18 Sunday C - Riches and Greed

Opening Story:

-not against investment, not against money or riches
-wealth>dependence on one’s own ability>sense of power>arrogance>Howard Hughes: worth $5B when he died; his frame had shrunk from 6.4 to 6.1 and into 80 lbs. No one mourned him except Las Vegas –kept a 1 minute silence.

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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration 

My friends in Christ, our culture is one where sudden death rarely visits us and where we are encouraged to place our trust in material wealth as never before. But today we have the stark reminder that this world is passing. A moment will come when this life is no more. It is that moment that calibrates our value system of what is true wealth: a vast hoard of money, or riches in God’s sight. Let us reflect on our values, on where we place our trust, and ask for mercy.

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Michel de Verteuil
General Textual comments 

The passage is in several sections:
– verses 13 and 14: a dialogue between Jesus and the man;
– verse 15: a teaching on avarice;.
– verses 16 to 21: a parable with its explanation. 

If you decide to meditate on the dialogue, you can identify with Jesus, the leader who refuses to play games with people, or the man, whom we will recognise as ourselves when we pray (or relate with people) from self-interest.

The teaching on avarice is imaginative, as Jesus’ teachings always are. You might like to ask yourself who has been Jesus in your life.

The parable has two moments, each of which can unveil reality to you. There is the moment when the man decided to build bigger barns, and the one when God called him. This second moment has two aspects: his souls was demanded of him, and he had to face the question, “This hoard of yours, whose will it be?”

The brief interpretation in verse 21 seems simple at first reading, but personal meditation can reveal how deep it really is.

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Gospel Notes

This passage, the parable of the Rich Fool, is found only in Luke’s gospel, but draws together some basic elements from the Wisdom tradition on the foolishness of placing final trust in the security of material possession. This wisdom tradition is more sophisticated than the proverbial ‘You can’t take it with you’ or There are no pockets in a shroud’ which could be simply be a variant on ‘Eat, drink, for tomorrow we will be dead’ (cf 1 Cc 15:32). Rather the purpose of the wisdom is that one im that one can have control over one’s environment or that mal advantages bring long-term security. In the face of the contingency of human life, and of matter, the wise person has to place their long-term trust in God.

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Sean Goan
Gospel Notes 

At the start of this gospel text Jesus refuses to get involved in a family squabble over an inheritance. It is not his role to be a legislator; his role is to proclaim the vision of God’s kingdom and in the parable which he tells we see the connection between the problem he was asked to solve and that kingdom, for it is on the theme of greed or avarice. The man in the story is troubled because he might not be able to take full advantage of the harvest he has enjoyed. In his discussion with himself it is interesting to notice how many times the words ‘I’ and ‘my’ are found. He is totally self-obsessed and so excludes God and neighbour in his reasoning. In this situation he is not prepared for the ultimate reality, his own death. Jesus points to the meaning of the parable by contrasting the idea of building up riches for oneself with that of being rich in what matters most: one’s relationship with God. 

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Homily Notes

1. Going to extremes is always easy; and preaching extremes has an elegant simplicity as every demagogue knows. Striking a balance and acting with wisdom and prudence is more diffi¬cult and more tiring. Today we have to reflect on one of these tensions: between possessing in this life, and having’ treasure in the Sight of God’. The tension can be expressed in any num¬ber of ways: between care of this life and care of the life to come; having concern for the creation and concern for eternity. It is the great ‘either / or’ of umpteen sermons.

2. But this gospel avoids making one extreme the position of Jesus. The one who has gone to the extreme is the man in the parable. He is a fool because he has concentrated on the earthly at the expense of the heavenly.

3. Let us think about the extremes for a moment. One extreme is to be so wholly focused on heaven that one is ‘no earthly use’. The other extreme is to be so enmeshed in material pursuits that one becomes just another material object. The first gives away everything, but human poverty might be just as great after this extreme gesture as before. The other is indif¬ferent to human suffering and poverty, and the world is as badly off after that person as before.

4.The really difficult calling of the whole church and of each of us individually is to embrace the tension, and seek to wisely judge between extremes each day. This is not only the wis¬dom of prudence, but it is more difficult because it calls on us to think about situations carefully, and it is tiring for we have to keep at the task day-in and day-out.

5. We have to find the balances between:

Love of Self / Love of Others
Appreciating the material creation/Knowing its limited existence

Bodily health/Penance
Service to neighbour / Prayer and Reflection
Enjoying God’s gifts/Fasting
Liturgy as ritual/Liturgy as working for justice
‘Both-and’ is more demanding than ‘either-or’

6. The ecological movement has a great slogan: ‘Think Global; Act Local.’ We as Christians can wholly endorse the idea: we have to keep the big picture in mind (the creation comes from God and is returning to him – that is our version of ‘Thinking global’); but while we are within the process of living in this world, we have to pay careful attention to the demands for our responsible action that are close to hand (action in the creation here and now is our’ Acting local’).

