Hosea 11:1-11, Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21
May only God’s word be spoken,
May God’s word be heard.
In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
While many of us are enjoying our midsummer by perhaps taking a family vacation or doing some backyard grilling or maybe even going to the lake or beach or just lazing around a bit, in our nation’s capital this past week Congress was winding down to their summer vacation. This can be a miserable time to be in the district, with the oppressive heat and humidity that comes from living in a tidal basin, and add to that the throngs of tourists trying to make their way through the city.
Some of that seems to have been taking its toll in the Senate last week. This past Thursday, Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin was presiding over the Senate, and Senators Murray and Collins were attempting to make some final statements in the “well” of the Senate. Attempting because apparently their colleagues were in a chatty mood and speaking loud enough that it made it difficult to hear the two senators at their podiums.
As presiding Senator Baldwin was gaveling the senate to order, and just as she was about to say “The Senate will be in order,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got up from his seat and told the chatty senators to “sit down and shut up.” The Washington Post then reported that most senators took their seats and listened, some left the chamber to keep talking, while others sat in seats and continued whispering to each other.
I guess I couldn’t help but hear echoes of this as I was thinking of the strong language that Jesus uses in this parable from Luke… “You Fool!” … this kind of language is usually saved for the hurling of an insult against someone with whom all hope of a reasonable conversation has broken down, kinda like, “sit down and shut up.” And in this context, these words from Jesus sound even more dismissive. He’s saying that there’s no alternative to the best practices that this rich man has put in place as part of his business plan, instead he’s bankrupted his soul and he’s as good as dead.
Unlike other stories from Luke about a Good Samaritan, a Lost Sheep, and a Prodigal Son; this parable doesn’t have a last-minute rescue resulting in a “happy ever after.” There’s no maneuvering room here to perform any course corrections as a result of wrong turns along the way…
Anyone here familiar with Clarence Jordan, or Koinonia Farms, down in southwest Georgia near Americus? … Clarence is one of my personal heroes and one of the people who has inspired and nurtured me over the years. His commitment to the gospel led him to establish an interracial farm and community in rural Georgia, in 1942, long before the civil rights movement even began. Though Clarence died in 1969, Koinonia Farms continues with folks living in intentional Christian community and active in both farming and many vital ministries.
Clarence was not only quite a farmer but also a powerful biblical scholar and teacher. He translated the New Testament from the Koine Greek into what he called his Cotton Patch version which has, let’s say, a U.S. Southern context. Clarence was fond of saying that the parables of Jesus lead us into the kingdom of God, so would like to share with you his retelling of this gospel, a translation with a bit of midrash, some details added to help interpret and flesh out the story a bit more.
(... story time! ... :) ... reading from pages 60-62, “Cotton Patch Parables of Liberation” by Clarence Jordan and edited by Bill Lane Doulos, ©1976 by Koinonia Partners, Wipf and Stock Publishers)
So, this parable of the Rich Fool makes the point that this farmer’s riches are crying out for his soul. The traditional interpretation is that the man is going to die. Fate or God or some unnamed force is demanding his soul, saying that his time is up. But the Greek text does not say, “This night your soul is being demanded of you.” What it says is, “This night they require your soul of you.” “They” refers to the “many good things” that the farmer thought he owned.
These things are telling the farmer what to do so that he can’t do what is desired by God, to whom his “soul” rightfully belongs. This parable warns about becoming a slave of money – for who do we serve God or money? – which is perhaps something that our credit card culture needs to hear. What we supposedly possess, often on credit, pretty much dictates what we must do to secure and maintain it.
Of course, this parable sounds a different note in a different context. This would include the more than 1 in 6 Alabamians, including 1 in 4 of our children, who are living in this state where the gap between Alabama’s richest and poorest is the second largest in the nation. If someone is living in utter poverty like these neighbors of ours, perhaps without access to even the basic necessities of life, the promise of wealth is not cast aside lightly. However, this parable calls on each of us, rich and poor alike, to carefully reflect about what it is that we want and why we want it.
So, when all is said and done, we are invited to place our trust in something more durable than the volatile fluctuations of our local, national, and global economies. Instead of banking on more and larger storage barns, God invites us all into the eternal economy of Christ’s grace and mercy. What would our lives look like if we really believed that "it is for freedom that Christ has set us free"?
Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. We are free now to live as God's people are called to live – in the wideness and the wildness of God's mercy.
Thanks be to God!Amen! Alleluia!