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Sermon and Reflections For Ordinary 18 - Proper 13 - Year C
Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9,43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
Ordinary 18 - Proper 13 - Year C
Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9,43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
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.' Once upon a time, there were two old men who had lived together for many years, and in all that time they had never quarrelled, never fought, never so much as had a disagreement. So, one day, one of them said, "Do you suppose we should try to have a quarrel at least once just to see what it feels like?" "Well, perhaps," said the other, "but I don't really know how a quarrel happens." "Look," said the other, "I take a brick and put it between us, and I say, "This is mine!'; and you say, 'No, it's mine!' After that, the quarrel begins." So they placed the brick between them, and one of them said, "This is mine!" The other said, "No, it's mine!" So the other said, "Okay, it is yours!" And they went away unable to fight with one another and never thought about trying to again. + The central focus of this week's gospel story is a problem a lot of us would like to have: what to do with too much. It is a story about a man who is so rich that he doesn't know what to do with all that he possesses. For Jesus tells a story about a man whose land produced "abundantly". We call this story the parable of the rich fool, but Jesus doesn't. He simply tells us about a man whose land produced a bumper crop. However, this is not just any man, Jesus tells us, because the man was "rich" and had "land". Jesus is emphasizing the point. This is a guy who is fabulously rich (for his day) to begin with; and, then, his field hands come to him one day and say, "Boss, you've got to see this! The wheat has sprouted in a strange way. There is surplus everywhere." So much wheat that the barns he already has will not store what the land has produced. We are talking a once-in-a-life-time, barn-bursting extravaganza! But, wait a minute! Just how much wheat could good land yield that a rich man would not have enough barns to store it in? Something out of the ordinary is happening here. If a rich man doesn't have enough space for it, just how much is there!? So much, says Jesus, that the man takes the drastic step of tearing down the barns he already has and building new ones to house "the mucho grande" that is now "his". A harvest well-beyond even the man's own wildest expectations - which, to Jesus listeners, could only mean one thing: a blessing, a miracle, a gift from God... and which would have made his listeners recall two other stories in Israel's history. The first would have been the story of Joseph when he was made steward over all the land of Egypt. Remember that part of the story where Joseph saves the day by predicting seven years of bounty and seven years of famine (Genesis 41.35-36)? Surplus implies a barren future. Bounty is a reminder of times of need. Better do something with that surplus when it comes so that no one will be lacking. The other story that Jesus' listeners would have recalled would have been that time in the wilderness on their way out of Egypt when Israel gathered twice as much manna on the sixth day so that they could rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 16.22-27). Ever after, Israel called the practice of leaving the land "fallow" every seventh year as giving the land its "sabbath", making use of the blessings of the sixth-year harvest to provide enough for all during the seventh (Leviticus 25.19-21). In other words, great blessing implies responsibility to see that there will be enough to go around. Preparing for the future by preserving the bounty in this tradition means preparing not for one's own future but for everyone's. Well, of course, this is where the crunch comes in the story. From our perspective the man is doing nothing wrong. There's been no graft or theft, no mistreatment of workers. The guy is not a crook. He is simply a very fortunate man who has become even more fortunate and who is now being very careful and conservative so as not to lose everything he has gained. But from Jesus' point of view and, no doubt, from that of a good number of his listeners, the man has one fault and it is a big one. He begins to think that the blessing he has been given is his. "...And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." This farmer is no Joseph preparing to steward the land for the welfare of others. He is hoarding this miracle that has happened to him through no merit of his own for his own pleasure and security. He refuses to share it with his neighbours. He has missed the meaning of what has happened. He assumes that the harvest is his to reap for his own benefit so that he will have more than enough for himself and himself alone. It is at this point that something most unusual (for a Jesus' parable) happens. God steps in to do two things. First, he tells the man that he is a fool, a powerful insult which implies that the man has turned his back on the way existence is ordered; for surplus is granted to some for the sole purpose that there will always be enough to go around for everyone. Hoarding for oneself goes against this natural order of creation. It is a denial of creation. It is a denial of God. The second thing God does is to restore things to those for whom they were originally intended; for that night the man dies in his sleep. No divine punishment, mind you; for Jesus never even