Pentecost 8 August 4, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 10 Proper 13 Year C RCL

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-11; Colossians 3:1-11;

Luke 12:13-21

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

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

and accomplishments?

 

Everything done under the sun

now seems

“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

seemed empty

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

is hand-to-mouth,

day-to-day . . .

 

while he philosophizes

about their condition,

never once seeing

any connection

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

around Jesus

wanted a share of the

family inheritance

 

which might have included

grain fields, vineyards, olive orchards,

along with

livestock, money, servants . . .

 

Most important

was the land,

because landowners

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 prosper,

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

toiled endlessly

to support precarious lives

just one misfortune away

from destitution.

 

 

Jesus saw greed

in the eyes of the man

striving to get some

of the family property

for himself,

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

with friends,

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 . . .

wisely saving

for retirement

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.

 

“You fool!”

said God,

“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

means

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,”

he writes,

“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.

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