For what it’s worth, in my opinion, our reading from Luke’s gospel this morning is difficult.  It starts with a man asking Jesus for a legal ruling, and it ends with the story about the man who decided to build more storage to house a bumper crop.  Neither, on the face of it, would seem to be a bad thing.  But Jesus seems quite unsympathetic to both.  Why?

It’s not so much the case these days, but rabbis in Jesus’ day functioned, really, like judges.  They interpreted the law of Moses in legal disputes.  They also taught.  We translate the term “rabbi” as “teacher.”  But they not only taught the law, they issued judgements to settle disputes (like Moses did).  Back then, they really didn’t function the way Christian ministers do.  They really weren’t pastors, except in the sense that they settled legal disputes.  They might sort out problems between members of the community that way.

So it is not unreasonable that the man in the crowd asked Jesus, as a rabbi, to settle his legal dispute with his brother.  Presumably his older brother, since that’s where the power would have been.  It was not uncommon for some small portion of an estate to be shared with younger sons – sometimes even during the lifetime of the father (like in the story of the “prodigal” son) – even though the vast majority of the estate would go to the older brother.

Presumably the father had died, and the older brother wasn’t sharing.  The younger brother wanted a piece of the estate.  My first thought was that perhaps Jesus was reading his heart and finding it greedy.  But when I thought about it, he’s rejecting the whole idea that he should sit in judgement over other people – even though that was the accepted role of rabbis.  “… who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

I’m reminded that Jesus was not much of a rule-maker or lawgiver.  No, Jesus told stories to make his point.  And, at least in my mind, the point of his stories was usually about how to be in relationship with others.  And when I say others, I’m not just talking people.  I’m also talking God and creation in general.  That seems to be the case here.

Jesus introduces today’s story by telling his hearers:  “Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

In his story, a rich man’s land produced an abundant crop.  And this rich man seemingly confused this abundance with the life of his soul.  He makes plans to build a bigger barn and store up his goods to provide for many years in which he can simply eat, drink and be merry.  He seems to equate this with the well-being of his soul.

God does not seem to cross his mind.  The well-being of other people does not seem to cross his mind.  The idea that he might have been entrusted with this abundance for some useful purpose does not seem to cross his mind.  For him, the good life seems to mean enjoying life, coasting through life, without having to do any kind of work.  He has ample stuff, now, to make this possible.

I want to be careful here.  Because Jesus’ incarnation, God taking flesh in the person of Jesus, means that for us what happens in this world must be taken seriously.  And also because when people do not have enough, they often suffer and die without ever having an opportunity to become what God meant them to be.  We are not a religion, in spite of God’s care for the birds and flowers of the field, which ignores or minimalises the needs of this world.

But maybe the point of the story is that we can equally fail to become what God means us to be because we have so much “stuff” that we are isolated from need (and end up focused on the “stuff” and not on our relationship with all that surrounds us).  Maybe it’s a question of where our focus is.  Are we focused on earthly stuff or on the things that bring true life?  And I think that’s our relationships.

The rich man in Jesus’ story is going to die that very night, before he can enjoy the stuff he’s making plans to use for years.  Where is his soul then?  What good will what he treasures do him after he’s dead?  It does us no good, Jesus says, to store up treasures for ourselves if we are not rich towards God.

What do our practices with regard to things (which we usually think we own, but which ultimately we may just be stewards for) say about our relationship with God and God’s plans?  God calls us to live lives oriented towards building up our relationships with God and our neighbor (and I would add the things of God’s creation).  Does the way we use the stuff of our lives contribute towards living this kind of a life.  Or is our stuff our treasure and our focus in living?  Where your treasure is, Jesus tells us only a few verses later, is where your heart will be.  Where is your heart?  With God?  Or with stuff?

And, of course, this doesn’t mean that Jesus has laid down the law and said that we must live in poverty or that we cannot be wealthy if we want to follow God.  But it does mean that Jesus is challenging us to think about what it means to follow God and how our relationship with our stuff effects how well we follow God.

Jesus doesn’t say you can’t have stuff.

