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Sermon for Proper 13/Ordinary 18 C Rich fool

July 15, 2016

Image result for rich foolSet your minds on the things that are above. Words from today’s second reading

In the name……………….

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end about their wives, their homes, their jobs. Every afternoon the man by the window described all the things he could see outside the window. The other man began to live for those one-hour periods where his world would be enlivened by all the activity and colour of the world outside.  The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every colour of the rainbow. Grand old trees graced the landscape, and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. He would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.

One day, the man in the next bed choked to death.  His lifeless body was removed.

The other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. He slowly strained to turn and look out the window beside the bed. It faced a blank wall.

He asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate to describe such wonderful things outside this window. She said he was blind and could not even see the wall. “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.” http://www.thewitness.org/agw/battle072704.html

The “Rich Fool” in our gospel reading lacked imagination, lacked vision, to see past his wall. His purpose in life was limited; so he had to hoard resources. As our first reading said, The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness. But Jesus teaches us to look beyond what we see . . . to imagine better realities, and to implement them here to create better futures. He said, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’

“Take Care:” people often say that to each other on parting. In our gospel, “Take Care” in the Greek means “discern clearly” from a root word meaning to stare at. The idea is to focus with intensity so as to discern the reality of the situation.

Jesus’ audience would probably have known Sirach 11:18-19: “One becomes rich through diligence and self-denial, and the reward allotted to him is this: when he says, ‘I have found rest, and now I shall feast on my goods!’ he does not know how long it will be until he leaves them to others and dies”.

This has many parallels in literature of the time. Such advice frequently takes the form of recommending a lifestyle which is comfortable and not constantly stressed by wanting more and more. It seems sensible. Why die of a heart attack, work all hours of the day and night, only to find oneself burnt out? It is too late then to have time for the children. They have grown up and flown the nest. At most you may have energy for the grandchildren, but your life has left you very limited in what you can do and give.

This kind of madness plagues our society. For ourselves and for others we need to take control of the options and not be caught up blindly into the rat race of success and profit, of ‘life’ being equated with happiness.

Western society abounds with seductive invitations to a happy lifestyle, usually promoting new products and promising that ‘feel good factor’. Advertisers exploit our sense of dissatisfaction so that we just must have the latest, blindly building bigger barns, bigger wardrobes, possessing fancier gadgets, the latest mobile phone, sporting flashier cars.

For the Jews of the time, an abundant crop was a sign of God’s favour. Jesus’s audience would remember the surplus and storing of food by Joseph in Egypt. In that case, the food during the time of plenty was stored so that it might feed all the people during the future famine but in our parable the “miracle” harvest is stored for the owner’s own enjoyment not for the community. Hear Then the Parables – Brandon Scott The rich man uses the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” “my” ten times in only 41 words.

Shakespeare asked:  Why so large a cost, having so short a lease
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend? . . .
. . . within be fed, without be rich no more. Sonnet 146

The Letter to the Colossians was probably written after an earthquake, sometime between 60 and 64 C.E., which destroyed nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis, as well as Colossae. The letter would have been received by people still in the process of cleaning up the rubble, dealing with bodies and grieving families. How would they respond to the statement that they have died and their life is hidden in Christ v. 3?

“Put to death” that list of things that are “earthly”.

Those people were starting a new life in more ways than one! Paul goes on, ‘you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self ‘ I like the comparison Paul makes here to the putting on clothes.  When I get dressed, I don’t jump into them all at once. It’s a process of putting one leg of my trousers on at a time. And in the right order as well. I can’t put my shoes on before I put on my trousers.

Then Paul talks of “being renewed”.  Some Christians want there to be a burst of lightning, a thunder clap and we are brand new and changed. We forget that it’s a lifelong process of sanctification.

James Alison wrote: When we are called to ‘set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth’ what we are being exhorted to do is allow our imagination to be centred on the good things that are in store for us and toward which we are tending in urgent hope, since it is this that enables us to begin to desire those things. As we allow our imaginations to be nourished by what is good for us, so our desire becomes re-formed to tend toward those things . . . It is because we are being given something that we are able to do without other things. Spirituality in Season – R. Thompson (Canterbury 2008) p.66

 allow our imagination to be centred on the good things that are in store for us

this enables us to begin to desire those things.

desire becomes re-formed

Set your minds on the things that are above.

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