Saturday, November 25, 2006

sermon 2: Luke 12.16-21, given at a parish

Luke 12:16-21

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry." 'But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.


This one was a rough delivery as I was in a new setting which was mildly uncomfortable, and also I didn't want to turn it into another "feed the poor" topos. I figure if they didn't get that in the other thousand sermons that they're probably in hell already for willfull disobedience. So I took a different angle, that of the man doing nothing, or in the words of the priest in Boondock Saints "the indifference of good men."

I first quoted the thinker Edmund Burke: "All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

The point has to be made the the rich farmer in the reading isn't really a bad guy. He's an okay guy. He got lucky with his harvest. The ground yielded - there's no indication that he did anythin skillful). And so what's his first instinct? He decides that his work is over. He's going to re-invest in order to ensure future success and then retire with a nice pension to live in the lap of luxury. His mistake comes when he says "alrighty soul, we're done here".

If he was a gentile, or in our case a non-Christian, he would be fine. It cannot really be argued that he's unethical. He's taking care of himself with his products and re-investing for future success - that's Good Business 101 last time I checked, and no doubt most of us would do the same. His issue as a Jew is that he forgot the words long written down - the Covenant between God and Moses - in the 12th chapter of Genesis. Moses is told that he and his people will be blessed in order to be a blessing to all nations. Moses' commission, and the commission of God's covenant itself, is equal parts blessing and burden.

Like the rich farmer, we often like the first part of the covenant but frequently forget the second. Few of us have any problem thanking God for our rich harvests and plentiful gifts, be we don't choose to use them proactively. We are the New Israel and we often repeat the mistakes of the old one. It could be said that Jesus' most fundamental issue with the Jews of his time was the idea that they were using their unique status with God as a matter of exclusion, pride, and vainglorious hope rather than as a source to reach out and bless those around them. Could not the same be said of us?

It's not for nothing that the reading occurs right before Thanksgiving, while we're gathered around the table with our families. We'll say prayers togehter (possibly), be thankful, partake of gut-stuffing bounties... it's a nice time of year. But what of those we're failing? What of those who aren't being treated justly, who can't be with their families, or who have not had plentiful blessings of which to partake?

It should also be said that the path of taking care of our own is tempting. It's tempting to take care of yourself and your family and forget greater responsibilities. It's far easier to define who is entrusted to your care very narrowly, to those for whom effects of our actions are rather apparent and physically tangible. But Christ didn't allow us this outlet. Our family, according to the Christians proclamation, is all fellow believers, and our neighbor, upon who's treatment our salvation hinges, is everyone we effect, affect, or impact. It's an all out assault that Jesus launches on the walls we build - OUR family, OUR community, OUR nation. All of these are chastized as idols that we can worship in flasehood, however blessed a purpose they might have served had we turned them towards something good. We begin to see these institutions as inherently good rather than contingently good. In point of fact they're like any other institutions... they're as good or as bad as the master they serve.

Although I'd like for everyone who has the resources and love for God to do something huge for the kingdom, for example child adoption, many of us don't have those resources, and our faith isn't yet that strong. So I asked everyone to at least do this much - while we're all partaking of our feasts and family, let's remember those who aren't there, those we're failing, those to whom we're not evil, nor are we hateful or antagonistic towards, but those whom we simply haven't helped... those to whom we are indifferent towards.


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