A Place at the Table, Jay’s sermon from August 28

Luke 14:1, 7-14

1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

 

School buses have been rehearsing their routes, teachers are preparing classrooms, parents and students are filling backpacks with supplies and readying themselves for the school year routines. At this time of year, whether I’m in school or not, memories of my school years come back to me.

For instance, I remember that on the first day of 7th grade, I had convinced my parents that I absolutely had to walk to school really early, about an hour before the first bell rang. I don’t remember exactly what I did between 7:30 and 8:30 in the halls of Willmar Junior High School, but I remember it was important. I knew my friend Jon was getting dropped off early by his parents before they went to work, and others would get there early, too. I couldn’t be left out. I knew that crucial work would get done during that early time in our school; not homework or organizing the books in my locker, but the work of establishing social position.

Oh, I didn’t understand it in those terms. But I knew very well that it mattered who I talked with before school, or more to the point, who people saw me talking with. Maybe it’s different at Sanford Middle School or other schools where some of you will soon spend a lot of your time this year, but when I was in 7th grade, one’s social network meant everything.

And then an even more crucial moment during the day was when the bell rang for lunch period B and I walked to the cafeteria. I remember that first day carrying my tray and scanning the room for a place to sit, not just any place, but the right place, a place with significance, a place that would help things go well for me for the rest of the year. I imagined that the eyes of every single student in the lunch room were on me as I looked for my place and that where I chose to sit would determine not only where I would sit the rest of the year but also what they all would think of me. I felt everyone was evaluating me. As I think back on it, I’m ashamed at how I, too, in choosing my spot, was sizing everyone else up in that moment.

Someone once said, “I don’t believe in reincarnation because I can’t imagine a loving God would make us go through 7th grade all over again.” I sympathize with the feeling behind that statement, but though I wouldn’t quite put it that way. For one, I have to say there were some really great things about 7th grade, too. But more important, this worry about finding your place isn’t just a middle school phenomenon. Have you had a similar experience at a work lunchroom table? Or a wedding reception? Or even here at church? I have heard from people that walking into this Community Room after worship at Holy Trinity can be a scary experience. Everyone seems to know each other. Everyone seems to already have a place. At least it can seem that way to newcomers. No, it’s not just 7th grade where we might worry about our place.

At a youth gathering last summer, we heard Pastor Emily Scott describe how her eyes were opened to how the school lunch room culture plays out on a larger societal scale. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, her apartment building, filled with middle class tenants, was not seriously affected. Across the street, though, was a public housing building where some of the most vulnerable in the city lived. The storm flooded the basement of those houses, knocking out the electricity, heat, and water. Residents had to move up to higher levels, waiting out this disaster. Days went by. On Day 7 there was a blizzard and the temperature dropped. And the worst part was that some who were older couldn’t get down the stairs to get groceries and other supplies.

Pastor Scott helped a group of neighbors in knocking on doors to see if people were okay and to distribute supplies, but during the eleven days that the building was without utility service, she had the sense that these residents had been forgotten. It seemed that to many in the city, they just didn’t matter as much, that there place in the community just wasn’t as significant. The hurricane had revealed to her and many others the terrible gap in our country between rich and poor and that a system that worked well for her didn’t work for everyone.

When we keep our eyes open, we see that this kind of injustice exists in our own communities, too. As Pastor Scott says, recognizing the gap that exists between us will break your heart. We know this divide should not exist, no more than social cliques should permanently divide up a middle school. And in seeing it, we all want to close the gap. Yet overcoming these injustices is more than any one of us can accomplish on our own. No number of good deeds of charity can bring about the systemic change that is needed to bring equality. There is no simple solution. We all need to come together for the kind of transformation we need.

So as we continue to wait for and work for change, in the meantime Jesus keeps inviting us to the table together. At the table, we receive again and again a vision of how God’s world is intended to be. Each of us, no matter our experience or circumstances, is invited to the same table, and that’s how the reign of God starts to break into the world as it is. When each of us is given a space at the banquet of Christ, we are set free from having to worry about where we or someone else will sit. We’re set free from having to size people up or worry about what value others will place on us. And then rather than watching one another closely to see where people are and who deserves which place, we can instead watch for the presence of the resurrected Christ at work among us. We can look for a glimpse of Christ in someone we thought was a stranger.