7. It would be useful if Christians could come up with a slogan to go alongside ‘Think Global; Act Local’; the best I can think of is: ‘Think of Heaven; Work on Earth’ – perhaps your as¬sembly could come up with a really snappy slogan.

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Scripture Prayer: 

Lord, forgive us for the times when we make prayer
an occasion for getting you to tell our brothers
to give us a share of our inheritance,
as if you were some kind of high court judge or arbitrator of our claims.

“The ultimate purpose of trade and industry is to serve our fellow human beings by creating goods and services to meet their needs.”  George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury

Lord, we pray that your Church may always be the voice of Jesus in our modern world,
challenging our contemporaries to watch and be on their guard
against avarice of any kind,
and reminding them that our lives are not made secure by what we own,
even when we have more than we need. 

“Materialism has failed as an ideology in the East, but it has certainly triumphed as a matter of practice in the West.”   President Havel of Czechoslovakia
Lord, we thank you for those few world leaders who are the voice of Jesus in our day,
calling us to watch and be on our guard  against avarice of every kind.

 The continued greed of the wealthy nations will certainly call down on them the wrath of the poor, with consequences no one can foretell.”  Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio

Lord, the wealthy nations of the world have had good harvests from their land,
they have pulled down their barns and built bigger ones,
storing their grain and their goods in them.

They think that they have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come
and so they can take things easy, drink and have a good time.
But the time will surely come when the poor nations of the world
will demand to be treated as members of the human family,
and that great hoard of goods, whose will it be then? 

“The  Cross is the power of truth. It exposes the ultimate futility of relationships based on fear, manipulation and violence.”  Bishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle

Lord, we remember a time when something terrible happened to us
– a death in the family;
– we were humiliated in front of our friends;
– we discovered how jealous we were.

Truly our souls were being demanded of us.
We realized then that we are not made secure by what we own,
that the treasures we store up for ourselves are really worthless.
We thank you that at that moment we felt poor and very vulnerable,
but also very rich because we knew that you looked on us with love.

“Hell is not to love any more.”   Dorothy Day
Lord, the worst experience in the whole world
is to have a demand made for our souls
and then to realize that we have stored up treasures for ourselves
in place of making ourselves rich in your sight. 

“By admitting death into our lives we enlarge and enrich them.“  Etty Hillesum, Jewish woman who died in a concentration camp, 1943

Lord, remind us always of that dread moment when you will say to us:
“This very night demand will be made of your soul.”
When our horizons are not limited by the big barns
in which we have stored our grain and all our goods,
we can become truly rich.
 “We cannot allow the politicians to cloud our vision and promote their disruptive policies, as it would lead to our destruction.”   Lloyd Best, Trinidad economist

Lord, help us to stand up to leaders whose main interest is building big barns
in which to store all their grain and goods,
thinking they have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come,
when all the time they are destroying the tolerance
that has made us a wealthy nation in your sight.

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Homily – 1 : John Speekman

This hoard of yours...

Are you a hoarder or, at least, do you have hoarder tendencies? Lots of people do, you know. It’s a baffling urge which the psychologists tell us has its origins in insecurity. Personally, and I’m no expert, I believe hoarding, like most personality dysfunctions, has its origins in our fear of death.

However right or wrong that may be we all know that hoarding is such a problem in our society that they are making all sorts of reality TV shows about it.

People hoard all kinds of things. Imelda Marcos, it seems, had a thing about shoes. Others collect old newspapers, bottle tops, canned food, animals, clothes, or cutlery. Some collect popularity, power, prestige or just plain old ordinary cash. It doesn’t really matter what is being collected it just seems that having a lot of it is somehow ‘comforting’.

But hoarding has another dimension. It is not simply the collecting of items – it is also the inability to part with them. Hoarding is all about me. All those things I’ve hoarded are mine, and not yours.

This is why the final question of Jesus is such a painful taunt to the hoarder: and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?

Hoarding, then, is not just a harmless affirmation of self, it is – consciously or unconsciously – a rejection of the other. Count the number of first person pronouns in these few lines:

What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops ... This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.

Even the word you which is used only once is directed to the self. Where the ‘other’ should stand only the ‘I’ can be found. Tragically the hoarder of the gospel has become an icon of all hoarders, amassing for himself and speaking to himself.

With startling energy Jesus cries out: Fool...! You can almost see the man jump! He is right in the middle of the process of making a decision about his future life. He believes he has it all worked out: This is what I will do; and Jesus cries, 'Fool!'

It is to this groundless confidence that Jesus directs his cry. This very night the demand will be made for your soul. In other words ‘Fool, you may store up grain, you may store up goods, but you can’t store up years because they are stored in my barn not yours. And tonight there are no more left for you.’

Let us not forget that Jesus speaks this teaching, this warning, to all who live totally absorbed in the here-and-now, wrapped up in comforting material illusions without any thought at all for God or for others.

Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.

These are words of life spoken by the author of all life. They are full of wisdom and light and the wise take them seriously: A man’s life is not made secure by what he owns.

