“Set Free”

Luke 13:10-17

August 25, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

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Luke 13:10-17

 

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”

When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

 

Prayer.

 

This magnificent Gospel passage,

Only found in St. Luke,

Gives us a unique path directly to the heart of Jesus.

 

In the Gospel of St. Luke

Pay attention to who Jesus sees.

 

Jesus sees a woman who was invisible.

Literally, she was bent over;

Curvature of the spine, for one reason or another,

Placed her face outside the field of vision of nearly everyone.

 

Loss of eye contact leads to distance.

Social distance increases,

Revealing increased isolation.

Her name is forgotten.

Her identity assumes the name of the least common denominator: “woman.”

 

This woman’s withdrawal from family, friends and synagogue

Reveals another imperfection.

The community’s indifference is exposed.

 

It is as if

One day

She disappeared.

 

For 18 years

She got the cold shoulder.

Her name was not remembered,

Her story was forgotten, and

Nobody cared.

 

It’s kind of like dropping out of church and no one noticing.

 

Pay attention to who Jesus sees.

 

A spirit had crippled her, Luke reports.

The language and history are clear.

Luke uses the language at hand to report that

Her condition violates God’s will for her life.

This woman is not demon possessed,

As is often assumed.

Through no fault of her own, she is tragically broken.

 

She is broken,

Not only because of her physical impairment,

But because her physical limitation

Makes her invisible to the community

And makes it impossible for her to fulfill God’s will for her life.

 

This woman is bound

And imprisoned by her chronic inability to stand up and be seen.

Until Jesus sees her.

Until Jesus calls her over.

Until Jesus laid his hands on her.

 

She is healed.

She stands up straight.

She is seen and the community is made whole once again.

The imperfection has been repaired as if it never happened.

She is liberated to once again serve the Lord, and

Her immediate response is praise!

 

Jesus restores her identity:

She is a daughter of Abraham.

Jesus proclaims what healing has done:

This daughter of Abraham has been set free from bondage this sabbath day to love and serve the Lord!

 

Set free.

Liberated.

It’s as if it is God’s will to heal.

(Of course, it is!)

God desires the broken to be healed.

 

Pay attention to who Jesus sees.

Jesus sees

The tragically broken.

When seen

The bound are liberated and set free.

 

All of which

Begs us to ask the existential question:

Who are the tragically broken that Jesus sees, yet we do not?

Who are the people unable to fulfill God’s will for their lives

Because they are broken and unnoticed?

 

You’ll never see if you don’t go looking.

 

………….

 

This past week I went looking;

I was privileged to join the Outreach team from our church

That serves lunch downtown once a month

Volunteering with “A Meal and More Ministries.”

 

Healthy meals are served to members of our community who are not seen:

Sons and daughters of Abraham

Who struggle with addictions and homelessness,

Unemployment and mental health issues,

Tragically broken families and former lives.

 

This was Wednesday’s menu: salad, Cajun roast chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni salad, mixed vegetables, buttered bread, and a cupcake for desert.

 

One woman came to the counter and asked for fruit.

The chef smiled warmly.

Without hesitation, he served up a heaping bowl of fruit from a refrigerated pan.

He cryptically said to me, “We don’t serve fruit because no one eats it.”

 

(Puzzled) I was looking, but I wasn’t seeing what Jesus was seeing.

 

The chef told me her story:

This woman is addicted to heroin.

Her boyfriend of over twenty years died three months ago of an overdose.

All her family has died, either of overdose or of other causes.

She is all alone.

She only eats fruit: one bowl every Wednesday and one bowl every Sunday.

That’s all she eats.

“That’s why I always have fruit in the fridge and I fill her bowl full.”

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these … you did it to me,” he explained. (Matthew 25:40)

 

Two bowls of fruit a week doesn’t cure her addiction

But it does liberate this woman from isolation.

For a time she is fed; her stomach and her soul.

She is filled by the grace and mercy of the ministry and

By the social unity of those seated at her table.

 

Alan the chef sees a daughter of Abraham as if he was looking through the eyes of Jesus,

Because he is.

 

…………….

 

Who does Jesus see that we don’t?

You’ll never see if you don’t go looking.

 

Sometimes broken vases are obvious;

They’re shattered.

Nothing is left but rubble.

A big mess.

It’s easy to look for the tragically broken and find rubble.

 

Once aware, a response can be immediate:

Think about a family left homeless after a house fire, or

Communities flooded after a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina.