Imagine how our world might begin to change if, freed from the need to arrange ourselves, we looked for Christ at every table.

During a visit last week to St. John’s Abbey, I was reminded of an old story about another monastery. The community of monks was tucked away in the middle of a forest somewhere, and years ago it had been known as a place of peace and healing. Visitors would seek it out and eagerly make the long journey there for personal retreats. Over time, however, fewer and fewer people were visiting the monastery. The monks who lived there had grown jealous and petty in their relationships with one another, and the animosity was felt by those who visited.

The Abbot of the monastery was distressed by what was happening, and he poured out his heart to his good friend, a Jewish rabbi named Jeremiah. After hearing about the situation, Jeremiah told the Abbot that he had received a vision. He said that in his vision the messiah was among the ranks of the monks. The Abbot was amazed. He raced back to the monastery and shared his exciting news with his fellow monks.

The monks grew silent as they looked into each other’s faces. Was this one the Messiah? Was that one? From that day on the mood in the monastery changed. Enemies reconciled. Petty competition ceased. The monks began serving each other, looking out for opportunities to assist, seeking healing and forgiveness where offence had been given. The word soon spread about the remarkable spirit of the monastery. People once again made the journey and found themselves renewed and transformed. All because those monks knew the Messiah was among them.

It’s in this way that I hear in the Gospel reading today not just good advice about social etiquette but a vision of God’s reign breaking into our world. The truth is, Christ is among us. As we leave our places at this table today, we can also look for Christ at every other table in our world.

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Miracles, sabbath, women, Jesus, and building projects. (I can’t think of a snappy title.)

Pastor Ingrid’s sermon from August 21, 2016. Listen along here.

The gospel according to Luke, the thirteenth chapter:

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.

She didn’t come looking for healing. We can pretty safely assume she was at the synagogue to pray—to pray for her grandkids, to pray for her friend living with cancer, to pray for the local soccer team, to pray for the peace of the whole world. Though it was a painful nuisance, the truth was that she had gotten used to her crooked back. Like an old weeping willow tree, her back had curved over a period of many years. Now, in her eighties, her face parallel with the ground, she conversed not with faces but with feet. One sharp theologian says, “[This woman] recognized people by their bunions.”[i]

Too many preachers over the years have led us to believe that this woman was “less than” because of her differing physical abilities. I want to be really clear, right off the bat this morning, that this woman was a beloved child of God from the start of this story. When she slowly shuffled into the synagogue that Saturday morning, God loved her just as much as God did when she later strode out into the sunshine. The miracle we see take place doesn’t make her better or more faithful or more worthy of salvation.

After all, my friend Nancy Eiesland, who died a few years ago, often reminded me that we Christians worship a disabled God. Nancy used an electric wheelchair to get around. As a theologian, she was always pointing to the story that comes a little later in Luke’s gospel, the one where Jesus invites his disciples to touch his wounds. She writes, “In presenting his impaired body to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God. God remains a God the disabled can identify with, she argued—Christ is not cured and made whole; Christ’s injury is part of him, neither a divine punishment nor an opportunity for healing.”[ii]

Nancy also thought we’d all have a more faithful understanding of God and the world if we imagined that God used a “puff” wheelchair—you know the chairs that individuals who are quadriplegic can operate by blowing into a tube.

In today’s story, then, while he was teaching, Jesus saw the woman come into the synagogue to pray. The text says she is “crippled by a spirit.” You and I know this spirit well—it’s active in our communities, too. It’s the spirit that causes us to grow uncomfortable around people who are different from us. It’s the spirit that makes us look away from bodies that don’t work quite like ours. It’s the spirit that drives us to move to the other side of the street to avoid someone that society says is unseemly or dangerous. It’s the spirit of the people that cripples the woman, because it names her “other” and separates her from the rest of God’s people. // Her back? // She had gotten used to that. It was the community’s response to her that made her spirit sick.

