Proper 13, 8th Sunday after Pentecost
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Oak Harbor
Blessed be the Name of God!
This morning I believe our dear friend Jesus a very wise man as he quickly opts out of getting involved in the family squabble over property. Instead, our Jesus takes the opportunity to talk about a right relationship with God and more importantly, how we can be rich toward God!
Jesus begins with a story that is often called the Parable of the Rich Fool. We must begin with some common clarity about the main character in this parable: He isn’t portrayed as particularly wicked. He is not described as one whose wealth was ill-gotten. He hasn’t cheated anyone, he’s not one of the tax collectors – who were the shake-down artists of Jesus ’day – and he hasn’t stolen anything. From the information we’re given, he became wealthy by the sweat of his brow, by honest means. He was a farmer and his land had produced generously. And at first glance, his decision to save for the future by building bigger barns doesn’t sound too unreasonable to us either; after all, he does need space for his abundant harvest, right? What’s wrong with saving for a rainy day?
The truth is there’s nothing wrong with saving for a rainy day. The foolishness of this man isn’t in his plan to build bigger barns. This man’s foolishness is spiritual, not inherently about his wealth or even his ambition – it’s in how he relates to it. Notice the inner dialog this man has with himself:
“What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? 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.’”
Notice the emphasis on “me.” In this short internal dialog, consisting of approximately 60 words, the man uses 11 references to himself with the personal pronouns “I” and “my.” If we add the references to “soul” and “you” as part of that inner dialog about himself, then we have 22 percent of the words in this short passage talking about, well, “me.”
Here is where this man “lost his bearings”. He is all about the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. There are no references at all to others– none to family or friends, and certainly no references to God.
He is under the mistaken belief that all this wealth is his: his possession, his to control, and that he alone produced this wealth. This man has journeyed long and hard yet has no inkling about what it might mean to be rich toward God, to his family, and to his neighbor . . .
Here is another more modern day story from the Wisdom of Facebook! It begins: I should probably not share this on social media, but . . . As I was at the McDonald’s drive through, the other day, a young whipper/snapper in the car behind me leaned on the horn and started shouting something because I was taking too long to place my order. So when I got to the first window, I paid for the second order along with my own, you know, “paying it forward” and all. The McDonald’s worker must have relayed to that impatient driver what I had done. As soon as I moved up, the driver leaned out the window and waved to me and mouthed . . . “Thank you” obviously embarrassed that I had repaid her rudeness with kindness. Somewhere between the first and second window, I “lost my bearings”! Because when I got to the second window, I showed them both receipts and collected the repentant driver’s food too! Will that driver ever be surprised now, I thought! That impatient second driver will have an even longer wait as she will have to go back to the end of the queue and start all over again. Don’t mess with a crazy old lady in a snazzy red convertible who is slow to order her Quarter Pounder with cheese Meal Deal, with large fries and a Coke, I thought!!!
This story started out in the right direction, a crazy old lady remembered the Golden Rule, and her long ago lessons from Sunday School, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. And was well aware of the new, contemporary version “Pay it Forward”, so her good schooling kicked in and she began to see the benefit of repaying rudeness with kindness. But, somewhere between the first and second window at McDonald’s though, her frustration got the best of her and she decided to teach this young whipper/snapper a lesson or two, and the rest is history.
This old lady was probably not a mean spirited woman. She got frustrated at the sign board at McDonald’s, too many options, could not clearly hear the worker on the microphone, didn’t have the answer for all the questions. Her daughter did not call as she had promised. And her long delayed delivery from Amazon did not show up either. Add to all this, it was more than 90 degrees out when she began to hear the honking behind her. It was a perfect storm.
Her first inclination was to do the good, and she set out to do just that, but everything accelerated in her mind and she “lost her bearings” and a wild mean spirit emerged. For heaven’s sake, this crazy old lady had a bit more to learn and experience about being rich toward God and her neighbor.
The same is likely true of the driver of the second car. She just got off work. Her children were coming home early from a short day for a teacher in-service and she was trying to beat them home. Earlier, at work, she had a difficult conversation with a co-worker. She was hungry. She would just pop into McDonald’s to get her favorite MealDeal. The wait line at the McDonalds was very long and very slow. She needed some alone time down at the neighborhood park but was stuck in the backup line at McDonald’s. All in all this gal had a lot of stuff going on in her mind and forgot to remember that others have a life too. She forgot kindness, generosity, and care at this particular moment in time. She began to “lose her bearings” Being rich toward God and her neighbor seemed a big stretch this day! Not only a little out of reach but well beyond her reach!