Undoubtedly we all seek security. It is a natural instinct. And we are all, to varying degrees, afraid of death, the ultimate source of insecurity. Jesus knows this about us and he knows of our hapless tendency to grasp at anything, anything at all, which we suspect might make us feel less the insecurity which comes with being alive.

The more insecure the world becomes the more common becomes the phenomenon of hoarding. And it doesn’t matter if what we collect is hundred dollar bills, fame, or old newspapers, it’s still hoarding and it’s still a waste of time. It does not and cannot make us safe.

Real safety is assured only by making ourselves rich in the sight of God. To do this we must change our basic orientation to the passing material things of this world, none of which, ultimately, are worth collecting.

St Paul’s counsel is invaluable: ...look for the things that are in heaven ... Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth.

To this we may add the words of the psalm: Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart. Then we may rejoice with the alleluia verse: How happy are the poor in spirit: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
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Homilies (ACP)-2

If I were a rich man

“What does it profit one to have gained the whole world, and to have lost or ruined his self?” (Lk 9:25). “For our life is not made secure by what we own, even when we have more than we need” (Lk 12:15). The gospel is emphatic that a truly meaningful life cannot be achieved merely by heaping up material goods. The rich man in today’s story thought that his future was secure, and that his existence was totally in his own hands. It must have come as quite a shock to him to be reminded that life on earth is God’s to give and God’s to take away. But maybe many of us feel a certain sneaking admiration and sympathy for this industrious man. Deep in our human nature there is in all of us some streak of greed and covetousness, wanting to own things at all costs.

Perhaps greed is linked to a lack of love, and many people try to fill that voice with all kinds of possessions and celebrity. There is ample evidence of this in today’s world which surrounds us on every side with the clamour of the rat-race, an obsessive scramble to get up in the world by fair means or foul, strident demands by some sections of society for greater remuneration for their services, backed by the threat of crippling strikes if these demands are not met. But the message of Jesus calls us to moderate such self-seeking. In his parable he suggests that, at some time or other, each of us must face the question put to the Rich Fool: What are my hopes for the life hereafter?

The rich fool put all his energies into piling riches upon riches. The other extreme is one that sees no value in working at all. “Why bother working when life is so short, and we can be fed at other people’s expense”? is the attitude which was found among some communities of the early Church, when people thought that the second coming of Christ was at hand. And on this matter Saint Paul, usually so preoccupied with spiritual matters, shows himself as a realist. “If anyone refuses to work,” he told them bluntly, “he should not eat.”

Virtue is often the golden mean, the middle path between two extremes. Our attitude to wealth and property must reflect this in some way. On the one hand we have Christ’s total giving of himself. He came into the world in a place used to house animals; he departed from the world possessing nothing, having been stripped even of his clothes before his crucifixion. But during our lives we stand in need of worldly goods, a place to live and money to live on. And there are many ways to use money responsibly. A rich person who uses his wealth to provide worthwhile employment for others, is doing better person in the eyes of God than one who claims to believe the gospel message but refuses to use our God-given talents for the welfare of those with whom we finds himself involved.

We lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven, not only through loving God in our inmost heart but also by love of neighbour.

In order to really play our part in life we must be determined, as the second reading urges, and “kill” the vices which are in us, especially greed which is like worshipping a false god. And nothing can better bring us to understand the relativity of money than that stark gospel question, “This pile of yours, when death comes knocking, whose shall it be?’

Thou Fool!

Has the parable of the rich fool anything to say to us in today’s world of economics? Can we afford to ignore the financial advisors and make no provision for the distant future? Indeed, one wonders whether any Christian community has ever put this parable into practice. Even the young Church in Jerusalem, for all its disinterestedness in the goods of this world, had such economic worries that it had to appoint certain people to deal with the distribution of alms, so that others could devote themselves to the ministry of the word.

It is important to understand the parable correctly. The rich man’s fault was not in planning ahead; he was perfectly right to provide for what we would call “the rainy day.” Where he went wrong was in thinking only of himself, of his personal comfort and well-being. He forgot the responsibility we all have to the community at large, – in dealing with property, work and our planning for the future. It is only when we live and work in a kind of social and family solidarity that our life and work fit in with God’s plan for us.

The last sentence of the parable conveys the mind of Jesus: one must not store up treasure for oneself, but seek to be rich in the sight of God. What does this mean? Later (Lk 12:31-34) it becomes clear: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be yours as well. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”

To seek the Kingdom of God means more than just taking part in worship. It includes the service of others. demanded by membership of the Church. By giving of oneself we make treasure in heaven and become rich in the sight of God. The fault in the man who came to Jesus with the grievance against his brother, and likewise in the rich fool, was that they were thinking of nobody hut themselves, whereas the Kingdom of God is reached by sharing one another’s burdens. Whatever we give to others is not lost, but becomes treasure for eternity, drawing us forward into the Kingdom.

