Friends, today we hear about futility—the older translation of which we are probably more familiar speaks of “vanity” and the “vanity of vanities.” No matter which word we use, it seems that both point to what is empty and foolish. The story of the rich, prosperous man in today’s Gospel is a prime example. His answer to overflowing fields of grain is to build bigger barns, and he expresses quite a bit of excitement around this fact!—perhaps a very human thing to do. There apparently wasn’t any malice involved in the way that he acquired his wealth—at least Jesus doesn’t raise the issue—he is more concerned, it would seem about what the man wants to do with his surplus. It is for this reason that this parish gifts most of our financial treasure out to our local, national and international community—those who have needs beyond our own. In fact it is one of the greatest joys of those who serve on our board to take your money out of the bank and pay it forward, as it were, which we did this past week and you have received that report. It has always been my belief that truly Christian churches should not have bank accounts, or at least not have ones that, like our farmer today, grow ever larger—I thought this long before All Are One came to be.
The Old or First Testament clearly instructs wealthy farmers to leave at least, the corners of their fields, for the poor and widows to glean. It seems there is necessity to write into law, care for those less fortunate, as we in our natural tendency toward greed and hoarding, forget at times, to care for the less fortunate. The Scripture lessons today tell us that the meaning of life can’t be found in things that do not last, yet we humans still strive for more, many times oblivious to what our ever-growing desire for things might be doing to our earth.
This past winter, Robert and I began the process of going through our “stuff” stored around our home, throwing lots and sharing that which others could use that we no longer needed—it was really very freeing! And, to say nothing of how happy our kids will be one day that they don’t have to do it! I know in talking with many of you who have begun simplifying your lives and getting rid of some of the extra stuff as we have, that you know that sense of freedom and the joy of sharing the extras with others.
In our world, the value of people is often, sadly, linked to what they have, especially money and material goods. And right alongside this are the issues of power and prestige that are linked to those who are well-off financially. The standards in society that govern how we live, what is acceptable, are often set by those with money. At least these are the people who are listened to. The wise teacher, Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes, says all of this is lacking in substance. The election this fall is very much about making sure that those without are taken care of.
Within our Catholic church we see that the power is definitely in the hands of half of the human race. And the trouble seems to be that those who hold this power, those who have the voice and are allowed to minister at our altars, have no idea, no concept of what it would be like to have the tables turned.
Eight years ago when I was ordained, a female, ELCA Lutheran pastor and colleague wrote to me expressing her praise and wonder at what women in the Catholic church have to go through to realize their God-given calls to serve at the altar. She went onto relate her own personal experience of hearing God’s call, entering seminary and at the conclusion of her studies, becoming ordained.
Years ago when the first woman was ordained within the Church of England, I can remember reading the transcript of her homily and she said something to the effect that for the first time, little girls in the Church could look on and say, like little boys have done for centuries, I too could be ordained one day! Politics aside, we heard the same thing this last week from our First Lady, Michelle Obama when she said and I paraphrase, now my girls know that they too one day could be president!
Women within the Catholic church are hoping that Francis will one day, soon, see how poor our world is when the gifts of women are discounted. It is simply not enough to say that we should “give the women more to do!” What our Church needs is the gifts of women, fully realized, in every Catholic church in our country and in our world and until that happens; we will not be whole—the Catholic church will fail to be all that it can be—all that Jesus intended it to be. The Democratic nominee for vice-president, himself a Catholic, has said as much—the Catholic church basically stands in the way of women’s rights being fully realized in our world! Had this been the case, that of complete involvement of women in Church ministry and leadership, it may not have been so easy for male priests to abuse the children of the People of God and cover it up for so long!
The readings this week definitely call us to look at what occupies our minds and hearts and takes aim at excessive wealth and power and calls it, “futile.” If we look at those who have the wealth in this world; we often see them as people striving for even more—they are never satisfied. The constant striving for things tends to blur the path to wholeness. We are reminded of this truth in music scores over the years that decry a simpler time when love was good and it wasn’t about the wealth.
Jesus points to the foolishness of stockpiling that which we can’t take with us. In the end, we leave this world with only what we brought in—ourselves. We smile at the farmer, building bigger barns to store his grain—but our world still hasn’t learned this lesson that Jesus taught us so long ago—people continue to build bigger houses that are like barns to fill with stuff and often with only two people wandering about in them.
Our “first world” world has a long ways to go yet in understanding that the material gifts of our planet were meant to share with the world. In our dealings as a nation with other world governments, we need to keep the good of all people in mind, not just ourselves. In my position, it isn’t appropriate that I advocate for one candidate over another, one political party over another, but I can advocate, as one former candidate running for office did recently, “Vote your consciences!” Who will do the best job to care for all of the people not only in our country, but around the world? Who has the broadest vision of what it takes to deal with world problems of justice and security for all? Who has the ability to listen to others and come up with sound solutions to big problems?
When we look at the human tendency to want for more, to sometimes, be selfish even, we might ask what all the striving and hoarding is about. It does seem that fear is probably the driving force in all that we strive after and we are all guilty of this pursuit in some form or fashion. If it is about fear, then we have to ask—what do we fear? I think we fear not being accepted, not being loved—we fear for our reputation—what would people think of me if I were to do that, wear that, say that—be with them? So in our fear of being looked down upon, thought less of, we sometimes do the socially more acceptable thing and surround ourselves with stuff that will bring us a certain amount of prestige, acceptance and comfort—for a time.
Again, Qoheleth tells us—it is all fleeting—here today, gone tomorrow. As we age, I think this reality becomes ever more apparent. Stories abound of the bum on the street who was once a top executive—it can all go so quickly, so it behooves us to strive after that which lasts. For the younger ones among us, you are at a different place, simply trying to take care of the constant needs of your families.
But for all of us, Paul outlines well what our lives should look like due to the fact that we say we follow Jesus, the Christ. As his followers, as Christians, each us is called to not simply consider ourselves, but others—how does what I do, how I choose to live, affect others—affect global existence for all who share this planet? Our baptism in Jesus was a death to an old way of thinking—one that considered us above all others.
Through the waters of baptism, we are born into the image of our Creator—called to be generous with our time, talent and possessions in a world that sometimes applauds selfishness and greed. We are called and required to be honest in all our dealings in a world that isn’t always honest. Our culture idolizes youth, money and pleasure—but we are called to so much more—the practice of genuine love, which shows itself through mercy, goodness, unselfishness and peace. I recall how I struggled several years back with turning 60. With each passing year, I struggle less as I am coming to terms with growing older, realizing it isn’t about a number, but the quality of my years.
We all know—those of us with gray hair and mid-drift bulges that youth doesn’t last—pleasure-seeking is a beast that can consume us if we let it. But life that Jesus our brother and friend laid out for us is one that does last—a life that is consumed with love—love for people, love for our earth, love for ourselves—a love that seeks balance in our lives.
For this reason, I can only marvel at those in this world who would think that our good God would be against those who choose to love someone of their same sex in conjunction with how they were created. Incredible! “Love is love is love…” as my friend, Paul Alexander, musician and song-writer has said so simply and well. Our loving Creator God wants us to enjoy our human existence—taste of the joys of this earth and of each other—but not make the pleasure, the experience, a god in itself. This is where we lose our way.
Let us pray for each other today, that we can always keep our eyes on Jesus who so perfectly, showed us the balance—the way—the truth and the life.