I don’t know that there is a disconnect between being wealthy and having a relationship with God.  I do know that there are a number of people who have experienced such a disconnect, for them, between wealth and their relationship with God.  St. Francis comes to mind.  “The Late, Great” Gert comes to mind.  But I think my late friend Nel managed to use her great wealth to forward her relationship with God by providing a ministry of hospitality.  (There was both a real humility, accepting all kinds of people equally in God’s Name, and a willingness to use her position in support of the legitimate needs of others in her case.)

Never the less, I cannot understand those who feel that faithfulness to God and wealth go hand in hand — particularly the pursuit of wealth.  Today’s gospel comes to mind (Matthew 6:19-24 — the gospel in the Daily Office Lectionary of the Episcopal Church for Wednesday in V Easter).  It says:  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth …  For where your treasurer is, there your heart will be also.  … No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.”

I guess we don’t understand that wealth is an idol — even if it isn’t personified as “a god.”  But I am really, honestly, always puzzled by what part of “you cannot serve God and wealth” people don’t understand.  Certainly the early church was clear about this.  But maybe it is because so few of them had access to great wealth.  Still, a reading from Gregory of Nanzianzus (who died in 389 CE) is not atypical.  He is commemorated today in our calendar.  He says, in an oration “On the Love of the Poor”:

Is it not God who asks you now in your turn to show yourself generous above all other creatures and for the sake of all other creatures?  Because we have received from God so many wonderful gifts …

And if we are not generous, if we misuse what has been given to us, St. Peter will say:

Be ashamed of yourselves for holding on to what belongs to someone else.  … Let us not labor to heap up and hoard riches while others remain in need.  … He has given abundantly to all the basic needs of life, not as a private possession, not restricted by law, not divided by boundaries, but as common to all, amply and in rich measure.  … he wanted to give equalility of blessing to equality of worth.

So, not only are the poor among us equally blessed, they are as deserving and worthy as the rich!

This runs together, for me, with a paraphrase from Isaiah 58 (appointed for the ninth day of the month in Celtic Daily Prayer) which talks about the “fast” acceptable to the Lord:

… the fast … I have chosen …
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry?
that you bring to your house those who are cast down?
… if you extend your soul to the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted soul,
then shall your light dawn in obscurity
and your darkness shall be as the noonday.

And in Preferring Christ, about the Rule of Benedict, Norvene Vest comments (in what I am reading today) about why we behave compulsively (in all forms of consumption):

“I am incomplete, like … a couple of notes apart from a musical phrase.  … If … I choose to live with my incompleteness … I discover in the heart of my longings … that I am made for relationship with God.  The key to any spiritual discipline for me is this willingness to experience the pain of my present partialness …

So there is no necessary disconnect between wealth and my walk with God.  But I cannot serve both.  I am called to be generous with all that God has entrusted to me and to share my bread with the hungry and value the worth of everyone regardless of nationality or estate.  And it is only in recognizing my incompleteness, my need for relationship (with my neighbor and) with God, and my willingness to experience and live with this discomfort, without turning to wealth or other idols (of consumption), that I am able to move forward in my walk with God.

On the whole, it sounds like wealth is likely to be a distraction …

Advertisements