(A sermon on the RCL Lectionary readings for August 1st preached at All Saints' Episcopal Littleton, NH)
The topic of the day is clearly greed: all of the readings mention it. The message comes across like a heavy hammer: be on guard for all types of greed.
This morning’s Gospel text in particular reads as a warning for all who hear it. After all: who wants to be called a fool by God?
It also seems to set up the perfect money pitch: David Schlafer offers that many sermons preached on this text today end up with the message “you can’t take with you, so be generous with you assets---especially the church.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3, edited by David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor)
While I’m certainly not against generous giving to All Saints’, I’m also not satisfied with this as the overall message of the day.
Schlafer suggests that there’s more as well. He suggests that this morning’s episode is not unlike Martha’s predicament of a few weeks ago (Here's my blog post and the reading from Luke 10:38-42). Martha was “distracted by many things.” In the final analysis, she was in the wrong not because of what she was doing, but because she had lost focus on what was important. (FOW)
It seems to me that Jesus is once again talking about focus: on God, and on each other.
The start of this whole episode is a dispute between brothers. A voice in the crowd shouts out: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13-21)
If you think about it, isn’t this a lot like Martha’s plea? “Tell Mary to help me Jesus!” There’s an “if only” quality to it. If only my sister was helping me, all would be right in the world. If only my brother would divide the family possessions with me, we’d have peace and harmony and good will forever.
Jesus’ parable comes in this context. The land of a rich man produced abundantly: so much so that the vast storage resources already in place aren’t large enough to store all of the excess.
Remember Martha’s language from a few weeks ago? “My sister has left me to do all the work by myself. Tell her then to help me.”
The rich man thinks in a similar manner: “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
We can see the rich man’s greed. His focus is clearly off. He offers no thanks to God for his abundance. He attempts to hoard far more than he really needs, going to such lengths as to tear down is ample barns to build larger ones. What’s even worse is that there is no concern for anyone else: no desire to share his abundance with those who are in need.
But perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the rich man believes that his soul will be fed by “having ample goods for many years,” and that the soul’s ultimate desire is to “relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”
This is a seductive and all too easy trap to fall into in our world today. With so many things out there promising to bring us happiness and fulfillment, we can always be wanting and searching for the “if only” that will bring contentment to our souls.
Dramatically, God shows up and reveals the rich man’s folly.
Here is a not so subtle reminder about life’s unexpected twists, and the ultimate reality that our earthly lives will one day reach an end. That reality, however, is not the overarching message this morning. The purpose of this encounter with Jesus is not fear and condemnation, but a gentle (yet urgent) reminder towards the right way to care for our souls.
Last week, we studied Jesus’ answering of the question “teach us how to pray.” We combined the versions of the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew and Luke:
Hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts
As we also have forgiven our debtors
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
This is a foundation for soul care: it is the real message of the day. The power of prayer comes from the connection that it brings us into: relationship with God, and relationship with each other. It focuses on our daily needs, as well as the needs of others: food, forgiveness, and fidelity. These are the things that we ask of God, and these are the keys to living faithfully with one another.
This is the real way we nourish the soul.