Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rich Foolish Churches

The sermon "remnant" for this week came as I preached out of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is laying into the notion that material wealth means jack diddly squat to the essential core of his message about the Kingdom of God. Having stuff and desiring material success and seeking wealth is utterly alien to the purpose of the Gospel.

This was a bit of a tough message for my community, which is mostly comprised of youngish Asians whose spiritual upbringing was in churches that preached the Korean variant of the "health and wealth gospel." Jesus wants you in that test prep course! How else will you ever become a doctor and/or a lawyer?

It was tough for me, too. This was not because I buy into the magickal mystery tour of the thriving prosperity movement.

It was, instead, because in reading Luke 12, I encountered two verses that are commonly used by pastors in their stewardship sermons. The first is Luke 12:21, where the rich fool is berated for not being "rich towards God." This is commonly presented as a fundraising scripture. Be "rich" in your giving, or ooooooh are you like this idiot! The second is Luke 12:34, that favorite old chestnut of the stewardship sermon series, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." If you really really really loved the church the way you're supposed to, then you'd have upped your pledge for this year. Show me the treasure!

I may even have used that last one myself at some point.

But the purpose of Christ's teachings in Luke 12 has nothing to do with material wealth, other than to reject it as meaningless and the pursuit of it as irrelevant to the Gospel. As I prepared my sermon, which was much more focused on the individual and the personal implications of this, it struck me that Christ's rejection of material attainment applied just as pointedly to collectives.

Meaning, perhaps it shouldn't just define churchgoers. Perhaps it should apply to churches as well. The energies we pour into the growth of our buildings and our institutions seems really no more relevant to the Gospel than the profitable machinations of that wealthy Judean.

It's not an evil thing, necessarily. For every church whose spiritual life is all about new carpets and building additions, there's a church that is using its building wisely. It's just neither here nor there when it comes to what matters.

I have to remember to forget this come stewardship season.