hints that God is getting even. The man just dies inopportunely the same way rich people die every day, even the ones with all the prudential insurance that money can buy. If there is a hint that Jesus can't help making, it is about what happens next. "And the things you have prepared, whose will they be now?" Jesus doesn't say. But it is not hard to imagine the man's neighbours, who know nothing about the meaning of the man's death nor his plans to keep everything to himself, giving him an honourable burial as befitting such a patron to his community since the man has no one else to leave his riches! And if there is a delicious irony in the thought, it is probably intended by the story itself. One way or another, God's gift will be managed, not hoarded, for the benefit of all. As Bernard Brandon Scott point us in his book "Here Then The Parable", this is not one of Jesus' more radical parables. It is a parable that builds heavily on a tradition that had been with Israel for many generations, a tradition which taught that the land (meaning everything) belongs to God and must be managed for all; for that is a tradition that is radical enough for people who come to assume that the things they possess are theirs. + I find it interesting and, quite frankly, insightful that Luke sets this story in a context where Jesus is approached by someone who is concerned about how a family inheritance is to be divided, one who wants to make sure he gets his fair share. Is there one of us here who does not know this story? The problem of someone wanting to make sure they get what is rightfully theirs? How many family squabbles, how many broken relationships, how many terrible hurts have been caused by that family argument? And all because we begin to assume that what is essentially a gift is something that is ours - without reference to anyone else, without regard for human need. There is another way. It is the only way by which both creation and God are honoured; and that is to recognize that there is no mine or yours anymore than there is just you or just me. We are in this together; and if we ever hope to survive as a species, if we ever hope to learn what it truly means to belong to one another, then it will happen not by seeing how much we can continue to store up for ourselves and ourselves alone but how we need to distribute the abundance with which we have been blessed with all who have less. And if that sounds radical, then you are hearing the scriptures clearly today; because in God's domain, both the one that is now and the one that is to come, there are no arguments over what belongs to whom. + Hosea 11.1-11 - Once again drawing from his own experience of family life, Hosea describes God's relationship to Israel with that of a parent to a child. While masculine imagery for God dominates in the Bible, here as in other places, it is possible to argue that the imagery is decidedly feminine, nurturing and maternal. God is portrayed as a dedicated mother in whose tender and persistent embrace Israel will not be abandoned. 1. At the time of the Assyrian occupation (733 B.C.E.) many Israelites fled to Egypt to escape deportation. Why would this message have been so important to them? 2. What experiences of family life and, in particular, parenting have taught you the most? What do they tell you about God's relationship with you? And others? 3. How is the issue of both masculine and feminine imagery for God dealt with in your community? Colossians 3.1-11 - We are reminded of who we are as a result of our baptism. We have been brought back to life; for the way we lived before Christ was not life but death, and not just in a symbolic sense. The things we have "put off" after "putting on" Christ, behaviour that prevented us from loving God and neighbour, are the living death from which we have been raised. Significant for our theme for this week is the way the author equates greed with idolatry. 1. List the "deadly" sins the author mentions. Put them in your own words and explain why they are so deadly. 2. In what sense was your baptism the end of an old life and the beginning of a new one? 3. Why does the author equate greed with breaking the first commandment? Luke 12:13-21 - Jesus tells a story with parallels in common lore and deep connections to the wisdom tradition of his people, wherein a miraculous harvest is mismanaged because a man is out of communion both with his neighbours and with God. The story and tradition out of which it comes is a radical statement about the ownership of property. Prosperity is given to some only so that all may benefit. 1. What is essentially wrong with a "brother" demanding that his "brother" divide the family inheritance with "him"? Ask the men. Then ask the women! 2. In the Gospel of Thomas (63), the parable simply ends with the man dying following his decision to store his riches. Where is the judgment in this? 3. In what practical ways are you prepared to distribute "the more" that is "yours" with those who have "less"? FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "People are free in this world to live for themselves alone if they want to and let the rest go hang, and they are free to live out the dismal consequences as long as they can stand it. The doctrine of Hell proclaims that they retain this same freedom in whatever world comes next. Thus the possibility of making damned fools of ourselves would appear limitless." - Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking HYMN Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God (Voices United)
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