August 2, 2010

Sermon 8/1/2010


SERMON FOR Proper 13 C
MICHAEL COFFEY



Texts: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12–14; 2:18–23, Luke 12:13–21



Ecclesiastes provokes us to consider it.
Jesus asks it in his story and pointed questions:
What gives your life meaning?
And what is just a waste of your time and energy?
A lot of us are frustrated on a daily basis
because it feels like we are spending a lot of time and energy
doing things that don’t seem to matter much,
and we can’t figure out how we fit into some larger
and more meaningful picture.
But, we find out we are so caught up in this endless game
of earning and spending and being busy
that we just feel stuck in it.
And the sad thing about us and our way of life today
is that so many of us don’t know how to get unstuck
from this sense of meaninglessness
that bubbles beneath the surface of our lives.

Ecclesiastes knows well that this struggle is part of life:
you work hard, you save up,
you build up a life for yourself,
and then you die, and everyone else gets it.
What’s the point?
It’s all foolishness!
Chasing after wind!
Nothingness!
I have always loved the fact that the Bible includes
this radical, cynical philosophy
in the midst of its more pious and faithful texts.
The Bible is bold enough to admit it:
It’s hard to make sense of life,
since it is so short,
and all our hard work seems to be for nothing.

And in the same way,
Jesus tells a parable about human ways of approaching life
and how pointless it can be.
A farmer has an unusually good year
with a bountiful crop.
Nothing wrong with that, of course.
Nothing wrong with things going well.

But what were you supposed to do with such a harvest?
Everyone knew it back then.
It’s spelled out clearly in the Scriptures:
Don’t harvest everything in the field.
Leave the edges of the field for travelers,
the poor, and aliens in the land.
And what you do harvest, give a tithe:
give 10 percent as a means of balancing out an imbalanced world, where blessing falls on some and not on others,
but there is always enough for everyone.
If you were in touch with God and your faith
and understanding where meaning was found in your life,
that’s what you did.

Clearly, this guy in the story wasn’t in touch with God
which meant he wasn’t in touch with his neighbor, either.
He was stuck in an endless conversation with himself.
And in the surprise ending,
the foolishness of his ways is revealed in the face
of the one thing that we cannot escape
or plan our way out of
or manage
or pay someone else to do for us:
The guy drops dead.
And Jesus says: Deal with it.
Well, in so many words.
I read an article in the newspaper a couple of years ago
about the growing size of houses in America.
The article pointed out what has become well known:
That as our families have become smaller,
our houses have become bigger.
And even though the author tries to make a few other points,
about why that might be,
he gets to the main point quickly:
We have a lot more stuff.
We have had a lot of good years of bumper crops.
We have built bigger and bigger barns
for ourselves and our stuff.

But, as I read on, hoping to find some spiritual insight
into this uniquely American spiritual problem,
the author gave a solution that disappointed me:
The point of the article
was to get your stuff better organized.
Build bigger closets.
Head over to Home Depot or The Container Store
and buy more stuff
so you can store all your stuff better.
But had the author read the parable he might have added this:
And after you get all that stuff organized,
you’re gonna drop dead.

The parable is a challenge to us to face up to our own foolishness,
our own assumptions about life that don’t take into consideration
the brevity of our own existence.
Jesus tells a tough story that says,
hey, guess what, you’re going to die
and all your stuff is going to be someone else’s.
So get over it, and start living as if this inescapable truth
is your truth
and not just everyone else’s truth.


Free yourself from your stuff,
free yourself from the need to accumulate more.
Free yourself from the distance you place between you and others
because of your insecurity about wealth and material things.
Free yourself from your self,
because you are not what your life is about.
Your life is about the bigger picture,
the things of God,
the neighbor who waits for your generous hand
and who offers you surprising grace.
The only riches in life that give us meaning
and that endure beyond the grave
are the riches of loving God and neighbor,
the wealth of giving of ourselves
even as Jesus gave himself completely,
the abundance of using all we have and all we are
to move the world closer to a place
where everyone shares in the abundance of God.

Jesus’ abrupt parable
is a shock to our ongoing attempts to secure for ourselves
a place in the world in spite of everyone else
and mostly, in spite of God.
So, if it shocks us into reconsidering
a whole lot of what we value and assume and live,
well, I guess it might be the shock that brings us back to life
like defibrillator paddles.

This kind of spiritual harshness from Jesus
moves me to make a mental, if not always a physical, journey.
It’s about freeing yourself from your stuff spiritually,
if not physically,
figuring out who you are without all that surrounds you
your house, car, clothes, collectibles,
technology, entertainment, the internet.
It’s about looking at yourself honestly
and nakedly and from the perspective of the God
who made and claims you as a beloved son or daughter.
Who are you, then,
when freed from the shackles of your own making
and the bondage of our busy and consuming world?
Even if you don’t like all of you for what you are,
the good news of God in Christ is clear,
all of you is loved completely and utterly.

Jesus doesn’t answer the questions raised
by our consumer and materialistic economy.
He doesn’t tell us how much we can have or can’t have.
He doesn’t tell us how big a house we can live in,
or how much stuff is too much.
And if he did, I think we would just ignore him.
But, he raises the questions that drive us to take seriously
that simply going along with it all
doesn’t bring us life as God wants to give it,
and more often than not, it drains life from us.

I don’t much like preaching a lot of practical advice,
and even if I did,
you would probably ignore me.
I’d even ignore me.
But I am brought back to the single-most challenging and radical thing
the Bible says to do about all of this:
Observe Sabbath.
Remember that one?
One of the top ten rules from God?

Sabbath is not a day of worship
so much as a day of non-work,
non-selling, and non-buying.
It is a day of rest from all work and economic activity.
And therefore, a day of freedom
for family, neighborliness, enjoyment of life,
praise to God for providing so much
that we don’t have to toil constantly in order to survive.

Imagine a day for yourself every week,
where you didn’t have to spend any money,
or consume excessively and feel stuffed all the time,
or work for anything or anyone,
or worry about getting everything done,
or driving your kids around for their over-scheduled lives,
or not complaining about the cost of gas
or fretting about the impact of the environment
from driving so much
because you weren’t going to drive much anyway,

Imagine the joy of sleeping in a little longer,
and lounging with your loved ones,
and sipping coffee,
and going for a walk in the dappled shade of morning,
and finding an unhurried time for silence and contemplation,
and soaking up all the beauty and the gifts
that surround you all the time
that you mostly don’t appreciate,
and finding deep within you a gratitude for it all
that wells up within you to tears.
Imagine that even if you knew you would die tomorrow,
and all your stuff would go to others,
you would be content because today was life lived fully.

Imagine it, and more than that,
as the Lord commands,
and as Ecclesiastes prods,
and as Jesus inspires and frees us to do as best we can:
Live it. Live the dream of life known fully in love of God and neighbor.
As odd as it may sound,
speaking the truth that life is short
and is a blessed gift at the same time,
is grace to our ears
to live today fully with each other, with our neighbor,
and with our God who loves us richly.

1 comment:

  1. Bob and Sandy Strange loved it! Thanks for you honesty and spiritual strength in preaching these words.

    ReplyDelete