Vanity Of Vanities

Poverty breeds its own virtues. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” For the generation who grew up after the great depression of the thirties and the rationing of the Second World War, the great virtue was “waste not, want not.” Life then seemed to be one great salvage operation. There was a Jacob’s biscuit tin on every mantle-piece, where all sorts of bits and pieces were stored, like buttons and safety-pins and pieces of string. It was a hold all wherein was stored the wherewithal to repair the wear and tear of daily life. Hoarding then was a virtuous necessity rather than a vice. Garbage disposal was no problem then. Most things had disintegrated long before they got that far. Even the ashes from the fire were used in the garden to kill slugs and worms in the rhubarb patch. Clothes were patched and woollen socks were darned out of recognition and when they could no longer be worn they began life anew as dusters and mops. Toilet paper had not been invented then; yesterday’s newspaper served the purpose more than adequately. For those who came in the middle of families, most of their clothes were hand-me-downs. Sizes tended to be approximate rather than exact. Hems alternated between being “let down” or “turned up.”

Nowadays we are locked into a consumerist society and the era of the disposable. Cities and governments spend millions on the collection and disposal of waste. Garbage bags figure on every shopping list. Television shows us harrowing pictures of children and families, foraging for survival in the public dumps of Rio de Janeiro and Manila. Whole shanty-towns have grown up round them. It is a vivid illustration of the ever-widening gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots’, between our avarice and their destitution.

Governments and businesses vie with each other in promoting avarice in their citizens and customers. It is promoted like one of the civic virtues. The good of the economy depends upon it. The Lotto is a national craze. And lest we might suffer from tweaks of conscience occasionally, we are reassured by the list of hospitals and other charitable institutions who benefit from our avariciousness. But avarice is one of the seven deadly sins, “deadly” because it spawns a host of other sins. No one who reads a newspaper can doubt that. The litany of political scandals make daily headlines. Government ministers in Italy, France and England have recently resigned or been sacked and even arrested for taking bribes. The Mafia and drug-barons are laughing all the way to the bank.

St Paul puts it bluntly in the epistle: “That is why you must kill everything in you that belongs to the earthly life, and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god.” “You can’t take it with you” was a common expression one time in Ireland about money. Which proves, if it proves nothing else, that the Irish knew their gospel. “Fool, this night do I require your soul of thee.” For those who seek God, the church has always recommended poverty, chastity and obedience – and in that order. The hand that reaches out for God must be empty.

Rich, but not Wealthy?

Today Jesus speaks of the riches of heaven, as compared to earthly riches. “There’s no pocket in the shroud” is a good old Irish saying. As with the Beatitudes, he is speaking about the poor in spirit. In other words, I could have a lot of wealth, but it does not possess me, nor am I enslaved by it.

It took me many years to distinguish between being rich and being wealthy. I was confusing riches with money. I didn’t understand that riches and richness has nothing to do with money. As a family, I thought we were fairly poor, but it was many years later when I discovered just how rich we were. When I came to work with people who were wealthy, and I discovered just how poor they were, it was quite an eye-opener for me.

In his story Jesus tells us about something we all know too well. The first million will never satisfy! It may be the most difficult to make, but it can generate a compulsion to accumulate, and I can become driven with the needs to go one better. Once again, it is a failure to distinguish between wealth and riches. Some of the richest people I know have little of this world’s goods. There are no greater riches than a loving, kind heart. Money couldn’t buy the gifts that bring happiness.

It is such a simple lesson, but I will never learn it if I refuse to open my heart. When I die, I will have to let go of everything. I was at the bedside of a wealthy woman when she died. She had a well-merited reputation for minding the pennies; she had no family of her own; and there was no shortage of interest as to where her wealth was going to go. (“Where there’s a will, there are relatives!’). One of the staff whispered “I wonder how much did she leave?”, and with a touch of cynicism another replied, “She left everything.”

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Homily – Connections: 3

 THE WORD:

Rabbis were often asked to arbitrate conflicts within families and communities.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus has been approached to settle such an argument over an inheritance.  Jesus responds not by taking sides but by addressing the greed that has brought both sides to near blows.  He tells the parable of the rich man who, in the midst of his good fortune, loses his sense of what is really important.  Possessions create the illusion that we can control our lives; the drive for gain makes us oblivious to the needs and dreams of others.  The “foolish” rich man in today’s Gospel sadly discovers that wealth in the reign of God has nothing to do with stock portfolios, bank accounts or the social register.
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 HOMILY POINTS:

We tend to live our lives believing that there will always be enough time to right our wrongs and to atone for our negligence and insensitivities to others -- but, in fact, our days are numbered, death is an inevitability for all of us. 

We are often as short-sighted as the rich farmer in today’s Gospel: we can become so self-centered and self-sufficient that we shut ourselves off from the seemingly simple aspects of life in which we find the love and presence of God. 

Faith is the constant awareness that life is not a destination in itself but a journey to God and that death is the final passageway.

Our lives are not about amassing fortunes or achieving great celebrity -- our lives are about finding and embracing selfless and affirming love, about discovering how to love one another as God loves us: totally and completely, without condition nor limit.

