Sunday, July 31, 2022

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

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O God, Our Help in Ages Past
by The Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute Singers

Bless the Lord, oh my soul!
Bless the Lord and remember all the good God has done.
God forgives your sins and heals your ailments.
God satisfies you with goodness your whole life long.
God is gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Bless the Lord, O my soul! May God’s holy name be blessed forever!

Almighty and Tender God, we gather once more in your presence. Another week has flown by in summer’s swift passage. Today, another week invites us into the fullness of life. For all the ways you have blessed us, we are grateful. You are the source of our joys and our strength in times of struggle and sorrow. In this time of worship, we praise you for your nearness in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of life. Call us again to new life in Christ. Amen.

God of mercy and grace, you know the secrets of our hearts. We are blind to our faults, yet harsh in judging others. We are swift to take, yet slow to give. We are proud of our success, yet grudgingly we praise others. Too often, we are foolish. In your gentle care and unfailing love, forgive our conformity to the world’s ways. By your transforming grace, make us open to your wisdom and Christ’s ways. Amen.

Hear now these words of assurance:
Opening our minds and showing us new angles is how God works. God will never leave us alone. God helps us to engage the world, to stand in strength, and to walk along the path together. In so doing, we might embrace our needs, the stumbling blocks, and the new horizons of second chances.

Glory be to the Father, and to the son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

All readings are from the English Standard Version bible.

PSALTER LESSON ………………………………………………….. Psalm 107: 1-9
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
   whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west,
   from the north and from the south.
Some wandered in desert wastes,
   finding no way to a city to dwell in;
   hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
   and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
   for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
   and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

OLD TESTAMENT LESSON …………………………….. Ecclesiastes 1: 1-2, 12-18
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.  Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.

And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.  I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.  What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.  I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”  And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.  For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

GOSPEL LESSON …………………………………………… Luke 12: 13-21
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”  And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, 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?’  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

SERMON ……..… Is That Any Way to Respond? ……………Rev. Mike Daly
Many, many people came to Jesus with requests. You may remember in last week’s lectionary, Jesus’ disciples requested that he teach them to pray, and he gave them the prayer we pray together every Sunday. Another recent lesson taught us about the time when a young man asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus asked the man what the law said.

So when the man in today’s lesson asks Jesus to help with a dispute over settling the family estate, we might expect Jesus to answer, “What does the law say?” This might be to see if the man knows Deuteronomy 21:15-17, which stipulates that a double portion of the property goes to the firstborn son. Or Numbers 27:1-11, which states that if a man dies without having sons, his daughters inherit his property.  If he has no daughter, it goes to his brothers; if he has no brothers, then to his father’s brothers.  If his father has no brothers, it goes to his clan’s nearest relative. Or Jesus might have quoted Psalm 133, which says how very good it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity, that is, when they remain together on the ancestral property, working the land in a harmonious arrangement. 

Jesus doesn’t. He doesn’t even suggest a good estate attorney or a family counseling center. We might expect Jesus to go to the other brother and encourage him to share. At least we might imagine Jesus saying – as he did on other occasions – that in the age to come, “the last shall be first.”

Instead, Jesus responds with, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” Isn’t this the equivalent of “Hey man, not my job!.” Does that sound like Jesus? And, is that any way to respond?  

Garret Keizer says in a Christian Century article, “Can’t you picture the man, some years later recounting what has become a cherished and much-rehearsed story about the hardhearted Rabbi Jesus? ‘I used to go to synagogue all the time, but then one day I went to this Rabbi Jesus with a problem, and he was so incredibly uncaring that it shook my faith, it really did, and that’s why when it comes to organized religion . . .'”

When Jesus says, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” The questioner might have thought this was customary, first-century, feigned humility. The culturally expected “Oh, I’m unworthy to be a judge.” But then Jesus says things that give the real reason for his refusal to be drawn into this sibling squabble. He suspects that he was being invited into a conflict driven by greed.

Jesus uses the opportunity to deliver a warning and a proverb – “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 

Can you imagine that on a tee shirt or a bumper sticker? “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” We have seen, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins!” We may not say that we believe life is all about possessions, but most of us strive to possess all we can as if the real goal of life was to accumulate. 

Then Jesus tells a story – A rich farmer has a bumper crop. So he decides to build bigger barns. He thought he had the future licked–he could eat, drink and make merry. Then God spoke: “Fool! Tonight, your life will be required of you. Then who will have the stuff you have piled up?”