 

The need is obvious.

Glasses aren’t needed.

Everyone can see what needs done.

Everyone pitches in and helps as each are able.

Some pray, some fundraise, some donate, some travel and muck out basements.

There’s something for everyone.

 

Sometimes a broken vase has a fatal crack;

Even though it looks intact.

The crack is turned to the backside,

Hidden from public view.

Looking requires searching,

Active seeking,

Intentionally engaging

The world as if we are the eyes and hands of Jesus.

Because we are.

 

When I think of hidden brokenness,

I think of caregivers;

People who give up life, jobs, freedom, everything …

To care for an aging loved one,

To care for a disabled spouse or child, or

To raise grandchildren, or great grandchildren.

Caregivers may look like they’re holding it all together,

But may be frantically struggling just to keep from being sucked under the flood and drowned.

 

Look for caregivers in the community.

When you see one,

Reach out to one.

A prayer. A gift. A visit. An embrace.

 

When I think of hidden brokenness,

I think of people who struggle with addictions, anxiety, or depression.

The stigma is too embarrassing to reveal to anyone

Other than one’s most trusted confidants.

The tragically broken are awash in a storm

Of guilt,

A sense of moral failure,

And a fear of being judged.

 

Look for people and families that struggle with addictions and mental health problems.

When you see one,

Reach out to one.

A prayer. A gift. A visit. An embrace.

 

………….

 

Actively looking as if looking through the eyes of Jesus

Requires intentional effort and willing sacrifice.

 

It is not sufficient to see the humanitarian crisis

Simply by watching network or cable news stories from our Southern border.

 

To see,

To bring healing to the broken,

To liberate those who are bound,

Requires me to go;

To intentionally travel to the source of bondage.

This is why I travel on short-term mission trips to Guatemala.

 

I’d never see the homelessness and malnutrition

If I wasn’t there

Building houses and passing out food.

I’d never see the violence done, especially to women and children,

If I didn’t distribute clothing and shoes.

I’d never know the isolation of bent over sons and daughters of Abraham

If I failed to take part in fitting people to wheelchairs.

 

My invitation to you:

Join me.

Come, look and see, and heal

Next August

When I hope to return to Guatemala.

 

……………….

 

It is God’s will to heal

The tragically broken,

The nameless,

The invisible.

 

It is God’s will to liberate the bound:

Caregivers,

Those living in slavery to addiction,

Those suffering from mental health issues,

Families hungry, homeless, victimized, neighbors near and far away.

 

Look and see,

beloved members and friends of Rush.

Look and see as if you are the eyes of Jesus,

Because you are.

 

Look and see as if you are the healing hands of Jesus,

beloved people of Rush, our friends and our guests,

Because you are.

 

Seek the tragically broken of the world,

Because healing mean liberation.

Liberation is life,

Even eternal life.

Amen.

“Bringing Division? Oh, My!”

Luke 12:49-56

18 August 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 12:49-56

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“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Prayer.

 

Anyone a little unnerved?

Anyone uncomfortable with the Gospel?

Anyone upset by Jesus teaching his disciples and the crowds

That he brings division to families?

That he brings division to the earth?

 

If you’re not the least bit fazed by Jesus

And his confrontational characteristic

Most poignantly piqued in Luke,

Then I suggest someone in your row

Run out the back door,

Grab the defibrillator,

(Mounted on the wall by the conference room)

Hook you up,

And ZAP you back to life!

 

If you are unfazed by Jesus

You don’t have a pulse.

 

Bringing division? Oh, my …

When I was younger,

Starting my sixth year out of seminary,

I served the church in Palmyra,

One of four churches on four corners.

The United Methodist sign was prominent and easy to read by drivers waiting at the stop light.

I had posted on the sign a cute, catchy phrase:

“Bible and Family Values”.

After hearing these words of Jesus in Luke 12

I now see how ineffective this casual slogan was.

Conflicting promises don’t sell and can never be kept.

“I’ve come to bring fire!” Jesus pronounces,

And “How I wish it were already kindled!” (12:49)

It’s as if Jesus is eager to bring judgment,

Blame and shame to the world.

 

Jesus isn’t blaming and shaming you,

And neither am I.

My goodness,

I’ve only been on the job here in Rush for six weeks.

Were just getting to know one another!

 

A little context.

 

Jesus is in the same setting as last Sunday;

Teaching the crowds and his disciples on his way to Jerusalem.

Remember how he began last week:

“Do not be afraid, little flock,

For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (12:32)

Today, Jesus is calling in fire!