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Homily -4
by Fr. Tommy Lane 

There was a wealthy landowner who lived in the Scottish Highlands. He had a stately mansion overlooking a beautiful valley. But there was a basic emptiness in his life. He had no religious belief, he lived alone, possessed by his possessions.

In the gate lodge at the entrance to his estate lived John his farm manager. John was a man of simple faith and deep religious commitment. With his family John was a regular church-goer, the Lord’s presence was a reality in his home and often at night the landowner noticed John’s family on their knees in prayer.

One morning the landowner was looking out on the valley. As he gazed on the beautiful scene he was saying to himself, ‘It is all mine’ when he heard the doorbell ringing. Going down he found John on the door step. ‘What’s the matter John?’ he asked.’ John looked embarrassed. ‘Sir, could I have a word with you?’

‘Sir,’ said John hesitantly, ‘last night I had a dream, and in it the Lord told me that the richest man in the valley would die tonight at midnight. I felt you should know’.

The landowner dismissed him, but John’s words kept bothering him, so much so that at eleven o’clock he took out his car and went to the local doctor for a complete check-up. The doctor examined him, pronounced him fit as a fiddle and said he’d give him another twenty years. The landowner was relieved but a lingering doubt caused him to invite the doctor around. They enjoyed a meal together and shortly after 11.30 the doctor got up to leave but the landowner prevailed on him to remain on.

Eventually when midnight passed and he was still in the land of the living he saw the doctor to the door and then went up the stairs muttering, ‘Silly old John…upset my whole day… him and his dreams!’

No sooner was he in bed when he heard the doorbell ringing. It was 12.30. Going down he found a grief-stricken girl at the door whom he recognized instantly as John’s teenage daughter.

‘Sir,’ she said, looking at him through her tears, ‘Mammy sent me to tell you that Daddy died at midnight.’ The landowner froze as it was suddenly made clear to him who was the richest man in the valley. 

(This is an abbreviated version of the story of the Scottish landowner which I found in Stories for Preachers  pages 77-80 by James A. Feehan, used here with his permission and published by Mercier Press.) 

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose
Near restful waters he leads me
to revive my drooping spirit.  

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ILLUSTRATIONS:

1.         Home ownership 

Two families asked the village’s rabbi to settle a dispute about the boundaries of their land.

The rabbi listened to the members of one family recount how they inherited the land from their ancestors and how it had been in the family for many generations; they produced maps and papers to prove their claim.

Then the rabbi listened to the other family describe how they had lived on the land for many years, working it and harvesting it.  They claimed that they knew the land intimately; they had no papers to prove their claim, only their calloused hands and sore backs and the harvest they reaped the land.

After presenting their cases, the families said, “Decide, rabbi, who owns this land.”

The rabbi said nothing.  He knelt down on the land and put his ear to the ground.  He listened for some time.  He then stood up and said to the families, “I have listened to both of you, but I had to listen to the land, the center of the dispute, and the land has spoken.  It has told me this:  ‘Neither of you owns the land you stand on.  It is the land that owns you.’”

[Megan McKenna, Parables: The Arrows of God.]

We, too, can be “owned” by the things we think we own:  We become so obsessed with obtaining the most elegant home, the newest car and the smartest clothes that our possessions own us, taking all of our time and energy to buy and maintain them.  All three of today’s readings warn of the futility of the “vain” pursuit of wealth and celebrity.  The most tragic kind of poverty is the emptiness of a life filled with things but possessing nothing of God.  Christ calls us to “set our minds on the things of God” -- love, forgiveness, compassion, gratitude.
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2.         Andrew Greeley: 

Once upon a time there was a daddy who had made a lot of money in the stock market (he had also made a lot of money in the commodity markets too). For every dollar he had invested in 1994, he now had ten dollars. Starting with a rather modest amount of money, he had become a millionaire. However, he as not the kind of person who could make his investments and stick with them because he knew that in the long run they would continue to grow. Quite the contrary, he was a real investor, that is to say, he bought and sold stocks almost every day to make money even more rapidly than did the ordinary investor who left it to his brokers and advisers to watch the daily opportunities.  

 Our hero earned his living – and it was a good one – in other areas. However, he became obsessed with the daily fluctuations in the market. He exulted when his holdings went up, and grew depressed when they went down. He called up the DJA on his computer several times every day and then explored his portfolio in detail. WELL, he went on vacation with his family and of course brought his laptop along. It happened to be one of those times when the DJA rose and fell like the tides. So he spent most of his daylight hours on his laptop. 

