Proper 13 Year C
The Rev’d Deacon Lynda Hurt
TO WANT more is a basic human instinct. Want for worldly goods is attached to an irrational fear that one day we will not have enough. And the irony is, IS THERE EVER ENOUGH???… enough seems to be just beyond what we have. However…we owe a lot to those that came before us for wanting more… our survival has been dependent on that. By desiring more, we have found ways over thousands of years to greatly improve our quality of life. It’s been said that without a thirst for more we would still be living in caves…OR….the inventions and discoveries in the field of medicine and science that make life more sustainable Human beings are inclined towards life and not destruction or death. So, we can attribute so much of our progress to our instinct for wanting more. But when do we decide we have enough? Or to put it another way, what happens when our desire for more becomes insatiable and isolating.
Jesus has much to say in the Gospels about money and possessions… neither of which are inherently bad. A capitalistic economy is not immoral, …in fact it may be one of the few systems that has the capacity for charity. But in a society where pursuit of self-interest and profit are idealized and even romanticized, it is easy for consumerism to go unchecked. It really comes down to matters of the heart and our willingness to be grateful for our abundance and share what we have.
Today’s Gospel reading is referred to as the parable of the rich fool. Jesus is talking to a crowd of people when he is interrupted by someone asking him to settle a dispute between he and his brother regarding the division of their family inheritance. In ancient times, it was the custom and birthright of the oldest son to receive double the portion of the family possessions…which for most of us might seem like a very good custom if you’re the oldest child. So, this assumably younger brother is asking Jesus to advocate for him and basic fairness as it pertains to his inheritance. After all, he’s not asking for more…just an equal shared, which sounds like a reasonable request. But Jesus recognizes a deeper issue here…one that points to an attitude of greed where one pins their hopes to the security of material things. Jesus rejects the role of arbitrator and instead uses the opportunity to illustrate that a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. (pause) He proceeds, as Jesus often does, to illustrate his point using a parable.
In it, we learn that the central figure, the rich fool, had land that produced abundantly. So much so, that it created a storage problem for him, so his only solution was to pull down his barns and build larger ones that will hold his crops. Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with pulling down your barns to make room for a bigger yield of crops or whatever you store in your barns. But, it is what he said next that reveals the true character of this man. After he has safely secured his crops in the new and bigger barn, he proceeds to say in a rather self-satisfied way, “I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ His words reflect an attitude of someone who believes they alone are responsible for their abundance and that it is the sole source of security.
It's tempting to think that God is condemning this man’s wealth. He is not. Possessions and wealth are not inherently bad. What he’s teaching here has to do with the blind attitude of the rich man who took for granted that his security and strength is tied up in the things he owns. His possessions became an extension of himself and in the process, he lost his sense of the fragility of life. We know from this parable that on that very night the rich man’s life would be demanded of him, he was going to die, and it is then that God asks him what will become of his things, because, as the saying goes, “he can’t take it with him”. God vigorously “disabuses the rich man of his notion that he is an … [a] self-created entity, and reminds him that life and breath are given (and taken) by divine dispensation”. 
The rich man's anxiety mirrors in many ways our own obsession with protecting our things…we have lockboxes and lifehacks to make sure people don’t have access to our stuff…bolts on our doors, passwords, guard dogs, alarms…it is a human obsession to protect what is ours. incidentally…it is not that such safeguards are wrong or are not needed. But when we become consumed with protecting our worldly possession in a way that destroys our connection to community and the Divine, we lose the part of us that enables us to truly be alive. We are deceived by the notion that wealth gives us freedom to “eat, drink and be merry”, when in fact it’s quite the opposite. The worry alone of losing our stuff can be debilitating and rob us of our freedom to live and love.
This parable challenges us to reflect on where we DO draw our strength and security…where does true peace of mind come from? I don’t think it’s STUFF. For the rich man, it DID revolve around his possessions. And what is striking in this passage, and a sad commentary on self-reliance is the dialogue that this man is having with himself. Let me read that part again. “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ ‘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”. This is a heartbreaking portrayal of loneliness. It appears that this man has no friends and paints the picture of a man who “does not need anyone else”. His material possessions have become the singular focus of his life’s pursuit with no need of the love of family or friends, nor of a community of support.
The rich farmer is a fool not because he is wealthy or because he saves for the future, but because he appears to live only for himself. The land produced abundantly, yet the farmer expresses no sense of gratitude to God or to the workers who have helped him plant and harvest this bumper crop. How differently would his outlook be, if he saw God as the source of all he has.
God designed us to live and share with others in a community of love, not isolated from the world, gathering up earthly treasure to be hoarded. Materialism for the sake of our own self-preservation destroys our concern for our neighbor and our capacity to trust in God. Our true strength and security lie in the promises of God…it is where we find refuge when we have lost all else.
Feasting on the Gospels--Luke, Volume 2 (p. 39). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
 (Keck 2015, 212)
 Feasting on the Gospels--Luke, Volume 2 (p. 40). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
Sermon – Easter 2
The Rev’d Lynda Hurt
April 11, 2021
I speak to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Good morning! And welcome to the 2nd week of Easter…Christ is risen. We are in the preeminent season of hope and renewal and the high point of our liturgical year…we’ve unearthed our Alleluia’s and proclaimed the resurrection of Christ with pure, unbridled Easter joy…a welcome kind of joy after the desert time we spent in Lent not to mention the kind of year we’ve all experienced. This entire year has sometimes felt like Lent that has lasted 365 days, yet as Christians, we are an Easter people, and we live in the hope that loss leads to something new. So, I will say it again, Christ has Risen, indeed.
