A Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 31, 2016
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
I have been with you for nearly two years, and today is my last Sunday preaching here at Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania. Together we have experienced the love of God here in this place. What I have experienced is a community that is welcoming, that takes hospitality seriously, where respect of one another is practiced and not taken for granted. God’s mercy is known here. We have grieved together and rejoiced together.
But the thing is, it is not about this group of people and it is not about this preacher. It is about God’s overwhelming love in Jesus Christ. In him, the love of God is much bigger, more consistent and more true than anything that we can attribute to ourselves. Jesus walks in the real world that we walk in. And when we find joy in him, it is because he always knows and takes into account our difficulties and our sorrows. His Resurrection from the dead does not involve any denial of death or suffering—it is precisely in living freely, even to the point of being killed, that God’s action in raising him from the dead makes sense. Christian hope is founded in the realities of life that people face each day.
I was reflecting on my time here with someone, and I told them that my time here at Trinity has been for healing and encouragement. That healing and encouragement goes both ways, I have been healed and encouraged here at least as much as anyone in the congregation. The time just before my first Sunday here was among the most difficult and hurtful time in my life. My anger at that time could have eaten up my spirit. But God guided me, through the kind invitation of Paula Roberts, to a church that had need of healing. I had to look to the Gospel each week and find God’s words of healing for this congregation. The Gospel for that first Sunday was the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
In mourning together the loss of Father Newman and soon after, Keith Warren, we were all comforted and healed. Healing is a process—a process of a body returning to health over time. It takes more than a Sunday or a few weeks. We carry the memories of the good that those men brought to us, as well as all the other saints of God who have served in this community. We are healed, not because we forget, but because we remember how God’s love is manifested in those people and how their love continues to be carried in this community. And I have been healed in sharing in this community and sharing and hearing God’s love in the Gospel of Jesus.
We are healed, and we are encouraged. Encouraged by a community that maintains itself, by our children who are nurtured in the Gospel, who lead us forward as the church of the twenty-first century. If you listen closely to him, Jesus is always talking about the real world that we experience with all its difficulties, not some pretend place. Jesus offers the mercy of God, and that is a hope that won’t let us down—there’s nothing pretend in Christian hope. It is Jesus that has done this. It is in God’s mercy that we have encouragement.
My role here has been primarily one of healing and encouragement. And I believe that is primarily what Trinity Church has needed these past two years. Going forward, Trinity Church will continue to celebrate the gifts that God has bestowed, but it will look forward to new things, to growth and challenge. Pieces of that future can be seen—the internship program that will take up residence in the rectory is not the least among these. The foundations are the same, the grace and mercy of God, the hospitality and love of the community, the traditions of worship and outreach to the neighborhood. We incorporate all the good that God has done for us into a new future that has many possibilities. My wife, Paula, and I are very sad to leave our Trinity family, but we are also going into new communities where we hope to bring the love and hope we experienced here to continue living the gospel in another place.
This brings me to today’s Gospel lesson. Somebody tells Jesus that he should get involved in a family dispute over money. Jesus says, “Who made me a judge and arbiter over you?” Now the Nicene creed says about Jesus, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead…” but this family money dispute? Not so much.
Then Jesus tells a story. This rich man has so much wealth that he has run out of any place to put the wealth he has coming in—and he can’t think of anything to do with that wealth but build bigger storage facilities. And he turns around and the only conversation partner that he can find is his own soul, so he says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” This is a description of greed. It describes how this man’s greed has cut him off and put him in a place of despair, even at the moment that he thought he had it made. God said, “And, the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” For there was no one else in this man’s picture of the future, just this stuff—and even his barns were destroyed at the end of the story.
Truth be told, I see nothing of this greed and disconnection here at Trinity. But this sentence contains a warning to all of us: “Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink, be merry.” It’s possible to set our sights on being complacent; to keep things the same; to focus on what has fed us in the past rather than to look to the new nourishment of the future. When God gave the Israelites manna in the desert, some tried to save extra for the next day, but it rotted overnight and was filled with maggots. But each day, God provided them with enough to sustain them: Give us this day our daily bread.
So let us take a moment and remember over these last two years where we have experienced Jesus love and presence in our community…,
a gift that can’t be stored in a barn, but can be held, remembered, and relived in our hearts…
And as we remember these gifts we can imagine sharing them with the people we encounter…
As we part and go our separate ways, we carry forward in our hearts the gifts that God has given us together: our time of spiritual nourishment and healing, the life of encouragement and the courage to face life’s struggles within the hope of the resurrection. I know that I will carry in my heart the blessing of being with you and receiving healing grace from you and through you. I look forward to being encouraged by your love to preach the Gospel with confidence in a new context. I believe that in God’s love, Trinity will continue to thrive, because the love of Jesus has been shared here for healing and encouragement by all his saints—past, and present and will continue to be shared by the many more to come.