 As a result he wasted his vacation, even though the weather was beautiful every day, the lake was warm, the winds were light, and everyone else in his family had a wonderful time.
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3.         We have everything we need but do not see what God has given us

A legend tells the story of a fisherman called Aaron. Aaron lived on the banks of a river. Walking home with his eyes half-closed one evening after a hard day's work, he was dreaming of what he could do if he were rich. As he walked his foot struck against a leather pouch filled with what seemed to him to be small stones. Absentmindedly he picked up the pouch and began throwing the pebbles into the water. "When I am a rich man," he said to himself, "I'll have a large house". And he threw another pebble into the river. He threw another one and thought, "My wife and I will have servants and rich food, and many fine things". And this went on until just one stone was left. As Aaron held it in his hand, a ray of light caught it and made it sparkle. He then realized that is was a valuable gem. He be had been throwing away the real riches in his hand, while he dreamed of unreal riches in the future." This legend summarizes the situation of many Christians. We have been given everything we need or could want, it has been placed in our hands, and we have been invited to enjoy it. But for some reason we do not look into our hands, we do not take what God has given us, and actually use it. Instead we dream of the day when we will be richly blessed, we dream of the day when the joy of the banquet will be ours.

(found this story in Rev RJ Fairchild's homily for 28th Sunday of Year A)

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4.         Comedian Jack Benny: 

from TV's Golden age, had a skit which illustrated how we place money ahead of everything. He is walking down the street when suddenly he is approached by an armed robber, "Your money or your life!" There is a long pause. Jack does nothing. The robber impatiently queried, "Well?" Jack replied, "Don't rush me, I'm thinking it over." 

This morning I would like us to think a few moments about our money and our life. Let's see what Jesus has to say about these two subjects. 

The background for our story is an incident that occurred in Galilee as Jesus was teaching to a large crowd. A young man called out from the crowd and said: Rabbi, tell my brother to divide the inheritance of our father." Now, Jewish law clearly prescribed that at the death of a father, the elder son received 2/3 of the inheritance, and the young son received 1/3. This is obviously a younger son who is complaining about the inherent unfairness of it all. Nothing will divide brothers and sisters more than dividing up an estate. So it was then, and so it is now. Jesus refused to get involved in a petty family squabble. 

Jesus was concerned, however, with the larger implications of preoccupation with the things of this world. He said: Beware of greed, for life does not consist of things possessed. The sum total of a person's life is more than their financial portfolio.

He then illustrated this point by telling a story. There was once a man who had an unbroken run of prosperity. In today's language, he had successfully played the commodities market. So prosperous did he become that his barns could not hold all of his crops. His solution was to tear down these barns and build bigger and better barns. Then, with his financial security in hand, he could sit back and truly enjoy life. His philosophy was: eat, drink, and be merry. 

Truth be told, when we hear this story we find ourselves rather envious of this man. A financially successful man-we see him as savvy and wise. Yet, Jesus concluded the story by saying that this man was a fool. 

The issue before us this morning is then: what did this man do wrong? ...
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5.         How many of us have a garage  

that can no longer be parked anymore because it is filled up with so much other "stuff?" 

How many of us have an off-site storage unit because we have too much "stuff" to keep in our homes, so we arrange for visitation rights to see our "stuff?"

The late comedian George Carlin famously did an entire monologue on this "stuff" - proclaiming that the "meaning of life is trying to find a place to put your stuff" and that "A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff." That sounds like a pretty good description of houses that empty out at 5 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, "Black Friday," as everyone hits the early bird, before-Christmas sales.  

Funny stuff. But not funny are the TV "reality" shows that feature what happens to all that "stuff." First, there is "Storage Wars," where confiscated storage lockers (the original owners are either dead or unable to pay storage fees any longer) go on the auction block. After the locks have been cut, there is a bidding war among the "stuff scavengers" hoping to make a profit off of left behind stuff.  

Second, there is the loser version of that scene called "Storage Nightmares," where the proud new owner of an abandoned storage unit discovers the "stuff" that was treasured and kept by someone else is nothing but weird and worthless junk.

Third are the truly tragic programs detailing the lives of "Hoarders." The "hoarders" who are highlighted live lives swallowed up by their "stuff." Unable to throw anything away, their whole identity, and I mean every aspect of their life, is defined by their collected piles of stuff. Unless they are surrounded, indeed drowning, in their "stuff," their lives have no meaning. 

Think you are not "stuff prone" or "stuff inclined?" Do you have an online automatic back-up system? Does your computer send everything you file to the all-knowing and all-saving "Cloud" so that you don't ever lose any of your on-line "stuff?" Even if you don't have boxes of odd papers, old clothes, broken tools, or raggedy toys squirreled away in some physical storage space, chances are you've got old files, months of e-mails, forgettable photos, and just general information, all stacked on your electronic "stuff"--and all safely crated and cared for by some electronic gatekeeper and security system. No matter how high tech your "treasures" might be, they are still "stuff."

Richard Meier, in his first collection of poetry entitled Misadventure (2012), has a poem called "Sky Sports" in which the gods "who can see feelings" watch us on our planet splatting each other paint-ball-style with projected envy, greed, lust, etc., marveling all the while "at this deft/gift of ours for shifting misery/that makes such great viewing." 

In today's gospel text parable Jesus makes it all too clear how "life" and "stuff" are not one and the same...
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6.         Forfeiting Freedom 

I was intrigued to read recently of a family that put up a hummingbird feeder with four feeding stations (similar to one that hangs outside our kitchen window). Almost immediately it became popular with the hummingbirds that lived in the area. Two, three, or even four birds would feed at one time. The feeder would be refilled at least once a day.  

