Scripture=Proper 13 C

There is an old Jack Benny skit that goes something like this: Jack is walking along, when suddenly an armed robber comes up to him and says: “Your money or your life!” There is a very long pause, and Jack does nothing. The robber grows more impatient presses him “Well?” Jack Benny looks at him unperturbed and says, “Don’t rush me, I’m thinking about it.”

The very rich man, in today’s gospel parable found himself, I think, in the same quandary. We are told that this rich man’s land produces abundantly, supplying more than he needs. And, we are told, he is now faced with a great problem, what to do with the surplus. His solution – tear down his old barns, and build larger, new and improved store houses that will hold all his provisions and possessions for years to come (one can easily imagine giant Mega-silos going up). Being very self satisfied he speaks to his soul, urging it (and thereby himself) to relax, security is assured, for he has taken care of everything. Eat, drink and be merry, he tells himself, for there will never be another care – or so he thinks. At that very moment God interrupts the rich man’s reverie and tells him that he is a Fool; that that very night he is going to loose his life “and the things you have prepared”, says God, “whose will they be?”

Now, we are not being told to immediately run out and liquidate our savings accounts, pensions, Keogh’s, 401K’s, IRA’s, or CD’s (that certificates of deposit, not compact discs), well, not just yet. But we are being asked to look beyond our wealth and see who we are in relationship to God.

In today’s Gospel, the rich man’s total sense of being; his self-worth is derived from all that he has stored away, from his possessions. And from them a false sense of security. In his self-satisfaction there is no room for others (just him and his soul) and there certainly is no room for God, the ultimate provider and source of his (and our) abundance.

So, how do we identify ourselves? Is it our jobs, the positions that we hold at our places of employment or in the community? Is it our financial portfolios or economic standing, that makes us who we are? Our possessions and things? Is it our ethnicity or race? Perhaps our educational background? Is it our marital status? Are we our relationships? Or is it from our gender or sexual orientation? Is our identity derived from good works, from our charitable endeavors (and yes, the Church plays a major role)? Who are we?

In choosing to live among us in human form, God as Jesus Christ comes to show us who we really are – what it means to be truly human. In Baptism, our incorporation into the body of Christ, all our old ways of self-identification fall away and, at the center of our new beings, we find Jesus. In this new, Christ centered life we find that it is “God in whom we live and move and have our being” and from there we begin the never-ending task of expressing God’s great love for the world in our own lives and actions. It is God who gives us our ultimate identity, our ultimate worth and our ultimate meaning.

Our culture, however constantly reinforces the contrary. Our identity and self worth, we are told, depends on how bright our teeth are, the type of car we drive, the type of refrigerator we have (does it or does it not make ice cubes), the type of perfume or cologne we wear, our jobs, the size of our bank accounts; our corporate or political power; and the list goes on.

We are not alone in this, nor is this strictly a contemporary problem.

At the time St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, the Church there was in a similar situation. The city in which they lived was a simmering melting pot of differing races, diverse cultures and religious beliefs. The Church at Colossae was exposed to all sorts of practices and teaching that threatened to deny for them the Divinity of Jesus Christ and negate God’s great redemptive act through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In proclaiming the completeness, the fullness of God in Jesus Christ, Paul sets the record straight. In today’s passage he goes on to remind them, and us, of our new identity and our new relationship to God, and each other, in Christ Jesus and how this new identity influences our behavior. “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly:” Paul writes, “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). . . . . . .[G]et rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. . . .do not lie to one another. . . . [C]lothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” The list that Paul offers us isn’t a list of “Nots”, nor is it a list of shoulds, but it is a statement of what is.

The point of today’s parable is not that there is something wrong with amassing some wealth, but that the man was a fool because he did not recognize that his wealth had already brought him happiness and that it could do the same for others if only it were not locked up in those bigger barns. His sin was not that he was merry, ate and drank, but that he wouldn’t share his excess with others so that they too could eat and drink and perhaps be merry also. His sin was not that he was successful, but that he made himself the center of his universe and failed to seek and serve God in his fellow sisters and brothers. His sin is not that he was wealthy, but that he let that wealth and his possessions defined who he was – not God. As one commentator has put it: “He had become a bottle neck in the flow of [God’s] blessings to others.”

Because we find Christ at the center of our very beings we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, meekness and patience because we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We bear with one another, we forgive one another (just as the Lord has forgiven us), and we clothe ourselves with love, because we proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. And we strive for justice and peace among all people, because we respect the dignity of every human being. We express intimacy and our sexuality in the light of God’s love, respecting self and other. And, as he so beautifully puts it, “above all in whatever we do, in word or deed, we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.

Jesus, in the very next verses after this story reminds. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing.” “Consider the lilies of the field,” he says, Do not worry, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be given unto you as well.”

I’d like to close with a few words of Desmond Tutu’s written to a friend of mine in which he addresses seeking the kingdom:

“The discovery to be made is that we are made by God, like God, for God. [It is our] high destiny to be God’s partners, fellow workers to help God realize God’s dream of a world that is filled with love, laughter, joy, caring, sharing, compassion and goodness — where we discover that we are family with no outsiders, for all are insiders.”

My sisters and brothers, let us share God’s blessings, let us share God’s abundance, and most of all let us share God’s love.