Based on Luke 12: 13-21
It feels short-sighted and incredibly selfish, to be exhausted by yet another tragedy that has barely skimmed the surface of my own life. Still, preaching another sermon around the issues of gun violence in our nation feels like walking through cement slowly drying. Each tragedy resulting in a message that becomes increasingly more difficult to walk through.
There is a spiritual fitness I am sure I lack to find myself contemplating sitting down and solidifying my position. I think, mistakenly, silence rescues us from the pain even as our faith opens our hearts to participate in a reality that demands the love of God infused into the cracks of a broken system if we are ever to have any hope of healing.
Today’s message speaks not of, or about, or against gun violence. Today’s message is the voice of Jesus rising up and retraining us to live in a world that has shackled us with false meaning and crippled us with the illusion of helplessness. Today’s message looks at a cultural beast with many heads and offers stairs to see above the fearful dictatorship of a cultural addiction called, greed.
I’ve never met the historical Jesus in person, but just from what I have read about him up to this point in my life, I would say he wouldn’t be the first person I would reach out to if I needed a rule enforced. Maybe, if I wanted a rule broken, but definitely not if I needed someone to have my back regarding a long-standing tradition that coincidently served to uphold my personal interests.
“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me!”
Knowing the landmine that the man in the crowd has just stepped in…in public, no less…the educated reader hides their faces in their hands, dreading the arrival of Jesus’ rebuke. To his credit, the man calling out from the crowd raises the question to Jesus without the benefit of a concise body of research to review. As such, he lacks the wherewithal to appropriately discern if approaching Jesus with this problem was indeed in his best interest. We predict, and then confirm, that it was not.
As embarrassing as it is to watch the man from the crowd crash and burn, at least we can assume or even pretend that the man listened and learned from Jesus’ response that day. It is harder to explain away the underlining scenario that has run on repeat since the oral recording of this interaction.
As a pastor, I have heard stories that have broken my heart and left me feeling helpless. A widow waking up to knocks on her front door from her husband’s daughters who are demanding that she move out of the house now that their father has passed. A grieving father trying to appease, to no avail, the bickering bouts of children grieving the loss of their mother. Legal battles and broken relationships over money and possessions remain as normative then as they remain today.
Although I can’t imagine myself ever fighting with my sister, or really with anyone, over an inheritance, it would be arrogant to pre-exempt myself from participation in a behavior that happens all the time. I am certain that these fights are initiated by people just like me, who never imagined that they would have such strong opinions about who gets what and what goes where. Who fail to even notice the greed they have released into the air.
– Robin Wall Kimmerer
The solution surrounded in the story that Jesus offers to the crowd that day is not the determination from a decision but a liberation into a new lifestyle. Specifically, a lifestyle in which we perceive the reality that all things belong to God; our money, our possession, our lives. Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and author, shares this lifestyle in the indigenous worldview known as the gift culture.
“It is human perception that makes the world a gift,” Kimmerer, writes. “From the viewpoint of a private property economy, the gift is deemed to be free because we obtain it free of charge, at no cost. But in the gift economy, gifts are not free. The essence of the gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity. In Western thinking, private land is understood to be a bundle of rights, whereas in a gift economy property has a bundle of responsibilities attached.”
I may or may not be in line to receive a financial inheritance, but I am already the recipient of an inheritance that binds me to a responsibility beyond measure in this world. The inheritance of Creation brought alive by the breath of a God who calls every living sentient being, Beloved. I imagine that greed, in this context, is nothing less than a gift received with the heart of entitlement and a mind void of responsibility. A person convinces themselves that they deserve or don’t need the love of the divine author of Creation. Over time, or early on, their responsibility blurs into actions that only serve themselves.
In our acceptance of the inheritance of Creation, we accept the responsibility to expand our circle of belonging and flatten our structure of worthiness. To love the creatures as Christ loved us, we make room for all of creation to experience abundant life. This vision of life as an inheritance received with great responsibility pulls us out beyond the mask of one issue and off the platform of unilateral responses and challenges us to be generous with our solutions as we push ourselves to a deeper perception of our placement in the world.
Greed accepts responsibility with victim’s hands. The burden of being superior is at times too much to bear, or so the storyline of human dominion goes. The planet as a superstore shopping spree where all things have been bought and paid for and placed conveniently for our distracted disposal. Dominion over is a dangerous theological position for a species so inclined to the lure of greed’s lull. The power of humanity’s false placement over creation breeds the extraction of resources and creatures. It empowers institutional exclusion and produces self-righteous mass shooters. Dominion over grabs for more in a narrative where there will never be enough.
Until there is too much. Too much hatred to march against, too many harmful legislative bills to battle, too many tragedies to worry about. Gun violence is one expression of violence, one product of poverty, one symptom of our division from the natural world and our distorted understanding of our placement in the unfolding of God’s vision.
Our responsibility is far beyond the need to end gun violence. Our responsibility, in response to the inheritance of Christ’s love and God’s gift of creation, is to utilize our lives to create space for peace to saturate the sandy grains of greed and form something new and beautiful. Peace looks over and works under the symptoms cultural addiction to heal wounds of the present generations and to prevent pain through the immunization of future generations. Peace rises up to a place with no shore and offers an invitation to live in loving relationship with creation as we reject the reality of extraction and consumerism at the cost of this holy inheritance.
It is neither idealistic nor simplistic to believe that our lives could transform plagues of poverty and vanquish an epidemic of violence. It is not foolish to live as though each blade of grass, each setting sun and each falling tear matter. It is a recognition of the reality that our life and all of creation with it, are a gift from God, a great inheritance from Christ, deserving of our hope that surpasses all understanding.