The community had named her “other” but Jesus draws the circle wide when he calls her “daughter of Abraham.” And he says that it’s time to do something about the woman’s back in order to get after the bigger problem of the community’s spirit. Like any good first century religious authority, the synagogue leader objects to Jesus healing the woman on the Sabbath. He’s not against the miracle; he’s against the timing of it. “Just wait another day,” the leader says.

Luther Seminary’s Matthew Skinner writes that “Jesus’ response to the synagogue leader is as scathing as it is succinct. The Sabbath—nor any tradition, nor any theological principle—is no excuse for willfully extending suffering and delaying wholeness.” Skinner continues, “There’s a deeper, unstated logic at work in Jesus’ words: the purpose of the Sabbath actually expresses the reason why Jesus should restore the woman now…The Sabbath, at its heart, offers a weekly reassertion of how much God values freedom and detests injustice.”

Here, I think it’s helpful for those of us who haven’t spent much time in Deuteronomy 5 lately to hear the Sabbath command again:

Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Skinner says that “the original intention of the sabbath, according to Deuteronomy, is to provide relief, even if only temporary, from any system that would deny a person—or any part of creation—a share of rest, peace, wholeness, dignity, and justice. The synagogue official says, “Wait just one more day.” Jesus answers, “No, eighteen years is long enough, thank you very much. The Sabbath is a pretty good day for setting people free…We can’t wait.”[iii]

We can’t wait because God’s vision won’t wait. God’s vision for this beautiful and injured world is continually unfolding among us. Unfolding like the first rhubarb leaves in spring. Like a baby’s hand reaching out to her mother. Like the arms of the man in the hospital waiting room opening to embrace his husband. Like the woman’s back on a sunny Saturday morning at the synagogue. There is an unfolding, an unfurling of creation of which we are a part, but that, ultimately, God inspires.

This past week the contractors started the excavation work on the east side of the church building. [Praise the Lord. The permits came through.] With their Bobcats and backhoes they peeled back dirt that has been piled high for, oh, about a hundred years. I watched the scene unfold—scoop by scoop, they opened up a new possibility for this community—that is, the possibility that someone with a body like the woman in today’s gospel story will someday soon be able to enter this building without assistance. If my friend Nancy Eiesland were still alive, she wouldn’t mince words; she’d say that this project will allow the God she worshipped—the God in the “puff” wheelchair—to enter this building for the very first time. As the earth was pulled away from the church’s foundation, God’s vision for joy and justice unfolded before my eyes.

Some translations of Luke’s story say the woman was miraculously “made straight.” Preacher Barbara Lundblad jokes that it was only her back that was made straight.[iv] And when that happened she began praising God. Herein lies the real miracle: The woman connected the unfolding of joy and justice in her life with God’s persistent presence in the world. She had the wisdom to draw the line between her newly granted freedom and God’s unfolding vision for the whole community. She came to pray that morning—pray for her grandkids, her friend living with cancer, the local soccer team, the peace of the whole world. When she arrived, God granted her a share of rest, peace, wholeness, dignity, and justice. And we are told that the whole community rejoiced.

May this same vision unfold among us.

AMEN.


[i] Barbara Lundblad made this observation at the 2016 Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly.

[ii] Read Nancy Eiesland’s obituary here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/us/22eiesland.html?_r=0. She died at the age of 44, and we miss her.

[iii] See Matthew Skinner’s full commentary here: http://www.onscripture.com/why-we-can%E2%80%99t-wait. Emphasis is mine.

[iv] Again, I heard Lundblad make this joke at the 2016 Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly.

A Sign of the Promise. Jay’s sermon from August 7.

