Sunday, August 4, 2019
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Our scripture today features a parable Jesus told about a rich man and his possessions. It’s a familiar passage to many of us, and we get it: this guy had ENOUGH. But he wanted more and more, and he made plans to build bigger and better barns in order to store all his excess.
It would be easy for us to label this man as being GREEDY, but that’s only a part of his real problem.
A preoccupation with self
Let’s begin with verse 16, where Jesus begins telling his parable. Read this aloud with me, and count each time the rich man says the word, “I,” or the word, “my.”
Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
Let’s stop right there. How many times did you read those words? (11)
Let me ask you another question: How many times did you hear the words, “our,” or “your?” (zero)
Now, can you find anywhere in this parable where the rich man talks about his neighbor, or his servants, or his family, or even…God?
No – in fact, all he can do is speak to himself. He thinks to himself, “What should I do? I have so much!” He says to himself, “I will do this! I’ll just tear down my old barns and build some bigger ones! And we know, good and well, he can’t possibly be doing all the planting, all the harvesting, and building these barns all by himself!
But there’s no acknowledgment of anyone else. There is no one else he speaks with or thinks about – it’s all about HIS possessions and HIS comfort.
The rich man really had no concern for anyone else, and HIS barns were being built for his OWN pleasure and pride. He had become so mesmerized by the amount of his accumulated wealth and possessions, and by what he perceived to be his OWN POWER, that he was acting and thinking like he no longer even needed God!
That sure sounds familiar – and I know you can think of individuals who can project that same sense of self-importance and narcissism. But let’s be careful, because sometimes, WE OURSELVES have that same issue with which we struggle, don’t we? Too often we take for granted all that we have been blessed with, for example: housing, clean water, more than enough food to eat, smartphones and computers, free libraries, the right to vote, the right to marry the person we love, and a range of educational opportunities for men AND women, alike. We start to feel entitled to it all, and we don’t even recognize that the rest of the world is just trying simply to survive.
But what’s become increasingly troublesome in recent years is that we are seeing a rise in the number of people who not only feel entitled to the blessings we have in our country, but they also feel people OTHER THAN THEMSELVES do NOT deserve these blessings – people who don’t look like them, or are of a different color, people whose origins are from other countries, people of other genders or sexual identity, or people of another political persuasion.
It’s my personal position that it’s idolatrous enough we seem to have no problem with the mantra, “America First,” but even that phrase has devolved into, “ME first,” “MY RIGHTS are more important than yours,” “MY RELIGIOUS BELIEFS take precedence over yours,” and, “Because you are a threat to all that is near and dear to me, I have the right demean you, to threaten you, to hurt you, and to even kill you.”
WHERE IS GOD IN ALL OF THAT? WHERE ARE THE TEACHINGS AND THE COMMANDMENTS OF JESUS?
The voice of God
The English theologian, Richard Bauckham, points out something particularly fascinating in this parable. He notes that, of ALL the parables Jesus told in the Gospels, this is the ONLY one where God speaks (Bauckham, R. The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels). The ONLY one. Why do you think that is?
This is what God said to the rich man, in verse 20:
“You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Using this parable, Jesus reminds us that WE ARE FOOLS if we ignore our dependence on God. WE ARE FOOLS if we believe we are entitled to live in complacency about the existence and needs of others. WE ARE FOOLS if we’ve made the sole reasons for our existence our own wants, comfort, and pleasure.WE ARE FOOLS to live as if tomorrow is guaranteed. And what did this rich man leave behind? He has left the LEGACY OF A FOOL.
A lasting Legacy
This parable illustrates for us the most important factor which goes into building a lasting Legacy. What do you think it is? Is it Wealth? Fame? Power? Generosity? Faith? Might it possibly be… RELATIONSHIP?
The rich man was sorely lacking a relationship with God and his fellow human beings -- his relationship was with THINGS, and was based upon what those things could do for HIM.
But when we are in a RIGHT RELATIONSHIP with God and others, we are able to receive and give, not from the amount of what we possess, but from the blessing of what we have been given.
When we are in a RIGHT RELATIONSHIP – when we are PONO with God, and humble ourselves before God, we are challenged to be PONO with our possessions, whether those possessions be things like money, or cars, or houses, or jewelry, or clothes – or whether they be our time, our attention, our talents, or our compassion.
IMAGINE WITH ME, if you will, what could happen if the focus of our attention is not upon OURSELVES, but upon God. And, rather than giving God a place on the sidelines of our lives, we become instruments of the Holy Spirit’s Grace and Love in this world. CAN YOU IMAGINE?
IMAGINE what our lives can be like IF WE ARE PONO in our relationships with our loved ones,…the people with whom we work,…our neighbors and fellow citizens, and…with those we consider as OTHERS, who are unlike us. CAN YOU IMAGINE?
IMAGINE if we as a COUNTRY could be spiritually attuned and PONO in our relationship with, not only other countries, but between political parties,…and with Native American Indians and Hawaiians. CAN YOU IMAGINE?
IMAGINE if we as a NATION could find a way to be PONO in our relationship to nuclear weapons,…or the construction of telescopes,…or the building of walls.
IMAGINE if we could find a way to be PONO in our relationship with guns. CAN YOU IMAGINE?
But Imagination and Reality has to start with us as individuals. If WE are PONO in our RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, as instruments of the Holy Spirit’s Grace and Love, our Legacy will be seen in the degree of importance we place on our possessions. It will be seen in how we treat our Environment. And, it will be seen in how we relate with, and treat Others. What kind of Legacy are YOU building? What would I see in your daily interaction with others? What would you be giving and sharing with others? Would you be standing up for others, and with them, in your reflection of God’s Love and Grace?
What kind of Legacy is OUR CHURCH building? How do we reflect God’s Grace and Love in the relationships we share between each other? And how do we reflect God in our relationship with our larger Maui community?
What kind of Legacy are we allowing our COUNTRY to build? One hundred years from now, what will we be remembered for?
One of my long-time colleagues, the Rev. Al Miles, has spent over 25 years as the lead chaplain for The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu. He’s a tall, distinguished-looking, African-American man whom you might at first glance believe to be a retired NFL running back. In addition to his work at Queen’s and training hundreds of future hospital chaplains, Al is known for his leadership in the prevention of domestic violence. He has written several books on the subject, designed specifically for ministers and families, and his work has been recognized by the American Bar Association. He served on the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women under President George W. Bush. Recently Al received the Anton Boise Professional Service Award. It is among the highest recognitions bestowed upon a hospital chaplain, internationally. In a recent interview, Al spoke to the sense of his own Legacy, and his discomfort in being publicly recognized. He recalled the words of his mentor, who “helped put things into perspective [by saying] ‘This isn’t about you. It’s about…the lives you’ve touched – it is the Holy Spirit at work.’ ” (“Rev. Al Miles Recognized for Far- Reaching Career.” Queen’s Connection, Vol 28, No. 31. July 29, 2019, pp. 3, 5.)
No matter what we see going on around us,…no matter how others choose to live, or hate, or demean, or destroy,…no matter what rules or laws are put into place,…no matter how grieved or discouraged or frustrated we may become,…Let us commit ourselves together THIS VERY DAY to allow the Holy Spirit to be at work in and through us. May our attitudes and actions reflect our deep desire to be the Holy Spirit’s instrument of Love and Grace, extended toward our fellow humanity. And, let us commit to make our own Legacies reflect – to the best of our ability – a PONO RELATIONSHIP with God. Amen.