November 17, 2019

Sermon – The Ninth Sunday of Luke 2019

PASTORAL SERMON
The Ninth Sunday of Luke
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
November 17, 2019

Upon hearing today’s Gospel lesson, you and I should ask ourselves: “How much is enough?” What do I need in order to live a life in such a way that I am not hoarding my possessions?

We all have responsibilities with serious concerns: a) providing for our family; which may include avoiding debt; doing everything we can to ensure that our children are educated; preparing for the needs of our retirement and concerns for our medical expenses. All of these things come with great uncertainty. They can, at the same time be excuses for not sharing with others, especially those with great needs. Some of us, especially if we are blessed with good fortune, consider every possible way of avoiding taxes; we carefully plan our deductions, consider ways to multiply our income with wise investments; you know what I’m taking about. My point is: so much of our financial planning is without much certainty. We worry about tomorrow, but we clearly know that our Lord teaches us that we should not; yet our lives are seem largely dependent upon what resources we have.

So then I must ask: What does this morning’s Gospel say to us? A great deal about what I’ve just said is relative if we are to take seriously what is taught by our Lord in the Gospel: Let me review some of His words with you. It is interesting to note that one-third of our Lord’s teaching has a direct bearing upon what we do (or don’t do) with our resources:

1. [Matthew 6:25ff] …do not worry about your life, what you will
eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not
life more important than food and the body more important
than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow
or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father
feeds them. Are you not more valuable then they? Who of
you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (v. 33)
But seek first [the Kingdom of God] and His righteousness…

2. [Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34] Do not store up for yourselves
treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where
thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves
treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy,
and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where
your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

For the past two Sundays we have heard lessons that have focused our attention upon doing good works. Specifically, we have been reminded that our rich heritage in Christ, who is Himself, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, calls us to be merciful. Moreover, it was made clear that “being merciful” should be the motivation of “making sacrifices.”

Our Christian Tradition (in both the East and West) has observed a fast during the Season of Advent. Our church has kept a fast in preparation for the Great Feast of our Lord’s coming. However, unlike Great Lent, this period of forty days has, over the years, tended to place greater emphasis upon the practice of doing good works. The whole legend of Santa Claus, for example, based upon the real person of St. Nicholas the Wonder-worker, is commonly depicted as a kind and charitable saint, who was a doer of good deeds, especially to the poor. Yet, without minimizing the discipline of fasting and prayer practiced during the season, fasting, we should understand, does not exclusively mean abstinence from foods. Fasting can also, and very possibly mean, the abstinence of the many other things that we have found ourselves “consuming:” things that we may have become possessive of, or very possibly attached to; even behavior that we have found ourselves compelled to do. The foolish rich man spoken of in today’s Gospel is a good example. He lacks an understanding of God as his Source and selfishly hoarded his goods.

St. Gregory the Great addresses the fast in this way: “…let no one believe that fasting alone is sufficient; for the Lord tells us by the mouth of the prophet, ‘The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free.’ And then he continues, ‘Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives (Isaiah 58:6, 7). The Lord therefore blesses the fast that uplifts our hands in almsgiving before His eyes, which is joined to the love of our neighbor, and founded on compassion.”

We live in a land that has prided itself upon freedoms that have provided each of us with countless opportunities for our every ambition. If either by working hard, such as our parents or grandparents did, some of whom were immigrants, or if it was our good fortune to become the inheritors of all that they achieved to make our life much easier, our standard of living is largely spoken of in terms of our possessions. And so the very words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the verse preceding today’s lesson could not be more alarming: “Watch out!” He said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (verse 15). The Lord then proceeds to present us with a parable that describes a successful man who defines his life in terms of what he possesses, and further, considers the purpose of his life in this world solely in terms of being a consumer. We hear the rich man in today’s Gospel says to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (verse 19). These words are part of the writings of the Old Testament author of Ecclesiastes. They are the very words that are also found in the prophesy of Isaiah. However in Isaiah, the phrase ends with the words: “…for tomorrow we die” (Isaiah 22:13). It is not mentioned in the quote because the Gospel lesson draws the same conclusion: the rich man’s life ends with death.

Today’s lesson is also a good study into the mind of the greedy. In commenting on the rich fool, St. Basil says: His heart is tormented, devoured with anxiety. For what [others might rejoice in] brings pain to the [greedy]. [The rich man is not happy that] his storehouses are stuffed full. The overflowing riches which his storehouses are unable to hold are a torment to his soul, lest perhaps the overflow should bring some of their blessing to those in want! The man in the parable is truly selfish, according to Basil.

Our Lord’s concludes the lesson of the parable with the warning: that possessing the rich man’s attitude and his way of thinking is foolish. Why? Because it would be more proper for one’s goal in life to be focused upon becoming “rich towards God” – the Giver of every gift, the Provider and Source of all things.

In last week’s Gospel lesson we heard our Lord say, I desire mercy not sacrifice (Matthew 9:10). The man in today’s parable was neither merciful nor sacrificial. He considered his life blessed by having the ability to selfishly hoard his riches. He gave no thought to the fact that he would not be able to take any of his possessions with him to the grave. He was in fact, deluded in his thinking: perceiving himself rich, he was in fact very poor. Thinking of his wealth in terms of the abundance of his possessions, he gave no thought to what it meant to be “rich toward God”.

Prayer

O Christ our God, have mercy upon us sinners. O Holy Virgin, Mother of God, beneath your compassion we take refuge, despise not our prayer in our spiritual poverty, but by your intercessions, deliver us from all manner of greed, jealousy, pride and envy. O Holy Spirit of God, purify our hearts set aright our minds, and sanctify our souls that we may be found faithful stewards of all that has been entrusted to our care. Establish us in your will; grant that we may remain steadfast in our commitment and earnest in our desire to be rich towards God. For Thou art He who is a ready help to us in our time of need, and to Thee do we ascribe glory, together with the Father who is unoriginate, and our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ; for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. A-men.

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