Luke 12:32-40

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

 

Genesis 15:1-6

1 After these things the word of God came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

 

Six verses. In the first reading today from Genesis 15, it only takes six verses for Abram to move from near despair to a model of faith. At first we heard that Abram—or Abraham as he is later to be named—is not just questioning God’s promise; he comes to God in protest. I imagine him shaking his fist toward the sky, saying, “You told us that we would have many descendants. You told Sarah and me that we would have a child. But you have given us no offspring.” But then in verse 6 everything seems to have changed. It says, “He believed God; and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

Just like that. From protest to faith in just a few lines. I’m intrigued by this because this kind of thing is not usually such an easy process in my experience. If you also find yourself drawn to Abraham’s apparently radical spiritual transformation, then you’re in good company. Verse 6 is one of the most often quoted in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul and the writer of Hebrews, for example, were inspired by this story of faith. They see in Abraham and Sarah faithful models for us and, more than that, a description of how God relates to the world. The story of Abraham and Sarah is the story of a struggle to trust in a promise from God when surrounded by evidence against the promise. That was the challenge they faced for many long years as it is told in the first book of the Bible. Hebrews picks up on their story because it was often the same challenged faced by the early Christian church who looked for the return of Christ and an end to suffering and persecution. And now I believe it is one of the central concerns for the church of today. That is, how can we believe in God’s intended future for us and the world when there is so much reason to give in to cynicism and fear? How and why will we continue to trust the promise that God is making things right in the world? Open the newspaper and read about new instances of violence and war, abuse of the earth, hatred toward others—even hatred expressed by people who claim Christianity. With all of this going on, how can we hold firm to a faith in the God of Abraham and Sarah, our God of justice and kindness and loving promise?

That’s why it matters to me to come back to Genesis and ask, “what changed for Abraham?” How did he come to such faith?

By the time we get to chapter 15, Abraham and Sarah had been living with the promise for a while. They had already been in relationship with God. But without seeing any progress, the power of the promise was wearing off. At least Abraham started to imagine it all happening in a different way. He supposed that a slave in his household would become his heir. Now, personally, I don’t see what would have been wrong with that, as the Bible includes all kinds of diverse family arrangements, though I don’t know whether Eliezer himself had been consulted.

I guess the difference is that God had promised something else. God had given a specific promise about their future. Nevertheless, in his attempt to make the promise more believable, Abraham changed it. He was willing to accept something different. He was starting to trust his own plans and strategies in place of the One who had made the promise.

This, of course, is a temptation for the church of today, too. It is for all of us. Even in well-intentioned and virtuous work, we might start to believe that it’s all up to us and that God is not involved in the process. We settle for only what we can do instead of looking for what God is doing. We accept something other than what has been promised, namely God’s active presence in the world.

I once took a week-long class on prayer practices. We studied lectio divina and labyrinths and spent a lot of time in silence. We engaged in body prayer and creative, artistic prayer practices. And on the last day, our instructor offered us another way of praying. He said, “Start a project that you know you could not do on your own, where you need to rely on others. You’ll be reminded that life is not all up to you or within your control.”

It’s a great reminder for the church. A life of prayer is a life that is open to God’s work beyond our work. A congregation’s life should include bold goals that could never be accomplished all on our own. Yes, our plans and strategies and methods matter, but they should include the expectation that God is taking the initiative in creating a new future.

There’s no question that in Genesis 15, Abraham’s faith in God’s promised future was wavering. He tried his best with what existed in the present, while also coming to God in protest. And in direct response to his shaky faith, God gave him a sign. Now who wouldn’t want a sign from God? Desire for signs is a recurrent theme in pastoral conversations I have. It would not be unusual for me in any given week to hear someone say something like, “I believe in heaven; I just wish I had a sign that my mother is okay,” or “I’m struggling with my career path; I’d love a sign to show me which way to go,” or “I’ve been praying for my son’s illness for years; where’s the sign that God is listening?” A sign, it seems to us, would offer some rational confirmation that God is worthy of our trust.

However, that’s not the kind of sign that God gave Abraham. God did not give him a concrete proof that the promise would be fulfilled. God did not offer a logical argument to persuade him into believing. Instead, God told him to look up at the stars. “Count the stars, if you are able,” God said to Abraham. “So shall your descendants be.”

It reminds me of Psalm 8: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, what are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you have made them little less than divine; with glory and honor you crown them.”

