Thursday, March 26, 2020

Greed - The Scrooge

Matthew 16:24-26
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.  For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ;
This evening we must leave our mythical zoo to hunt out yet another sin.  There is no animal, however loathsome, which can serve as an appropriate symbol of the sin we will dissect tonight.  This sin is peculiar to man.  Only man could be so short-sighted, so grasping, so wretched.  And many men are.   Our Cardinal Sin tonight is greed.

Tonight we must wander through the murky shadows of ancient fiction in search of our symbol.   We must find a man who represents our Sin-of-the week clearly.  We could use Midas, of the golden touch, but . . . his problem was more being foolish than being greedy.  Then there was Cassius the Great whose greed was so well know that when he was captured in battle, the mode of execution used was to pour molten gold down his throat.  Nah, we can't use him.  He's not fictional, and his death is a better example of envy than greed.  Ahh . . .  Here he is.  Ebenezer Scrooge.  He was filthy rich, and disgustingly greedy.  He even deprived himself of the use of his wealth.  Now that is greedy.  Let us agree, tonight, to picture our sin of greed as the Scrooge.

Scrooge is a miser.  Did you ever notice that all you have to do is add a "Y" to the word miser and you have misery?  Misers are wretched people.  Greed makes one pinched in his personality, in his very being, not to mention making him a penny pincher.  While greed struts around claiming wealth, all that is really visible is poverty.  Scrooge may have the wealth, but he is not able to use any of it – not even on even himself, which makes him no better – and perhaps worse off-than the most impoverished person in town.

Greed claims to aim at wealth, at making the greedy one wealthy, but it really makes him poor.  Oh, the Scrooge may gather money, possessions, and the like, but he loses one form of wealth he started with.  The value of himself.  Greed gives wealth a false and high value, and robs the individual of real personal value.  Suddenly, the Scrooge is valued in terms of that which he possesses instead of who is or what he can do.  His humanity is cheapened even in his own eyes, and he measures his personhood and worth in terms of bits of paper, hunks of metal or things that he has collected.

Greed is idolatry.  It is the worship of money, or the worship of possession, or it is the worship of success.  We see it at work in our society today in our cults of celebrity.  We worship celebrity.  Their image will cause us to buy, to give money, to spend time.  And what is it about our celebrities we enjoy?  Their talent?  Their charm?  Their beauty?  No!  Their success.  It is the simple fact that they have made it that we worship.  We call success "the American dream."  We even boldly announce it as a virtue, "If you've got it, FLAUNT IT!"

Greed is defined as the inordinate love of things.  Inordinate means that it is not guided by a reasonable end in view.  We love things for the sake of loving things.   We don't love them to use them, or to accumulate them, or to profit by them, we just love them for the sake of loving them.  It is senseless, stupid.  You see, greed is not the love of possessions, but the love of possessing. 

What is the miser's favorite past-time but to count his money.  It isn't what the miser possesses that is important, it is how much, and the fact that HE is possessing it.  Scrooge fools himself by claiming to be rich.  He has amassed a fortune, but he is not rich.
But you wonder what this has to do with you.  Few of us know people who actually sit in  special room and count their money.  But that is not the only kind of greed.  We all know people who seem to have too much.  They have beyond what they or could even enjoy using.  Their joy comes from having the things not from using them, or enjoying them for themselves.  Each of us can probably look at our possessions and see things we have that we don't need, don't use, don't really want, but we won't part with them because they are "ours" and we enjoy the simple fact of possession.  We see it, and we want it, and we gotta have it, but when we have it, we have no use for it, but at least we possess it.

Or do we?

The trouble with greed is that, at a certain point, we don't possess the things, they possess us.  We can't give them up, even if we don't have any use for them.  The simple fact of possession has taken possession of us.  We find ourselves defined by what we have.  We become controlled by our possessions.  We even have names for some forms of possession by things.  The man or woman who seemingly has an endless wardrobe is called a "clothes horse."  The woman who has jewelry to spare so that she is always wearing too much is called a Christmas tree.  Those people are forced by their possessions to be identified by it.

