In the name of God, source of all being, eternal Word, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
When my father’s aunt Virginia died he was at her bedside. At another time her lawyer assured me he’d had all the property assessed so each of the four heirs received an equal value, in property or money. My father and his three siblings were the four equal sharers in their aunt’s fortune. Much of the legacy included artwork - Japanese woodblock prints - and other valuable movables. My Dad told the others he’d take what was left after they’d made their selections: some of the ordinary furniture and kitchenware, and ‘whatever was left in the storage closet down in the carport.’ *
Uncle Dave and Aunt Virginia had had some wonderful things as a result of their prewar life together in Pearl Harbor, China, and Singapore. They had friends among the Nationalist Chinese leaders and with them had experienced the terrible inflation of the mid-1930s in Shanghai, when a wheelbarrow full of money would buy a head of lettuce.
They had saved some of that hyperinflation currency as souvenirs, some of it still wrapped in printers’ bundles, thinking it would make a decorative covering for a room divider screen. Then they realized their old friends, now in exile in Taiwan, might feel offended by the reminder of what they’d lost. So Dave and Virginia stored away the money - a story we knew well.
*And so we went down into the carport, my father and I, and opened the door of the storage shed - and a fecund effulgence of peat, fertilizer, and lawn mower oil came forth. We looked in the back and pulled out a large cardboard box - a bushel carton - and looked inside it. And looked at each other, and laughed. And laughed again. He who laughs last laughs twice.
The gospel story begins with an inheritance - with a family, at least two brothers. Approaching Jesus as an arbitrator one brother says Master tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me - but Jesus will have none of it.
That’s a story: a one-sentence parable. Don’t get hung up about your stuff.
Here’s a story within the story: a man had a rich harvest and said to himself, “I’ll pull down the barns…”
Thinking he had piled up for himself a pretty good load - the 1st century equivalent of canned goods and shotguns, or a 401k, or self-righteousness, the 1st century moral equivalent. (It’s not about your personal sense of security. If you think it is, your Horizon of Security is too small.)
But “You fool!" This very night your soul itself will be taken from you.
Marie Kondo, the best-selling novelist of self-organization, bids you ask this key question of every one of the material possessions in your closet: Does this object give me joy? Does it give you joy? Does an object give you joy?
Are you on the right track with these questions? The wealthy farmer in our gospel story asked similar questions and answered them with a resounding yes! Yes, he told himself, you can relax, eat, drink, be merry: you will have abundance stored up for many years ahead. Sort of like the United States.
And then the reminder comes. God, no less, at the end of the story, says, “You fool! This very night your life is required from you.” It echoes the passages from Ecclesiastes and the Psalms that we might review here.
I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me -- and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
4 Why should I be afraid in evil days, *
when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,
5 The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods, *
and boast of their great riches?
6 We can never ransom ourselves, *
or deliver to God the price of our life;
7 For the ransom of our life is so great, *
that we should never have enough to pay it,
8 In order to live for ever and ever, *
and never see the grave.
9 For we see that the wise die also;
like the dull and stupid they perish *
and leave their wealth to those who come after them.
10 Their graves shall be their homes for ever,
their dwelling places from generation to generation, *
though they call the lands after their own names.
11 Even though honored, they cannot live for ever; *
they are like the beasts that perish.
Of course who is going to get your stuff then? —is a question that tells us we are on the wrong track altogether.
Our possessions may not store in barns - they may be merit or status, righteousness through works or validation through achievement and recognition.
Jesus tells the parable of the self-satisfied farmer, the Parable of the Rich Fool, that recapitulates and extends the teaching of the Preacher and the Psalmist. For it is not only that we strive and then we die and the wealth we may have accumulated pass on to another, it is that we have entirely missed the point of life. All this time we have been striving, anxiously, to achieve self-security, satisfaction with meeting our anticipated needs and desires, we have lost out on the real riches. The riches that come from life with God.
Maybe we need to look a little larger, beyond ourselves, to whence real security - and real abundance - lies: in joining in the life and love of God.
Donald Nicholl used to quote the saying that ‘in the end the only tragedy is the tragedy of not becoming a saint’. (Léon Bloy)
You have heard it said that Jesus died for our sins - but Jesus lived that we might be saints: people who live in faith, who trust in God for their daily bread, and all else.
Jesus was willing to accept the consequences of witnessing to the truth with absolute integrity. He would not back down in the face of fear or terror. And that is why we remember him in times when we need someone we can completely rely on, that we can absolutely trust, not because he wasn’t afraid but because he was and he stayed, and he’ll stay with you.
“The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod. Yet let us pray for but one thing—the marvelous peace of God.” (Hymn 661)
We are called to the service of love. “Love in reality, as opposed to love in dreams, is a harsh and dreadful thing.” (Dostoevsky)
And yet it is in that service that we find perfect freedom, in that in-security that we find hope.
Thérèse of Lisieux, who didn’t have much, knew that she had obedience… and something more: she had love.
A young nun in a tubercular convent in northern France, she realized what matters is not what we have - good or bad - but what we do with it; that the duty of the present moment is the freedom of the present moment, because it is in the present moment that we encounter LOVE - the divine love of God.
This comes whether we have much at all in the way of possessions, for we have all that matters.
Thérèse of Lisieux lived to the age of 24, the last two years with TB, and hoping to receive what she finally lost - a feeling of God’s presence. Instead she kept faith while in the desert of unknowing, and in the end reached joy.
How can we give joy? What gives us joy? Collectively it is easy to plan our bigger barns, to put poles around their edges and put up the side walls, satisfying ourselves that we are snug within our self-made enclosures. But perhaps like the rich fool we have too limited, too narrow, a horizon of security.
We have barns, big barns, and we are building bigger: but in the doing we may pull down on our heads the security that really matters. We may say to ourselves, it is our toil and knowledge and skill and pain that has gotten us this inheritance, and we do not want to split it with anybody. Brother or no.
And yet we treat our world as if it were ours not only as stewards but as owners. As plaything or resource bin, not as our home and our care.
As if we made it out of nothing. As if it were not the legacy we have received - that we are to pass on. The judgment - no, the consequences - of seeking our own security at the expense of others, is beyond our comprehension.
What we do know is that we are called to something more than possession, more than self-security or ease: we are called into the fellowship of the living God, and there we will find real treasure, real peace, real joy.
May today there be peace within you.
May you trust in God
that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given you.
May you be content knowing that you are a child of God.
Let this assurance settle into your bones,
and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux
(http://thereseofdivinepeace.org/ accessed August 2, 2019.)
Thanks to Gildas Hamel and Suzanne Guthrie for insights included in this sermon.
Thanks to Gildas Hamel and Suzanne Guthrie for insights included in this sermon.
2019 August 4
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 13. Year C.
Grace Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, Tucson, Arizona.
The Prodigal Son, Gerrit Van Honthorst, 1622 (the young man's new "friends" prey on his wealth.) Eating, drinking, and making merry... [http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/proper13c.html]
|King Midas. [http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/proper13c.html]|