Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
August 4, 2019
Proper 13C: Luke 12:13-21
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever been around a young child, just learning his or her favorite one-syllable words? You may be familiar with the repetition of “Hi,” “Bye,” “No,” and “Mine!” You might also be familiar with the meltdown that follows when a small child is asked to share their toys—“No! Mine!” While children eventually grow into adulthood with more socially-acceptable behavioral constraints, I am not convinced that the emotional tantrum doesn’t still occur when our possessions seem threatened. “No, mine!”
I am led to the classic book by psychiatrist, Gerald May, The Dark Night of the Soul (2004), in which a psychiatrist explores the connection between darkness and spiritual growth. The Dark Night explores the human condition of “attaching” to people, places, things and ideas—of self and about God—as the cause of deep spiritual suffering.
All of these tightly-held “possessions,” in this temporal world, are constantly changing. Because the world in which we live is defined by the impermanence of change, spiritual suffering is a constant vibration woven throughout the fabric of the human soul. Attaching to things in this temporal world enslaves the soul. Jesus warned the crowd in our gospel passage today that, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (v.15).
This statement was really countercultural in Jewish society and remains so for us, in 21st century- American society. Jesus’ warning speaks to the human realities of family feuds over money and family heirlooms after the death of a loved one; tragic stories of lottery winners, who, blessed with abundance beyond their imaginations, realize that deep joy eludes them, and the riches diminish; individuals who struggle with hoarding possessions to the point where the possessions have deprived them of safe and healthy living conditions; and the isolation resulting from a life ruled by possessions, motivated by a mindset of scarcity.
In our gospel passage today we are drawn into the parable of the rich fool, a wealthy man having just won the agricultural lottery, ruled by possessions, and motivated by a mindset of scarcity.
The land had produced an overabundance of grain, and he was overwhelmed. The parable takes us inside the man’s spiritually-anxious inner thoughts, and the first thing he said to himself was, “What should I do?” (v.17) He had no room to store all of the grain. Leaning on his own understanding, he started to process how he, alone, could solve his “problem” of abundance.
Let me say that in a different way. The man viewed the blessing of unexpected grain not as a blessing demanding gratitude to God, but as a problem to be solved. With this distorted lens, the man quickly determined a solution—destroy his existing barns, and build bigger ones! His mentality of scarcity motivated him to find a solution that he believed would ensure his ability to feast for many years in times of potential famine.
The thought of sharing with others never entered into his thoughts. Of course, this security that the man had planned to create was false. His attachment to the grain and his goods stirred within him the spiritual angst of “here today, gone tomorrow.” His plan to hoard was pleasing to him so his self-talk concluded with his vision of a future where he could relax, eat, drink and be merry (v. 19).
All of his planning was in vain because God had determined that he would not allow the man to live to see another day. “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you,” said God. “And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (v. 20). The man had spent his time and energy on planning for a future with his possessions and not on being in relationship with God, the source of all of his abundance and, indeed, his very life.
There is an urgency, a suddenness, embedded in God’s words—this very night. The rich man was facing the sudden death of his physical body. And, while death of the physical body is a reality for all of us, I am keenly aware of the day-to-day realities which trigger “sudden deaths” of a spiritual nature as we each move along life’s journey.
A sudden death for the living might look like the flat-lining of a successful career when a layoff is announced to a workforce.
A sudden death for the living might look like the stripping of the identity of Mr. or Mrs., when the relationship for which those titles existed is no longer a reality.
A sudden death for the living, might feel like the “yes” of one who answers the persistent calling of God on their soul toward a religious vocation.
And a sudden death for the living might just look like the traumatized collective soul of a nation, assaulted over and over again by the slaughter of innocent people at the hands of domestic terrorists.
This very day, this very hour, this very moment God demands your very life to be used as an instrument of His grace in this broken world. Jesus calls us to freedom from temporal attachments to possessions which enslave, enabling freedom for walking in full obedience with the One, eternal God. This requires the lifelong preparation of steeping in the richness of God’s transformational power.
A beginner’s acting class offers some perspective of what it means to be rich toward God. In a beginner’s acting class the mirror exercise is often used to help actors to be present and attentive to their partner. Without talking, two actors are positioned face to face, and are expected to move as one, even down to the slightest movements of an eyebrow raise or a subtle nose twitch. With practice, the team moves as one—with no delineation between the imaging partner and the reflecting partner.
Being rich toward God means first talking to God and having a relationship with him through Jesus Christ. The rich man never included God in any of his thoughts. Being rich toward God means showing up in this world as reflections of God’s qualities of overflowing abundance and generosity, mirroring God His mercy, graciousness, patience and abounding love.
This morning, this haunting parable reminds us as individuals and as a nation, that we have fallen short of God’s divine reflection. In the richest nation in the world, the attachments to possessions and ideas, which feed into the sinful mindset of scarcity, has paralyzed any sense of living richly toward others and certainly toward God.
As we are nurtured into the full stature of Christ, God grants us opportunities to position ourselves face to face with Him, and to practice moving with him as one—so that anyone who sees you sees the imago dei—the image of God.
This very day, this very hour, this very moment—God demands your very life. Prepare to be steeped in the richness of His divine, transformational power and be prepared to live richly toward God in His kingdom now and in his kingdom come.
 Exodus 34:6