August 4, 2019
8th Sunday after Pentecost, Teleen Saunders
Grace and peace to all who are gathered here today. It’s an honor to have this opportunity to share in the Gospel and to express my sincere gratitude for the support you have given me over the years on my path to ministry in Word and Sacrament. In fact, Gloria Dei is currently sponsoring seven seminarians. Your generosity is sure to spread the Gospel in many new and unimagined ways. Well done, Gloria Dei!
Today’s Gospel reading is commonly called “The Parable of the Rich Fool”. It starts out with two bickering brothers, centers around a farmer who talks to himself, and ends with a warning from God that greed is bad. In other words, “You can’t take it with you”. Now before you think the annual stewardship campaign has come early this year, let me just reassure you that I leave all requests for money up to my husband.
This parable is really about relationships. The relationships we have with the people and the things around us. And the God of all creation.
Let’s start with those two bickering brothers and maybe even back up a little more. This section of Luke marks ten chapters where Jesus and his followers are slowly making their way to Jerusalem. At this point, Jesus is surrounded by a large crowd. Luke does a nice job of inclusiveness. There are women and men, Jews and Greeks, old and young, rich and poor. In today’s lesson, Jesus seems to be surrounded by a wealthier crowd. There is a brother in line for a shareable inheritance and a crowd who relates to the struggles of a wealthy farmer. At least some of these people have stable income and are in a position of benevolence. This sets the scene.
Now back to the brothers. The younger one says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Now, to my ears as a mother, this sounds a little like tattling. “He’s not sharing.” And I half expect Jesus to announce that he is going to turn this Gospel right around if you two don’t behave.” But I’m afraid my knee-jerk interpretation is a bit anachronistic. I’m reading from only one perspective – mine.
Digging a little deeper into early Greco-Roman culture, it was not uncommon for people to debate inheritance. According to author and educator Michael Peppard, this type of legal rhetoric was considered a hobby, public entertainment, or competitive sport.”[i] In fact, the brothers’ father may still be alive. So when Jesus gently responds, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” He is not being sarcastic, nor is he casually dismissing a legitimate concern between two brothers. Rather, Christ is using his skills as a talented orator to steer the conversation onto a higher level of debate.
It’s a difficult lesson to be sure. After all, we are beings who are created in a physical world. This is why in Genesis 1, God makes people last and in Genesis 2 people are formed in the center. Humans are interdependent on a world that can be experienced through the senses. We like all this stuff whether it’s from the natural or material order.
Some of my stuff is really important. My wedding ring, for instance is an heirloom from my husband’s grandmother. I have a handmade quilt from my mother-in-law, and I play my dad’s old clarinet. These things are very meaningful to me but not necessarily of great economic value. My dad paid $4.00 for that old clarinet in 1962 while stationed in Germany. What is important, though, are the connections these things make. My wedding ring connects me to my husband’s family. The quilt transforms me back to my mother-in-law’s basement where she did her sewing surrounded by a cat or two and stacks of fabric. And that old clarinet? That old clarinet started me out in elementary band before being passed down to our daughter.
Things matter. They bring us comfort and security. That’s why the sacraments of baptism and communion have tangible elements that tie us into the sacred. The water from the baptism this morning is God’s way of touching baby Raj’s skin. And we can literally see, smell, taste, and touch the bread and wine from communion. We are physical beings. But like anything, these gifts can be abused.
We can easily over consume, hoard useless possessions, take more than our share, or base our self-worth on an economic inventory. Pop artist Ariana Grande has a song called Seven Rings where she sings, “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.” This music video earned 23.6 million views in the first twenty-four hours on YouTube. According to Billboard’s “Hot 100” she’s as popular as the Beatles in 1964. [ii] Our physical world is also a consumer culture.
I know I have too much stuff. I think we have about eight pairs of kitchen scissors but of course I can never find one when I need it so I buy one more. How many pairs of shoes, sets of Legos, or spots ahead of Cleveland in the AL Central do we need in order to be satisfied? (Ok, that last one is A LOT – but you know what I mean.)
A popular quote says, “People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.” [iii] It’s only stuff. And stuff is temporary. You CAN’T take with you. And in the end, it can be hurtful when family members are not interested in your stuff – your china, your letter jacket, your perfectly good set of encyclopedias.
So this brings us back to our Gospel text today where Jesus says, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus is not suggesting that the farmer give everything away. Nor is he proposing that the farmer should pass Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” test where he picks up every object in his barn to see if it “sparks joy”. I’m assuming it all does since the farmer builds a bigger barn for his crops. Nope. What Jesus is doing here is pointing to the cross.
Jesus knows we are physical beings and in this parable he is hinting at something more – something more that will outlast this lifetime when even our soul is demanded from us. You see, this parable IS about inheritance – the inheritance we receive as children of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This inheritance goes far beyond any conceivable riches found on this earth because this inheritance is ONLY relational. As Christians, we will leave behind more than quilts and clarinets. We are leaving behind a legacy of eternal love. This is true inheritance and it cannot be measured. It is discovered through creation, kindled with beauty, spoken through the scriptures, and professed through liturgy. It is right here at Gloria Dei with our sacraments and outreach, through our efforts at social justice and care of creation, through faith formation and mental health ministries, our music and our State Fair water.
WE are passing on the legacy of Jesus Christ. And certainly there is no barn large enough for this love. Being “rich towards God” is only relational as we measure our self-worth through the resurrection and share it with the world. I’d say that’s even better than a whole drawer of kitchen scissors or a $4.00 clarinet. Amen
[i] Peppard, Michael. “Brother against Brother: Controversiae about Inheritance Disputes and 1 Corinthians 6:1–11.” Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014): 179–92. http://doi.org/10.1353/jbl.2014.0010.
[ii] Rowley, Glenn. “Six Key Numbers From Ariana Grande’s Record-Breaking Week.” Billboard, February 20, 2019. http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/8499228/ariana-grande-six-stats-thank-u-next-first-week-charts.
[iii] Author unknown