The awe that we feel in looking up at the night sky is the awe that Abraham and Sarah came to embrace in God’s loving promise for them. The same God who could create such a majestic display could certainly create a new future for their family and the whole people of God. The stars were not an intellectual proof, but they served as a reminder that God is God.

Abraham and Sarah were no different than us. Their faith was not simply one of peaceful, pious acceptance. They had questions and doubts both before and after Genesis chapter 15. As theologian Frederick Buechner has said, if you were to tap them or any other biblical figure on the shoulder at any point in their faith journeys to ask what it felt like to be chosen and called by God, you’d likely be surprised by the answer. I would guess that’s true for anyone you think of as especially faithful—from a grandparent to Mother Theresa. But for all these ancestors in the faith, along the way, the God who made them a promise then also created for them a trust in the promise when they needed it. Even faith is a gift from God, not something we do ourselves. And though Abraham and Sarah did not see the complete fulfillment of the promise, as has always been the case for people of faith, it was still a promise they could live by. The rest of scripture and the church’s experience throughout the centuries affirm that this is the model for our lives of faith—never perfect but still an essential source of hope against despair, of trust against fear.

In the remaining weeks of summer, I hope you have many opportunities to look up at the night sky and remember that God is God. More than that, if you happen to be struggling in your life of faith today, worried for your future, wondering if God is truly at work in the world around us, then I invite you to consider the meal we celebrate at this table to be the sign that you need. As you receive bread and wine, hear again that the One who speaks to us a promise is worthy of being trusted and is present for you. Taste and see that God is good.

As a community of faith that spans across generations, we eat and drink until the promise of God’s dream for the world is fulfilled. We pray for faith. We trust that the One who created the universe hears our prayers and is ready to open for us a new future. Thanks be to God.

 

With special appreciation for Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on the Genesis passage from the Interpretation series (John Knox Press, 1982).

 

Soul-talk. Jay’s sermon on the rich fool.

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, “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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

 

 

Not far from Camp Christikon, the Lutheran Bible camp in Montana I just visited with a youth group from Holy Trinity, there’s an old, unoccupied log cabin. You can’t get there by the road; you need to follow the Boulder River and the narrow footpaths that switch back and forth up into the Absaroka Mountain Range. But it’s worth the hike, as that cabin is set in a breathtakingly beautiful spot in the valley. The forest service has boarded it up now. The shingles are falling off, the walls are beginning to crumble with no one there to maintain them, and it’s all been left to be reclaimed by the forest. But not long ago and for several decades, it served as a relatively comfortable home for a man named Charlie.

Charlie died in the late ‘80s, but there are a lot of stories still told about him at camp. We heard how years ago he left his home out East and his community of family and friends there to seek his fortune mining gold in the mountains of Montana. He was going to get rich. He staked out his claim and then single-handedly built that cabin, along with a bridge, his mines, and a handful of other structures. With only the help of his mule, he carried the necessary materials up the steep incline, transporting the heaviest logs during the winter on the frozen river. No one could say whether he found any gold during all of those years, but the signs indicate he did not and died nearly penniless.

Christikon campers and counselors got to know Charlie over the years, as they’d hike up to his place. Whenever they did, Charlie would welcome them in for a rest and some homemade cookies. Now there’s a portrait of him on the wall in the camp’s main lodge. I looked at that picture while eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day during our time at camp, and I started to wonder, with all the stories told about Charlie, is he remembered at camp as a hero or a fool?

I’m not sure how to answer that. It seems to me that whether he’s a hero or a fool depends on how his story is told. If it is a story of leaving one’s family and friends to live isolated in the mountains in selfish pursuit of wealth, then clearly he is a fool. He has nothing to show for his life. He worked hard all those years for a life that he never realized. It was all vanity and chasing after wind. What could be more foolish?

But then if it’s a story of a man who knew some significant struggles and made some bad decisions, but still managed to find a way to connect with campers, counselors, and other hikers and to have an impact on their lives, well, then, if not a hero, at least he’s a pretty good human being. And I’d even say that in his simplicity and poverty, his life may yet be remembered as one of abundance.

I didn’t know Charlie. But however you tell it, his story inspires great questions about what is most important in life.

