Sunday, August 4, 2019


The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, Texas

This sermon was altered considerably early Sunday morning because of the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. I have reconstructed as much of it as I remember, but the final third of the sermon was delivered without text.

I am a great observer of bumper stickers. I believe you can tell a lot about a person by what they stick on their car. Now you will not find any bumper stickers on my car, except once in a while something from the church. I don’t mind letting people know that I’m an Episcopalian even if they have no idea what that is. By the way do not think everyone knows what we are.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of them. However, they often prove an interesting commentary on our society. I had two in mind that I have seen, but not for a while.

The first one says: Whoever dies with the most stuff wins.

The other variation, usually on an older not very expensive car says: Whoever dies with the most stuff is still dead.

We have an interesting love hate relationship with money and possessions, especially in the church. Of course, what a gift for my second Sunday. Let’s talk about money, greed, family fights, death and other non-controversial topics.

Churches in particular have a wide variety of views about money. Some believe that a wealthy pastor is a sign of God’s blessing on the entire congregation and is a point of pride. That’s not the Episcopal Church in case you don’t know that. However, there are some folks in town that this does describe. Success, especially financial success is a sign of God’s blessing. The prosperity gospel as it is known is not a small movement. It also has a long history and we need to step back in time to consider what Jesus was talking about with this parable about the foolish rich man.

The prosperity gospel though is not a new idea. For thousands of years people have believed that success in life was a reward from God and hardship was a sign that we had somehow sinned and were being punished. I do not accept that line of theology. I simple make this point to set up the theology of the time that Jesus ministered.

Context what is called the (sitz em laben) is always important in reading scripture of any type. Who is the audience, what is the setting, where is the passage placed in the chapter? Now, Jesus is talking to two audiences here. The crowd which includes the man complaining about his brother and inheritance and the Pharisees who are hanging around in the background for all of chapter 12. Most of the chapter is about money and the attitude towards money that is shown by people.

The rich man is also very typical of the time and Jesus’ criticism is as much about the system as it is about the man himself. His barns are full because of the efforts of the people who work the land for him, probably for a small share of what they produce, but that is the way things were done then. In this country we called them sharecroppers. He was probably also speaking to some of those Pharisees who may have been listening and who had considerable wealth.

Now the rich man is called a fool because the Greek implies that he does not believe in God. We lose that in the various translations. The implication is that he is a fool because he relies solely on himself and not God. That is why he is a fool and we can learn from that foolishness.

The rich man uses lots of possessive words. My crops, my barn, my goods. Contrast that with what will happen in a few minutes when we will bring our offering up to the altar. At the 8:15 we say, “All things come of thee or Lord and of thine own have we given thee.” At 10:30 we sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” So who is the source of all that we have and all that we are? God of course.  More importantly what does that mean for how we use those gifts?

The problem is not the money, the wealth stored up. Not making provisions for the future is foolish, it is not good stewardship and we are called to be good stewards. The issue becomes do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us? Why do we possess what we possess?

The key is in the word we translate as greed. The Greek is an extreme form of greed more in lines with avarice a vice that is constantly seeking more and more regardless of the cost.

Even though it is August thoughts of Christmas wandered through my mind even before I did my Greek research. No these were not thoughts of cooler weather but of Scrooge and the Dickens Christmas Carol. In the famous George C. Scott version there is a conversation between Scrooge and Bell, the woman he was betrothed to. She said, “I have been replaced by another idol, a golden one.” That may express the message here. Scrooge is consumed by the pursuit of wealth to the exclusion of everything else. Of course, in the end, faced with looking at his own tombstone, Scrooge finally wakes up and changes his life. He realizes what Jesus is trying to teach here.

That brings me to what may be the really important question. What have you stored up in your barn? What is the nature of your treasure? What does being rich toward God mean?

The Message translation which is one I will use from time to time reads like this: Luke 12:20  “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it? That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.” Have you considered that we may store things other than wealth in our barns?

I get periodic emails from a Methodist minister Pastor Steve: He wondered in his reflection earlier in the week if we have stored up resentments, ill will and negative thinking in our warehouses? It sure is easy to fill our barns, our minds and hearts with negative things in today’s world.

And this is the point where my carefully written sermon is derailed by events of the past 24 hours. I fear that all too many people in our country and in our world have filled their barns with things that are not of God. I’m hearing reports that the El Paso shooter may have posted white supremacist material on his social media accounts. I was wrestling all night with what to say about this and then open up the morning paper and read of the shooting in Dayton. I find myself baffled by what these two young men had stored up in their barns that would drive them to take these actions? I pray that my son’s future in-laws did not lose any members of his congregation in the Dayton shooting. My son’s future son in law is a pastor in Dayton and I don’t know where in relation to the shooting area they live.  I do know that they, like I did in Virginia Beach will be dealing with the shock and horror of this shooting. I had members at St. Aidan’s that worked in the city government buildings where the previous mass shooting had occurred. I saw the figure on the news last night that there have been over 200 mass shootings in the US in 2019.

God grieves. As the bible said in the shortest verse, Jesus wept. Jesus weeps at this senseless violence and calls on us to do something more than offer thoughts and prayers. The answer is beyond the knee jerk accusations that we will hear in the coming days, whether about mental health or gun control. None of these will truly get at the cancer that is behind the violence of our world.

So maybe this passage is an invitation to clean out our barns of all that is not of God and is not helpful. Please do not forget that we cannot clean out anybody else’s barn either! We can however get our barn in order filled with that which is of the Spirit. That is a barn we can be proud of and a barn from which we can all go out and bless the world.

That is the first step in changing the world, is examining and changing our own hearts and cleaning out our own barns first. Only with a treasure that is of God and we then go forth and share the Way of Love that our Presiding Bishop calls us to proclaim and live. When we bring love and kindness back into our world maybe then we can do something about the violence.  Isn’t that what being church is all about, blessing each other and the world with the gifts of God. A God that calls us to the Way of Love! AMEN.