Meg Peery McLaughlin
Games People Play: Monopoly
August 14, 2022
Luke 18: 18-27
Prayer for Illumination
Guide us, O God,
By your Word and Spirit
That in your light we may see light,
In your truth find freedom,
And in your will discover your peace
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” 21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
The Eli Lilly Foundation gives away an extraordinary amount of money,
and this week I was interviewed about one of their recent series of grants,
The Compelling Preaching Grants.
One of the questions in the interview was if I could recall any sermons
that have left a mark on me.
Such a good question, and there are a few,
but I was remembering a sermon
that changed the trajectory of my father’s ministry,
and I didn’t’ hear it in person, but only on cassette tape.
It was by the great UCC preacher, Fred Craddock.
So when that same preacher wrote some other words about the
Rich Young Ruler that we meet today in Luke’s Gospel,
I, of course, wanted to pay attention.
This man has lain too long in silken ease,
fared too well at banquet tables,
rested too comfortably on the security of his surplus,
moved too far from the cries of the hungry,
enjoyed too obviously the envy of those less prosperous,
assumed too much that he could buy everything he needed.
As you heard that, if even for a second, you wondered if Ole’ Fred might be talking about me likes of me or you, then perhaps you felt a sting.
I said I liked Fred. That he was compelling.
Eli Lilly, I take it back. This cuts too close to home. Shush your mouth, Fred.
But here’s the thing, Jesus never shushes his mouth about money.
He talks about money more than he does anything else in the gospels.
I’d have to corroborate the facts, but one scholar I read says that
Jesus has more words to say about money than he does about love.
As summer wanes, and students flood the town again,
we’re having a bit of fun at church, filling the front lawn with games.
Now, obviously, we couldn’t put the classic money game, Monopoly out there on the porch. It takes forever to play, and if you started the game,
you’d never make it into worship.
I don’t know what it says about my economic inclinations or my patience,
but my favorite part of the game Monopoly is at the beginning when you pick your game piece.
Out of pure curiosity, I looked up which piece was the most popular,
secretly rooting for the Scottie dog,
and was disappointed to learn it was the top hat,
but in that process I also learned that the game of monopoly
was derived from a game created in 1903 by a woman name Elizabeth Magie.
Unlike most women of her era, Magie was late to marry and supported herself. Outside of work, in her leisure time she created a board game, The Landlord’s Game , which was an expression of her strongly held political beliefs.
What became Monopoly, started as a protest against the big monopolists of that time- Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Magie created two sets of rules for her game: an anti-monopolist set of rules in which all players were rewarded when wealth was created, and the set of rules we know where the goal is to create monopolies and crush opponents. Her dualistic approach was a teaching tool. She was trying to say that the first set of rules was morally superior:
Shared wealth was the way to win.
And yet, it was the monopolist version of the game that caught on,
and a man named Charles Darrow claimed it was his idea, selling it to Parker Brothers. Darrow made millions, Magie made $500. In 1948, Magie died in relative obscurity, neither her headstone nor her obituary mentions her role in the creation of Monopoly.
Going in only because of my love of that Scottie dog, I read this history slack-jawed.
Shared wealth was the way to win.
That was the point.
And we all missed it.
The Rich Young Ruler did too.
I suppose I should have warned you from the start. This story is hard.
This man is faithful,
when he asks Jesus his question, he’s not trying to trap him,
he really wants to know, like we all do, how to walk this walk,
how to live into God’s abundant life.
Jesus recites some of the commandments:
no adultery, no murder, no stealing, no lying, do right by your parents.
And remarkably this guy says he has kept them all, who of us could say that?
Jesus doesn’t say, well remember that one time?,
he doesn’t call him a brown noser like I might’ve,
Jesus listens, believes him, and sees that he is still searching for something.
Jesus goes on, saying “you lack one thing.”
Share your wealth, release your grip, give joyfully,
and then you’ll be free to follow me.
This story is so important to the Gospel message that
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell it.
Matthew and Mark say at this point that the man goes away.
All of them say that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
But Luke tucks this little phrase in his story,
he says that when the rich young ruler hears Jesus’ call,
he becomes sad.
He becomes sad.
Yes, Luke, preach.
Of course he’s sad.
Aren’t we sad too?
Because even if we try to tell ourselves that we are not the camel.
We are not this man.
Because we have student loans, and credit card debt.
Because we’re squeezed between caring for parents and children.
Because we’re not like the Jones, could never keep up with them.
Because we pledge to the church and give to charity.
We’re sad too, aren’t we,
because maybe we’ve tried to convince ourselves we’re not the camel,
but all we’ve done is shaved down the big hump
or shortened the gangly legs.
That needle is still small. Jesus’ call is still tall. Who are we kidding?
Luke says the Rich Young Ruler became sad.
Sadness is a feeling we try to avoid.
We hide sadness under brave faces,
we drown it in drink or determination,
we deny its existence with lies hat can hold for generations.
I was recently introduced to a book that argues for sadness.
Susan Cain wrote Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole.
Cain tells the story Inside Out. It’s a great Pixar movie about emotions,
where our four big emotions are animated characters. The story is about a little girl named Riley who is uprooted from her 11-year-old life as her family moves away to San Francisco, and her Joy is understandably lost. Pete Docter, the director, originally placed Fear as the central character in the movie. He considered Sadness, but this seemed unappealing. Three years into the development of the film – with the dialogue already done, and the movie partially animated—Docter realized it was all wrong; he couldn’t make the story work. He thought about quitting. His mind spun to dark daydreams of a post-Pixar future in which he’d lost not only his career and all the friends he’d made working on the film. He became sad.
And this lead him to an epiphany. The real reason for his emotions—for all of our emotions—is to connect us. And Sadness, of all the emotions, was the ultimate bonding agent. The executive team approved the new protagonist, the big blue tearful character of sadness, and Docter rewrote the movie—which ultimately won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
Perhaps we, too, could welcome this character into our lives:
this blue sadness, this tearful longing.
For she isn’t bad.
The word longing derives from the German langen meaning “to reach, to extend.”
You see, church, melancholic longing is just momentum in disguise.
The place we suffer is the same place we care profoundly—care enough to act.
The Rich Young Ruler and the whole lot of us sitting in Sunday finery with full bellies
hear Jesus’ words and become sad.
And maybe that’s actually a holy invitation—
To be sad that our hands are too full to receive God’s gifts of life
To long for an equitable distribution of wealth
To yearn for the hungry to be filled
To weep that the world is not yet as God dreams
Because if we will let ourselves feel sad,
Then what might God do with that?
There is Rumi poem about a man who is praying
When a cynic asks him where God’s response is,
to which the man has no answer
so he stops altogether. A messenger asks:
“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup.
I’m not sure that the folks running Eli Lilly’s Preaching grants
would say that sending you out of here sad
is not a compelling word.
But Jesus says:
Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me
nothing is impossible with God.