Stuff: Consuming as if God matters

Published: Tuesday, 19 December 2017

This sermon, the first in our series at ABC on Stuff and Consumerism, was given on 5 December by Nguyễn Hữu Trí.

Luke 12: 13 - 35                                                                                            

Today in the church liturgical calendar, we celebrate the beginning of Advent, a season of waiting to welcome the gift of God in the person of Jesus.

Our sermon series for this season is based on the small group study guide booklet from Baptist World Aid ‘The End of Greed: Consuming as if God, People and the Planet Matter’.[1] You can order a copy on the Baptist World Aid website. There may be a few available in the Office.

Today, we are going to be considering ‘Stuff - Consuming as if God matters'. Then next week Mark Purser of Baptist World Aid will look at ‘Generosity - consuming as if people matter’. Then Geoff will look at the theme of ‘justice: consuming as if the poor matter’. Keren will wrap things up before Christmas, looking at the theme of ‘care and kindness: consuming as if the planet matters’. Then at Christmas, Andrew Woff had suggested that we consume as if nothing else matters!

We live in a culture and an economic system that is based on consumption. We are told every day that we don’t have enough, that our lives are lacking, and that we need more. This time of year, our mail box is stuffed with advertising, suggesting all the stuff we could get for our loved ones this Christmas.

Celia, Noah and I visited JB-HiFi last week, to look for a gadget that would connect a microphone to Celia’s computer. As we walked out of the store, Noah was excited about something he had seen. He kept saying how his mind was “blown away”. What was it that had caused the eruption in his mind? It was discovering a new release of something called ‘Nintendo Switch Sonic Forces’! I reminded him that he received something of the sort for his last birthday, to which he replied, “This is different, this is new”.

 

What would cause your mind to be totally blown? What is new and different that you are hoping to get your hands on? Or wait in lines for hours to be the first to purchase it? Or hope that it will be wrapped up and under the Christmas tree?

I am blown away by Micah’s vision of the fulfilment of God’s kingdom in the world.

‘In days to come’ God’s sovereign rule over all creation shall be reviewed

Peoples shall stream to God’s house

    and many nations shall come and say:

‘Come, let us go to the Lord,

    that God may teach us God’s ways

    and that we may walk in God’s paths.’

 

God shall judge between many peoples,

    and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;

they shall turn their multi-billion dollar arms industry

    and their weapons of mass destructions into tools for growing food;

nation shall not wreck havoc against nation,

    neither shall they learn war any more;

 

but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,

    and no one shall make them afraid.[2]

Micah’s vision of the fulfilment of God’s kingdom involves people living with or being content with the basic necessities for life. ‘They shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees.’ It reminds me of the song in The Jungle Book:

Look for the bare necessities

The simple bare necessities

Forget about your worries and your strife

I mean the bare necessities

Old mother nature's recipes

That bring the bare necessities of life

 

While it’s a vision of the fulfilment of God’s kingdom in ‘days to come,’ it is an invitation to live into that vision now. In Micah’s time, it was literally about being content with your own land and living from what you have grown on it. Exile from the land was a result of people’s greed, of wanting more, of acquiring more land and fields, particularly through exploitation and violence. This act of robbery not only affected the peasant farmers, but also the land itself.

Micah’s vision is not something new or something that will only happen when Jesus returns. It’s a vision that was first given to the people of Israel, when they had left Egypt and were wandering in the wilderness.

God provided manna from heaven for a hungry, tired and grumpy people, who wanted to return to Egypt, because there they had had food to eat.[3] They were given three specific instructions regarding the collecting of manna from heaven. Do you remember what they were?

Firstly they were to collect only what was enough [4] - so that others could have access to what they needed. There is no need to compete in God’s economy of abundance, because there is enough for all.

Secondly, they were not to take more than their share and store up it up - leaving others to miss out or go hungry. When they did take more and store it up, it all became rotten.[5]

Thirdly, they were only to collect extra on the sixth day, so that they could rest on the 7th, the Sabbath. There is a need for rest - people, animals and land all need rest. It’s also a way to ensure that people, animals and land are not exploited.

This manna and Sabbath economy includes the seventh year of rest and the cancellation of debts, and the 49th year of Jubilee, where slaves are set free, and lands are returned to their original owners. This was to ensure that they didn’t return to slavery or become caught in the cycle of poverty from one generation to another.

This was quite a challenge for the people of Israel, and from all the events that unfold in the wilderness wandering, it’s rightly said that you can get the people out of Egypt but you can’t get Egypt out of the people. They needed to un-learn the economy of Egypt, and learn God’s economy of abundance for all, before they could enter the promised land.

