Monday, August 1, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from July 31, 2016

[Bishop Jake Owensby will visit with us Sunday, August 7, 2016.  Bishop Jake will lead the 10am service and join us for lunch in the Whitaker Parish Hall following the service.  Please join us to visit with Bishop Jake.]

11 PENTECOST, PROPER XIII - C - 16      LUKE 12. 13-21

Each of the four gospels has a story or two of Jesus’ healing individuals of demonic possession. In each of these cases the demon or demons had literally dominated the person and was controlling his or her behavior. Jesus has the power in each case to free the individual from their possession, and he does so. Christ frees them to become what God created them to be.

In today’s gospel Christ speaks to a different kind of “possession,” after someone in the crowd asked him to arbitrate a property dispute. Jesus responds with the parable of a foolish rich man. Within the parable he gives us a warning; “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

The preacher, as he is sometimes called, in today’s first lesson, speaks of the “vanity” of toiling under the sun only to have what one has amassed in life in terms of one’s wealth and material possessions, fall into the hands of another who may or may not appreciate it.

Paul writes to the Christians at Colossae that “greed” is on the list of what we as followers of Christ are to “put to death,” that is, give up. We are to seek the things that are above, where Christ is. Could this possibly be what Jesus meant at the close of today’s gospel when he said we are to be “rich towards God?”

We are all “collectors” of one thing or another. Likewise we tend to hoard things. I have lived in the same house for more than thirteen years, longer than anywhere else. I must confess that there are boxes in the attic that were placed there when I first moved in that have never been opened.

I honestly cannot tell you what they contain. Whatever is inside I have not needed it in all of these years and obviously can live without it. The “preacher” would say that is “vanity” to hang on to such things.

Not too long ago I read an article that mentioned the fact that one of the fastest growing businesses was the building of these little storage places that seem to be popping up all over. People simply have too much “stuff.” We collect stuff and we hold on to our stuff. For some, possessions equal security for the future. But that kind of thinking is also vanity.

There are a number of things that can “possess” us in this life. Wealth and material things are at the top of the list. We can hold so tightly to these that they literally dominate our life and control our behavior as much as the demons Jesus exercised in the gospels. But demons are not part of the kingdom of God and neither is greed.

The obvious sign of “material possession” is greed. That is, the inordinate pursuit of more, like the man in today’s parable who decided to build a bigger barn to store more stuff in. “Vanity of vanities” the preacher would say. Jesus said he was simply foolish.

To set our minds on earthly things, making worldly success the goal of our life, or the standard by which we judge others, is to set our souls in jeopardy. Covetousness is one of the seven deadly sins. It can spill over into our relationships with others when we use others for personal gain; in the quest for status, power or security at their expense.

In essence we can dominate others, literally “possessing” them and controlling their behavior. We do this by imposing our will on others by force or intimidation, guile or whining, or our refusal to cooperate unless we get our own way. It is all about what we want and when we want it. False pride comes from quick wealth, no matter how we obtain it. Such behavior may bring earthly riches but we will be “poor” towards God.

We are simply diminished when things we possess end up possessing us. Being self-possessed is a condition which results from being seduced by self-centered, self-gratifying, self-serving purposes. To be all about self in terms of gaining more and more in life is to put the acquisition of things in the place of God which is idolatry.

Jesus’ farmer is called foolish not because of his gift of entrepreneurship. He is not called unjust because of his economic decision to replace old barns with larger ones. He is just foolish because he lives in and for himself. He will soon die and he has failed to make the distinction between what one has and what one is.

He is unable to know what is enough until he reaches the point of too much. His inordinate craving to hoard disregards those in need and places goods in the place of God. And he is never thankful for what he has, but is only interested in obtaining more. What does it profit him?

Greed is a sickness that preoccupies our mind, our thoughts, our action and our behavior. It dominates our life. Whatever possesses us, whenever there is a possession by possessions, needs to be exercised as much as any demon.

I admit that it is difficult to “let go” of things that we once placed so much value on, to turn from the life we once lived, where some equate possessions with security for the future. But Jesus says that we must for the kingdom is not like that. Our trust should be in the Providence of God alone and nothing should be in the place of Him.

To be rich towards God, as Jesus suggests, is to be God-possessed, that is, to live life in accordance with the values and priorities of God and His kingdom. Those who choose to follow Jesus and accept the kingdom message do so by emptying themselves of the quest for earthly treasure. Instead we are to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is…”

He alone has the power to free us from all that keeps us from being what God has created us to be. He alone has the power to strip us of the old self with its practices and clothe us with new life. For Christ is our life, as St. Paul says, and our future is with Him. AMEN+                             

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