I am a little ashamed to admit that growing up as an on and off church goer, I was not familiar with the period of Eastertide…the forty days before the Ascension. In my mind, Jesus rose from the dead and went straight to heaven. I was raised in a Protestant church, and not to disparage them, am not real sure I ever heard the word Ascension, or if I did, it didn’t hold a lot of meaning for me…not until I became an Anglo-Catholic and learned about the importance of the forty days after Easter. The post-resurrection stories of the Risen Christ walking among the people were arbitrary to me…like separate little unconnected vignettes. When I recited the Apostles’ Creed and said Christ died, was buried, rose three days later and ascended into heaven, I assumed this was a pretty quick process…it was one day and that was it. But that is not how it happened. Although details of the time are far less well-known, we do know that Jesus spent forty days (fifty if you’re Orthodox) walking and talking in places where he had ministered before, performing miracles, and healing many, and on the whole demonstrating to His followers that He truly was alive. This post communion time was not for Jesus simply to celebrate the resurrection, but he had work to do…work to restore his disciple’s faith through the evidence of the resurrection and to “bring peace to counter the turbulence of his death” He had a clear mission of preparing his disciples to continue the work that he started.
In our Gospel reading today, we learn about two of these appearances, both in the presence of Jesus’ disciples in a locked room, and each occurring on two separate occasions about a week apart. The Apostle Thomas was not present for this first encounter between Jesus and the disciples. So, when they go to Thomas to tell him that Jesus is living and walking among them, he doesn’t believe them and then audaciously demands proof…he is quoted as saying "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." That does not sound like an unreasonable request. People did not just rise from the dead. Jesus’ death was a shock, not just to Thomas’ but to all of the people he appeared to. But this moment of skepticism earned Thomas the moniker “Doubting Thomas,” which evolved into a term for anyone who needs proof before they believe something. As a young Christian, I was taught explicitly that being a Doubting Thomas was wrong. He was deemed a scoffer and someone with weak faith. And when the passage is read out of context, it might seem that way, but throughout his time spent with Jesus, we know that he was a devoted and loving follower of Jesus who wasn’t going to settle for someone else’s experience of the resurrection. We all come to believe in our own way, and blind faith is not always how we get there. Thomas was grieving…his Master had died and his hopes of a Messiah had been shattered. How many of us in our sadness and despair give in to doubt? We are human and just like Thomas and the disciples, we don’t understand when where God is in our sorrow. Unlike Thomas, we have the benefit of eyewitness stories that have been given to us in Scripture. Centuries of illumination of our sacred texts have helped modern-day Christians to live out the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection time and again…so none of this is news to us. We are much more prepared to accept the reality of the Risen Christ than were the early followers. But, as we contemplate this passage, we may hear that Jesus’ is rebuking Thomas for his doubt, and we, for centuries have been fixated on that fact. What we miss is the Good News… Thomas asked for proof and Jesus lovingly and graciously offered him what he needed to believe. We need to lean into the reality that Jesus opens a way for all of us to believe.
Although countless sermons have been written about this Gospel lesson admonishing doubt, the greater message is a message of assurance that doubt is realistic in matters of faith and perfectly human. Doubt can bring us to wholeness. When the label of doubter is used as an insult, we are implying that it is incompatible with faith, when in fact is simply signifies uncertainty, perplexity and irresolution.  This is an accurate description of what Thomas was feeling.. I’m actually skeptical of people that are resolute in their beliefs in an uncompromising way. I think we would all do well to believe in the transformative power and depth that doubt, and critical thinking brings to our faith life. So, in defense of Thomas who may have been unfairly portrayed, I would like to re-dub him Determined Thomas, or Discerning Thomas (you might have your own names). But, even if the Doubting Thomas label sticks, which it will…it needs to be understood that God holds space for our questions and doubt that will lead us to a stronger faith.
Perhaps the bigger story in our Gospel reading today is not about Thomas the Doubter, but a phrase he uses that compresses the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in five short words…”my Lord and my God”. We are not explicitly told that Thomas touched Jesus’ wounds, but there was a something…a metaphysical change in what Thomas experienced in that moment when he uttered those word…My Lord and my God…It is considered the highest confession of Messianic faith in the entirety of the Gospel. Thomas recognized the Risen Christ as God and began to understand the broader meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In the Christian church, we have come to define these moments as a visible form of invisible grace…a sign of a sacred thing.  This was a sacramental moment for Thomas and his stunning declaration of faith is inextricably tied to the sacramental rites of our own Baptismal and Eucharistic experiences. In Baptism, we become participants in Jesus Christ’s life and his redemptive ministry.
We experience both the death and resurrection of Christ, taking part in the whole story of God’s people. As baptized Christians, when we partake in the Eucharist and eat the bread and drink the wine, we encounter the Real Presence of Jesus Christ and are inwardly transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit that unchains us from doubt and empowers us to be Christ in the world.
In a few minutes, we are blessed to be baptizing baby Lorelei. Now, she may not remember this occasion, and won’t understand the promises that her parents are making on her behalf. But the communal nature of Baptism gives us all not only the privilege, but the responsibility of participating in the faith development of this child. I encourage you to immerse yourself in words of the baptismal liturgy this morning…let them be a reminder of your renunciation of evil and your promise to live a life modeled after Jesus. Lift Lorelei in your prayers and welcome her as our new sister in Christ. And many you come to the fullest realization of what these words mean to you in your life of faith in the Resurrected Jesus. Amen and Alleluia.
 (O'Day 2015)
 (O'Day 2015)
 St. Augustine
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!