Greed, Guilt, or Gratitude by Grace

You are Americans, most of you, and trying to speak to you about wealth is like addressing a congregation of fish on the nature of water. When we consider how the vast majority of the human race has lived up to this generation, and indeed, how most of the world still lives today, your wealth is staggering, mind-boggling. Most of you here have paid five bucks for a cup of coffee. Haven’t you? And some of you are muttering, “Well, not today I haven’t.”

Now this observation — how wealthy you are — is one that you have heard before. But the observation has just bounced right off because it usually comes wrapped in the assumptions and categories of our right and left wing politics. Secular right-wingers exult in the fact that our economy kicks butt, and every time the Department of Labor releases the figures on our Gross Domestic Product, they do a little touchdown dance for the fans.

And our guilt-ridden left-wingers lament the wealth itself as if it were some kind of a disease, and try to use guilt as an all-purpose response to everything. They don’t quite succeed—liberal critics of the American way of life are not known for their austerity. And on top of that, there is a real problem with the metaphor. If we have the disease bad, then what sense does it make to try to infect the rest of the world?

I am anticipating the main point of the sermon here, because this is a truth that I believe we cannot hear too often. Greed is not generous, obviously. Guilt is not generous either. When you see an ad for a starving kid in Africa somewhere, and the ad is designed to get you to give out of guilt, how much will you give? Just enough to make the guilt go away — which, as it turns out, is not all that much.

Gratitude is as staggeringly generous as the God who gave the wealth in the first place. Gratitude is a work of grace, and it therefore functions in mysterious ways. Remember this with four Gs. Not greed, not guilt, but rather the grace of gratitude.

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