Sermon for Sunday, July 31, 2016 || Proper 13, Year C || Hosea 11: 1-11; Psalm 107: 1-9, 43; Colossians 3: 1-11; Luke 12: 13-21 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
Luke set the scene for this morning’s reading a few verses earlier in his gospel where he wrote: “…the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another.”
So many people wanted to see Jesus and hear what he was teaching that they actually trampled each other. Yet somehow out of that unruly mob rises the voice of one desperate man: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me!”
Now, I characterize this man as desperate, but we really don’t know anything about him. I just figure he must have been desperate since he was willing to risk being trampled to death, to suffer the shame of publicly airing his family’s dirty laundry in front of so many onlookers, and to cry out so loudly that Jesus heard his plaintive plea as it pierced through the din of all the others gathered there that day.
Yes, I figure this man was pretty darned desperate. How he got that way, I have no idea. Whether one could argue it was his own fault or the tragic result of causes and conditions beyond his control, who knows?
What is clear, however, is that his brother doesn’t care. His brother won’t share. His brother is unwilling to dare to do the right thing…the humane thing…the Kingdom-of-God-Is-Near thing…the Follower-of-Jesus thing– because as far as the brother is concerned the inheritance is his. All his. Never mind that he did nothing whatsoever to deserve it beyond being born at the right time, of the right gender, to the right family—which is to say as the firstborn, male child, of an asset-holding father.
The “Doesn’t Care, Share, or Dare Brother” must’ve felt vindicated—maybe he even gloated a bit– when Jesus answered his desperate sibling with, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And I imagine the brother who begged for Jesus to intervene must’ve been sorely disappointed.
But not so fast. Because to the whole crowd gathered—including the “Doesn’t Care, Share or Dare Brother”— Jesus now says, “‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’”
And I wonder to whom Jesus cast his gaze as he said that? I’m doubting it was the brother who pleaded for help.
First, Jesus totally disarms the greedy brother by refusing to take sides, then he totally convicts him by cleverly telling a parable addressed to the whole crowd, but targeted, like a laser, on him.
“Once there was this rich dude whose property was really productive,” the story goes. “And he thought to himself, `What am I gonna’ do with all this stuff? I don’t even have any place to keep it all!’ So he said to himself, `I know: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, then I’ll have someplace to store everything. And I’ll say to my soul, `Well done, Soul, you’ve got nothing to worry about now! So take a chill and have a good time.’”
But then God says to the rich man, `You fool! Right now, this very night, your life is being demanded of you. And all that stuff you’ve stored away, what good will it be?’
“So it is,” Jesus concludes, “with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Now, maybe the Doesn’t Care, Share, or Dare Brother is so clueless, so wrapped up in Self, that he doesn’t even get that there’s a lesson in this for him. Maybe he thinks that yes, some people really do put too much emphasis on material security, but that he’s not like that at all. After all, he’s not rich. He’s just protecting what’s his, right? That doesn’t make him a bad man, does it?
But I’m betting—at least I’m hoping– that as the brother with the inheritance listens to Jesus telling this story, he feels at least as squirmy as I–and perhaps you—do. Because I know that as the self-described “Queen of Craigslist,” whose Scottish mother taught her to take great pride in scouring thrift shops, yard sales, and flea markets for hidden treasures, this story makes me feel very squirmy. No one would ever accuse me of being a hoarder, but I definitely have a lot of stuff—and a lot more of it than I will ever need! Not only that, but Don and I are very careful about saving for our retirement, about investing conservatively and wisely. And of course we also want to be able to leave something for our daughter, too.
I would like to think that Don and I are what this gospel calls “rich toward God” because we tithe to this church and we contribute to a lot of other causes that do the kind of Kingdom work we want to support. But when I focus on the Doesn’t Care, Doesn’t Share, Doesn’t Dare brother in this morning’s gospel, I have to wonder: Is it enough? With whom am I neglecting to share my God-given inheritance and how am I managing to justify it? And I don’t mean just money. My God-given inheritance includes my health, my education, my gifts and talents, my privileges as a white woman living in a very wealthy, white neighborhood, my privileges as an American citizen. Am I really sharing my inheritance the way God is calling me to share it?
So I have to ask all of you: With whom are we—as a church, as a community, as a country—with whom are we neglecting to share the inheritance with which God has blessed us, and how are we justifying it?
Commentators on this gospel are always quick to point out that Jesus never condemns money or stuff, material success or financial security, per se. What Jesus condemns, they say, is an unhealthy relationship to those things. The sin is in mistakenly thinking that material things can provide us with the sense of wholeness and security that only a healthy relationship with God can provide, and in becoming so attached to them that they become more important to us than real flesh and blood human lives.
But it’s not just material things to which we are overly attached. And it’s not just a lust for financial security that gets in the way of our relationship with God. You and I have inherited things far more precious than mere money. This gospel begs us ask the question: Do we care enough to share them? Do we dare?
A desperate man cries out: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me!” But his brother doesn’t care. His brother won’t share. His brother can’t dare to do the right thing…the humane thing…the Kingdom-of-God-Is-Near thing…the Follower-of-Jesus thing– because as far as the brother is concerned the inheritance is his. All his. And in the telling of the parable of the rich man, God calls that brother a fool.
It sure gives me pause for thought. I hope it gives you pause for thought, too.
Let us pray:
Lord, open our eyes to see the rich inheritance with which you have blessed us. Fill our hearts with gratitude that we might share what we have been so freely given with all of our brothers and sisters. Grace us with the courage to engage in rigorous self-examination and repentance. Then transform us, O Lord, into generous-hearted members of your human family and use us, we pray, that your Kingdom may come and your will may be done, right here on earth, this day and always. Amen.