So, what would be the dream of God in these two stories. Let’s imagine! The Rich Fool might work with his employees to set up a cooperative effort to provide for the village folks in need. He could structure the co-op to stay in effect long after he, the Rich Fool dies. Perhaps the Rich Fool might welcome his brother into the company business and drawing himself and his brother into a more selfless service. They might begin an employee owed aspect to the business. Perhaps develop an in-season kind of grain program added to their already just wages. Then there is the matter of the existing barn. With a program of giving away much of the grain, an existing family barn could welcome a new life as a community center, a dance hall, and a Farmer’s Market throughout the year. The Rich Fool could lose his reputation and become the Generous One as he moves himself into more compassionate action. At once, the Generous One would be warmly remembered at his death. He would be the hospitable one who always had a passion for gathering neighbors together, feeding them, and providing endless possibilities to develop new relationships, camaraderie, financial security, and lavish generosity.
And what about the two frustrated drivers in the McDonald’s drive through on Hwy 20 in Oak Harbor? First off, the crazy old lady could follow through on her first impulse to do the good. Instead of grabbing the two lunches in a mean spirited way, she could stop to remember what it was like to be a younger person with lots of unmet and demanding responsibilities. The crazy lady could have stopped to receive both lunches, she could have hopped out of the car and she herself could have brought the lunch to the frustrated and embarrassed driver in line behind her. In doing so, she might would have noticed the tears in the eyes of the young driver, how she was barely holding herself together. In that sweet, unexpected moment and exchange, the crazy old lady turned into the Generous Gramma in the snazzy red convertible! She offered the gift of friendship and loving kindness when the younger woman was overwhelmed, weary, and needed a friend. And, at the same time, the Generous Gramma received a gift. She herself became young in spirit again!
So, now we are left with the younger impatient driver. What would God's dream be for her?? Miss Impatient probably began to regret her actions once she set her hand on the horn and her voice to full blast! She probably knew immediately that she let her emotions rule the day! She might would have put some calming music on the radio, checked to see if her kids got home, and perhaps even asked if they would like a McDonald’s!! As to the woman in front of her, she might have thought of her own Mother or Grandmother and made a mental note to call them that afternoon. It was then she noticed the older woman walking back to her car. Was she in for it now!! But she noticed the woman had a smile on her face! What!!!! Such kindness in her eyes . . . her own eyes teared up! She rolled down the window, reach out for the bag lunch, and fell apart. “How about sharing lunch”, the Crazy Lady said. “There’s a park down the way, by the water”. It was only then that the two of them realized THEY were now holding up the line! For Goodness Sake! “I would love that”, the younger woman said.
There was something about this older gal she liked. She began to wonder who this older gal was, where she lived, what she loved to do. She wondered, would she enjoy a new friend, maybe even a local family to love! She was overwhelmed with how her horn blowing fiasco had turned into extravagant forgiveness, lavish generosity, a compassionate new friend, and perhaps a ride in a snazzy red convertible!!
Today’s Gospel account and our modern day story from the Wisdom of FaceBook, challenge us to live the kind of life that matters, to abandon ourselves to the extravagance of God’s love, Love with a capital “L”! The stories call us to see with “God sight’, to see with the eyes of love that gives us eternal life, particularly when we “lose our bearings” throughout the here and now!
Our stories remind us that we will never be asked about our accomplishments and proficiencies, but rather, in a world of overwhelming options, for heaven’s sake, we WILL be asked over and over again, whether we choose to reach out in love, Love with a capital “L”
So here’s my best take away for today. Treat yourself with kindness. Be open to new and meaningful relationships. Set your heart on the compassionate life, the way of Love with a capital “L”. Make being rich toward God your daily practice. And, for heaven’s sake, when you begin to “lose your bearings’, which we all do and ever will, be ever ready to “catch the feeling quickly”, pick up the pieces and return your life again toward the way of Love!! Love with a capital “L”!
Blessed be the name of God!