July 31, 2016
+ Not long ago, I did something I didn’t really want to do. In fact, I dragged my heels about it and tried to get out of it as much as I could. But I knew it had to be done. I revised my Will.
I had come to the point in my life at which much of what was in my original Will (which was drafted in 2003, following my diagnosis with cancer) was no longer relevant. In fact, in that original Will, I had planned made a designation for a particular institution that I once held in high esteem. However, by the time I revised my Will, I no longer held that particular institution in such high esteem anymore. In fact, I really didn’t hold it in any esteem any longer. As often happens in life.
So, I had to revise my Will. At first, it thought it would be simple. Just a simple addendum, I thought. But, oh no. Not in this day. The whole Will was rewritten to conform to changes in the law since my last Will. It took a lot longer than I thought to get it done. But when it was, I felt a real relief. I felt as though things were in good order.
Which the whole reason we make Wills. We make Wills to give us a sense of security about what we have. We like to know where these things we worked hard to get will go.
Still, having said all that, I have never been comfortable talking about Wills and money. It’s such a personal thing. Maybe it’s because I kind of fret over these things. I fret over my possessions and what is going to happen to them when I’m gone. Which, I know, is pointless. But, still…I do it. I fret.
In this morning’s Gospel reading we find this “someone” in the crowd who is also fretting, it seems. And this “someone” just hasn’t quite understood what Jesus is saying when he says “do not be afraid,” which is what he was telling them right before this particular incident. But as easy as it is to judge this poor person quarreling with his brother—as much as we want to say—“look at that fool, bringing his financial concerns before Jesus,” the fact is, more often than we probably care to admit, this is the person we no doubt find ourselves relating to. I certainly do.
In this society that we live in, in this country in which we live in, we naturally think a lot about money and finances. We spend a lot of time storing our money, investing our money, making more money and depending on money. None of which, in and of its self, is bad.
But, we also worry about money quite a bit. And that is bad. For those who don’t have much, they worry about how to survive, how to live, how to make more. For those with money, they worry about keeping the money they have, making sure their money isn’t stolen or misused or how the stock market is doing.
And we don’t just worry about the money in our lives. We worry about all our material “treasures.” We worry about protecting our possessions from robbers, or fire or natural disaster. We insure them and store them and we spend time planning how to pass our treasures on after we die. We are concerned about what we have and we might even find ourselves looking for and seeking those things we don’t have.
And there is nothing inherently wrong with any of this either. It’s good stewardship to take care of that with which God has blessed us and take care of those things.
What Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel is not so much these issues—it’s not money per se, or the “things” in our lives. What Jesus is talking is something worse. He is talking about greed, or as older translations used, covetousness. Greed and covetousness are not the same thing. They are actually two different things. Greed involves us—it involves us wanting more than we need. Covetousness is wanting what others have. Covetousness involves envy and jealousy. (And envy and jealousy are two different things as well, but we won’t get into that today). Covetousness involves looking at others and wanting what they have desperately. And at times, we’ve all been guilty of both of these things.
In our society, we are primed to be a bit greedy and we are primed to covet. Look at some of the ads we see on TV. We are shown products in such a way that we actually come to desire them. And they are shown in the context of some other person enjoying them so much that we should want them too. And, in this society, we are primed to want more than we need.
We’re all guilty of it. And we should be aware of this fact in our lives. And in being aware of this, we need to keep Jesus’ words close to heart. Because Jesus is clear here. There are two kinds of treasures. There are those treasures we have here on earth—the ones we actually own, the ones we might need and the ones others have that we want— and the ones we store up for ourselves in heaven.
And, let’s be honest, those treasures we are expected to store up for ourselves in heaven are not the easiest ones to gain for ourselves. They are not the ones we probably think about too often in our lives. Jesus isn’t too clear in today’s Gospel exactly what those treasures are, but it won’t take much guessing on our part to figure them out. The treasures we store up for ourselves in the next world are those that come out of loving God and loving each other. But we have to be careful when considering what it is we are storing up for ourselves. It is not necessarily the idea that good deeds will get us into heaven.
We need to be very clear here. Jesus is not at any point saying to us that what we do here on earth is going to guarantee us a place in heaven. But what he is saying is that we don’t get to take any of our possessions with us when we leave this world. All of it will be left behind. Every last thing we have right now in our lives—every previous thing—will be left behind when we die.
However, Jesus says, if you do these good things in your life, you will be closer to heaven. You will not “win” heaven by doing them. But…by doing good things for one another, you will be bringing heaven closer into our lives.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to take care of the treasures we have on earth. We should always be thankful for them. And we should be willing to share them as are needed.
Our job as Christians is to take care of our possessions here on earth—with whatever God granted to us in our lives. Even our Book of Common Prayer encourages us to look after our earthly treasures and to share them in a spirit of goodness and forbearance. I’d like you to take a look at a section of the Prayer Book you probably have never even explored. On page 445, you will find something very interesting. It says this,
The Minister of the Congregation is directed to instruct the people, from time to time, about the duty of Christian parents to make prudent provision for the well-being of their families, and of all persons to make wills, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.
I always encourage people—no matter where they are financially in their lives—to make out a Will. Wills are more than just a means of giving away our earthly possessions when we die. They truly can be a practical expression of one’s faith and a positive acknowledgement of our own mortalness and dependence upon God.
I was inspired by this suggestion from the Prayer Book and had my original Will done thirteen years ago, and then revising it a few years ago. For me, there was a sense of accomplishment in knowing that what I had will be distributed to those people and those organizations that I know would appreciate them and benefit from them. It’s also, for that very reason, that I revised my will when one of those organizations became something other than it was originally. And it was also a relief to be able to put in that Will such practical instructions as my funeral arrangements (which again I highly encourage everyone to consider and write down in some way or form).
By arranging for our Wills to be made, by being generous with our gifts and with the instructions we give our loved ones who survive us, we are truly responding to today’s Gospel. By being generous with our gifts , and by being generous to those who share this earth with us, we are building up treasures in heaven. We are not “buying” our way into heaven. We are just striving to do good on this earth, as faithful followers of Jesus and as beloved children of a loving God. And striving to do good does build up those treasures in heaven.
In all of this, listen in a way the anonymous person in today’s Gospel did not. Listen to Jesus’ words of “do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid of what will happen to the possessions you have on earth. Do not let fear reign in your life by letting greed and covetousness rule your lives. Do not get all caught up in the things you have, or the things your neighbors have.
Instead, let us love our neighbor as we would love ourselves. And let us love our God who provides for us everything we can possibly need. And let us know that that same God whom we love and who loves us in return has a special place prepared for us which is full of riches beyond our comprehension.
For, as Jesus makes clear in pointing out, our lives do “not consist in the abundance of our possessions.” We are more than our possessions. We are more than what we have. In that place to which are going, we will go empty-handed. We will go shed of all attachments and possessions. We will go there shed even of our very bodies. But we will go there, unafraid. And we will go there gloriously and radiantly clothed with hope and joy and love.