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 …

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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…)

I know I’ve read chapter 24 of Genesis before, though not necessarily as a unit.  But I’ve always been inclined to dismiss it simply as “they found the boy a bride.”  I’ve never really looked at the chapter.

It comes right after the story of Sarah’s death, and Abraham’s purchase of land in the Promised Land for her burial, and her burial.  Abraham, for the first time, is a land owner.  It sounds like Isaac would have been born when she was about ninety years old, give or take a year or two.  She died when she was 127 years old.  So Isaac was probably 35 plus years of age at the time of her death.

Always assuming we’re supposed to pay any attention to ages in a chronological sense. (more…)

I’ve been thinking this week about how religious traditions build on the customs and sites of those who have gone before – even when those who have gone before are of different faiths.  Christmas trees are derived from non-Christian traditions in Germany, I’m told, and Halloween is derived from Celtic druidic practices – though they have been “baptized.”  A Christmas tree is not used by Christians to worship a different deity.  All Saints’ (or all Hallow’s) Eve remembers those who have died in the faith (even with all the spooky stuff about death and spirits) and who are now alive in Christ.  For that matter, Christians take the Jewish holy writings and look at them through a new lens, and Muslins take both Jewish and Christian holy writings and look at them through a lens of their own.

And it’s not like this is something new.

In chapter 12 of Genesis, when Abram first comes into the land of Canaan, he arrives at the sacred place at Shechem and comes to the oak grove of Moreh.  It is very likely that this oak grove was already a site of worship for Canaanite deities. (more…)

There was a strand in yesterday’s office reading from Jeremiah that I hadn’t noticed before.  In it, starting at 15:27, Jeremiah says:

I took no pleasure in sitting with merrymakers; with your hand on me I sat alone,
choking with the indignation you filled me with.
Why is my pain ongoing,
my wound incurable, refusing to heal?
Why, you’re like  a spring that dries up when it’s needed most,
like waters that can’t be relied upon!

The commentary in The Jewish Study Bible suggests that Jeremiah has failed in his office of being a prophet. (more…)

I was rereading the story of Noah in Genesis today.  It’s so obvious to me, now, that this is not actual history and that the story uses two sources that I have to remind myself that this was not always so.

The sources are pretty obvious (if mixed together) when you look at the story  We go back and forth between one pair (a male and a female) of every species in the first source and seven pairs of all clean species (and only one pair of all unclean species) in the second source.  (more…)

In our calendar today, we remember William Temple (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1881-1944).  Other sources I use also commemorate Leonard (a 6th century hermit).  Very little is actually known about Leonard.  He seems to have been a Frankish noble, converted by Remigius, who chose to become a monk instead when offered a bishopric by Clovis. (more…)