In J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit, tension builds around a group of dwarves seeking to reclaim Erebor, the last great dwarven kingdom of Middle Earth. As the backstory comes our way we learn how a dwarven king becomes obsessed with gold, and how his obsession leads to hoarding, and how this hoarded gold attracts a fierce dragon who flaps up to dispossess the dwarves of the gold, the throne, in fact, all of Erebor goes to this Smaug.  Eventually we learn that “dragon-sickness,” which I’ll call greed-run-amok, is the purveyor of Erebor’s fall. And as our story unfolds some years after the fall, a major portion of the storyline is driven by the tension of whether the grandson of the dragon-sick king will reclaim the throne, and another tension layer is added when dragon-sickness lays hold of him, too.

Jesus encounters such a household, one reeking with dragon-sickness, in Luke 12:13-21. It goes like this:

13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  (NRSV)

Right now the U.S.A. is rife with tension. Only moments ago, and I do literally mean seconds ago, this was posted in a Ev. Lutheran Church in America Facebook page:

“…While so many of us who deeply care for right and wrong keep piling up the devastating news on that liar with the big ego … thin-skinned as he is, he doesn’t seem to care. Truth seems an outdated concept to him, one that only applies to people he eviscerates on Twitter.
So other than pray and vote, is there anything else we can do that will make a difference?”

The church leader who posted this remark knows that the last word on the universe is Jesus—not Trump, not Sanders, not Clinton, nor any other human leader, still tension has seized him. And, I’m not surprised—for tension is racing through this nation. And within our election cycle we are hypertensive, and a major source of this tension is money. We are so stressed about how the other party manages/hoards money. And this weary cleric can only believe that this is happening to us because some of us are suffering from dragon-sickness.

Dragon-Sickness, in The Hobbit, leads to a young king threatening to kill friends. In our nation dragon-sickness is causing Christians to ignore Jesus, and by extension, through selfishness threaten to kill friends.

Oh, we’d deny it! Of course, we would! But what else are we left to conclude when we ignore Jesus’ words,

“…I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Matt 5:44

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31a

A dragon-sick family tries to triangulate Jesus into the fight over an inheritance, and Jesus will have none of the feud. Instead he says to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” He cautioned them about dragon-sickness, about equating a life well-lived with “the abundance of possessions.” (That ought to fly in the face of the so-called American Dream)

Jesus takes it a step further and tells the brothers about a rich man. He will eventually call the rich man a fool. What makes the man a fool has little to do with the wealth of possessions, but everything to do with who is truly his center. The man uses the word “I” six times in three verses, and the word “my” five times in those same verses. He credits himself for the abundance. Not one time in those verses does the rich man credit God for any of it. And in the immediate verse following these verses Jesus tells the brothers that, “…God said to him [the rich man], ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ And Jesus goes on to tell them in the next verse, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

There we have it summed it to three notions: dragon-sickness, fool, and rich.

The possessions weren’t the issue. The issue was that the man was his own center. He saw possessions as his proof that he’d done this all himself, that he could sit amidst the pile and, “relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

To suit his notion, now he could sit atop his 401K with his comfy checkbook in hand, and yuck it up—but then he died. With no warning at all he died!

Perhaps his possessions he believed to be his source? Perhaps his security he placed in those things? After all, was it for his God or for his stuff that he’d built bigger barns? Had he enlarged himself for others or had he enlarged himself for stuff? In point of fact his possession source all along was God. His security source all along was God. The source of his being was God. But rather than see this as true, and live as though it were true, he chose to be dollar-rich and God-poor. In short—he chose to be a rich fool!

His barns held his hoard. And his hoard was shared with no one—no person, and certainly not his God. And his hoard was left to others when he died. He died in spiritual poverty. And it needn’t have been so.

Is it possible that his neighbors needed what he hoarded? Perhaps they needed it to live while he hoarded it for comfort’s sake? Perhaps he’s not alone, eh? Don’t we do the same?

Don’t we think the condo at the beach, the cool car, the hot girl, or the studly guy, or the biggest job title are our source and our security? You can tell we think this way when we say things like, “My life would be complete if I had: him, her, a Chevy Corvette, a house in the country club, a new this-that-or-the-other.” Don’t we seek some part of the creation to complete us, and thus become rich fools? Thus we make ourselves stuff-rich and God-poor! And then we’ll take our place amongst the vast throng in spiritual poverty.

And the wealth, the abundance of produce, is not the problem. All along the problem has been us—placing ourselves—at the center, and seeing ourselves as the source of the stuff, and seeing the stuff as our end.  In short, being stuff-rich and God-poor, being dragon-sick.

Are you dragon-sick? And if so, just how sick are you?

Here’s a check list to help you diagnose your condition. It’s called “What God Won’t Ask” and comes from Fr. Tommy Lane’s website.

1. God won’t ask what kind of fancy car you drove. He will ask how many people you took to church who didn’t have transportation.

2. God won’t ask the square footage of your house. He will ask how many people you helped who didn’t have a house.

3. God won’t ask how many fancy clothes you had in your closet. He will ask how many of those clothes you gave away to those who didn’t have any.

4. God won’t ask what social class you were in. He will ask what kindness you displayed.

5. God won’t ask how many material possessions you had. He will ask whether those material possessions dictated your life.

6. God won’t ask what your highest salary was. He will ask if you trampled over any people to obtain that salary.

7. God won’t ask how much overtime you worked. He will ask did you work overtime for your family.

8. God won’t ask how many promotions you received. He will ask what you did to promote others.

9. God won’t ask what your job title was. He will ask did you perform your job to the best of your ability.

10. God won’t ask how many promotions you took to chase a dollar bill. He will ask how many promotions you refused to advance your family’s quality of life.

11. God won’t ask how many times you didn’t run around on your spouse. He will ask how many times you did.

12. God won’t ask how many degrees you had. He will ask how many people you thanked for helping you get those degrees.

13. God won’t ask what your parents did to help you. He will ask what you did to help your parents.

14. God won’t ask what you did to help yourself. He will ask what you did to help others.

15. God won’t ask how many friends you had. He will ask how many people you were a friend to.

16. God won’t ask what you did to protect your rights. He will ask what you did to protect the right of others.

17. God won’t ask what neighborhood you lived in. He will ask what other neighborhoods you visited.

18. God won’t ask how many times you told the truth. He will ask how many times you told a lie.

19. God won’t ask about the color of your skin. He will ask about the color of your heart.

20. God won’t ask how many times your deeds matched your words. He will ask how many times they didn’t.

And for further diagnosis hear the words of Jesus:

“…Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15

“…I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Matt 5:44

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31a

Happy Preaching!!!!!

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