Suddenly the usage decreased to almost nothing. The feeder needed filling only about once a week. The reason for the decreased usage soon became apparent. A male bird had taken over the feeder as his property. He was now the only hummingbird who used it. He would feed and then sit in a nearby tree, rising to attack any bird that approached his feeder. Guard duty occupied his every waking hour. He was an effective guard. The only time another bird got to use the feeder was when the self-appointed owner was momentarily gone to chase away an intruder.  

That hummingbird was teaching a valuable lesson. By choosing to assume ownership of the feeder, he forfeited his freedom. He was no longer free to come and go as he wished. He was tied to the work of guarding his feeder, his STUFF. He was possessed by his possession

David E. Leininger
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7.         Making the Situation Worse

When I was a kid, I was often ravaged by poison ivy. The key to poison ivy, once you have it, is not to scratch. Restraining yourself is hard, for your skin itches and you want relief. But scratching only makes poison ivy worse.  

Avarice works the same way. We get infected, and we want to scratch, although we know we shouldn't do so. Possessing more and more promises relief, but only makes the situation worse. We keep scratching, but it's no solution.

Jesus issues a warning, a warning inspired by a squabble over inheritance, but one that all of us need to hear. He says: "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." 

Clarence Jordan's translation of this verse brings out its original earthiness. Here's what Jesus says according to Jordan: "You all be careful and stay on your guard against all kinds of greediness. For a person's life is not for the piling up of possessions."

In these few words, Jesus rejects much of what keeps our society humming. He warns us against greed, avarice, the desire to possess more than we need, more than we can use, more than we want.  

Charles Hoffacker, Avarice: The Disease and Its Cure
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8.         The Dollars Are in the Way 

Henry Ford once asked an associate about his life goals. The man replied that his goal was to make a million dollars. A few days later Ford gave the man a pair of glasses made out of two silver dollars. He told the man to put them on and asked what he could see. "Nothing," the man said. "The dollars are in the way." Ford told him that he wanted to teach him a lesson: If his only goal was dollars, he would miss a host of greater opportunities. He should invest himself in serving others, not simply in making money.

That's a great secret of life that far too few people discover. Money is important. No question about that. But money is only a means by which we reach higher goals. Service to others. Obedience to God. God comes to the rich man and says, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" The answer was clear. The rich man had put his trust in things. Now he was leaving these things behind.  

King Duncan
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9.         Rich in Things, Poor in Soul 

This is how I see our situation today: We're killing ourselves on junk food - we watch mindless drivel on TV with vulgar displays of sexuality and horrific scenes of violence; we listen to endless chatter on the radio with never-ending conflict and criticism; we chase after every conceivable form of entertainment and pleasure; all the while, coming up empty and, ironically, craving for more. 

We're like children in a video arcade - no matter how many quarters or tokens you give them, when the last game's over, they always ask for "just one more." There's no end to it. In the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick, we're "rich in things and poor in soul."

What's the answer? The answer is that we need to get back to the basics and re-establish our priorities. In a word, we need to put God first. We need to follow the Great Commandment, to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." (Mt. 22:37-39) It's as simple as that: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." (Mt. 6:33) 

Philip W. McLarty, The Parable of the Rich Fool
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10.       How Wealthy Are We? 

From the standpoint of material wealth, we Americans have difficulty realizing how rich we are. Robert Heilbroner, who has written dozens of books on the subject of the economy, suggest that we go through a little mental exercise that will help us count our blessings. Imagine doing the following, and you will see how daily life is for more than a billion people in the world.

1. Take out all the furniture in your home except for one table and a couple of chairs. Use blanket and pads for beds.
2. Take away all of your clothing except for your oldest dress or suit, shirt or blouse. Leave only one pair of shoes.
3. Empty the pantry and the refrigerator except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few potatoes, some onions, and a dish of dried beans.
4. Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.
5. Take away the house itself and move the family into the tool shed.
6. Place your "house" in a shantytown.
7. Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and book clubs. This is no great loss because now none of you can read anyway.
8. Leave only one radio for the whole shantytown.
9. Move the nearest hospital or clinic ten miles away and put a midwife in charge instead of a doctor.
10. Throw away your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, and insurance policies. Leave the family a cash hoard of ten dollars.
11. Give the head of the family a few acres to cultivate on which he can raise a few hundred dollars of cash crops, of which one third will go to the landlord and one tenth to the money lenders.
12. Lop off twenty-five or more years in life expectancy. 

By comparison how rich we are! And with our wealth comes responsibility. We should use it wisely, not be wasteful, and help others. 

The list comes from economist Robert Heilbroner
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If thou art rich, thou art poor, for like an ass whose back with ingots bows, thou bearest thy heavy riches but a journey, and death unloads thee. 

William Shakespeare. 

