Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year C – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – August 4, 2019
This morning’s gospel is really a pretty funny little section of scripture. The literal translation of “friend” makes what Jesus says, “‘man, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’” It’s a little more sassy sounding. Then he tells this story about a guy who talks to himself a lot – ‘What should I do?’ ‘I will do this…’ and “‘I will say to my soul, Soul…’” And then like some kind of movie character God says, “you fool!” I can imagine this funny story was meant to stay with Jesus’ hearers – “remember the one about that goofy rich farmer?” But the topic itself is quite serious. It’s about being in relationship with God, who is as the Prayer of the Day puts it, “the source, the guide, and the goal of our lives.”
The man in the story thinks that it’s all about storing up what his farm has produced so that he can “‘eat, drink, and be merry.’” The irony is that he leaves off the most important part of this well-known phrase: “for tomorrow we die.” He stores up the perishable, thinking he’s imperishable. In his eagerness to stockpile things that the land has produced through God’s good grace and his stewardship, he places all the emphasis in the wrong place. He rejoices in the stuff, not the giver. That’s what Jesus was trying to drive home to those two arguing about the inheritance. It’s not about the inheritance, but about our relationships with God and others.
I’ve had some conversations with my parents and brothers about what will be inheriting. Mom and Dad have been very clear that they have been working hard to ensure that each of us will receive the same number of their gold fillings when the time comes! We joke about it, but it’s because we understand that it’s not about the stuff. It’s about the time we have together now and the memories we will always have.
In the past few years, YOLO has become a phrase that you can find in music, on shirts, and a lot on social media, particularly as a hashtag, i.e. #YOLO! It stands for “you only live once.” So you might use it next to a picture of yourself skydiving or eating bugs or doing other crazy or maybe even reckless things. “You only live once” can lead us in two different directions. Living it up – the carpe diem, “seize the day,” “eat, drink and be merry” version – or the version that asks, “if I only live once, what is truly important?” The two different directions can also head into an individualism based on what I check off my list on the one hand, or on the other, life with others. This brings us back to the Gospel.
Jesus says unequivocally, “‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’” It doesn’t consist in hoarding things. It doesn’t consist in money and bank accounts. It doesn’t consist in the nice cars or houses. Real abundant life consists in a relationship with the living God, the One who graciously gives us everything, even God’s own self as we see in from incarnation to cross and resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Real life consists in the One who is eternal life – the one who has through his own death defeated death. As Jesus will say later in Luke’s Gospel, “‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. …. none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.’” But when God is not the source, the guide, and the goal of our lives, everything else becomes unbalanced.
We can see this idea in the fantasy writing of Catholic J.R.R Tolkien. In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Sméagol, a Hobbit goes fishing on his birthday. When his cousin finds a gold ring in the river, Sméagol demands it as his birthday present. When his cousin refuses, Sméagol, entranced by the ring’s power and corrupted by greed, murders his cousin. Over time, the “Ring’s malignant influence twisted his Hobbit body, as well as his mind, and prolonged his life far beyond its natural limits.” He became a tormented, pitiful creature known as Gollum and could be heard calling the ring “my precious.”
It’s easy to be possessive of things. Maybe we are stingy with our time, or we fight to be right. Maybe we covet control. Maybe we are possessive over relationships with people, deriving our worth from them. Maybe it is even a sentimental attachment to something. The thing is, if we are not on guard as Jesus cautions us, these sorts of possessions, greed, and idols will end up possessing us. So what is driving you? Is it a relationship with the living God? Is it a desire to be rich toward God by giving God your time, attentiveness, gifts, and resources for the good of the kingdom? Or is it something else? Is there something that is more precious to us than God?
When we find ourselves in a place of misalignment, there is hope! God is always seeking us out and welcoming us into relationship. Practicing awareness and gratitude are wonderful ways of refocusing us on what is truly important. We can give thanks for the breathtaking ways God is present among us, stirring up new opportunities to serve and be in relationship through the Holy Spirit. Today, we give thanks as we welcome four new members into this worshiping community, surrounding them with support and prayers as they live their baptismal promises here. We give thanks for the opportunity to give hope to women and children through the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter, or to support our brother George in Rwanda as his continues his education.
Our life together is centered on God our source and goal – God is the One who gathers us in love and makes us siblings sharing the inheritance of faith. As Brother Roger of Taizé wrote, “As we journey across the desert towards a Church of sharing, the Eucharist gives us the courage not to hoard the manna, to refuse to stockpile worldly possessions, and to share not only the bread of life, but also the goods of this earth.” In Communion, Christ shares himself with us so we can learn how to share with one another.
One of the sins some of the Israelites committed while wandering in the wilderness and awaiting entry to the Promised Land was hoarding manna. In trying to collect more than what was needed for the day, the manna spoiled. It went bad and rotted because they tried to take more than was needed. They didn’t rely on God for their daily bread – what they needed in that moment in time.
With Pr. Joe’s retirement, we are entering a proverbial time of wandering in the wilderness, wondering what the next phase of our journey at Community Lutheran will look like. It might be tempting to be closed off in fear or anxiety toward what comes next. To try to stockpile what we’ve been given as a memorial to what has been and forget that we continue in a dynamic relationship with God who calls us into the future. Or to try to rush ahead, not relying on God for what we need each step of the way.
Some of you have had questions and I get that, because I, too, have had some of those same questions! I’m not going to lie, this Type A personality would love to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what things will look like in 3 months, 6 months, or a year. But that’s not how God works. All I know is that I will be here with you as your pastor. Together, we will make that road by walking it. We will grieve and give thanks, take deliberate time to listen and pray, and be rich toward God, each other, and our neighbors with all that we have been given. In the words of the letter to the Colossians, we will seek the things that are above and remember that Christ is all and in all!
It’s a time of change, but it’s also a time of excitement because we have the opportunity to dream and discern together about what God is calling us into. In the parable Jesus tells, the rich fool is all by himself talking about what he’s going to do and doing it all by himself without consulting with God or anyone else. Church is a team sport. I will not be doing this alone. To do so would be foolish and would only hamper the ministry of this place. And so I ask for your help. We are called to take risks together for the sake of the good news so that all people might know God’s love. And I know that God will make good on the promise that we will be strengthened in hearing the word, sharing the Eucharist, and living out our baptisms.
So will we be open to finding real life in God so that we won’t hoard what we have to give, whether finances, gifts, or valuable time, but instead use it to God’s glory? What will be the source and goal of our lives as individuals and as a congregation? What will be precious to us? I look forward to seeing where God leads us. Amen.