August 4, 2013  — Pentecost 11

Rev. David Boyd

 

The two most difficult times in which to prepare a sermon or speech are the times when you go and the times when you return. When you go it is more the question of "what shall I say." When you return it is more the question of "what shall I not say." Last time I was away for a significant length of time, when I returned I had way too many things to say and probably preached a long first sermon.

Well, what to say this morning?

The phrase that jumped out at me from Luke's gospel this morning is the last phrase, "So be it for those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." I wondered about this phrase and looked it up in my Greek lexicon and it means what it says. When I checked Suzanne Guthrie's website, Edge of Enclosure, I see that she had a little reflection on what "rich toward God" means.

Guthrie said this when reflecting on gratitude and coming through a real time of struggle. Gratitude leads us to see the world differently and to be more focused where we are and with whom we are. Guthrie said that we are called to live knowing the preciousness of each moment... "Not so much ambitiously" making the most "of the remaining time, but summoning love toward life each moment. Not so much checking things off an extravagant bucket list, as admiring the symmetry of the bucket itself. Even in diminishment, enlarging the capacity to love." I like these words.

I believe that Jesus invited those who were consumed about getting ahead, getting rich, getting a leg up, getting, getting, getting to see life differently. That seems to be a human struggle, the need to get ahead, the need to acquire. In this section in Luke's Gospel, Jesus is teaching about how to live, how to truly live with the abundant and extravagant love that God bestows on the world. This is the middle of Luke's gospel and it is full of stories about how to live fully in the world; there are some stories, too, warning the authorities about exploitation and oppression. Some of the section titles are a warning against hypocrisy, do not worry, being watchful, division, and interpreting the times. This is just chapter 12! I think this story of the rich farmer is one of the most important stories in this section, for it invites us to focus on what is important, what is real, and ultimately, what gives life!

Like many of us in this world, I get lost in the many demands for attention, time and money. I can get lost in the competitive nature of our Western world that seems to reward success with money and prestige. I get caught up in the desire for a new car, or this or that technical device which will make my life easier. None of us are immune to the temptations of living in this world.

The Jewish teaching about temptation is that there is an angel on one side that urges us to goodness and love and compassion; there is an angel on our other side that urges us to give in to our base desires for money, sex, alcohol or drugs, food, and the many other things that we seem to think we want. These two angels, according to the teaching, are constantly whispering in our ears.

What can shift the balance is to focus on being rich toward God. We focus on gratitude and compassion. We focus on being part of rather than separate from. We focus on community rather than the individual. We focus on doing to others as we would have them do to us. We focus outwardly on the things that are important and really matter; and we focus inwardly on the angel that whispers in our ear of love, compassion, goodness and hope. We focus inwardly that helps us to see the world around us as it really is, to focus on what is in front of us.

I liked that line of Suzanne Guthrie's about not checking off the bucket list, but admiring the symmetry of the bucket itself. While I am embarking on two trips that I've always wanted to do—I suppose, although I don't generally think in these terms, that they are bucket list items—it really is more about the journey. I know that sounds like a cliché and I don't mean it to, but I really am more interested in the journey and the people I'll meet and the opportunities to experience God's grace and hope. That's what sabbatical is about, an opportunity to step outside of time and space to review our lives, but not too introspectively, so that we live richly toward God by living richly toward others and living richly toward ourselves.

One of the things that I've believed about Jesus' ministry for many years was that it was rooted in Sabbath and Jubilee. I think this is what separated him from many other teachers of his day and age. God has lavished us with an abundance of love, compassion, grace, forgiveness, and hope. God created and saw that it was good! It was good! This world in which we live is good! That is abundance and abundance thinking leads us to live in that goodness and to make it real. To see the goodness in our lives and the life of each creature. To see the goodness in others and the way in which we can share our goodness together to be justice where there is oppression, hope where there is grief, new life where there is loss. When one farmer has a bumper crop, he or she shares that with a neighbour or neighbours. And when that neighbour has a bumper crop and the first farmer has a bad year, there is sharing again. In many ways, Sabbath and Jubilee living are cooperative living. Jesus was a communitarian and living richly toward God was to live richly and abundantly and holistically now.

In some of our 1st Nations history, a measure of being rich was what you gave away. Potlatches in the coastal Northwest weren't held that often because at a potlatch, the host of the feast gave everything away. Richness was measured by what was given.

It is interesting that the very next section in Luke's Gospel, after this story of the rich farmer, is the teaching to not worry. Life is more than food and more than clothing. In this sabbatical time, may we all learn to appreciate the symmetry of the bucket. May we all learn to be open to new experiences. May God bless us all with new hope, new energy for living, new experiences that open us to the wonder and beauty of life in all abundance. As you keep me in your prayers, so I will keep you in mine!

Amen.

And the people say, "AMEN!"