Is this just a “you can’t take it with you” warning? Why does God call the man a fool? Wouldn’t we call him industrious or prudent, or forward-thinking, a good strategic planner? God does not call the man a crook, for there is no suggestion of dishonesty. Nor is he foolish because he is lazy, for there seems to be evidence of hard work and planning. Nor is he called a fool just because he was rich.  Certainly, many of the Patriarchs from the time of Abraham were rich.

True, Jesus could be rough on the rich–consider his suggestion to the rich young ruler that he sell everything and give it to the poor. But I do not read scripture as giving a sweeping indictment of wealth. Wealth is not inherently vicious, nor is poverty inherently virtuous. 

In fact, the story hits us all in that it suggests that the foolishness resides in attitudes that can be held by any of us, rich or poor. Consider at least three reasons the man could be considered foolish.

Martin Luther King Jr. noted in a sermon on this passage that the rich farmer had “permitted the ends for which he lived to become confused with the means by which he lived.” The “within” of his life had been overwhelmed and swallowed by the “without.” Each of us has a within and a without. The “without” includes the complex of techniques, mechanisms, devices, and instrumentalities by which we live. 

These include houses, cars, clothes, useful resources–in other words, things. The “within” would refer to the values, the ends, “for which” we live.  Love, friendship, art, integrity, joy–the why of life. Both are essential, but we need to keep the what and how from overwhelming the why.  The man in the parable hadn’t.  Who he was became subordinated to what he had. Maybe he had a wife and children for whom he provided many things, but not love and understanding.  

Maybe he had a vast library but no time to read and develop the mind and spirit. Maybe he had access to music but never listened. The “within,” the life of the spirit was stunted, withered, and so he was a fool.

Second, the man was a fool because he failed to recognize his dependence on and connection to others. In the short story of the fortunate farmer–about 60 words– he says “I” or “my” 12 times. 

Early Christianity fought against this self-centered, selfish attitude—sometimes excessively. There was a monastic order which was ruled by the principle that one was never to think of one’s own needs, only your neighbor. You were not to ask for anything for yourself but be constantly vigilant to spot a neighbor’s need and ask for him.  

This way, all would get what they needed without selfishness having a chance to grow.  According to the legend, one day, while the monks were at supper, with some acting as servers, one of the monks found a mouse in his soup. Now he knew he should not call attention to his needs, nor should he complain.  

So he motioned to one of the servers and said, “My neighbor does not have a mouse in his soup.” While we are not called to never think of ourselves, we are called to consider others and our dependence on them and obligations to them.

What about the successful farmer? When neighbors come to him and ask for a contribution to the Galilean United Way, how does he respond? Has he lost the capacity to think and say “we” and “our”?  He did not do everything alone. To think so is indeed foolish.

I think it is safe to say that most of us do not accumulate wealth due to our greed or even for the fun of it. Our primary motivation for our greed is fear. 

In the passages that follow today’s readings, Jesus gets to the heart of the matter when he says, “Do not worry” and “Do not be afraid.’ But we do worry. We all keep a close eye on Our retirement accounts. We fear poverty and dependency in old age – and there are many more ways.

As Jesus says, my treasure accumulation reveals my ultimate concerns and commitments and my greatest fears. I will confess that I fear want and dependency more than I fear God. Sometimes, the judgments of the market mean more to me than the judgments of a righteous God.

Third, this man was a fool because he failed to recognize his dependence on God. Perhaps this is a reference to Psalm 41, which says that the fool says there is no God in his heart. Indeed, in ancient Palestine, a bumper crop was seen as coming from God, who controlled the seasons, the rain, and the increase of produce. 

The rich farmer should have received the enormous harvest as a miraculous provision for famine years to come.  He would have more than enough to share with those in need, but he does not. Instead, he is reveling in profit while forgetting the poor, which is to forget God.  God says, “Fool, tonight your life will be demanded from you! And who will get the stuff you’ve piled up?”

The last line of our lesson is, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  Being rich toward God is an ancient world metaphor for almsgiving. To be rich toward God is to make sure the hungry are fed and the poor are provided for.  Augustine wrote that “The bellies of poor people are safer storehouses than one’s barns.”

On Saturday, the church makes meals for Lazarus House – meatloaf, potatoes, etc. It is a generous gift of this church and all of you in so many ways. I am grateful that I am part of a church that works at being rich toward God. The man in Jesus’ parable did not understand that the only way to enjoy life and life’s riches is to share them. The people of God know that the gifts they have been given are only made whole when they are broken to be shared with others – which is so reminiscent of our communion table – a meal to remember Jesus’ example of sharing.  Let us never forget the lesson to be rich – toward God. Amen.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

by Mercy Me

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are apart one from the other, Amen.

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