Sermon, 7/31/22: Pre-21st Century Guidelines for 21st Century Living

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8 Pentecost

Psalm 107:1 – 9, 43; Hosea 11:1 – 11; Colossians 3:1 – 11; Luke 12:13 – 21

Give thanks to the Lord, whose mercy endures for ever. Psalm 107:1

Last week at Eucharist, as I listened to the names of places and people in the reading from the words of the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible, if you will, a first thought was “I am glad that I am not reading those names of places and people, having to deal with those tongue twisters.“    A second thought, a series of questions occurred to me.  They were questions which occur often to me, as we read in both the Old and New Testaments about places so far removed from us, both historically, as well as geographically.  My questions?  Where today are those locations?  What was life in that era like for those people?  How did they manage with smartphones and instant messaging?  The most important and relative question for me is this: What, in today’s jargon, is “the takeaway” that is embedded in such readings, that we find them so relevant?  

We listened again today not only to the prophet Hosea, but as well as to the thoughts of St. Paul who wrote to the Christians at Colossae.  A different, but related set of questions, piqued my curiosity.  Who were the Colossians?  What did they produce?  What made them worthy of a letter from Paul?  A handy encyclopedia and a quick dash to the internet made them, the citizens of Colossae, real for me.

Colossae, I learned, was a small city, approximately 100 miles from Ephesus in Asia Minor, which is today’s Turkey, and they were best known for the wool which they produced.  Concerning what caused St. Paul to write such a detailed letter to them, we might intuit from the content of the letter.  Employing again today’s jargon, Paul shared with them how “to play nicely” with each other, and not only was his letter a “how to,” but it explained the “why.”  As new converts and adherent of Christ, they were to lead a life which would be an example for those whom they encountered, “… seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”  (Col. 3:10)  And their “life style” was to be seen among their own community, but also for those not yet believers in the resurrected Christ.

More importantly, however, it may not have occurred to you, as you listened to Paul’s enumeration of social norms and expectations, that you were being transported back in time, or to borrow a phrase from the movie industry, that you were being transported “back to the future.”  How far back to the future were they and are we being transported, you may well ask?  Hosea answers that question when he proclaims: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son…. I bent down to them and fed them… I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst… ”  (Hosea  11:1ff.  And with what guidelines did “the Holy One” structure their relationship to “the Holy One” and to each other?

I offer you, in summary form, the guidelines, which Paul restates in clear, unambiguous language for the Colossians:
“Hear, O Israel! I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt…You must have no others god besides me.
“Honor your father and your mother.
“Do not commit murder.
“Do not commit adultery.
“Do not covet your neighbour’s household.”  (Exodus 20:2 – 17)

You and I recognize immediately this “back to the future” form of St. Paul’s exposition as The Ten Commandments” or “The Decalogue.”

Being the learned man, a lawyer himself, that he was, Paul was equally aware that what is found in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus, can be found in summary form, in stories and parables told by none other than Jesus himself:
A lawyer once came forward to test Jesus by asking: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  Jesus said, ‘What is written in the law?’  (Luke 10:25f.)  And the Law is none other than the Commandments which “the Holy One” gave to Israel during the exodus from servitude in Egypt.
“The lawyer replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

Although Jesus does not cite in the Parable of the Rich Man and his barns directly from “the Law of holiness” found in the Book of Leviticus, a book in the Hebrew Bible which goes into much details how one ought to live, Jesus would have been aware of the following law:
When you reap the harvest in your land, you shall not reap right into the edge of your field, neither shall you glean the fallen ears.  You shall leave them for the poor and for the foreigner.  I am the Lord your God.  (Lev. 23:22)

To hoard, to ignore or to neglect those around you, not to show hospitality to the stranger, was a violation of a command given by the Holy One.  The parable illustrates that clearly to those assembled around Jesus.

All this is known to us also.  However, technically, there is nothing in the Ten Commandments, the words of the prophet Hosea, or the Summary of the Law that addresses how or when to build barns or why building a barn should be so disparaged, so discouraged.  Who among us, in our industrialized society, possesses a barn or a silo?   Some might assert, such “back to the future stories” surely do not understand contemporary society and the needs of contemporary societies.  May I suggest immediately and strongly to you, that as I read and decipher Jesus’ parable about the rich man’s barns, nowhere does Jesus declare that one should not build barns or silos.  The barn, in and of itself, is the not the problem.  The barn is an inanimate object.

We may attempt to hide behind or to resort to a technicality of language, as our form of exerting “executive privilege,” should we opt not to respond to the call to faith in a God who, as we are reminded by Hosea and the psalmist, is expansive in love for all humankind.  If that were the case, if that were the true response, that the parable of the barns do not apply to us, because barns are not mentioned in the Ten Commandments, why, then, do so many react with horror and feelings of distain and despair and helplessness, when we learn of the hunger that will be inflicted upon those nations far removed from the present war on the European Continent, because a more powerful nation is blocking export of grain to those faraway nations, nations which rely on grain from Ukraine, grains that were stored in silos, the modern equivalent of barns, not for selfish reasons, but to make available life-sustaining substance to other creatures of God, “the Holy One”?

Barns or silos need not be on other continents.  Nor must barns or silos be the physical sheds of traditional wood or of modern metal silos seen on fields through our countryside and abroad.  Jesus, the one whom we adore and worship, the one about whom we sing “yes, Jesus loves me for the Bible tells me so” calls us to positive living.  That Jesus, as today’s story about the rich man and his barn takes us back to the future, places before us the barns and silos of the heart, even as he calls us forward to a life that is not shut away in barns and silos of the heart, but to a life that is open and expansive and inclusive.    And when we acknowledge that, we join with joyful voices the song of thanksgiving which the psalmist sings: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures for ever.”  And we will conclude in song, as does the psalmist: “Whoever is wise will ponder these things, and consider well the mercies of the Lord.”  Amen.