July 31, 2022 The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

July 31, 2022: The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

From this morning’s Psalm, “Whoever is wise will ponder these things, and consider well the mercies
of the Lord.” I speak to you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sometimes the Gospel can be very difficult to hear let alone fully grasp. I think this is especially
true when it comes to stories about wealth. Those who have worked very hard in life – sometimes
working two jobs just to keep up with expenses – might bristle whenever wealth is mentioned in
scripture. Such texts are probably even more difficult to hear when Jesus himself begins a parable
by saying, “a rich man”. At such times we might think, “Here we go again: Another heaping of guilt
for being successful.”
But today’s Gospel lesson does not condemn wealth, or even suggest that there is anything
wrong with having the means to enjoy the finer things in life. In fact, this story is really not about
wealth at all. No. There is a deeper message here - a message that, as God's people, we are called
to confront, wrestle with, and ponder every moment of our lives. So, let’s look at our readings a
little more closely.
A man asks Jesus to resolve an inheritance dispute. In Jewish law, the elder brother always
received a double portion of the family estate in order to have the financial resources to continue
the family business. So, if this fellow believes that he is being treated unfairly, he needs to take his
case to the proper court. That’s why Jesus declines getting involved. But this situation opens a door
for Jesus to teach that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” and it is that
statement that becomes the basis for our Lord’s rather surprising parable about wealth.
Jesus talks about a rich man who has a wonderful harvest and now faces the dilemma of trying to
sort out what to do with all this food. Jesus invites us into the very heart of the man's soul so that
we hear for ourselves his inner thoughts as he wrestles towards a solution. He begins, “I will pull
down my barns and I will build larger ones and there I will store all my grain and my goods … I will
say to my soul, you have ample goods laid up for the future; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” It is this
man’s thoughts that reveal the real problem in the story; reveal who he really is. See, the problem
is not wealth. It is this man’s belief that life is all about him: “my barns, my grain, my goods and “I
will pull down, I will build, I will store, I will say to my soul…” The thought of helping out anyone but
himself and sharing his good fortune with others never occurs to him. We might remember the
story of Joseph in Egypt who stored up food for 7 years as God told him to do. But Joseph didn’t
store up that food so that he could relax, but rather, God told him to store this food so that he could
what? Share it during the famine. And that’s our Lord’s point. The problem isn’t the rich man’s
ambition or that he is a good businessman, or that he had a banner year. The problem is his
attitude about his good fortune. An attitude that leads him to become self-serving. Being prudent
and shrewd isn’t the issue. This parable is about hoarding – it is about greed that ensnares all of us.
See, this rich man – probably a religious man to boot – has become ensnared by his bounty. And
therefore, he has grown complacent to the needs of others so that sharing his good fortune never
even enters his thoughts.
Jesus says that life is not found in the abundance of possessions. Life is not measured by what
we have. Life is measured by who we are. Life is measured by how we live as God’s people. Jesus
says, “Take care” lest possessions ensnare you into trusting in them rather than God. Take care lest
the pursuit of wealth and self-sufficiency, one’s sense of independence, the pursuit of one’s own
happiness becomes the sole focus of who we are. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life, but we
need to recognize when it is time to say, “I have enough, and enough is enough.” Money, wealth,
and even power and prestige can become idols in our lives and idols always make a claim on our
hearts that leaves no room for God. In fact, idols direct us away from the things of God.
St. Paul, in today’s reading from his letter to the Colossians, says that greed is the basis of
idolatry. Greed has a way of creeping into our lives until it becomes an insatiable hunger that
pushes us to amass more and more wealth and, at the same time, pushes us to consume more and
more so that before we know it, we are trapped and hopelessly in debt. Years ago, there was a
television commercial that featured a guy mowing his lawn with a huge expensive riding
lawnmower. A big house loomed in the background with all sorts of cars in the driveway. The
announcer said something like, “Here’s Sam. He has everything: The largest home in town, a
swimming pool, six cars” and the list went on. The announcer asks, “How does he do it?” and Sam
responds, “Well, I’m in debt up to my eyeballs.” And a moment later he turns to the camera and
says, “Please help me.” I found that commercial a poignant reminder of just how easily greed can
become an idol that takes over as the driving force in our lives and when that happens we grow
more and more separated from God and from our neighbor.
So Paul suggests we approach life differently. He tells the Church to be heavenly minded: To
focus on the things of God and the promises of God at all times because anything that gets in the
way of our relationship with God will become an idol. As people of faith, Christians are urged to be
heavenly minded, living with honesty and integrity at all times, not just setting aside our old ways
of living, but rather, recognizing that in Christ, our old selves, our old values, have been completely
stripped away and we have been clothed in something new and even better: Jesus Christ himself.
Now, being heavenly minded does not mean that we become complacent to the needs of
society. No, in fact, being heavenly minded suggests the opposite. See, complacency foolishly says,
“Don’t worry about being poor and living in squalor, Jesus has prepared a place for you in heaven.”
That is not focusing on the things of God. Being heavenly minded should compel us to address the
ills of our society and the plight of our neighbors. It should create in us a vision for what our world
can be like: a just and fair society as God intended for all creation. Paul says that being heavenly
minded helps keep priorities straight. It helps us remember that in Christ’s resurrection, we have
been given hope to envision life differently, and that hope, that faith, is the very essence of who we
are as God’s people because God is our life.
The reality is there are powerful and yet subtle forces of evil at work in our lives every day that
constantly direct us away from trusting in God and being God’s people. These forces make
everything about my barns, my things, and fool us into thinking that life is about my will, and even
my soul. These forces cause us to covet, to put others down while puffing ourselves up, to ignore
the plight of anyone in need, to seek our own gain and amass more and more stuff. Paul says faith
has to make a difference in our lives, or it is no faith at all. Faith has to change us because our life
is “hidden with Christ in God.” All else is idolatry that makes no room for God, and left unchecked
and not confronted, idolatry will ensure that God’s presence in our lives will become a distant
memory and any sense of relationship with God is lost. The question for us as individuals, and as a
church, is what idols have we allowed to creep into our hearts? What is getting in the way of a
deeper relationship with God and our neighbors right now? Neighbors known and unknown to us.
Even the neighbor in the next pew.
Hosea, in today’s Old Testament reading, describes God as a loving parent who aches for a
wayward child to come home. God says, “I taught them to walk … I held them up and bent down to
feed them … but the more I called them, the more they went away from me.” We hear the deep
longing in God’s voice. Yet we also hear the incredible mercy of God who, Hosea says, promises to
restore us to wholeness and health if, and when, we return and fully embrace God and God’s ways.
And therein lies the key to understanding all of today’s scripture lessons.
See, Jesus says there is nothing wrong with wealth as long as we understand our bounty is a gift
of God’s mercy and that, as stewards of this gift, in fact, as stewards of all of God’s gifts, we must
act responsibly by sharing of our substance to meet the needs of others. And yet, it is so hard for
us to avoid any form of idolatry living in a society that praises self-sufficiency, possessions, and
wealth. That’s why, Jesus says, “Take care … (Remember:) one’s life does not consist in the
abundance of possessions.”
Yes, sometimes our Lord’s words are difficult to hear, and yet his words are always true. The
challenge for us is to understand that, like the Psalmist said, “Whoever is wise will ponder these
things, and consider well the mercies of the Lord.” May God grant us such wisdom. Amen.