Sermon: “What Do You Say to Your Soul?”

July 31, 2016: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

I’ve had to think about it this week. That may come as a surprise or a delight to some: that yes, I do think. And on reflection, I’ve concluded that there is a more uncomfortable, even dangerous, place to be than between two sisters who are arguing over who should be doing what. You could be between two brothers who are arguing about money.

Like Martha in our text two weeks ago, this unnamed man wants Jesus to step into a dispute with his siblings, and he wants Jesus to tell his brother to do something. In this case, it’s to divide the family inheritance – fairly, I guess, at least in the mind of this man. Now, ancient Israel had laws for this – you can find them in Deuteronomy – and they specified that property was to be divided among someone’s sons (if that sounds sexist to you, it’s because it is).

Luke doesn’t tell us what the problem was, why this man wasn’t able to receive his proper inheritance, and why he couldn’t go to a magistrate or a local religious authority about it. He’d probably have happily explained, but Jesus cut him off.

“Who set me to be a judge, or to divide things?” he said.

Well, that made me pause. Who set Jesus to be a judge over people?

Well, it’s God. I mean, didn’t God do that?

Can’t you just hear the wheels turning in the minds of the disciples listening to this? They’d accepted Jesus’ judgement for some time. I can just hear them thinking, “But, Jesus, didn’t God do that?”

Jesus didn’t give anybody time to think or respond, though, because he jumped to another agenda, or another way to put it is, he looked deeper into the motives of this man. He concluded that it wasn’t a sense of injury or unfairness that had brought the man to him: it was greed. Simple greed.

“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,” he said; “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

And before anybody could stop him and get him back on topic, Jesus had launched into the story of the rich man and his barns, which tells of how worthless wealth and material things are in the long run. This rich man spends his anxiety and his effort to store and preserve his wealth, and then he says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

That last part is Biblical, by the way. Ecclesiastes 8:15 reads: “So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes, at least, felt that that might not be such a bad thing to say to your soul, but Jesus had different ideas. His fictional rich man’s enjoyment of life was tied to those barns full of grain. It was about the stuff, the ownership, the wealth. It had no connection to the grace of God.

David J. Schlafer writes: “The disgruntled brother and the enterprising rich man are not distracted by many things, as Martha is. Rather, both are distracted by their respective fixation on one thing: the additional resources each might somehow garner.”

Or as Kathryn M. Matthews writes: “The rich man’s anxiety about the inadequancy of his barns mirrors in some ways our preoccupation with handling our possessions, protecting them safely, worrying about them. It’s not that such precautions are irresponsible or sinful, but they can distract us from what is really important, or lead us to place our trust in the wrong places.”

At this point, I could tell you in some detail about how wealth and property and power and position are wrong places to place your trust. I’d have a lot of help for this, as nearly all the commentaries I read this past week go in that direction.

But I’m really curious about what the rich man might have said to his soul. What are right places to place our trust? What are the better things to say to your soul than, “Hey, soul, look! You’re rich!”

What do you say to your soul?

The rich man’s barns echo the storehouses built by Joseph in Egypt. Joseph, however, was saving for a non-rainy day, literally: he was storing grain to feed the people through an expected time of famine.

The rich man’s barns, however, benefit no other people. In fact, Jesus put no other people in this story at all. Even God appears without any invitation from the wealthy man.

What if the rich man had said, “Soul, look at this abundance. How can I reward the farmhands who worked so hard to plant the crop, weed it and water it, tears down the old bars, build new ones, harvest the grain, thresh it and winnow it, and store it away? How can I show love for my family, who worked as hard or harder than I did? How can I help improve my village? Perhaps I could deepen its well, or find a way so that those who are sick have nursing care?”

What if he had said something like that to his soul?

Or what if he had said to his soul, “What an abundant harvest! How blessed I am for the way the fields have sprouted and blossomed and ripened into grain. How blessed I am in my family and friends, and in the people who make my life better every day, from the farm hands in the fields to the fruit seller in the market. I thank God, o my soul, for this astonishing bounty, and for this beautiful world.”

What if he had said something like that to his soul?

The rich man knew his Scripture, which isn’t that surprising, since he’s a character that Jesus created, after all. Jesus knew his Scripture. But he misused that verse from Ecclesiastes 8.

So what if he had said, “Soul, I thank God for all the joy I’ve felt in bringing this crop to harvest: the sense of accomplishment, the knowledge that I’ve stretched the talents God gave me and made them into new skills. I thank God for the time I gave to enjoying the world outside of daily toil. I’ve eaten, and I’ve drunk, and I’ve enjoyed the blessings of life.”

What if he had said something like that to his soul?

What if he had said, “Along with my day-to-day work, I have cared for you, my soul. I have labored to understand the God who made us all. I have sought to decide with wisdom and with righteousness, and I have tried to echo the love I’ve received with the love I’ve given. I’ve worked to know myself honestly, to apologize when I have wronged someone, and to forgive when I’ve been wronged. These haven’t been the easiest things I’ve ever done, soul, but I’ll do them all again.”

What if he had said something like that to his soul?

What if he’d said, “Soul, as I go to my rest tonight, I know that life is fragile and precious, more precious than this harvest I’ve stored away. I’ve done my best to live with a full soul, loved and loving, and if God should call me tonight, I will give thanks for the life I’ve lived and more thanks for the new life God will give.”

What if he had said something like that to his soul, rather than to pile his greed and his goods upon his heart, hiding what is truly good and joyful in this created world, rejecting what is truly good and joyful to his soul?

What do you say to your soul?

What do you say to your soul?

Do you enlarge your soul with loving and caring for others? Say that to your soul.

Do you illuminate your soul with appreciation of the wonders of Creation about you, and the special gift that is you, a beloved child of the Divine? Say that to your soul.

Do you strengthen your soul by seeking wisdom and by exploring the truth of yourself and of the world around you? Say that to your soul.

Do you empower your soul with the realization that life is brief and precious?

Say that to your soul.

Say that to your soul.


Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on July 31, 2016

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