A sermon at Trinity Church, Ossining, NY August 4, 2013
Lessons: Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14; 2:18-23 Colossians 3:1-11 [12-17] Luke 12:13-21
You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.
To me, one of the most ominous things about the parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel, is that it makes no sense in twenty-first century American culture. Basically the story is that the guy’s business is doing really well, so he decides to invest in improved facilities, expand his operation and put away something for the future.
So what is Jesus getting at? This is the prescribed course for success that you would get anywhere, from self-help books to financial advice columns or tomes by Nobel Prize winning economists. What this guy does embodies the values of contemporary American culture.
So I guess Jesus is calling us all fools. No wonder most people don’t come to church anymore. But why does he say it? And why do we miss his point? Let’s look at the story, what’s in it? There are crops, an abundance of crops, barns, business planning, success. The man even has a soul, you know because he talks to it: “Soul, you have ample goods…relax, eat, drink, be merry.” Pretty much the American Dream, complete. What’s not in this story?
Just the rich man and his thoughts for his own security and comfort.
In recent decades, Americans have increasingly moved toward admiring people simply for the sake of achieving wealth and comfort; perhaps because we aspire for the same for ourselves. But these are non-Christian values. It’s not that comfort or planning or even wealth are bad, but what do we value, what are our priorities, what do we seek after in our lives? First, the better question not what, but who do we value. God’s people are all around us, each with a need for kindness, compassion, generosity. The Kingdom of God is not made up of isolated individuals, each with her own castle. Rather it is the Body of Christ where each interrelated member is generous to the others and thrives through the hospitality of the whole Body.
Today’s reading from Colossians emphasizes this: “…you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourself with the new self — which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.” Our values as Christians are to grow in kindness and connection with others. Pre-occupation with our own survival, our own comfort or our own wealth, either as individuals or as a church, is unworthy of the Gospel of Christ. Christ calls us to be encouraged, and to have the courage to live lives of generosity and caring.
The concluding words of the Gospel lesson about the fool are: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God.” The permanent value of all that we gain is in giving to others; it is foolish to think that holding on to things makes one wealthy.
The Epistle to the Colossians continues with words that describe the wealth of Christians, so I’ll conclude with this passage:
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”