 

How does one reconcile such neck snapping changes in his mood?

 

Let’s talk about fire.

 

Our Euro-centric, affluent, Protestant culture

Has brought to the Lord and his kingdom many wonderful advances;

At the same time it has limited and constrained our world view.

Our blinders make it difficult to recognize the unintended consequences of well meaning actions.

Fire is a great example.

 

We hear Jesus bringing fire and many of us

Immediately jump to the conclusion

That it is God intense desire to smote sinners.

Napalm ‘em.

Hell fire.

Brimstone.

Judgment.

Destruction.

Retribution.

Sinners go to hell.

The righteous go to heaven.

Tic, Toc.

Black, white.

Thumbs up. Thumbs down.

 

In referring to preachers who deliver this type shame, blame, and pain message week after week,

My father-in-law was fond of saying

“She/He suffers from a poor theological education.”

Others just call it bad theology.

 

I’d suggest a belief in a God of destruction, judgment, and retribution

Is simply undeveloped and uninformed;

Absent of the grace and love found in

A fully developed scriptural understanding

Of God’s role in salvation history.

 

Fire.

Remember these words from Exodus,

“At the morning watch the Lord

In the pillar of fire and cloud

Looked down upon the Egyptian army,

And threw the Egyptian army into panic.” (Exodus 14:24)

 

Also, from Exodus,

“Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.” (Exodus 19:18)

 

Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“See, the name of the Lord comes from far away,

   burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke;

his lips are full of indignation,

   and his tongue is like a devouring fire”. (Isaiah 30:27)

 

Recall the prophet Jeremiah,

“Is not my word like fire, says the Lord,

and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)

 

I’d suggest

When Jesus calls down fire upon the earth and

Wish it were already kindled

He is calling down

The presence of God, to a godless world;

The power of God, to effect change in the face of resistance;

The persistence of God, to ensure unrighteousness, idolatry, and injustice can not stand,

Will not be tolerated,

In God’s presence.

 

Calling down God is

Our Lord’s deepest desire for

The well being of the world.

Jesus is calling down God and

That’s going to break up some families.

 

For members of the family that actively resist the Lord,

Those who lust after power, possessions, and embrace the evil powers of this world,

This is really bad news.

 

There is no unity;

In fact, calls for unity at all costs should never be trusted.

There is no compromise.

There can be no harmony

With darkness.

 

Christ divides us from the Devil and his followers.

In this case, division is a good thing.

Choose carefully those with whom you associate and

Those who need to be kept at arms length.

Watch for those drawn to Christ.

Buddy up with them.

 

Christ’s divisive nature doesn’t mean Jesus is opposed to peace.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

I quickly count twelve citations in the Gospel of Luke

(There may be more)

Where Jesus brings the peace.

 

Being separated from all that is evil

Frees us from temptation,

Releases us from every sin that enslaves us, and

Brings about the transformation of the world,

The emergence of God’s kingdom.

 

Jesus is calling down God and

That’s going to divide households.

For members of the family that fail to actively prepare for our Master to return, this is a wake up call.

Repent.

Light your lamps.

Keep awake.

Watch.

Wait for the Lord.

 

God’s presence and fire

sheds light

On the division that is already among us.

 

The house is already divided.

Have we not seen?

Have we not heard?

A country divided.

A denomination divided.

A church divided.

This is the temptation:

That each of us think we are right about every divisive issue.

Anyone who thinks otherwise

Becomes a threat,

A source of fear,

The focus of contempt.

 

Human arrogance and pride draw us into the vortex of darkness.

 

Light your lamp and trim your wick.

The presence and light of God,

In the words and actions of Jesus,

Saves us from the darkness.

 

God’s ways and will is far more expansive than our limited world view.

God plan exceeds our life span,

Our generation,

Always arcing upward.

God’s salvation history that has yet to be written

Is transforming the world one heartbeat at a time

Into the kingdom of God.

 

Jesus is calling down God and

That’s going to bring division.

 

For members of the family that follow Jesus, and actively strive to follow his word, will, and way,

Have no fear.

 

Do not be afraid, little flock.

 

Jesus knew that

Following him

Would divide people from those

Who wanted to remain waiting for their Messiah.

Following Jesus would split people from their synagogue, and

Require them to join up and create new communities of faith.

And so it did.

And so it does, to this day.

 

In an ironic kind of way,

The Church multiplies by division.