Jesus’ life and ministry was an invitation for people to re-orient their lives to God’s economy of abundance. Jesus echoes some of the lessons of the wilderness:

-      Humanity cannot live by bread alone

-      Look to God for our daily bread, for fresh provisions.

-      Jesus demonstrates in the feeding of the 5000, that when we share the little that we have, miracles can happen - there is enough for all.

-      The call to love our neighbours, particularly the outsiders, the poor and needy, whoever they may be and even our enemy.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells many parables about the rich:

-      The rich man whose life is dedicated to building bigger storage sheds to keep all his wealth. (Luke 12: 13-21)

-      A wealthy fellow who ignores Lazarus, the poor beggar at his door (Luke 16)

-      A rich religious leader who could not detach himself from his wealth (Luke 18)

-      Zacchaeus the tax collector who cheated his neighbours (Luke 19)

Our reading today, the parable of the rich fool, echoes the Sabbath economy and Micah’s invitation and warning to those who are rich.

Before Jesus tells the parable, he gives this warning:

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” v.15

Jesus is reminding the people of the ten commandments, particularly the tenth, which says ‘you shall not covet’.[6]

This parable of the rich fool, and the story of the rich young ruler a few chapters later in Luke’s gospel, invites those who possess wealth to let it go, to redistribute what they have to those who are in need. The wealth that they possessed, even if it looked ethically earned, belonged to others. They have ignored the Sabbath economy to give interest free loans, to cancel those loans in the seventh year, to share the abundant harvest with the widows, the orphans and the strangers in the land. They have ignored God’s vision for a world where everyone can sit under their own vines and fig trees, free from the exploitation and violence.

For to the biblical writers, the presence of poverty and hunger was a sign of a sinfully dysfunctional community.[7] 

‘John Chrysostom notes that the rich man did not need more storehouses for all his grain, for he already had storehouses aplenty, namely “the mouths of the poor”.[8]

This parable is a challenging analogy not only for the first century context, but also for us in the 21st century, bound by the consumeristic and capitalist world that we live in. The dominant message we are barraged with daily is that we are better off with “this product”, with “this investment”, with "this house”, “this car”, and “this holiday home”.

We are constantly fed with the message that we are more productive, more efficient, more profitable, if we sign up to this or that product. We are bombarded with advertisements, we cannot escape them. They are all around us, with the aim to make us feel dissatisfied so that we crave more. They promise to make us happy, to solve all our problems and make our life more interesting and exciting, to make us look beautiful and good while hiding the cost of our consumption - the suffering of others and the exploitation of land and workers.

As God calls Israel in the wilderness, and through the prophets during the exile in the eighth century BC, Jesus calls us to return to God’s economy of “enough for all”. This is a call to consume only what is needed – enough - so that others can have access to what they need. A call to restrained consumerism.

Jesus calls us to be rich in love - love for God and others. This involves learning about and being aware of the people who make our clothes, the people who are working in the fields to grow, hand pick and dry the coffee beans that produce the drink we love. Responding to the call involves learning about the resources exploited from the earth that go to make all our gadgets, and about labourers exploited for low wages. Jesus calls us to share the beauty and abundance of the earth with our fellow human beings, not to horde and abuse. Jesus invites us to consider the birds of the air, and know that our God desires to care for us, and is faithful to provide for all our needs and so much more.

Our God does not seek to rob us, or to make our lives miserable, but to bless us with abundance… if we are willing to look to God to meet not only our daily practical needs, but also our deep needs, true riches will be formed by love and freedom.

A friend of mine developed a resource to help Christians to shape their everyday lives around God’s kingdom economy. I encourage you to look at it and download it from his website called Manna Gum,[9] it’s called Household Covenant. It's a simple tool to use as a family to explore what you can do in each aspect of your household life… In each area we identify what’s the problem, what biblical principles apply, and what goals to set and how/ how often we will review the goals together as a family.

Then we make a covenant as a household to keep and work on those goals. You will find that you are already doing well in some of these areas, but there may be areas that you have not thought of…

            Household Covenant

            www.mannagum.org.au

Let’s hear Jesus’ words from Luke once again -

22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious  about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.

23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!

25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to the span of your life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?

27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek God’s kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

32 “Fear not , little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom . 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

35 “Stay dressed for action…

Be not anxious.

Be not fearful.

Be ready for action!

 

[1] Scott Higgins, The End of Greed: Consuming as if God, people and the planet matter, Baptist World Aid (https://baptistworldaid.org.au/product/end-greed-book/)

[2][2] Micah 4: 1-4

[3] Exodus 3

[4] Exodus 16

[5] Ex 16: 19-20

[6] Exodus 20: 17

[7] Baptist World Aid: The End of Greed, p.12

[8] Baptist World Aid: The End of Greed p.13

[9] www.mannagum.org.au

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