31 July 2022
Year C (Proper 13)
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of the Province of West Africa
Church of the Holy Child, Ormond Beach
St. James Church, Ormond Beach
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
What kind of fool are you: a fool for Christ or a fool for folly?
Back in the early 1960’s my parents used to play a very poignant song on their HiFi stereo
a song from the movie, Stop the World I want to Get Off sung by Robert Goulet. Perhaps you’ve heard the song, sung later by Andy Williams and Sammy Davis Jr and maybe you even remember some of the lyrics. ♫♫What kind of fool am I? Who never fell in love? It seems that I'm the only one that I've been thinking of? What kind of mind is this? An empty shell, a lonely cell in which an empty heart must dwell. What kind of fool am I? ♫♫
Asking ourselves what kind of foolishness we have been involved with can be a very uncomfortable and humbling process. But Luke’s parable this morning is a wake-up call which interrupts the rich fool’s and our lives and challenges us to ask What kind of fool am I? Am I a fool for folly or a fool for Christ?
This morning I want to look the story of two fools. First the rich man a fool for folly and then a second fool a character from British literature, who at the eleventh hour allows God to transform his heart to become a fool for Christ, rich toward God with gratitude, generosity, and giving this morning,
Not long after Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, we find him teaching the crowds, warning them about unbelief. criticizing the religious leaders’ rigidity over purity laws, speaking out against hypocrisy and Jesus’s teaching is interrupted, disrupted by a man asking Jesus to promote his folly with wealth. Demanding Jesus tells his brother to divide the family inheritance rather than being open to having Christ transform his heart.
Then Jesus wisely re-directs the man and the crowd to confront a deeper issue, our relationship with wealth, our propensity for greediness and the danger of riches and to challenge us to ask:
Are we rich in folly or rich toward God?
Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who when blessed by God’s gift, the abundance of a bumper crop is self-absorbed only asking himself what should I do? Concluding I will
tear down and build up bigger barns, store up goods for many years, relax, eat, drink, and be merry. Planning and storing a bountiful harvest for the future do indeed have a Biblical precedent as you recall when Joseph was in Egypt with Pharaoh storing up an abundant harvest is not sinful in and of itself. The sin is that the rich man was selfish focusing solely upon himself taking the opportunity to relax and rest upon his laurels not appreciating or sharing God’s good gifts with others.
The rich man takes into account neither other people’s needs nor his own mortality nor what God might desire. He is a fool for folly. We don’t’ really know if this rich man was a believer, maybe he was an atheist and didn’t’ believe in God so he put himself at the center of the Universe. Maybe he was a believer who had been challenged by his life experiences just as the Colossians to whom Paul wrote were challenged by incoming groups of people who tried to convince them of the heresy that the God of Israel was not sufficient for them and they, and he, need solely to trust themselves. And just perhaps he was a believer but felt deep inside he was unworthy of God’s love and needed to prove himself, greedily covering his internal emptiness with piles of stuff to make him look important.
Take care, Jesus says, be on your guard against all kinds of greed, greed is that intense and selfish desire to acquire or use tangible things; money, food, land or; intangible things; power, status, others’ attention.
Greed is not something easy to talk about, greed is the proverbial elephant in our homed. Our homes can be filled with stuff books, clothes, shoes, tools, chachkas. We tend to have full boxes, shelves, and closets which create less and less need, desire, and room for God. Our love for God can be replaced by our love for our self and our stuff.
Greed is a symptom of a deeper condition, hearts inflicted with a sense of scarcity. Either that God is not enough for us or that we are not enough for God to use in His ministry. When acquiring stuff or using people becomes exclusive, we may be trying to fill up the God-Shaped hole in our spirits that is Intended for God, God-self!!
Greed can seduce us into believing that external stuff can cover, hide, or overcome our own internal fears and insecurities. But as I suspect you have experienced greediness leads us only to
want more, seek the next windfall, word of approval, or achievement and avoid the real issue. Our greediness reveals that our relationship with God is deficient, piles of stuff eclipse and can suffocate our deepest desire to be loved, belong, and be useful to God and others. The antidote, as we shall hear with our second fool, is to allow our lives to be interrupted, our hearts to be warmed and our perspective to be directed away from me to thee, toward living a life rich toward God filled with gratitude, giving, and generosity.
The first fool, the rich fool’s story ends in a cliffhanger, his time has come but we don’t know his death bed response. But we know that with God there are always possibilities, possibilities for transformation even up to the last minute of our lives.
In the wonderful 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, written by our Anglican brother, Charles Dickens, who specifically wrote stories to be parables of Christ’s teachings, Ebenezer Scrooge is graciously transformed by God from a fool for folly into a fool for Christ rich for God. Just how did that transformation happen? How did Scrooge become rich for God? Scrooge’s transformation begins when his life is interrupted, and quite dramatically I might add, Christmas Eve night Scrooge is visited by the supernatural spirit of Jacob Marley, his business partner, dead for 7 years who warns him, like God did with the rich fool that His time is up and he must change or be domed to roam the earth dragging chains of guilt and regret.
Transformation often begins when our lives are interrupted, when we are shifted off center by unexpected blessings. a new job, new friend, new grandchild. Or by unwelcome news, the death of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis or maybe even a preacher’s Sunday sermon. And we are challenged to stop, to look deeper and ask ourselves, where is God in the midst of this? How is God telling me to respond or change? Am I responding like a fool for folly or a fool for Christ?
Secondly, transformation often occurs when we encounter pain and suffering. Ebenezer Scrooge, led to places by Jacob Marley and the three Spirits of Christmas, is challenged to open his heart, to experience the pain and feelings he had shut down and covered over with his isolation and idolatry of money.
Recognizing the pain, we are living under, the pain of suffering can lead us to muster up the courage to turn toward God and to let go over time of the “folly” in our lives. To embrace the day as Anais Nin writes, that the risk to remain tightly in a bud is more painful than the risk it takes to bloom. Scrooge pushes away the walls and stacks of folly to experience the buried source of his greediness and suffering. The pain of being a lonely boy and of being a young man discarded by the last person he truly loved, his fiancé, Belle because he loved his money more than her. Opening up and feeling this pain God creates space in Scrooge’s cold heart for love and warms his heart’s chambers so Scrooge reclaims an awareness of the goodness in himself and others. The joy, love, and hope among the Cratchit family in spite of their poverty and growing concern over their youngest son’s life and reclaim his desire once again to be close, kind, and generous with others. Scrooge that was a Squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching covetous old sinner repented of his ways and lived… Lived to be rich toward God.
God led Ebenezer Scrooge from a place of a cold heart to a heart filled with sacred love out of his own gratitude Ebenezer Scrooge gave from what he had, donating money to charities, providing food for the poor, renewing his connection with his nephew and family, increasing Bob Cratchit’s pay and perhaps best of all becoming a mentor to young Tim Cratchit whose life was saved by Scrooge’s generosity of funds and friendship.
Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed from a man looking inward, self-absorbed in his empty loneliness to a man focused on God sharing his riches after receiving God’s rich generosity and forgiveness, living with gratitude and giving with generosity.
And so this week remember about wake-up calls for none of us know when our time will come and when God will call our number. So be like Ebenezer Scrooge, examine your lives and your heart and your relationships. And ask yourself: Where in my life am I being a fool for folly?
And where am I being a fool for Christ? And open your hearts to receive Christ’s transformative love.