Division is now and will be until the time

When our Master returns and we hear:

“Time is up.

Put down your pencil.”

 

Preparation is everything.

Take nothing for granted.

The clock will one day run out.

 

Do not be afraid, little flock.

 

It’s not like none of us have ever dealt with dysfunction in our families.

Everyone has a closet full of skeletons.

Secrets love the darkness and

Secrets are always a sign and symptom of dysfunction.

By the power and presence of God we can overcome!

We can shed light on darkness,

And bring healing to the broken.

 

But how?

The broken don’t heal themselves.

 

Allow me to be crystal clear.

I can’t fix broken relationships.

Neither am I anyone’s Savior.

Like John the Baptist,

I can only point to the Way.

The only pathway to healing

Is unity with Jesus Christ,

Our Lord, and our Savior.

 

By his blood, we are healed.

Because of his resurrection, we are saved.

Jesus is the only place in the cosmic order

Where unity can be found.

 

 

Do not be afraid.

Be prepared.

Walk in the presence of God’s fire.

The pathway of God’s kingdom

May be difficult.

At least we follow the One who knows the way!

Amen.

“Our Father’s Good Pleasure”

Luke 12:32-40

11 August 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

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Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

 

Prayer.

 

Fear is a powerful motivator.

Fear has been a tool of many:

Nations, dictators, and their military,

Law enforcement and criminal justice,

Schools, nuns and principals, even

Organized religion.

 

Fear of going to hell

Has been effectively defining what is

and what isn’t

acceptable behavior

For Catholic and Christian Conservative cousins

For centuries.

 

Hell and damnation

Drove the Church to the

Altar of indulgences, and to the

Golden calf of wealth.

 

Two early Church Fathers,

St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom,

Are credited with the observation that

“The pathway to hell is paved with the skulls of priests.”

 

Clergy who fail to take notice of these words are either ignorant or dead.

This is the humble fear I experience

Every time I place the yoke of the ordination stole

On my shoulders and around my neck.

Many long for the benefits of ordination;

Few recognize the deadly risks and dangers.

Crucifixion is for keeps.

 

Fear is a two-sided actor performing on the stage of life.

 

The positive results of fear include

A fight or flight neurochemical response that serves self-preservation.

Healthy fear contributes to

Discipline and conformity.

Healthy fear leads to faithful diligence.

 

There are some negative, unintended consequences of fear.

Chronic fear can lead to normalization;

Eventually, the adrenalin rush just wears off.

We let our guard down and in rush the wolves.

 

Fear can drive people over the edge.

People can be pushed an inch too far,

Throw in the towel and just walk away.

 

Fear can lead to decline and failure.

Empty are the cathedrals of Europe and

Many mainline churches in America.

 

Jesus,

In the Gospel of Luke

Begs us to ask the deeply existential question,

 

“What is it that we fear?”

 

What do you fear?

Aging, disease, suffering, death?

The safety of loved ones? Yourself?

Running out of money?

The humiliation of getting fired, caught, or dropping down the socio-economic ladder?

 

What do we fear as the Rush United Methodist Church?

Decline in membership or attendance?

Not able to pay our bills? Raise enough money? Keep the property in repair?

Disengagement from missions and ministries that are central to our culture, identity, and faith?

Division in the denomination that demands a divided and contentious response?

 

What is it that we fear?

 

When we peel back the lid containing our deepest fears

And honestly examine what we find,

The Gospel sings the tender assurance of Jesus saying,

 

“Do not be afraid, little flock.” (12:32)

 

Do not be afraid,

Jesus echoes the familiar reframe of Old Testament / Hebrew prophets;

Casting the tapestry for his audience

(including all of us here today)

Of our Heavenly Father’s greatest characteristics.

 

Be assured

 

It is God’s desire to give us God’s greatest gift;

His kingdom.

So, here’s the deal:

God good pleasure is to give us his kingdom.

The King wants to give his servants everything!

Have you ever heard of that?!!!

 

Therefore, we need of nothing.

Baptism claims our status as citizens of God’s kingdom.

We need nothing of this world

Other than a connection with God,

A personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

Kingdom living isn’t about obtaining more;

God is already giving us everything.

Kingdom living is all about being good managers,

Good stewards,

Of what God has already given.

 

Kingdom living is abundant living.

The grace and love of God,

Demonstrated through the words and deeds of Jesus,

Meets our needs and

Exceeds our needs!

God’s grace and love floods into our life,

Spilling over into our neighbor’s lives;

Floating us from this life

To the life that is to come.

