Homily for Proper 13 Year C
Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
Christ who is all and in all, teach us to listen to the lessons you have for us. Amen.
During these summer post-Pentecost Sundays of ordinary time, we are immersed in the stories of Jesus’ ordinary ministry, which was teaching. During this particular time in my life and ministry, the call placed on my soul has invited me to open my heart to the ministry of vocational teaching both in my academic and my church life in new and creative ways. So, I’ve been drawn as both a priest and professor to seek wisdom at the feet of Jesus the Teacher.
Now, I know that a number of you are or have been teachers over the course of your career. So, I am going to go out on a limb and assume you are also familiar with the random off-topic question. Having taught adults for twenty five years, I’ve had my fair share of classroom derailments. Sometimes I can practically see it when the hand is being raised. My spouse works with younger children, so he refers to this phenomenon of the excitedly waving hand as “Question, or Story?” Joke as we might about these tangential teaching interruptions, there is truth in the fact that students retain more information from the questions they themselves ask. People actually study this. Educational theorists like Piaget, Dewey, and Vygotsky understood that the way in which we construct our learning is based on the way we see the world. In other words, when the questions which emerge from everyday life inform the lessons that we teach, learners will understand the lesson more fully and apply that learning to their lives.
The tragic interruptions of the world in which we live are teachable moments for us today.
But first, we turn to the wisdom from today’s Gospel lesson. In the earlier portion of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus the Teacher has been offering instruction to the inner, core group of his disciples while a crowd has been gathering. Right before today’s lesson, he instructs them, “do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” We pick up today’s lesson at that moment, with an interruption from the crowd breaking into the midst of that intensive discipleship seminar, so to speak. So, imagine Jesus intently instructing his disciples, but hearing one particular voice from the crowd breaking through: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me!”
Now, let it be known that Jesus the Teacher could easily have let that request go in one ear and out the other. And let’s be honest: he’s not really thrilled about the interruption, either. It seemed off topic, it broke up the intensity of the lesson to his inner circle, and as he points out, it wasn’t even a question. It was a request for arbitration, specifically in hopes of securing Jesus’ favor on the side of the person asking. And yet, Jesus is all and in all.
I have to admit, I’m rather in awe of the teaching style of Professor Jesus.
In the parable which unfolds from here, which is sometimes referred to as the “Parable of the Rich Fool” we hear about a prosperous man patting himself on the back as he sees his storage silos filled with the abundance of his fields. He is preoccupied not by the blessings of this plenty, but by greed. He has an abundance management problem which convinces him that what he already has isn’t enough; he becomes driven to store up even more for himself by tearing down what he has…effectively destroying the plenty already in his possession…just so he can stockpile even more. The man goes to great lengths to think about how to accomplish the task of accumulating the biggest possible pile of plenty and then, with egotistical confidence in his own plan, he converses with his own soul: “you will have stored up everything you need…so you can eat, drink and be merry!” But, at the end of the parable we are drawn to see the short-sightedness of his actions. Human life, we are reminded, is finite. We do not have the degree of control over it that we try to convince ourselves we do.
I feel like we are reminded of that lesson, every single day. It cuts through our complacency with news stories, and mass shootings, and car accidents, and personal tragedies. It’s during these times of crisis we pause to ask “where is God in this?” But this parable reminds us that the question of Where is God? is a question of urgency we should be attending to all the time.
Nowhere in this story do we have a sense of anything beyond this man’s privileged and selfish view of that which has accumulated around him. Did others in his community help him acquire this wealth? I’m certain of it. Did he have servants or forced labor he would demand work from? Almost assuredly so. Were others around him also feeling so over-confidant about the prosperity of their own lives and futures? I’m not so sure about that. Greed, power and privilege are blinders to our common humanity. Or, to put it into the terms of our own baptismal covenant: blinders to seeking and serving Christ in every human being, and to loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Our desire to stockpile and manage what we see as “ours” leaves no room for God. The desire for more had consumed the thoughts, the deeds, and the soul of this man. He was completely preoccupied by what he considered to be his possessions. His foolishness wasn’t in being rich, but in being caught up in greedy self-assurance, so much so that there was no thought for others, no consideration of the meaning and purpose of his life, and no room for God.
Foolishness can only hear itself talk. But Wisdom attunes our hearts to hear God’s voice.
And so, two thousand years later, Jesus the Wise Teacher poses a lesson for our own lives. What are we storing up? Is it money, or power, or privileged social status? When we recognize our wealth do we begin to panic that we might lose it and focus only on ways to store up more? Or do we see ourselves and our lives as situated within the Source of all abundance, as well as pay attention to those around us who have contributed to or could benefit from sharing in the abundance that we recognize that we all have as members of the household of God.
What would happen if we all stopped being distracted by the allure of accumulating more wealth, more power, more privilege, more guns, more possessions…more and more and more for ourselves and instead, opened our hearts and invited God to speak to our souls about what it means to fully embrace a shared life in the family of God? What if we made room for God in the times of our abundance, and not only when we sense scarcity? What if our thoughts and prayers were how to better care for each other, rather than preserving our wealth and power?
When we open our hearts and souls to hear and to trust the providence of God for all of the family of God, only then will we begin to truly hear the other voices around us over the clamoring of our own wants and needs. We will begin to see God’s providence at work not just confined to our own self-interests, but in the present and profound love of God for all God’s people. We will become able to see how God is working in us and through us and with us, shaping our lives to accomplish more than we ourselves could have asked or imagined. We will begin to see the world through the eyes of a loving and providential God who weaves together members of this family to support each other. The urgency of seeing this world through God’s vision is right here, and right now. This is a world desperately in need of that hope.
God’s vision extends beyond the storage silos of our individual lives. Jesus the teacher instructs us through a vision of the Realm of God, where providence and abundance are not of this world, but sourced in God. In the Realm of God, the division of labor isn’t that one person sits idly by in their wealth while others scramble to build and fill the storehouses. In the Realm of God, we share the abundance of our lives joyfully with others who are equally beloved of God. In the Realm of God we receive what we need, and we give what we can. It isn’t about us or getting our fair share. It’s all about God. And then, at the end of our days, we will rest fully in the assurance that we will return to the same source of providential love who has been working with us all our days, and enfolds us still.
When we are rich toward God, only then will we truly come to understand abundance.
“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me!” said a voice from the crowd. And Jesus, the Wise Teacher looked around and saw God’s abundance in the crowd, and God’s abundance in his followers, and the abundance of God’s love and mercy already in their midst. And he saw a teachable moment through which his disciples, and the crowd, and generations yet to come could understand more about the plentiful abundance of God’s love and generosity. Jesus knew the real inheritance that was sourced in God, shared by the whole family of God. But he heard a voice breaking through, the voice of our human fear getting in the way of the message of God’s beloved community. And so, Jesus the Teacher offered up a parable to his friends, and to the crowds, and is still speaking it to us today. Jesus, who we know as Christ, is all and in all. And Jesus speaks to us.
Jesus, our teacher, we hear the urgency of the lesson you are teaching us in a world in need of your love and your hope. Open our hearts to hear your wisdom and recognize God in all people and in all things. Through this knowledge, transform us to action so our work in this world reveals your presence in all things.