Archive for August, 2016

“A far greater treasure,” (Sermon, July 31st, 2016)

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

Luke 12:13-21


On the 4th of July, NASA space probe Juno entered the orbit of the planet Jupiter. Juno was launched on August 5th, 2011 and now that it has reached its destination it will begin a 20 month mission of collecting scientific data, which will include Jupiter’s composition, gravity field, magnetic field, and polar magnetosphere, and try to understand the history and inner workings of the planet, particularly its deep winds, which can reach speeds of 618 kilometers per hour.

Juno is the second spacecraft to orbit Jupiter and the first one which is solar powered. According to the NASA mission pages, it was given the name Juno because “the god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, but his wife, the goddess Juno, was able to peer through the clouds and see Jupiter’s true nature.”

I share this with you not only because it gives us a glimpse of the glory of God’s world, but because of a rather haunting truth. Once Juno has reached the end of its twenty months, it will begin a descent into the heavily irradiated atmosphere of Jupiter, where it will burn up and disintegrate.

This, we are told, is necessary in order to protect Jupiter’s moons, which Juno could easily crash into if it is not destroyed. This is important because Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, is thought to contain a water ocean beneath its smooth surface, which could contain extra-terrestrial life.

I found that fact oddly moving when I learned it. Juno may be a tangle of electronics, but the commitment to knowledge has been programmed to be of greater value than one life, however mechanical it may be.

Juno’s kenotic, self-emptying mission seems a fitting parable for our age of acquisition, hatred, and greed.

Greed. It’s everywhere. Like a ravenous black hole it swallows up what it does not currently possess, but only grows bigger. It’s something everyone struggles with. I believe its core lies in simple self-preservation, the ultimately wise desire to set aside enough for potentially lean times ahead. I think its true insidiousness is its tendency to outshout perspective. Eventually, once someone has acquired enough to be secure, it stops being about self-care. It starts being about addiction, about fear, about the irrational but deeply human belief that if someone else has something, I must be lacking, and therefore the only way to have everything I need is for someone else to be lacking.

Better them than me, right?

I believe this flawed logic is behind not only the breathless acquisition and desire for goods, but every backlash movement by the privileged against those who fight for their rights. As Brian Sims, the first openly gay person elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly said, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

Photo by Mary Ann Saunders

Pride 2014. Photo from Mary Ann Saunders

Ask one of the boys I went to high school with, the one who sincerely wondered why straight people didn’t have their own pride parade alongside Vancouver’s Pride Parade, which will take place today: Is it really oppression to not have a parade when you can walk down the street holding someone’s hand and guarantee that no-one will punch or push or stab you for doing that? When you can guarantee that, if you marry, you and your spouse will be fully embraced – say, permitted to be present in family photographs, or named in obituaries as loving survivors, unlike some of my LGBTQ friends who in those instances have been commanded by their families to appear single or not at all.

We know the answers to those questions. But so often we do not even know the privilege that we carry with us. What drives this need for more, when we have so much?


Here’s another question: Is this really the battle people should be fighting? Or might Jesus prefer us to fight the battle against the violence, hatred, and intolerance directed against ordinary people – people’s children, siblings, friends, and lovers – who just want to walk down the street holding hands like everyone else?

We all have our precious things.

It’s not bad to have precious things. It’s not bad to want precious things. All human beings crave security and meaning. Precious things have meaning. When they are safe we feel secure. But when we feel threatened, when we feel afraid, it is so tempting to build up our walls and tighten our gates.

“I will pull down my barns and build larger ones.”

“I will destroy what has served me well in order to make room for more, because I deserve the gifts God gives me, and therefore they are mine to hoard away. There is no one for me to share them with, so they are all mine. Clearly I must have done something right to acquire all of this wealth.”

Maybe so. But maybe it was just a good harvest. Note that the text does not say that the abundance of the land came from any work that the rich man did. He is referred to almost passively – it is the land which has done the work of production, and of course, God, for those who heard this parable believed that God was responsible for good and bad harvests. And yet before the man even does the things he says he will do, God warns him about the foolishness of these acts. Why would God allow the land to produce so abundantly when surely God knew that this man was going to die, and seemingly alone and childless, since God asks who all of the goods are going to belong to?

Was this a test, I wonder?

If so, how could this man have passed?

Obviously not by doing what he planned to do. So what else could he have done?

Perhaps he could have shared in his wealth. Filled his old storehouses, used them for their intended purpose, and then given away the rest of the harvest.

Oh, but how reckless. We are so often taught to hoard the extra to stay safe. Who knows what will happen to it? What if it’s wasted?

Ah, friends, our Beloved tells us: life does not consist in abundance of possessions. And neither does one’s security. Anyone can lose anything at any time. We know this. Our security also does not consist of another’s lacking.

Here’s the beautiful thing. If this man had spread his wealth, if he had acted recklessly, we cannot say how far it would have gone. And we therefore cannot say that if he then had had a lean year, a bad harvest, those whom he enriched would not then care for him. We cannot say that those who were cared for would not then love him, would not mourn him at his end.

This lesson comes to us through more than a parable. Jesus acted recklessly. Jesus gave up his entire life for those who betrayed and reviled him. How much more will he give to those who put their complete trust in him.

Beloved, your life does not consist in abundance of possessions. I know you know this already. But let me say it not to somehow try to purge greed – something I am just as guilty of as anybody – but to stand against the voices of the world that tell us that we will never be happy, healthy, or whole, if we do not surrender ourselves to the gods of acquisition.

Your life does not consist in abundance of possessions, or riches, or beauty, or intelligence, or ability, or strength.

Your life is for more than those things. Your life is for faith, hope, and love.

You are here by love for love.

Love is the only thing that can break that fear of “not enough.”

Surrender the need to be perfect, the need to be better than the people around you, the need to be other than who you are.

That need is a shackle. You did not ask for it, so it doesn’t belong to you. Feel free to lay it down.

There’s a place for all of it, right there, before the table of your Beloved.

Lay it there, and receive a far greater treasure.