For those who are new, or visiting, or returning from summer adventures, or reading this
on the website (Hi, Mom!), or who just zoned out in June, our congregation is
raising money for a forward looking campaign named Shepherd of Tomorrow.
It includes a list of projects: roof repair, solar panels, lighting updates, new screens, and
an upgrade to the sound system because everyone here hangs on every word of
every ... children's sermon.
It also includes offerings to Lutheran camps and college campus ministries, our two most
reliable pipelines for identifying and developing future church leaders; our gifts
will help raise up shepherds of tomorrow.
This tithe is critically important, if not to the wider world, then at least to us as a
communion: it is a discipline that reminds us we do not exist for ourselves.
I am proud of Shepherd of the Valley for having this perspective and bearing this witness
in a world addicted to a false gospel of more money and bigger barns.
So I had lunch this week with Pastor Glen Egertson, the director of Lutheran Retreats,
Camps and Conferences, to alert him to our gift and share the spirit behind it.
As we talked, Glen noted that fewer camp staff than ever are going on to become rostered
Many consider it, even feel called to it, but most conclude it is an unsustainable career.
They are smarter than I was, I thought—or less faithful?
Voices from my past came back to me: college professors urging me not to throw my life
away by being a pastor; my beloved condemning me for being too cheap and accepting too little the same week that a church member griped that "we're paying
the pastor too much"; conversation about whether a pastor having a savings account is a sin, or just a sign that either her faith is too small or her paycheck is too large.
As theses voices bounced in my head this week, good news arrived that my seminary is
now giving full tuition support to its students, thanks be to God, but I couldn't
help but wonder where was that when I had to take on mountains of debt and
shame that I'm still struggling to climb.
I resented the good news of tuition support and the option I never felt of saying no.
I felt like a confirmation parent who learns that their child doesn't have to fear
the pastor or memorize the catechism: my child should suffer just like I did!
I wanted to tell Glen's savvy, selfish camp counselors who don't love Jesus enough to get
off my lawn ... but I don't have one.
At which point Jesus slapped me upside the face with this week's gospel.
Take care, Hiortdahl!
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.
The land of a rich man produced as abundantly as God has helped and forgiven you.
He responded by thinking to himself about himself.
He talked to himself just like you do: What should I do, for I don't have...I will do this...
I will set myself up and then I will congratulate myself...I, I, I. (aye-yi-yi)
Martin Luther would observe that the wise investor in the parable and the whiny pastor in
the pulpit share something in common: sin.
Learning from St. Augustine, Luther defines sin as being in curvatus in se – being curved
in on self.
There are many ways to do this; there are, Jesus says, all kinds of greed.
I know that I can be greedy with time, energy, love, patience, attention, books,
possessions, money, and more.
I covet and compare instead of giving thanks for the abundance I receive and then work
hard to hoard.
I get curved in on myself, which is settling for a god much too small.
Greed is idolatry, the author of Colossians writes.
Greed is good, the voice of Gordon Gecko from the movie Wall Street counters.
And his is the voice and the message that gets the landslide majority of air time in
our society and in our ears.
So thank you, Shepherd, for speaking a different word and living a different way.
In addition to a capital campaign that will bless people beyond our walls, we met
this week to look at where and how God is calling us to serve in the neighborhood
and wider world; we had a promising first conversation with much more to come.
Pastor Chuck Bunnell astutely observed this week that churches build bigger barns too—
congregations, just like families and cliques and nations and races and so many
other groups, can also become in curvatus in se.
The world trains us to do this – look out for #1 doesn't translate as give more offering.
The world does this because it assumes scarcity – there is only so much to go
around, so get yours before someone else does.
Protect the assets the church still has, as if they belong to us and not to God.
Tell my brother to give me my fair share of the limited family pie.
All of these conversations, of course, happen in the shadow of death, the ultimate limit,
and the ultimate liberator.
The produce of the land will not be hoarded forever.
The abundance lavished upon us by a God who is never in curvatus in se, the God
who is always curved outward in generous love, will not be locked away forever
in anyone's barns.
Notice, please, how this parable begins.
We said a few weeks ago, with the so-called Good Samaritan, that storytellers like Jesus know that hearers identify with the first character introduced in a story.
Who is introduced first in this story?
The land produced abundantly.
The earth, the creation of God, the generous source of our life, is where Jesus first
directs our attention.
Human greed continues, in so many countless ways, to threaten the home that has been so
faithfully, reliably generous to us; in the face of abundance, we trust scarcity,
promote greed to fuel our economy, and demand more.
This is sin.
God wants better for us and from us.
So thank you, Shepherd, for curving outward, for living and leading and showing a
The antidotes to in curvatus in se, and its inevitable disappointments, are gratitude and
We give thanks for what we do have and share it with open hands and hearts.
The energy of the sun produces abundantly, no thanks to us.
Our solar panels will transform that into energy which, over time, will relieve the
burden of the earth and save our congregation money, at which point we will have a choice: save it for ourselves or share it with the world God loves.
What should we do, for we have no place to store all the sunshine?
Should we pursue bigger panels and portfolios or bigger hearts?
Which way will we curve our soul?