Last of the Seven Deadly Sins: Greed "Where Is Your Heart?"

So, before we speak of Greed, let me take a second here to clarify my comments about "Arbitrary Be Nice to Someone Day" from last week's message. At Bible study last week it was pointed out that I did not mention the words "Valentine's Day" once. So there you go! I don't have a problem with Valentine's Day as much as the sentiments around it. I want to encourage loving, equal relationships based on trust and love. We should show such affection all the time, not just February 14. My biggest issue with Valentine's Day is that it feeds into our commercialized culture to the point of muddying the water of our romantic relationships. How we honor our loved ones is measured by the amount spent. This impacts those relationships to the point the become superficial, and not God-honoring. As I left Bible study last Tuesday night, Valentine's Day, I stopped at the light right here at Cedar Springs and Welborn. A couple was leaving the restaurant in a gorgeous red Ferrari. And I noticed the woman talking on a cell phone. So at the end of this perfect, romantic evening, driving a dream car, and they are not even talking to each other! That's the impact an over-emphasized Valentine's Day can have on a relationship. We want to build relationships that are healthy and uplifting, not superficial and defined by Greed. Which just happens to be our final sin in the sermon series!

Greed is the relentless pursuit of our own financial well being, often at the expense of others. Our desire to get ahead, to earn that promotion and its raise in pay, our self worth that is found, not in the biblical truth that we are made in God's image but in our tax bracket- greed. Those churches that espouse a theology of greed in the congregation by promoting a "God wants you to be rich" philosophy- greed. By this thing and you'll feel better, more valuable, more important- greed. 

Add in the reality that we live in a consumerist nation and things get really complicated. We accumulate more and ore stuff so that we have an improved sense of self. We judge ourselves and others by what we wear. What we drive. Where we live. Where our kids go to school. Fifteen years ago there was a series on PBS called AFFLUENZA. Anyone remember it? It focused on American consumer consumption and or appetite for things. The title reflects a uniquely American combination of affluence and illness- Affluenza. You can still go online and read some of the stuff, although it's dated, especially after the financial meltdown of four years ago. Still, it's interesting to wonder how these surveys would be impacted since 2008. 

What are you willing to do for $10,000,000?
Would abandon their entire family (25%)
Would abandon their church (25%)
Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%)
Would give up their American citizenships (16%)
Would leave their spouses (16%)
Would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free (10%)
Would kill a stranger (7%)
Would put their children up for adoption (3%)

1. Which of the following is comparable to the size of a typical three-car garage?
a. a basketball court
b. a McDonald's restaurant
c. an "RV" (recreational vehicle)
d. the average home in the 1950s.
Answer: d. Many of today's three-car garages occupy 900 square feet, just about the average size of an entire home in the 1950s. Many people use the extra garage space to store things they own and seldom use. 

2. The percentage of Americans calling themselves "very happy" reached its highest point in what year?
a. 1957
b. 1967
c. 1977
d. 1987
Answer: a. The number of "very happy" people peaked in 1957, and has remained fairly stable or declined ever since. Even though we consume twice as much as we did in the 1950s, people were just as happy when they had less.

3. How much of an average American's lifetime will be spent (on average) watching television commercials?
a. 6 months
b. 3 months
c. 1 year
d. 1.5 years
Answer: c. In contrast, Americans on average spend only 40 minutes a week playing with their children, and members of working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day. from 1980–2004, the amount spent on children's advertising in America rose from $100 million dollars a year to $15 billion a year.

4. True or false? Americans carry $1 billion in personal debt, not including real estate and mortgages.
Answer: False. Americans carry $1 trillion in personal debt, approximately $4,000 for every man, woman and child, not including real estate and mortgages. On average, Americans save only 4 percent of their income, in contrast to the Japanese, who save an average of 16 percent.

5. Which activity did more Americans do in 1996?
a. graduate from college
b. declare bankruptcy
Answer: b. In 1996, more than 1 million Americans declared bankruptcy, three times as many as in 1986. Americans have more than 1 billion credit cards, and less than one-third of credit card holders pay off their balances each month.

6. Of the Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption, what percent said (in 1995) that they are happier as a result?
a. 29 percent
b. 42 percent
c. 67 percent
d. 86 percent
Answer: d. Eighty-six percent of Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption feel happier as a result. Only 9 percent said they were less happy.

Jesus asked, "What good is it to gain the whole world but lose your soul?" It's a question worth asking ourselves every time we see a newer, fancier car, a neighbor's bigger home, that commercial selling the next amazing thing we need to be important. Did you know that in ancient Israel poverty was illegal?  It is literally against the law: "There will, however, be no one in need among you, for the Lord is sure to bless you in the land the Lord your God is giving you..." Sounds great, right? But there's a caveat: "If only you obey the Lord your God by observing diligently this entire commandment I am giving you today" ( Deuteronomy 15:4-5). In ancient Israel it was illegal to charge interest on loans. Even to outsiders. Landowners set aside days when then poor could gather food for free. There was to be a Sabbath year for the land every seven years. And every 50 years was to be a Jubilee year, where all debts were forgiven and ancestral landholdings were returned to their original  owners. The cycle of poverty was not allowed to exist, much less persist. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, income disparity in the United States has increased 40% in the past 30 years. In 2010 the nation’s poverty rate rose to a 17-year high, with more than 46 million people – 15.1% of the population - living in poverty and 49.9 million living without health insurance.

Jesus told a parable about a rich landowner who had a huge crop one year. His barns were not big enough to hold everything. His solution? He tore down those barns and built new, bigger ones! That's a spiritual issue! Did the thought even occur to him to share out of his abundance? Did he grow up in a family that saw money as something to be accumulated or shared? What discussions went on in s faith community? Or were his leaders more concerned with earthly things? Jesus condemned him, calling him a fool. Jesus ate at the home of a Pharisee, who immediately took issue to the lack of hand washing by Jesus' disciples. Jesus challenged him: "You're concerned with cleaning the outside of the cup but not the inside. Give for alms those things that are within."

Of all the issues addressed by the Bible, money is the leading one. Jesus spoke more about money than any other subject except the Kingdom of God. Money holds infinite possibility for blessing. Lives have been changed forever because of how people understood money. Someone will eat tonight because of how this church views money. Someone will go to college this week because of how someone understood money. Someone will receive great blessing at the time of a loved one's death because of how that person understood money. The opposite of greed is what was traditionally called charity- what we would call generosity. Remembering that what we have came from God, and belongs to God, will help us to share what we have. We will see money as a great opportunity to bless others as we have been blessed. We're going to bridge this series with our next, which will offer Christian perspectives on giving for the Season of Lent. All the way through March we're going to talk about using our money in a healthy, spiritual way. 

Now, I am a fan of Pink Floyd, so it pains me to point out an error in one of their classic songs, MONEY. It is not "the root of all evil today." The love of money is the root of all evil today- and always. Money itself is neither good nor bad. It is how is used- even how it is approached- that determines its moral value. You have been blessed by a loving, generous God. Don't waste it by building bigger barns. Jesus said, "Your treasure is where your heart is." So the question for today is: Where is your heart?