- Contact Us
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 13/Year C: July 31, 2022
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever been around a young child, just learning their favorite one-syllable words? You may be familiar with the repetition of “Hi,” “Bye,” “No,” and “Mine!” You might also be familiar with the meltdown that follows when a small child is asked to share their toys—“No! Mine!” While children eventually grow into adulthood with more socially-acceptable behavioral constraints, I am not convinced that the emotional tantrum doesn’t still occur when our possessions, or our way of life, seem threatened.
The psychiatrist, Gerald May’s book, The Dark Night of the Soul (2004), explores the human condition of “attaching” to people, places, things and ideas—ideas of self and about God—as the cause of deep spiritual suffering. Because the world in which we live is defined by the impermanence of change, spiritual suffering is a constant vibration woven throughout the fabric of the human soul. Attaching to tightly-held “possessions” in this temporal world, which are falling away, enslaves the soul to despair. Jesus warned the crowd in our gospel passage today that, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (v.15).
This statement was really countercultural in Jewish society and remains so for us, in 21st century- American society. Jesus’ warning speaks to the human realities of family feuds over money and family heirlooms after the death of a loved one; tragic stories of lottery winners, who, blessed with abundance beyond their imaginations, realize that deep joy eludes them, and the riches diminish; individuals who struggle with hoarding possessions to the point where the possessions have deprived them of safe and healthy living conditions; and the isolation resulting from a life ruled by possessions, motivated by a mindset of scarcity.
In our gospel passage in the 12th chapter in Luke, we are drawn into the parable of the rich fool, a wealthy man having just won the agricultural lottery, ruled by possessions, and motivated by a mindset of scarcity. The land had produced an overabundance of grain, and the man was overwhelmed. The parable takes us inside the man’s spiritually-anxious inner thoughts, and the first thing he said to himself was, “What should I do?” (v.17).
The man had no room to store all of the grain. Leaning on his own understanding, he started to process how he, alone, could solve his “problem” of abundance. The man viewed the blessing of unexpected grain not as a blessing demanding gratitude to God, but as a problem to be solved. With this distorted lens, the man quickly determined a solution—destroy his existing barns and build bigger ones! The man’s mentality of scarcity motivated him to find a solution that he believed would ensure his ability to feast for many years in times of potential famine.
Of course, this security that the man had planned to create was false. His attachment to the grain, and his goods, stirred within him the spiritual angst of “here today, gone tomorrow.” His plan to hoard was pleasing to him so his self-talk concluded with his vision of a future where he could relax, eat, drink and be merry (v. 19). But all of his planning was in vain because God had determined that he would not allow the man to live to see another day. “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you,” said God. “And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (v. 20). The man had spent his time and energy on planning for a future with his possessions and not on being in relationship with God, the source of all of his abundance and, indeed, his very life.
There is an urgency, a suddenness, embedded in God’s words—this very night. The rich man was facing the sudden death of his physical body. And, while death of the physical body is a reality for all of us, I am keenly aware of the day-to-day realities which trigger “sudden deaths” of a spiritual nature as we each move along life’s journey.
A reality for the living that triggers a spiritual “sudden death” might look like the flat-lining of one’s career when unexpected layoffs are announced to a workforce, and livelihoods are threatened. A spiritual “sudden death” for the living might be triggered by the end of a marriage which strips the individuals of their grounding titles—their identity as husband or wife no longer makes sense. A spiritual “sudden death” for the living might be triggered by the fear, isolation and helplessness resulting from the ongoing sickness and death caused by a contagious virus. And a spiritual sudden death for the living, might be triggered by the painful dying to self, necessary in order for anyone to surrender to Jesus’ persistent call to follow Him.
The parable concludes with a warning to be rich toward God. Being rich toward God means first talking to God and having a relationship with him through Jesus Christ. The rich man never included God in any of his thoughts, and the thought of sharing with others never entered into his thoughts. Being rich toward God means showing up in this world as a reflection of God’s qualities of overflowing generosity, mercy, graciousness, patience and abounding love.1
A beginner’s acting class offers some perspective of what it means to be rich toward God. In a beginner’s acting class the mirror exercise is often used to help actors to be present and attentive to their partner. Without talking, two actors are positioned face to face, and are expected to move as one, even down to the slightest movements of an eyebrow raise or a subtle nose twitch. With practice, the team moves as one—with no delineation between the imaging partner and the reflecting partner. As we are nurtured into the full stature of Christ, God grants us opportunities to position ourselves face to face with Him, and to practice moving with him as one—so that anyone who sees you, sees the imago dei—the image of God.
This very day, this very hour, this very moment God demands your very life to be used as His instrument of grace in this broken world. Jesus calls us to freedom from temporal attachments to possessions which enslave, liberating us to walk in full obedience with the One, eternal God. This very day, this very hour, this very moment—God demands your very life. Prepare to be steeped in the richness of His divine, transformational power and be prepared to live richly toward God in His kingdom now and in his kingdom come. Amen.
1 Exodus 34:6