get into trouble. If you keep neglecting the poor. If you don’t take care of the widow, the orphan, the stranger in the gates… bad things are coming.”

This is how it is with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God. They destroy themselves. The poor languish while the rich get more and more. As Gandhi said, “We have enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.”

The moment wealth is not about the community and becomes about accumulating more and more profit, we miss the whole point. It’s sinful. Like how we went from providing jobs and skills and products to our community to shareholder value and profit… we miss God’s economy.  Community must always come before wealth. People over the psychopathic pursuit of profit.

I’m not saying all profit is bad. I’m saying the psychopathic pursuit of it is. Like if you don’t pay a living wage. Or when tax codes are tilted so the rich pay the least and hold onto the most..

1 Timothy 6:17-18 advises, “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.”

There is enough for all, but we have a heart issue of greed. We also have systemic sins of a lack of affordable housing, education, and careers for folks starting out. We have entry level jobs that require three years of experience. Like the band the Flobots sang, “The system where the poor get poorly paid to hold the ladder while the rich get ricocheted into the stratosphere.”[1]

It’s about community. Somewhere we thought it would be good to make tax breaks for the rich. Somewhere we thought it would be good to let other countries make stuff. Somewhere we thought it would be good to make sure shareholders were in front and not the workers on the assembly line, and we’re worse for it.  This is how it is with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.

What does being rich toward God look like? Well, it looks like the parable Peter Rollins wrote called “Salvation for a Demon.” It goes like this.

In the center of a once-great city there stood a magnificent cathedral that was cared for by a kindly old priest who spent his days praying in the vestry and caring for the poor. His hospitality was famous and his heart was known to be pure. No one could steal from the old man, for he considered no possession his own, and while the thieves sometimes left that place with items pillaged from the sanctuary, the priest never grew concerned: He had given everything to God and knew that these people needed such items more than the church did.

Once, while the priest was praying there was a loud and ominous knock. Upon opening the door, he was surprised to find a terrifying demon towering over him with large dead eyes and rotting flesh.

“Old man,” the demon hissed, “I have traveled many miles to seek your shelter. Will you welcome me in?”

Without hesitation, the priest bid this hideous demon welcome and beckoned him into the church. The demon then proceeded to tear down the icons that adorned the walls and rip up the fine linens all while screaming blasphemy and curses.

During this time the priest knelt silently on the floor and continued in his devotions until it was time for him to retire for the night.

“Old man,” cried the demon, “where are you going now?”

“I’m going home to rest, for it has been a long day,” replied the kindly priest.

“May I come with you?” spat the demon. “I too am tired and in need of a place to lay my head.”

At home, the priest prepared food while the evil demon mocked him and broke the various religious artifacts that adorned the humble dwelling. After the meal, the demon said, “old man, you welcomed me first into your church and then into your house. I have one more request for you: will you now welcome me into your heart?”

“Why, of course,” said the priest, “what I have is yours and what I am is yours.”

This heartfelt response brought the demon to a standstill, for by giving everything the priest had retained the very thing that the demon sought to take. For the demon was unable to rob him of his kindness and his hospitality, his love and his compassion. And the great demon left in defeat, never to return.

What happened to that demon after this meeting is anyone’s guess. Some say that while he left the place empty-handed he received more than he could have ever imagined.

And the priest? He simply ascended the stairs, got into bed and drifted off to sleep, all the time wondering what guise his Christ would take next.[2]

We say we welcome, love, and serve. That’s not something I came up with but y’all did in 2013. Often, there are conditions to our hospitality, conditions that include politeness, respect, and covering our true motives and emotions.

What good is it if you love those who love you? Asks Jesus in Luke 6:32, even the sinners do that. Yet Jesus welcomes in the outsiders and includes the excluded. Even the demons know his name and what he’s about. It sounds utterly impossible doesn’t it? We selfishly want to protect our carpets and drywall and building. But what does it exist for? All of this was created for us. Our ancestors gifted us with their time, talent, and treasure with this fine building and grounds. It is not mine. It’s not yours. It is all of ours and it doesn’t exist for itself. It exists for us and our community.

The moment this place becomes about the budget, the carpet, or MY way, we miss it. Our mission is to  welcome, love, and serve people. Everything goes toward that end. Why do we have carpet? For people to walk on it and wear it out and spill things on it. If we have pristine carpet, it means we don’t have enough people here. We have the wrong perspective.

Plus this carpet is not ours. Nor is the building. We’re stewards of it. It’s ours for now, but it belongs to those who came before and those who will come after. And after doesn’t mean the teens and youth—it’s theirs now. I’m talking about our children’s children.

I think with such an openness we just might attract some demons who want to mess with things. We’ll invite them in and they’ll see themselves out. Don’t worry about the demons. Focus instead on all the new friends who will join. We get to learn their life stories and they’d add to ours. We’ll steward this place well. Add to it. Get what our people need.

We do that not by storing up riches and emotionally manipulating you. That’s not stewardship. That is extraction. I have no interest in that. Stewardship is always an invitation. If there is a need, I just ask, and y’all give.

Here’s a big ask. We’ve hired a music director. We’re in the end stages of bringing on an associate. We have enough in our bank for around 1 year for the associate. So this will be a stretch for us. I am also the only full-time employee, aside from this associate. I’d love to bring on a full-time custodian who does maintenance and maybe even handles our building use for weddings, funerals, small businesses, art camps, events, and more. Not to mention Cathy, Stacie, Nicole, Cindy, and Jeff and maybe one or more of them going full time.

I mention this hypothetically not to build up coffers. Not for my glory, but for our future. We don’t need a private jet, we need someone to take out the trash. We don’t need an expansion to make this a stadium, we need to retain our amazing staff. We don’t need a million-dollar budget, we need enough of one to maintain this building, provide for our community, and be about the mission of feeding, clothing, and housing folk who may never attend here.

We are thriving and strong. And now is the time to invest in the future of our church. To give of our time and talent to our oncoming music director. To give of our treasure to ensure the retention of our staff and the hiring of an associate pastor. To tell of what you’re finding here to your friends and share on social media what you find meaningful here. People are looking for meaning and ways to be rich toward God. We are welcoming, loving, and serving. This isn’t about us, it’s about building God’s kingdom here so it’s in Medina as it is in heaven. Take a look at your stewardship, and prayerfully consider how you can give to our goals here to strengthen the work being done here.

We seek to invite rich and poor, young and old, faithful and faithless to be rich toward God. We are dedicated to human thriving. We don’t do this for our own sake or to hold power over others. We exist to give ourselves and our gifts away and see what guise our Christ will take next.

Works Cited

[1] Fight with Tools, by the Flobots

[2] The Orthodox Heretic and other impossible tales pages 24-27.

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