 

Christian discipleship is living in a seller’s market.

Sell possessions, Jesus tells us. (12:33)

They’re distracting.

We don’t need them, anyways.

 

Give alms, Jesus tells us. (12:33)

Alms are gifts of charity to the poor.

When giving to the poor,

There is no expectation of reciprocity.

The poor can’t pay you back.

Nor should they.

 

Sell, and it’s gone.

Give. No strings attached.

Give it away and don’t expect anything to be returned.

 

Kingdom living radically separates us

From the wealth and possessions of this world

And ropes us into relationship with our neighbors,

Specifically, our poorest neighbors,

In God’s kingdom world.

 

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus correctly observes. (12:34)

 

I never knew how many Subaru Outbacks there were on the road

Until I bought one of my own.

Now, that’s all I see.

It seems like everyone is driving an Outback!

 

In a similar way,

Jesus recognizes that when we

Use the proceeds from our garage sales and

Give the proceeds to the poor,

Our heart follows.

 

The heart follows the gift.

 

We begin to notice the poor more.

We begin to see the poverty that was always present,

But it was the (Jesus directed) gift of charity

That removed the scales from our eyes.

 

Invest in charity,

Time, talent, money, and

God’s kingdom comes into laser focus.

The kingdom reveals itself.

Our heart follows and is forever the Lord’s.

 

When Luke knits this all together with

This simple parable about the unexpected return of the master

There is revealed in today’s Gospel one additional essential truth about God:

 

Faithful discipleship demands diligence.

 

Waiting is not idling.

Waiting is firing on all cylinders,

Revving the engine,

Kicking in the turbocharger,

Popping the clutch, and

Squealing the tires.

 

Waiting is working with diligence,

Taking the best care of the Kingdom we’ve already been given.

Waiting means leading by serving,

Serving those who would otherwise be expected to serve and

Serving those who could never repay you.

 

Faithful diligence in kingdom living

Removes the fear of the unexpected return of Jesus

And the outcome of our forthcoming judgment.

Fear of judgment is gone!

 

“Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus said.

God is happy to give you everything.

God is giving us his kingdom.

It’s up to us to take care of it.

Amen.

“Foolish Abundance”

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Luke 12:13-21

4 August 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 12:13-21

 

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

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.’

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

 

Prayer.

 

I like my financial advisor.

We’ve been going to him for years.

He’s got a nice office in an upscale building.

The coffee is free and the bathrooms are immaculate.

 

When I saw him a few weeks ago

I didn’t ask him what he thought about

this narrative and parable from Luke,

But I wish I had.

 

My guess is that he would appeal to my conservative financial sensibilities:

What has the rich farmer done wrong?

One could argue that he is wise and responsible,

Investing for the long-term.

He operates a thriving business.

Production is efficient and has led to an excess of supply.

What’s wrong with setting aside savings for future golden years?

 

….

 

“Guard against all kinds of greed,” Jesus tells us. (12:15)

The problem of greed,

Jesus correctly observes,

is that it steals the focus away from God,

away from neighbors and one another,

– where life is lived –

and inappropriately places our focus on the abundance of possessions.

 

When we chose possessions over people

we surrender our lives

and find ourselves increasingly isolated.

When we chose possessions over God

we surrender our souls

and find ourselves increasingly without meaning.

 

The issue does not appear to be one of quantity.

In other words, I find little evidence in the Gospels

that wealth, per se, is evil.

God and wealth both have claim on us.

Face it, we need stuff to live.

We have to carry a balance to avoid bouncing checks.

We have to make plans for our future finances

when we no longer earn a paycheck.

 

The issue continually addressed by Jesus

Is about where our priorities lie.

Where is life focused?

 

Do you think about things?

Have you given the Amazon app a good work out this past week?

Do you daily check the stock market or fluctuations in net worth?

Do you obsess about money or things?

 

Because when we do, we’re not thinking about God.

We’re not listening to the whisper of the Spirit

about God’s will for our lives.

We’re not paying attention to God’s plan for our riches and things.

 

This is the Gospel’s promise:

If we keep our eye on Jesus,

Listen to and prioritize every word he speaks,

and live according to the will of the Holy Spirit,

God will get each of us through the eye

of any old needle.

 

Life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions.

Life only has meaning when it’s lived

faithfully according to the will of God.

Not for nothing,

but when one person has abundance

it often means

it has come at the expense of another.

