In the shadow of Rembrandt’s work titled the “Parable of the Rich Man” I am sharing a sermon preached by the Very Reverend Timothy Jones the Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia, South Carolina. His sermon is based upon the reading found in Saint Luke’s Gospel 12:13-21 and the Letter to the Colossians 3:1-11.
In the Gospel lesson “one of the multitude” asks Jesus to”… bid his brother to divide the inheritance with me”. To which Our Lord responds forcefully: “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you? …”Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions”. This leads into another story about a rich man whose land brought forth plentifully” and the rich man decided to pull down his barns and build larger ones. His plan was that when the new bigger barns were filled he could “… take his ease, eat drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?
This then leads into the admonition that you should not be “…anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on” Instead you are to “..seek God’s kingdom and the rest will follow.
It is very difficult in this age and time and in this country to believe that your necessities will be provided. But, as Dean Jones points out: “being rich toward God.” Not letting our relationship with God go bankrupt. Not living with an abundance of precaution, but finding richness in a life lived with God” is where we find true happiness.
Another Sort of Riches
A sermon by the Very Rev’d Timothy Jones at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
Pentecost 13c / July 31, 2016
Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21
The political conventions are done.
The committed and faithful in each party
have given their speeches, cheered their candidate,
booed the opposition, poured millions of dollars
into the economies of Cleveland and Philadelphia.
In almost three months we will elect the next president
of the United States, God willing.
That thought makes some of us excited;
it makes others of us shudder.
I can’t recall any election year that has prompted
as much fear and angst. The fear and anxiety get
aggravated, of course, by a backdrop of news
story after news story: Global violence, mass
shootings, right in our own nation’s borders.
A volatile stock market, global terrorism,
mass shootings and gun violence, shootings by
police, fed, it seems by old prejudices,
then a shooting on police,
leaving us even more skittish. All that adds to our
uncertainty about what’s ahead.
The great poet W. H. Auden wrote a long poem in
the middle of the last century: The Age of Anxiety,
for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. He wrote it
right after WWII. I think you could call our time
an age of anxiety. It’s a season of unsettledness.
Fear could lead us to more entrenched hostilities,
where we isolate ourselves with only
Fear often brings division,
So how do we live, and cope, and I would add,
yes, even now, thrive? Where do we turn?
The man in Jesus’ story feared the future.
It loomed before him dark, unpredictable.
It made it hard for him to sleep through the night.
Maybe hard to sleep at all. Fear sent his blood
pressure climbing, likely made him irritable
around the house.
And by telling that story, Jesus puts before us two
possible responses to what makes us anxious.
The first being obvious:
the response of doing all we can to assemble
an abundance of precautions.
Feel anxiety about the future, then of course,
plan, map out, and save. That’s sensible.
The more you have, the safer you are, right?
We’re tempted to order our world. Play it safe!
For don’t you deal with insecurity by
laying in store the things that promise security?
So we live in a marketing culture that,
as Walter Brueggemann writes, “keeps pounding
on us to take more, to not think about our
neighbor, to be fearful, shortsighted, grudging.”
Except Jesus throws that mindset into question.
He asks, Can things themselves save us?
Are our barns full of possessions
reliable and foolproof?
Are our precautions really fail-safe?
Cartalk, a radio series I sometime catch, has what
the hosts call the weekly puzzler.
Not long ago, the puzzler was this:
A tourist destination became known for
its problem with pickpockets.
The town leaders knew they had to do something.
So they put up signs in public places
that read, Beware of pickpockets.
They quickly found that they had to take the signs
down, because the number of people who filed
reports with the police saying they had their
pockets picked rose dramatically.
And that was the question, the puzzler,
can you explain why pickpocketing rates
increased after the signs went up?
Here’s what happens. You see a sign that says,
Beware of pickpockets. And you immediately
reach for your wallet! You reach for the most
valuable thing you have, whether it’s your wallet,
your passport, your Rolex watch, to reassure
yourself that it hasn’t already been taken.
And then the pickpockets know exactly which
pocket to go to.
It’s funny, isn’t it, that in the act of protecting
your possessions, you make yourself more
vulnerable. Sometimes in guarding ourselves,
our precaution backfires. You think you make
things better by all the precautions, but you don’t.
You simply end up more anxious.
More vulnerable. More distracted.
Maybe more afraid. And your life poorer.
Explains one woman wrestling with finding a
less-anxious way to live,
“I thought of my constant conversations with
myself about wanting a new couch, a weekend
cottage, a bigger house on a quiet street and
realized my discontent
was cheating me of the life I had.” 
Do you look to an abundance of precautions?
Despite the glibness of some politicians,
we cannot micromanage or predict our own lives
And if our security is based on having enough,
then we can never quite rise above worrying.
There is too much that cannot be predicted.
Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken
fame once said, “There’s no good reason to be the
richest man in the cemetery.”
There are many ways in which this
life is not all there is to life.
Jill and I sometimes compare notes for our
sermons. Today I steal one of her lines:
“The man in Jesus’ story stored up
riches to secure his future, but he let
his relationship with God go bankrupt.”
As I said, there are two responses here in Luke.
For earlier I talked about our not just surviving,
but thriving. Because if Jesus paints a picture of
the folly of basing our security in anything other
than God, he also lays out a wonderful alternative.
I love that phrase he gives: “being rich toward
God.” Not letting our relationship with God go
bankrupt. Not living with an abundance of
precaution, but finding richness
in a life lived with God.
I love that phrase, which is not the same as saying
I live in its reality. I get as anxious as the next
person. But in my better moments I know that
above this world is a universe of heavenly
realities: Angels and the communion of saints and
life in the presence of a living, eternal God.
I know we don’t talk about those realities
a lot in our day and time
but they are there and they are real.
And they intersect with this world.
We get glimpses of them. Little foretastes.
Jesus connects to our need for security.
So, Paul writes about him, and our sharing in his
resurrection life, “If you have been raised with Christ,
seek the things that are above, where
Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your
minds on things that are above,
not on things that are on earth.”
I like how Eugene Peterson rendered the verse:
“Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground,
absorbed with the things right in front of you.
Look up, and be alert to what is going on around
Christ—that’s where the action is.
See things from his perspective.”
This is where life is! If you are anxious, let it
drive you to prayer.
Well, I know a bunch of people here rich toward
God, as Jesus puts it. Who live for these higher,
glorious realities. I’m thinking of Rosemary
Jones, at 104 years old our oldest member.
She hasn’t just had a long life, she’s lived a rich
life. I don’t just mean her radiant love for people.
I mean how her life is also rich with God’s
When I interviewed her for our Cathedral
Connections magazine, she told me something
about just how rich her life is:
Every morning when she wakes up, she told me,
“I walk over and open my bedroom window
blinds. I stand there and I say [reciting a verse
from the Psalms], ‘This is the day the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.’”
And what a difference it makes.
This is the day the Lord has made,
not a day made by fear-mongering politicians,
not a day made by violent extremists.
This is the day the Lord has made
a day God makes rich. A day made by the One
who holds the universe together and
watches over his people.
“Sometimes when I wake up,” Rosemary went on
to explain, “I’m not in my happy thoughts. But
when I go to the window, it changes the picture.”
With riches found in that God,
riches for all of us,
why don’t you also look and watch and take great
encouragement from his rich presence.