Your life is being demanded of you

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Lections for today: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Vivian Lewin, Spiritual Director in the Diocese of Montreal

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

May I speak in the name of the one God: our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

This spring I found myself sitting in a little windowless room in a suburban bank, facing a desk containing the long narrow metal safe deposit box of a friend who died late last year. She was a hoarder, and had asked that her only close living relative … her older, 82 year old sister, come and take whatever she wanted from the house. We waited until the risk of winter snow was past—after Easter—and then, because we had not found the key to my friend’s safe deposit box, we had had to have the the lock drilled. So there we were, the sister and I, sitting together in the room with two chairs facing a built-in desk, where the teller had brought us, with the box in front of us. We took our time opening it. There were some family keepsakes, and under those, in plastic envelopes, little rectangular pieces of gold in different sizes, each stamped with its weight. Neither of us had ever seen such a thing. I jotted down the amounts, fractional ounces and grams, and added them up, and then picked up my phone and calculated the current value of the gold, handing her to phone to show her the total.

“Oh, sister!” she said, once she could speak. My friend had, unfortunately, died in a kind of squalor, after living in rooms piled high with all she had accumulated, including unused or unopened purchases—things that had in the end given her little satisfaction.

“This very night, your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

This morning’s lesson in Chapter 12 of Luke’s Gospel is one we need to approach with some reverence. I don’t think Jesus tells it so that his listeners can feel superior or smug. That would not be God’s wish for any of us.

Jewish laws were clear about sharing family property—that’s probably why Jesus says he does not to be the judge or arbitrator. And it’s likely why he concludes that greed is at work here, and tells this parable about the man whose crops were bigger than his barn could hold.

Notice that God is completely missing from this story, up to the very end. What will I do with my grain and my goods? No gratitude, no neighbours, seemingly no family, no community seems to enter this person’s thinking at all.

“This very night, your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

This morning’s lessons from Ecclesiastes and even the Psalm offer scant good news.

And if I come to preach with the Word of God in one hand and the newspaper in the other, as Karl Barth is said to have counselled, my work is also cut out for me.

Today we are celebrating Gay Pride during an international AIDS conference being held here in Montreal, a conference some delegates and even staff members could not come to, because the Canadian government failed to grant them visas. And during a Lambeth Convention being held in the UK where nearly 700 Anglican bishops from all over the world will perhaps, eagerly or with consternation, face a vote on the “mind of the communion” on gay marriage even though the communion is clearly of different minds on this very subject. Leaving gay and lesbian priests and parishioners feeling, once more, “not wanted on the voyage.”

Let me quote words from the late Desmond Tutu [quoted this week by Jarel Robinson-Brown, Co-Chair of the advocacy group One Body One Faith in a blog post, “Bishops, Where On Earth Are You?”] which he addressed, not to his fellow Archbishops and Bishops, but to a committee of the United Nations a dozen years ago. “All over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are persecuted. They face violence, torture and criminal sanctions because of how they live and who they love. We make them doubt that they too are children of God – and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy.”

If anything can be even less rich towards God, than failing to love one’s siblings in Christ, it is to be responsible as pastors for people whose very authenticity one repudiates!

As Anne Lamott wrote, “you can tell you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

That’s exactly what idolatry is—serving anything that does not give life.

And sometimes we manage to accumulate barns full of self-satisfaction in the process. Because I would suggest that the barns we build are full of something more toxic than the accumulation of clothes that don’t fit, extra canned goods and dried beans, toilet paper and paper towels.

This very night your life is being demanded of you.

Taking the very long view… assisted by the Webb telescope… we might have a flash of insight, that we are still living in exactly the world Jesus came in to…. a world on the brink of destruction…and that the two millennia since those days, time that we thought was so very long and fruitful… was only the blink of an eye, a time in which, indeed, while building cathedrals and creating astounding music and parsing the scriptures and translating God’s word into thousands of languages, we have also been busy building up barns… institutions and power structures, corporations and nations and what we call progress and growth—full of petrochemicals, technologies and empires girded with horrifying war machinery. And now, helpless in the face of what might be the death spiral of the planet we live on, we fall more and more easily into fearful and fretful hostilities.

What does it mean, today, to be rich towards God?

I think it begins with the unity and renewal that Paul describes, in writing to the Colossians: “…you have clothed yourself with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all in all.”

At this point, the Beatles’ song started to run through my mind… Love, Love, Love…. Love is All You Need. Is love really all we need?

We do need love, I cannot operate on my own, I need to love God and to love my neighbour in the smallest as well as the biggest ways.

But real love will find ways to act, in justice and in truth.

To quote Desmond Tutu again, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

And so I promise you, my Christian siblings who are lesbian or gay or trans or bi, whose commitments are celibate or married or complicated, that you are loved, and you are welcome. I value your integrity and honour your struggles. If the Anglican Communion in its current incarnation fails to speak with one voice in support of you, I will grieve that failure, and keep working for what I believe is the commonwealth (we used to call it the kingdom) of God in our time.

Thanks be to God.

(The illustration is by the US Episcopalian artist James B. Janknegt)

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