When we see huge differences in wealth,

where people with much

live next to people with little

– poverty, hunger, powerlessness –

a culture of greed is nurtured and fertilized.

 

Is this the world Jesus wanted to preserve?

Absolutely not!

Christians cannot be in the business of nurturing and growing greed.

Loving our neighbor means

reaching out from our abundance,

– be it two pennies or two million –

to the last, the least, the lost, the left behind,

the poor, the widow, the orphaned, the diseased, and those left for dead.

 

This is not political.

This is all about the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is creating

Right here on earth,

Right here in Rush.

 

….

 

Today’s parable from Jesus is correctly titled

“The Parable of the Rich Fool”.

Fools are not unique to wealthy people.

In my humble opinion

fools are evenly distributed across the clergy and the socioeconomic spectrum.

 

Today, however, Jesus is talking about a rich fool.

His foolishness operates at many levels.

 

First, this rich farmer is a lone ranger.

He lives life in isolation.

He thinks to himself.

He questions himself.

He draws conclusions by himself.

 

Where is his family?

Perhaps they are engaged in an inheritance dispute

Like the one that led to this parable.

Where are his farm workers?

Wouldn’t a wise manager consult their staff? Their workers?

Where are his neighbors?

We hear nothing about living in relationship within a larger community,

Seeking wisdom, experience, or guidance.

How is God supposed to speak

If not through the words and actions of neighbors?

Faith in isolation, in the absence of community, is folly.

What a fool.

 

Secondly, the argument can be made that the rich man is a poor planner.

Granted, farming success or failure

ebbs and flows with the seasons and the weather.

Most farmers I’ve known are modest, conservative members of the Grange.

 

This rich man planted way too much for his established capacity to harvest, store, market, and transport his crop.

Lets just say

He was in way over his head,

Rolling the dice at the high stakes table.

What a fool.

 

Thirdly, before you tear down the storage capacity you have

wouldn’t it make more sense to build new, improved barns first,

so that business could be seamlessly transitioned from the old barns to the new one?

What happens if the contractor walked off the job?

or weather struck and building was delayed weeks on end,

Leaving crops to over ripen and rot in the fields?

Even I can see that this would be foolish.

What a fool.

 

Fourth, you’d rather place your faith

in storage capacity

than in God?

Seriously?

 

So, what happens when funnel clouds appear over the hill?

We’ve all seen the video of barns, silos, and flying cows.

Or what happens next year when drought hits and the oversized barns are empty?

Eventually food runs out.

Markets go up and markets go down.

But the everlasting love and sustenance of God never waivers.

It’s foolish to trust in anything but God!

 

Fifth, eat, drink, and be merry?

What about the farm workers

who made the abundant harvest possible?

Are you seriously thinking of partying it up in front of those

by whose sweat and hard work

pulled you away from the brink of failure?

That’s mighty selfish of you.

How about throwing a party for those who earned it

and not for yourself

and your foolish failure to plan?

What a fool.

 

Lastly, the rich fool failed to plan for the most important thing:

His day of reckoning with God.

 

We all know a fool when we see one.

So does God.

“You fool!” God says to him.

What God gives, God can take away.

Life, given by God, can be demanded this very night.

Abundance, given by God, will be redistributed

by your estate and a handful of lawyers in a New York minute.

 

And what will it have gained you?

Is this the legacy you want to leave behind?

 

….

 

Meaning in life comes

when we make Jesus our life’s focus.

This is when we are rich towards God.

Meaning comes

when we slice out greed from our heart

and replace it with love of God and love of neighbor.

Meaning comes

when we are so focused on Jesus

that the background noise of this world is drowned out

and we can only hear his Spirit’s whisper.

 

Greed is such an easy temptation;

this is why is must be greatly opposed.

No one is more greatly tempted than me.

Who wouldn’t want to see a swelling retirement account,

a beautiful house,

and a swag-o-licious sports car in the driveway?

Who wouldn’t want to attend a church

with a million-dollar endowment,

an excess of money in current expenses,

and carpeting without coffee stains?

 

Yet, these things take our eyes off the prize.

The prize is Jesus.

God has given us all that we need,

the question is

how are we distributing it?

 

My eyes are on Jesus

when I share generously out of my abundance.

My eyes are on Jesus

when I encourage others to listen to the Gospel

and apply the stewardship of Jesus to their lives, too.

 

Dearly beloved,

join me in storing up treasures towards God.

Let us stop building bigger barns

and let us build bigger the kingdom of God.

Amen.