Sermon Archives

Sunday, July 31, 2016
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13, Year C)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
You Are My Beloved

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Our lives are built on a complex mixture of truth and illusion. And death has a way of confronting us directly with our illusions.

The rich man in our parable today, was brought face-to-face with his illusions about what is precious in this life, through his impending death. He believed that he was the source of his success. We see this in the number of times that he uses words to refer to himself. One commentary said that the rich man worships the Unholy Trinity of me, myself and I.[1]

What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?

I will do this, I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

He consults with himself, the text literally translated says: “he dialogued with himself”. In a Middle Eastern context, it would have been strange for someone to make a decision like this without consulting others, highlighting this man’s isolation from the community around him.[2] He does not consider those who helped produce the surplus, like his employees or perhaps his family.

He ignores the long tradition in the Hebrew Scriptures that lays out a blueprint for Israelite society. The laws in the Hebrew Scriptures sought to set this community apart as a people of God, in areas such as religious practice and purity, agricultural practices and economics.

Here is a sample of these laws: during the harvest, anything that falls to the ground is to be left for the poor to come and gather (Deut 24:19-22), every seven years debts are to be forgiven (Deut 15:1), there is to be no oppression of strangers living among them (Exod 22:21, Exod. 23:9), the terms of lending are not to include interest payments or take as collateral the borrowers’ means of production of shelter (Exod. 22:25-27).

The prophets judged the health of Israelite society based on their adherence to these laws. Ezekiel (16:49-50) declares the guilt of Sodom was to be found in their pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, and that they did not aid the poor and needy.

Not only did this rich man see himself in isolation from the community, but he also did not think twice about keeping his surplus for himself, instead of sharing his abundance with those less fortunate in his community.

The rich man’s internal conversation reveals his belief that accumulating stuff for himself will nourish his soul. God calls this man a fool slicing through his illusion that material success is all that matters in life.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus talks more about money than he does even about prayer. Jesus is aware of the danger that wealth presents to our souls. The desire for economic security and the ethic of the accumulating wealth, are in the air of the culture that we breathe. And these desires often flirt dangerously with monsters that lurk in the shadows within us.

Because money is rarely just about money.

The way that we deal with money reflects our deep-seated beliefs. Beliefs like whether there is enough to go around, about our self-sufficiency, about our fear of the unknown and our desire to protect ourselves against the buffeting winds of life, or whether we pin our self-worth to the belief that the more we earn, the more we are worth.

Earlier this summer, I went on the Canterbury Scholars program, hosted at Canterbury Cathedral, designed for seminarians and newly ordained clergy from all over the Anglican Communion. There were 28 of us; most were from the “developing world”. The program focused on helping us reflect on our sense of vocation as we shared our day-to-day experiences of ministry in our contexts.

It surprised me to hear how often my colleagues described the financial aspect of sacrifice and hardship as stumbling blocks in their discernment about their call to ministry, particularly in the African countries. It challenged me to reconsider my assumption that membership growth leads directly to financial viability. But perhaps what surprised me even more than that, was how much we had in common.

All of those beliefs that I mentioned earlier, were shadows in the valleys of my own discernment journey.

Jesus tells us that we can protect our souls against the dangers of our illusions about wealth by being rich towards God.

As part of the roadmap provided by Leadership for Mission, we have begun to form teams to provide guidance to ministry areas within Christ Church. One of the teams I have been working with is the Outreach Commission. This group is charged with providing strategic direction for the parish on the way we do service.

In our first few conversations, we have been reflecting on the question: “why do we as a church do outreach?” It seems like it should be a question with straightforward answers. But it has led us to uncover some profound truths.

One member of the team suggested that outreach is a natural response to God’s gift of unconditional and overflowing love for us. Out of the abundance of that love that we receive, we are naturally drawn into sharing it with others. Not out of obligation, but rather as a spontaneous response. And in sharing the love that we have freely received with others, we participate in a constant movement of love that emerges from within and draws us out beyond ourselves.

All we have to do is receive God’s love, the rest will follow. At Jesus’s baptism, God said: “You are my beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.” This was before Jesus began his public ministry. Jesus had not yet begun to perform miracles and healings. All Jesus did was rest in his identity as God’s beloved.

Being rich in God, means to allow God’s love to be poured out upon us, to allow it to soak us through and through, and to trust that that love has the power to cut through the illusions that provide us false comfort, guiding us to firmer ground.

If you read ahead just past this parable, Jesus suggests that we can turn to nature to learn the truth about God’s abundance. And he promises that in trusting in God’s love and abundance we will receive the kingdom.

Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” provides a glimpse of the peace that God longs to use to nourish our souls:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=720

[2] Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes: Cultural studies in the gospels. InterVarsity Press, 2009.