August 4, 2019 – 8 Pentecost C, Proper 13
Ecclesiastes 12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Years ago I was standing on the 11th green at Montgomery Country Club lining up a putt. That green is at the edge of the golf course, right beside the intersection of 3 busy streets. There were a number of cars stopped at the traffic light, all of them very close to where we were standing on the green. Suddenly someone yelled out from one of the cars at the top of his voice, “Hit the ball, you rich bastard.” To which I replied, at the top of my voice, “Who are you calling rich?” Sometimes we get a little defensive about our riches.
On Thursday we observed the feast day of a minor saint, Joseph of Arimathaea. Scripture describes him as a rich man who gave his own tomb for Jesus and did the holy work of preparing the body of Jesus for burial. He is said to have physically carried the body of Jesus to the tomb, anointed him, laid a shroud over him, offered the body to God, sealed the tomb, and departed. We know that Joseph of Arimathaea was rich because he could afford to offer a tomb for Jesus. Joseph was not only rich enough to have a tomb, but rich enough to have a tomb to spare.
Rich people are not spoken of very highly in scripture. More typically it is the very poor who are saintly, yet here is a rich man who indeed was a saint. He is a saint because he is rich toward God. His faithful treatment of the body of Jesus, his respectful and trusting way of placing the body of Jesus in the tomb and offering the moment to the power of God, that is why we remember Joseph of Arimathaea.
Contrast with him the rich fool Jesus refers to in a parable designed to teach a man who comes to Jesus wanting more than he has. The rich fool has plenty but he wants more. The rich fool wants security and assurance that his future will be comfortable. The rich fool stores up more and more in the hopes that he will be able to survive any sort of shortage. The problem is not that he is rich but that he is a fool. He participates in the foolish illusion that he himself can determine and control his future. He is a fool because his ego has grown so large that he has no room for God.
Notice how many times the rich fool uses the words “I” and “my”. “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, and be merry.’” The rich fool has plenty but, because he can only see himself and cannot see the gracious hand of God, what he has is not enough.
Last week we read about the disciples of Jesus asking him to teach them how to pray. The prayer Jesus gives them centers on “Give us this day our daily bread.” Today we read about the rich fool who wants to eliminate the need for such a prayer. The rich fool has plenty but it is not enough. Mike Jarrell, our philosopher/sexton, refers to such people as I/Me people. They are the ones who are always saying “I, I, I, Me, Me, Me.”
Whenever I am stuck in “I, I, I, Me, Me, Me”, I’m in trouble. Whenever I see only my abilities, my desires, my strengths, I will arrive at the conclusion that I don’t have enough. When I look only at what I have to face in life and try to match that with something of my own making, I will develop an obsessive lifestyle of building bigger and bigger barns.
The rich fool is greedy. He has more than he will need and still wants more. Greed is driven by fear, fear that there isn’t enough. Greed keeps me focused on what I don’t have. I can’t see what I do have.
Sometimes we are greedy with things but more often we are greedy with control, greedy for more of the ability to fix things that are amiss. Rich, poor, or in between, we all struggle with the same thing the man in the parable struggles with. He looks at what he has, he looks at what he may face, and he enters that anxious struggle of asking, “What should I do? What am I going to do about this? What’s going to happen to me? How is all this going to turn out? What should I do to stop this? What must I do to keep that bad stuff from happening to me?” As we become anxious and afraid, we become self-absorbed and focus only on our ability to solve the problem, ignoring God’s grace and power.
Think about your own prayer life. How often do the words “I” or “Me” form your prayers? Are you just trying to gain more control? Are you just trying to build bigger barns?
We can’t build barns big enough, we can’t fill the barns with anything that will meet the struggles of life. We either die a fool or we learn to draw on a power beyond us. We either die asking the question, “What should I do?” or we gain life by learning to entrust situations to the hand of God. We either invest in our own abilities or God’s abilities. We either obsess in fear or we pray in hope. And the good news is that it’s never too late to change.