PENTECOST 10 Proper 13 Year C RCL
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-11; Colossians 3:1-11;
Christ Episcopal Church
Sunday, August 4, 2019
The Rev. Janet Campbell
The author of Ecclesiastes,
a scholar and
a former King of Israel,
seems to be suffering a late-in-life crisis.
He has realized
that all he has gained
by his toil and striving
ultimately amounts to nothing . . .
In the end he will die,
just like every other human being.
What, then, will become
of all his learning
Everything done under the sun
“vanity and a chasing after wind,”
futile and ultimately meaningless.
This scholar and former king,
who lived and wrote
some 400 to 200 years before the time of Jesus,
was a member of
the small wealthy and privileged class
in Israel –
he had everything there was to have,
yet his life finally
of anything of real value.
“What,” he asks,
“do mortals get
from all the toil and strain
with which they toil under the sun?
“For all their days are full of pain,
and their work is a vexation;
even at night their minds do not rest.”
I picture him
at his writing desk,
looking out his window
at the striving and struggling masses
who live in abject poverty
(over 90% of the population of Israel),
whose precarious existence
day-to-day . . .
while he philosophizes
about their condition,
never once seeing
between his luxury and ease
and their poverty and struggle,
never once seeing
that he may be complicit
in the system that oppresses them.
“It’s an ‘unhappy business,’ he laments,
“that God has given to human beings
to be busy with.”
But is it God who has given us
this “unhappy business”
with which we busy ourselves?
or is it we,
in the freedom God has given us,
who choose it . . .
The man in the crowd
wanted a share of the
which might have included
grain fields, vineyards, olive orchards,
livestock, money, servants . . .
was the land,
could get rich on the produce
of their land . . .
and also because land
had religious significance.
When God brought the people
out of slavery in Egypt,
God made a covenant with them.
They would be God’s people
and God would be their God.
The promised land,
the land of milk and honey
which God would give them,
was a sign of the covenant,
a sign of God’s favor.
Until then a nomadic culture,
Israel would settle on the land
and live as God’s own people.
But . . .
from belonging to all,
the land gradually became
the possession of the few,
even though it had been given by God
not for the enrichment of individuals,
but for the prospering of an entire people,
for the well-being of all.
As the prophets argued over and again,
Israel was called by God
to be a light to the nations of the earth,
to reveal a way of living
in which there were no poor, outcast, dispossessed,
a way of living
where all shared in the bounty
provided by the land –
But, in the way, it seems
of all nations,
Israel, too, evolved
into a small upper class
of the rich and powerful . . .
while the great majority
to support precarious lives
just one misfortune away
Jesus saw greed
in the eyes of the man
striving to get some
of the family property
the same greed he saw
at the very root
of his society.
Perhaps a parable
might be a wake up call.
There was a rich man
whose only problem in life
was where to store
his super abundant harvest.
His great good fortune
presented him with a dilemma.
His many barns were too small
and already full.
Where would he keep all that grain?
Because he never considered
not keeping it all.
He might have thought to
share his unexpected bounty
or neighbors around about his vast estate
who might have been in need,
or the many workers
he would have employed
at starvation wages
to bring in his huge harvest.
But he thought only of
how he could keep it all for himself.
Not out of prudence . . .
or for his children’s inheritance,
or storing up reserves
against years of drought.
But out of self-serving greed . . .
here was his chance to kick back and
live off the fat of the land,
eating, drinking and making merry . . .
It was God who had entrusted him
with that great fertile land he called his own,
It was God who had entrusted him
with the wondrous bounty
that was posing such a problem.
But the man was too preoccupied
with his ambitious plans
to expand his holdings
to wonder whether God might have had
other plans for that harvest.
So the man decided to pull down his too-small barns
and build even bigger ones
and stuff them full
of his wealth . . .
What meaningless striving . . .
He did not know
he would die that very night.
“Whose will your riches be now?”
“So it is,” says Jesus,
“for those who store up treasures for themselves
but are not rich toward God.”
True wealth is not something
we can accumulate in
barns or banks or the stock market.
True wealth is that which is given us
when we are born . . .
our lives in this world,
to be lived and spent as we choose:
our selves, our souls, our bodies,
our abilities and possibilities,
our gifts and talents,
the loves we know and have known and will know,
this beautiful earth on which we live,
with its wondrous features and creatures,
our food and drink, clothing and shelter,
God with us in love and compassion . . .
everything . . . everything
that makes up our lives –
All of this is from God
who has been and always will be
immeasurably rich in love toward us.
What will we choose
to do with it all?
Being rich toward God means
living in the knowledge and love of God,
being generous in love for others
as God has been generous in love for us.
Whether we are materially
wealthy or poor or somewhere in between,
being rich toward God
spending our selves,
our thoughts, caring, energy, prayer
and what resources we have,
to bring about
the generous kingdom of God’s Love.
The good life does not consist
in an abundance of possessions
but in an abundance of love and good works,
of sharing and compassion,
of serving and thinking of others –
this is being rich toward God.
“. . . If you have been raised with Christ,
seek the things that are above,
where Christ is,
seated at the right hand of God,”
the Letter to the Colossians tells us.
“Set your minds on things that are above,
not on things that are on earth.”
Through our baptism into Christ,
we have been born into that good life.
We have rejected the works of
greed, jealousy, envy, sexual exploitation,
anger, hatred, lying, prejudice . . .
We have been clothed
with the baptismal garment of salvation,
we have put on Christ:
we have died, and our life
is hidden with Christ in God.
And so we set our minds
on the things that are above:
the high calling of
love, generosity, humility, kindness, respect,
hospitality, truthfulness, justice, peace . . .
we set our minds on the things
that are above
so that in and through us
God may bring them into being
in the world here below.
We set our minds on God’s desires,
until they become our own.
Our world is vastly different
from the world
of the author of Ecclesiastes,
from the world of Jesus,
Yet our problems are the same at their root.
Destructive striving after the wrong things,
selfishness, greed, division, inequality,
exploitation of the struggling many
by the comfortable few.
Do we see these with hopelessness and despair,
or confidence and determination?
Anglican Bishop Tom Wright
chooses confidence and determination:[N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone, pp. 153-154]
“Heaven is God’s sphere of created reality,”
“which, as the Lord’s Prayer suggests,
will one day colonize ‘earth,’ our sphere, completely.
What matters is that the kingdom of God
is bringing the values and priorities of God
to bear on the greed and anxiety of the world.”
It seems the author of Ecclesiastes,
that disillusioned scholar and former king,
was asking the wrong question.
For the question is
not what we mortals
are able to get for ourselves by our striving ,
but what we mortals
are able to give to others by our striving,
bringing the values and priorities of God
to bear on the greed and anxiety of the world.
This is the way to the kingdom.