Definition: Ingot - A lump of metal, esp. of gold, silver or steel, cast in convenient form (usually oblong) for transport and storage.
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11.       Money Is Like Sea Water 

Someone asked John D. Rockefeller (of all people) "How much wealth does it take to satisfy a person?" He replied, "Just a little bit more." The Romans had a proverb: "Money is like sea water; the more you drink, the thirstier you become."

Carveth Mitchell, The Sign in the Subway
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12.       Covetousness 

Covetousness, or the desire to have more than one has (not necessarily through envy of somebody else) not only leads to strife but also expresses a fundamentally wrong philosophy of life, according to which possessions are all that really matter.

I.H. Marshall, New Bible Commentary, Revised (1970): Luke, p. 908
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13.       The Rich Man's Reward 

There is an old story about a very wealthy man who died and went to heaven. An angel guided him on a tour of the celestial city. He came to a magnificent home. "Who lives there?" asked the wealthy man. "Oh," the angel answered, "on earth he was your gardener." The rich man got excited. If this was the way gardeners live, just think of the kind of mansion in which he would spend eternity. They came to an even more magnificent abode. "Whose is this?" asked the rich man almost overwhelmed. The angel answered, "She spent her life as a missionary." The rich man was really getting excited now.

Finally they came to a tiny eight-by eight shack with no window and only a piece of cloth for a door. It was the most modest home the rich man had ever seen. "This is your home," said the angel. The wealthy man was flabbergasted. "I don't understand. The other homes were so beautiful. Why is my home so tiny?" The angel smiled sadly, "I’m sorry," he said, "We did all we could with what you sent us to work with."

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14.       Candle in the wind:  

Princes Diana’s (Diana Spencer) wedding in 1981 was watched by 750 million people and her funeral in 1997 by 2.5 billion people. At her funeral, singer Elton John brought tears to the eyes of hundreds of mourners in Westminster Abbey when he sang: ‘Candle in the Wind’. Interestingly, this song – with the line “Goodbye, Norma Rose” – was originally written for an equally glamorous woman, Norma Jeanne, who assumed the stage name ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and died on August 5, 1962, due to an overdose of sleeping pills. Diana and Marilyn share many things in common – both were beautiful and wealthy, photographed by paparazzi worldwide, yet, unhappy in marriage, and both died tragically in August aged but 36 – young icons snuffed out like candles in the wind. Ecclesiastes gives bad news for those who base their hopes on the perishable wealth and goods of this world, echoing a stark message: vanity of vanities, all is vanity! All of human life is ultimately meaningless if viewed in itself, apart from God. (Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for daily Deeds’)

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15. The Meeting

Years ago a Chicago restaurant had specially printed place mats at all its tables.
The mats were designed exclusively for the restaurant. And if you asked the waitress, she'd give you one to take home, frame, and hang on your wall.

Let me share with you the wording that appeared on those mats. It went something like this: 

"In 1923 an important meeting took place at Chicago's Edgewater Beach Hotel. Attending the meeting were the following men: 

"The president of the largest steel company, the president of the largest utility company, the president of the largest gas company, the president of the New York Stock Exchange, the president of the Bank of International Settlements, the greatest wheat speculator, the greatest bear on Wall Street, the head of the world's greatest monopoly, a member of President Harding's cabinet."

That's a pretty impressive lineup of people. Yet, 25 years later, where were those nine industrial giants? 

According to the story on the place mat, the president of the largest steel company, Charles Schwab, died a bankrupt; the president of the largest utility company, Samuel Insull, died penniless; the president of the largest gas company, Howard Hobson, had gone insane; the president of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney, was just released from prison; the bank president, Leon Fraser, died a suicide; the wheat speculator, Arthur Cutten, died penniless; The Wall Street bear, Jesse Livermore, died a suicide; the head of the world's greatest monopoly, Ivar Kruegar, died a suicide; the member of President Harding's cabinet, Albert Fall, was just given a pardon from prison so that he could die at home. 

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16. THE PARADOX OF TODAY 

Toda we have higher buildings and wider highways,
but shorter temperaments and narrower points of view.
We have bigger houses, but smaller families.
We spend more, but enjoy less; we have more medicines but less health;
We have much more food, but less nutrition.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We have finer houses, but more broken homes.
We reached the Moon and came back,
but we find it troublesome to cross our own street and meet our neighbours.

We have increased our possessions, But have reduced our values;
Many have higher incomes, but lower morals.
We have more quantity, but are short on quality, 
We have learnt to make a living; But not learnt how to live.
We have added years to life; but not life to years.
Many have more leisure, but less good fun.
We can travel long distances; but have trouble crossing the streets!

This age is a time when technology
Can bring this message to you quickly,
But only YOU can decide to act
And make a difference,

OR you can just hit the `delete' key! 

-If you have GOD in your life,
food on your table, a roof over
your head, clothes on your back,
reasonable income and, love
and faith in your heart...
Be happy and glad.  For
anything else that life can
offer is nothing more than La-La.

-People spend their youth losing health to get wealth and they spend their old age losing wealth to gain health!
-That they live as if they will never die; and die as if they had never lived
-To learn that a rich person is not one who has the most; but is one who needs the least.”