Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary Reflection
August 4, 2013
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God. Luke 12:21
We are much better at preparing to live than at living” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Preachers quite frequently express misgivings and dismay when this week’s readings roll around in the Revised Common Lectionary. And they have a point, to be sure, because taken at face value all four readings appear to have varying degrees of “downer” potential. Add to that fact the sharp reality that preachers in the United States and other developed nations are preaching to the world’s wealthiest people–even if they don’t see themselves as such. So how do we preach the “good news” when it doesn’t sound very good. More so, how do we preach these lessons and avoid the pitfall of preaching “at” folks in the pew?
A good place to begin is to review the lessons for the past few weeks and the passages in between that are not included in this sequence. Jesus is in the process of teaching and modeling for his disciples the kind of behaviors and practices that constitute a God-centered life. The crowd continues to expand in chapter twelve, even as Jesus is focusing on his disciples. The story of the greedy farmer is his response to a rather rude intrusion from the crowd asking Jesus to intercede in a family matter concerning “stuff” and its perceived equitable distribution. In telling this story, Jesus makes clear that life is not about stuff–about money, possessions, and collections–but rather it is about God and relationships.
The goal of life is interdependence rather than independence and self-reliance. It is a refutation of the notion that he or she who dies with the most toys wins. Eternity and the reign of God function as great equalizers: None of us gets out of this present age alive, and you can’t take stuff with you beyond the grave. Yet still our culture and its “wisdom” encourages amassing, collecting, and hoarding in response to a scarcity model of existence. In the past weeks Jesus has been all about lifting up what really matters, and it isn’t possessions and fat bank accounts. Jesus does not condemn wealth; he fusses about how it is misused and abused. The greedy farmer was blessed beyond measure. He had more than enough. His problem was that he hoarded it and considered it the gifts of his own wit and creation. He operated out of scarcity mentality rather than from a view of abundance. He was, in the words of Thich Nat Hanh, “preparing to live” rather than living.
How about celebrating all the ways we can live into God’s intent for our lives? How about lifting up a model of stewardship of all of life–of time, talent, and treasure–and the blessings and joys of interdependence and mutuality. Let’s encourage disciples to really live their one precious life as if every breath, every decision, every action and every second matters. You see, the truth is that it all does matter. All that we are, have, and do are in service to the one thing that really matters, and that one thing is that we fill the entirety of our lives with God in Christ Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit. This one thing will never pass away, and you CAN take it with you because it is already in you. And that, dear friends, is some very, very good news worth living into and sharing with this beautiful, broken world.
Blessings on your preaching and teaching! May you find joy in the journey, experience miracles in life’s moments, and take delight in holding loosely to all boundless blessings and goodness of God.
How about putting a positive spin on today’s gospel lesson by singing about the kind of life Jesus was trying to show his disciples? Instead of the “Story of the Greedy Farmer” craft your own “Story of the Disciples who Dared to Really Live” or the “Story of the Life that Leaked Love Lavishly.” What if all of us determined to lean into a life well lived instead of a life well-planned-and-successfully-executed? What if we admitted that we cannot really possess anything, believing instead that everything passes through our lives, and that love and relationship are the constant threads that bind us to God’s anchoring presence?
Here are some ideas for celebrating in song. Note: The hymn numbers correspond with Evangelical Lutheran Worship (the worship book and hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).
Entrance Hymn: “All are Welcome” (#641), “As Saints of Old” (#695), “We Are Called” (#720), “Let Us Go Now to the Banquet” (#523)
Hymn of the Day: “God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending” (#678), “Take My Life, that I May Be” (#583 or #685); “How Small our Span of Life” (#636), “Be Thou My Vision” (#793)
Sending Hymn: “To Be Your Presence” (#546) “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ” (#674), “Christ, Be Our Light” (#715), “The Lord Now Sends Us Forth” (#538)
Could you fit your life in a backpack? Could you live with just 100 things?
Take a look at these articles and then share what you find of value with the youth:
“How to Live with Just 100 Things” in Time Magazine, June 5, 2008
“A Conversation” on Dave Bruno’s website (pay particular attention to Eileen’s story about her father)
How does the trend toward minimalism and our desire for real relationship speak to this week’s gospel lesson? Could you (would you) pare your possessions down to 100 things? What would you have trouble leaving behind? Invite the youth to really think about this? You might even give them a pre-printed 100 item list to fill in, but only do that if you’re willing to participate yourself. Come back together and discuss whether this was a difficult or simple challenge and why? What does this say about discipleship? What challenges do we face in our culture?
This lesson illustrates visually how some things change and yet stay the same. Even though we may attempt to collect the latest and best of a technology or tool, change is bound to happen. The best thing we can do is find what is good and worth sharing in relationship.
For as long as humankind has existed, we have been singing and playing music. The Psalms are an ancient hymnal, and the Bible references many instruments. Let’s take a look at how the way we play and enjoy music has changed over the years.
Bring out some of the following ways to play music: a vinyl record, an 8-track tape, a cassette, a CD, and an iPod. Very few people still have working 8-track players. Vinyl is enjoying somewhat of a revival. CDs have given way to digital music. Even though the delivery medium continues to change, music is always with us in some form. Jesus is trying to tell his disciples not to worry about “stuff” but rather to enjoy the music of life–to really live each moment.
Consider ending with the song “This is the Day (that the Lord has Made)” and a short prayer giving thanks for each precious moment of life and people with whom to share it.