Who am I to judge?

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

In the name of God: who is the giver of every good gift.  Amen.

The Gospel reading today is one of those stories where Jesus rebukes those who are following him for clinging to wealth.  It’s one of those times when it would be easy to preach a judgmental sermon.  But generally, I think the teachings of Jesus call us to go a little deeper than that.  After all – in the opening part of this reading, it begins with a brother coming to Jesus and asking him to settle a dispute about inheritance.  Jesus’ response is sort of surprising.  He says, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

You’d think if anyone would have the right to judge, it would be Jesus.  But he turned down the chance.  He wanted his ministry to be about more than petty disagreements and individual judgements.  So he takes the situation and reframes it into an exploration of bigger moral and spiritual realities.  He uses the subject of money and wealth as the starting point of his parable, but I think the bigger point is really something more.

There are generally two ways that preachers handle it when Jesus talks about money.  One way is to use texts like these as a way of trying to guilt people into giving more money to the church.  That path always seems a little disingenuous to me.  It can basically be boiled down to: “look, Jesus says money is bad.  You shouldn’t have so much.  Let me take that off your hands…”  Obviously it’s a little more nuanced than that, but really, it just doesn’t quite add up.

The other way we sometimes use texts like these is to try to remove ourselves from the equation.  Basically something along the lines of: “sure, Jesus is talking about money, but he doesn’t mean us.  We’re doing it right.  He’s talking about those other people.  Boo on them!”

But I think it’s a little more honest to actually hear the words, and to think about how they apply to our lives.  Greed is certainly a struggle we all face.  We all have consumerism and consumption beaten into us pretty much every day.  Commercials begging us to buy; television shows glorifying excess in their characters and stories; even seeing the good fortune of our community around us on social media and feeling like we’re lacking in comparison.

It’s true that greed and consumerism and excessive consumption are stumbling blocks to our spiritual wellbeing.  I don’t want to diminish that.

But I also think there’s another nugget of wisdom lurking in these words and this situation.

A year or so ago, my brother started really putting pressure on Michael and me to watch Ted Lasso – the fictional television show about an American Football coach who got a job as the head coach of an English major league soccer team.  The thing you have to understand, though, is that my brother is soccer-obsessed.  He played soccer from a young age and instilled a love of soccer in his three sons, our nephews.  And pretty much everything they do seems to revolve around soccer.  They travel for the boys to participate in tournaments, soccer camps, and games.  Our oldest nephew is going to college, in part, on a soccer scholarship.  Most nights during the week there are practices that they have to go to.  (As an example of how removed I am from this world, when I was writing this, I first typed rehearsals instead of practices, then I remembered…)

So when my brother told me about this show, well, let’s just say, I hope I was able to successfully hide my rolling eyes.  Really?  He thinks I’m going to sit and watch a show about soccer?

Well, as the stories of Jesus so often are, soccer was really, mostly just a point of entry.  The show was only “about soccer” insofar as it was the setting of the story and the driving force of a lot of the action.  But what the show is really about is the relationships of the characters with each other, and even of their own individual journeys – both their stumblings and failures, and their growth.

One of the recurring experiences of the show that really makes it worthwhile is Coach Lasso’s locker room speeches.  Sometimes they’re funny.  Often they’re a little racy.  But they always have an element of inspiration – and not just about the game, but inspiration about life off the pitch.

Now, the team isn’t that good – at least in the begging.  And a lot of the time, these locker room talks are given at times when it’s basically impossible for it to “work” – at least in terms of leading to a win.  But still, Coach Lasso keeps working to inspire the players and even the coaches.  He wants them to leave it all on the field – not to hold back believing they’ll never win.  Not hold back and let someone else do the heavy lifting, but to dive in and take a share in the work.  Holding back is the surest way to guarantee that they won’t win.

And that’s a big part of what I hear in this parable from Jesus, today.  The man in the story has worked hard to accumulate all that he has.  He has acquired reserves to last him so that he can sit back and relax for a while.  But once he reaches that pinnacle, God comes to him and says, “You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you.  And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

As the saying goes, you can’t take it with you.

Of course it’s easy to hear this as a condemnation of wealth, but the something more that I hear is akin to what we might hear in a locker room speech from Ted Lasso.

Of course we all want security.  Of course we all want to know that our needs will be met.  But when we’re reviewing the gifts we have – whether they be wealth or other physical holdings, but even if the gifts we have aren’t physical – the gifts we have for leadership or music or accounting or preaching or healing or prayer, or whatever else it might be…  What good are those gifts if we hold them too tightly?  What good are those gifts if we reach the end and have left them unused?  What good are those gifts if we shelter and hoard them for fear that they’ll be challenged or judged?

We’ve got to work at leaving it all on the field.  We’ve got to work at letting go of our fear and bringing our gifts to the table – to be used.  We often talk about the community of Christians as the body of Christ in the world.  We are Christ’s hands and feet, we say.

Well, it’s through these gifts that we bring to the table that Christ’s hands build and heal and are raised in blessing.  It’s through these gifts that Christ’s feet move to spread this ministry where the gifts are most needed.

We’ve got to use what we’ve been given.  We’ve got to dare to share the wealth – whatever that wealth might be.  Because we can’t take it with us.  But we can leave the world in a better position than we found it.  We have the gifts to do that.  Amen.