Br. Randall Greve, OHC
Proper 13 Year C - Sunday - July 31, 2016
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
|The Abbey of St Scholastica in Subiaco, Italy where is found Sacro Speco, a cave where St Benedict lived as a hermit|
The seeds were carefully planted. The summer brought abundant rain and sunshine. Finally, the crops were harvested and stored - a good season. The landowner was supplied with food and could rest from his labor, knowing that he and his family could eat through the winter and even beyond, such was the abundance of the harvest. The larger storehouses are a reasonable plan, a responsible way to preserve his provisions. And yet he is not called prudent, he is not praised for being careful and wise, but a fool - God calls him a fool.
As I have been engaged in Sunday supply this summer and preached on several of the lessons from Saint Luke during this Pentecost season, I have been moved again by the stories of Jesus seeking out the sick, the demon-possessed, the socially outcast and rejected and tenderly guiding them into the merciful embrace of healing, forgiveness, and community. Many of the stories have been of dramatic and obvious outward reconciliation. Luke is always interested in how Christ is present in the least and unexpected, the nobodies from nowhere who become examples of courageous faith.
As the narrative turns in the middle chapters to the challenges of obedience, to the living out of the gift of new life, Luke presents a different kind of outsider. He shifts into the description of a more insidious internal kind of isolation and alienation. This state is not the result of physical ailment or social identity, but a condition of heart attitude toward oneself, God, and neighbor. Luke goes deeper into the question of 'who is the outsider who is in need of conversion - of being brought home to self and God and neighbor?' Of course the answer is, “we all are”. In these middle chapters, with parable and teaching, Jesus looks into the human heart and reveals to us the ways in which we who seem outwardly to be the comfortable insiders can become alienated from ourselves.
Listen to what the landowner says from the lens of relationship, because that's what the parable is about - not food storage! 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘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. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
This man is rich, he is in the social in group, he has influence and success and material abundance, but relationally he is in a poor, lonely, sad hell of the isolation of his own selfishness. I, me, my, now – and death something that happens to little, common, mortal people – not him. His essential foolishness is his believing that it’s about him; the fields are his, the crops are his – even that his life is his. There is no gratitude, no sharing, no celebration. He has become his crops - locked away in a barn, safe and secure.
The lesson from Colossians is the mirror opposite vision of what human life can be. Rather than closing in on my ego, Colossians chapter 3 is a description of the opening up of myself to the gift of life that is offered by God. Dying and rising with Christ, a person is truly free when the receiving and giving of new life is rooted in the gratitude, wonder, and generosity of God's gift in giving life and power to open up to it in all the risk and vulnerability that the journey invites. The things that are above of which the author speaks are the dispositions and attitudes that allow me to recognize that everything is a gift - there is no such thing as my crops and storehouses and my life, but I am part of a bigger story that calls on me to be faithful to the part given to me and then hand on to those who come after.
Certainly the parable is a warning about the temptation to accumulate and identify ourselves with material things and the status we believe they bring – the call to generosity and simplification are always speaking to our propensity to hoard and grasp. But the parable is not as simple as “be more generous” or “have less stuff”. It speaks to the very nature of life in the face of death, of the source of identity and worth, the core question Jesus presents – “of what does my life consist?”
As a child of God, as one who is in Christ and sharing in his dying and rising, as one who values relationship and eternal things more than material things – how can I live in such a way that I am free and available and connected to myself, God, and my neighbor? Authentic conversion happens not by merely avoiding what is harmful, not by punishing myself into some external standard, but by having a bigger vision of my existence which calls forth from me and calls me forth so compellingly that I joyfully leave behind whatever gets in the way of living that vision.
I have mentioned to a few brothers the experience of visiting Sacro Speco in Subiaco two weeks ago, the monastery over St Benedict’s cave on the side of a sheer rock face. Above and below the grotto itself are layers of holy spaces cut out of the rock and painted with frescoes from the 13th to 15th century. Much of it looks as it did over 500 years ago. The guide pointed out that the frescoes on one level were over 100 years older than in the earlier level because that is how long it took to cut into the rock, shape and smooth it, and then finally paint the frescoes.
I had the image of the work being passed down through generations, perhaps within the same families. I thought about those who did the first 20 or so years of chipping and shaping and what they must have thought – here is the plan of the space, but I’ll never live to see it finished. The notion of starting something and not being able to or living long enough to see the results made me very anxious. Were I to time travel back 600 or 700 years and look ahead to the amount of work that had to be done and the time it would take, I would have said, “This is stupid. You want me to cut chapels out of solid rock? Don’t you know who I am? Can’t we just put up a sign or something?”
And the parable began to echo in my ears as me: I will say to myself ‘let’s do it now, quickly, and make sure that when it is finished I get the credit and that I am securing a place for myself.’ You fool. How often is the myth of instant gratification more important, more real, than the epic of God’s redeeming and reconciling the world in Christ. The choice that appeared before me was that either I could storehouse whatever I could grab today, OR I could leave a legacy, I could think about the lives of those who will come after, those who will remember me and us through the tangible and intangible bequest of our lives 20, 50, 100 years from now.
Faithfulness means that sometimes I reap the harvest God grows. Faithfulness also means that I may be called to plant seeds that others will tend to full fruitfulness. I stood in Sacro Speco admiring the beauty of the sacred in stone and paint that looks as if it has always been here and said ‘thank you’ to those who put in decades of prayer and work so that thousands of pilgrims could be inspired and moved by the gift of the human capacity for such wondrous perseverance and creativity because one man’s yes to God has produced a harvest of countless lives encountering the embrace of Jesus in one another. Amen.