Scrooge thinks he is rich.  Look at all he has.  He has become defined by his possessions.  The rich are not so.  The rich find their treasures insignificant.  The greedy hand every treasure right under your nose.  They find their value in having things.  The truly rich might hide a Rembrandt or a Renoir in a corner.  It is the fact that the aristocrat possesses something that gives that thing value.  With the greedy it is the fact that they possess the thing that gives them value.

The greedy man accumulates a fortune.  Webster defines a fortune as "a condition of life as determined by material possessions."  You see?  Even here, the owner is no longer in charge.  The possessions have taken over.  In the greedy pursuit of possessions, we lose possession of ourselves.  Greed denies the self and destroys the self in pursuit of the desired object.  We make ourselves of no value by defining ourselves on the basis of things which have no real value. 

And Greed isolates.  The cry of the greedy is I Possess!  And so greed has robbed us of our God, robbed us of our true worth, robbed us of ourselves, and isolated us from everyone around us.  Is it any wonder that Jesus says that the love of money is the root of all evils?

Look what part Greed played in the crucifixion of Jesus.  Judas was greedy.  He was interested only in fattening his purse.  He stole from the treasury, and when that didn't satisfy him he sold his friend, his teacher, and his Savior to those who wanted to kill him, for a measly thirty pieces of silver.  It was pure greed, Judas was the slave to his greed, and when it came to choosing Jesus or choosing to possess, Judas betrayed his Lord with a kiss of friendship.

Pilate was a slave to all that he had collected, his possessions, his power, his place in the government of Rome.  He knew that Jesus was innocent.  He could have turned Jesus loose, but it was easier, safer to put him to death.  The other, the just course might have cost him something, but killing Jesus seemed perfectly safe.

Jesus had challenged the authority of the Scribes and the Pharisees.  He had pointed out their dishonesty, their hypocrisy.  If this continued they could all be ruined.  If this Jesus turned out to really be the Messiah, they reasoned they would all lose out.  Especially the High Priest.  He would not be High Priest, the Messiah would.  And if Jesus upset the status quo, the Romans might take away his wealth and power.  Controlled by their greed, these all played their parts to bring Jesus to the bitter death on the cross, a death he died to free them from the power of the sins – yes, even that of greed.

You know, I just realized something!  I am greedy!  And most of you are too!  We live in an age of greed.  But what can we do?  What is the cure for our greed?

The beginning of the cure is here in Matthew 16:24-26.  Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.  For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
The cure is the realization that all of our things cannot save us.  We are more than the simple sum of our possessions.  We have a soul, and there is no price we can pay for that soul.  If we lose it, even though we own the entire earth, we cannot buy it back, because the One who deals in souls will not accept that currency.

But the situation is not hopeless.  There is a currency that he will accept.  But it isn't one you can buy, accumulate, or earn here on earth.  It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  It is the forgiveness of sins, paid in the currency of the blood of the Son of God.  And that currency is available only as a gift.

But he who will have it must follow Jesus.  He must deny himself and take up his cross.  Since the Scrooges of this world define themselves in terms of their possessing of things, they must surrender those possessions.  They must give up the love of owning for the sake of simply having.  If they try to hang on, if they try to spare their possessions–even to the possession we call life – they will lose eternity.  For us, nothing can be in the category called "anything but this."  If it is, the Scrooge is us will drag us to Hell.
But the one who, as St.  Paul says, counts all but loss for the sake of Jesus, that one shall see his life saved, his soul purchased with the price in the only currency God accepts.

The greedy man thinks he is rich, he has gained the world.  But God asks, what is the profit if he loses his own soul?  Then everything is lost.  But the man or woman who can surrender all for Jesus is not poor, no matter how it may look to another, for he has eternity, he has life, he has forgiveness, and he has been made a fellow-heir with Christ in all that He will receive from the father on the last day, which is everything!

Two men have great possessions.  One is Scrooge, the other is a Child of God.  How can you tell them apart?  Give them a decision between this wealth or God.  A Child of God is always ready to let go of everything for the sake of God.  Scrooge is always ready to let go of God for the sake of anything.  God grant that you are all made rich in the acceptable currency–and watch out for Scrooge, for Christ's sake.

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