Today Jesus gives us more to think about. “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” he says. We hardly need to be told; it’s obvious to us that there’s more to life than our stuff, right? So the character in his parable—a guy with big barns full of grain, talking to no one but his own soul about how happy and comfortable he will be—yes, it’s easy to call him a fool. Any of us would gladly share with others such an abundance if we had it. We know what life is about.

But I’ve learned that Jesus never told parables just to make us point and laugh at others. They tend to hold up a mirror to our own lives and reveal deeper truths. Maybe this guy with the barns is more like us than we think.

None of us here has probably ever had a conversation with one’s own soul before; that sounds exceptionally foolish. But then again, you may know what it’s like to feel deep down in your gut a worry for the future, for your security. Then “soul-talk” can take a variety of forms: “you need to work harder, you need to be more cautious with what you have, you need to be sure you get what’s coming to you.” When we start to engage in this kind of talk, it can be easy to forget what we believe most about wealth and possessions. It can be easy to forget what we believe most about God, too, focused as we are on ourselves and what we must do.

Let me be clear that it’s not at all foolish to be concerned about the future. It is wise to plan ahead—for retirement, for college, for emergencies, and so forth. That’s true for us and for the main character of this parable. The root problem, though, is the soul-talk. The foolishness lies in deluding ourselves into thinking that our future security is all up to us; and that joy, generosity, and true rest can only exist when that supposed security is attained.

We might tell our souls we can really live only once we have sufficient income or have built up for ourselves sufficient savings, but so often our definition of enough keeps changing and always seems to be just a little more than what we have or are making now. How can we ever really feel that we have accumulated enough when there is so much available and so much that promises to make life better? There’s always more to attract our attention.

And it’s not just about money and possessions, though. Some of us here today might say we don’t need more money as much as we need more time. We say to ourselves, “when I just get the right balance in life, managing all of my varied responsibilities, then I will say to myself, ‘relax, rest, and be merry.’ Then I will live the kind of life to which I feel called.” The problem is we live in a beautifully changing and evolving world, in which balance is a moving target, and again not something that can be ultimately achieved. Life does not consist in the abundance of time, either. It is lived from one moment to the next. Its blessings are received as they come.

Or maybe what some of us are after more than all else is success, more achievements upon which we can prop up our identities and sense of self. It’s the way of the American Dream, right, to work hard and make something of yourself? But what is it, really, that you could accomplish on your own that would give you deep, true sense of meaning? Would there not always be more to do? None of our accomplishments finally can define us.

Instead, what if we practiced a different and wiser kind of soul-talk? What if we could say to ourselves consistently and sincerely, “I have enough—I AM enough—to live a life marked by joy and generosity. I can rest in the abundance of God’s grace. I am part of God’s great commonwealth of blessing, in which I am both blessed and get to bless others, too.” The work and challenges of life will continue, of course, but this kind of talk reminds us that abundance is the starting place, not just the end goal.

This kind of soul-talk is so much more in line with God-talk. That is, it follows what God has said and continues to say to us. You are loved. You are enough. My grace is sufficient. This parable, it seems to me, is not meant to raise anxiety for us about whether we’re living with wisdom or foolishness. It’s an invitation to a completely new and abundant life of grace.

In light of these gracious promises, I hope that each one of us can leave worship today convinced that our barns are full. Of course, the contents differ among us. For many of us, we possess material wealth that can be shared with others rather than hoarded. For some, our circumstances may mean we have privilege and power of which we can be good stewards, using it well for the sake of others. We may have experiences, ideas, and passions that have been given to us not to keep to ourselves but to share with our communities. Even our mistakes and faults can be blessings to others when we share them and what we have learned from them. We have so much.

For all of us, above all, our lives have been filled with the love of God. You are loved in this very moment, before anything else you do or do not do. You are treasured in God’s sight, and that means you can live in love, treasuring all that God treasures, even when it seems that so much hate, fear, and selfishness surround you.

This very day, your life is being demanded of you. That is, your true life wants to be lived in you—a life secure in God’s abundant faithfulness.