Jesus invites you to think about how your relationship with your stuff effects your relationship with God.

And he quite clearly warns us that our relationship with stuff can seriously undermine our relationship with our God.

Our lives, our true lives in God, do not consist in the abundance of our possessions …

“Words form the thread on which we string our experience.”  That’s what I read.  What I heard, what I thought, what I jumped to:  narrative (or story) is the thread out of which we create meaning and make sense.

Of our lives.

Of the world around us.

Of our faith.

Jesus was a story teller.  And his stories, and his story, shape or orient the way we see and process …  everything.

Without the words, threaded together, we have …  nothing.  Without the Word, spoken to bring about and order all creation, there is nothing – nothing that is would be.

So there is something fundamental and mystical in the threading of words into story.  And somehow, it seems tome, it is in the intersection of our stories, the weaving together of our varied threads, that fulness in life, and meaning, emerge.

We sit here writing.

A sacred task.

Possibly the most sacred.

Threading together the story of our life, and God, and one another.

A sacred weaving of sacred thread.

Ok.  Here’s my sermon (draft, at least) for Sunday:

I think it’s hard for us to feel and understand the full impact of what we’ve come to know as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan today.  Today, because of the role this story has played in our cultural history, the term “samaritan” is synonymous with being a do-gooder.  In Jesus’ day, it would have been more like being a voodoo witch doctor:  someone who might still bear some of the outward trappings of our religion, but who’s rites and practices were clearly perversions of the real meaning of our faith.  In fact, I’m feeling that I’m overstating the case against someone who practices voodoo.  But I’m pretty sure jews in Jesus’ day would have felt I was understating the case against Samaritans.  It was so bad that jews from Galilee had to travel in large groups to pass safely through Samaria.

Jesus, by the way, is in a very adversarial situation when he tells this story.  He’s being questioned by his enemies, who are looking for something they can use against him.  A debate between presidential candidates might be friendlier! (more…)

One of our writing prompts today at our clergy writing group was from this “Late Fragment” by Raymond Carver:

And did you get what
you wanted from tis life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Which led me to this:

What do I want from life?  I think I may, at this point, have a clue. (more…)

You don’t always get … what you expect.

That’s true so often (in my experience) in our relationship with God.

But this morning I’m really only thinking about the service I attended at Trinity Cathedral (in Sacramento). (more…)

When I woke up yesterday, I was thinking about your FaceBook posting asking prayers for folks in the Oklahoma City area.  Then I found myself thinking about the recent death of my father-in-law.  Basically, I was thinking about the question “why is there suffering or evil in the world?”

I mean, this wouldn’t be a question at all.  Except we believe that God made the world we live in.  We believe that God is good.  We believe that God loves and cares for us.

If all this is true, then why do bad things happen?  Why do people suffer?  Why do people die?

Mind you, at least in my mind, a good deal of this can be put down to a combination of human free will and human perversity.  But even that is part of God’s creation.  Why would our God make that part of creation?  And certainly the facts of disease and natural disaster and death are part of God’s creation too – even if we sometimes contribute to all of the above.  Why did God make the world that way?

I don’t really have answers.

But I do have thoughts.  There are some things I think are true. (more…)

I’m attracted to money and the things that money can bring into my life.  I think most of us are.  Most of my life I was paid for my work.  It may not have been my main motivation.  I had another career started, once upon a time, that promised to be more lucrative.  Money has not been my primary motivator in discerning a call.  But I don’t think I would have done the work that I did most of my life if I had not been paid a living wage.

There was a time when my furniture consisted of a fold up mattress, a lamp for reading and some crates to hold books, and my clothing was limited and pretty much all hand me down or thrift shop (except athletic shoes) and I was perfectly happy.  Today I want (possibly even need) a comfortable bed to sleep in and a comfortable chair to read in, and my stuff (which once fit into a VW bug) easily fills a home.  That is a problem in retirement:  how do I move my old office into my home?

I found myself thinking about this after reading (in Celtic Daily Prayer):  “It is no sin to have wealth, but it is sinful to be attracted to wealth. (more…)