Another Sort of Riches – Thou Shalt Not Covet

Parable of the rich man, by Rembrandt
Rembrandt van Rijn  Parable of the Rich Man (1627)

Introduction

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

the like-minded.

Fear often brings division,

more violence.

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.” [8]

Do you look to an abundance of precautions?

Despite the glibness of some politicians,

we cannot micromanage or predict our own lives

and destinies.

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

presence.

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.

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