The Very Rev. Tom Callard – August 4, 2019
Click HERE for a video of the sermon
Today in the Gospel Jesus says, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” And this is a great passage for talking about greed- for here you have this rich man who in his greed has collected so much grain and so many goods that he has to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to hold everything. And I love to preach about greed and the evils of having too much in a world where so many have too little.
And I love a message from the pulpit that reminds us that one of the basic tenants of our faith is that the rich will be sent away empty, and the poor be filled. And that wealth is a stumbling block, as Jesus says, to entering the Kingdom of Heaven. And that Jesus pronounces a woe upon the rich. And that in the parable of Lazarus he says that the rich are beyond hope. All of that is great stuff.
But I’ve also come to realize that most of us, at least most to whom I am preaching on Sunday, are not like this man in the parable who has so much that he’s got to build new barns. Most of us are struggling with the barns we have. We’re trying to keep the walls from falling and the roof from caving in on our heads, and just making sure we’ve got enough in them for the winter. And the idea of building a new barn one day, well that’s just a dream.
So in terms of the incredibly wealthy and incredibly greedy, most of us are not them, and most of them are not here on Sunday morning to receive this great message. It’s just the rest of us who are basically good people trying to get by, blessed by what we have and we are trying to make the most of it. But isn’t it true that sometimes our souls fall asleep? And I think that’s the message of this passage.
I remember being in Honduras preaching at the little church where I first served when I began my ministry. And the scripture one morning was one of these passages where Jesus talks about wealth. And I had my sermon all prepared to talk about the evils of wealth and the spiritual damage that comes from having too many possessions. And this was one of those moments when my soul woke up. Because after I arrived at the church, I looked at the congregation, which I was still getting to know, and I thought about what I was going to say on wealth, and I thought, well this doesn’t make sense at all.
Because these people have nothing. I mean literally nothing, except the clothes on their backs and the beds in their houses, which they didn’t even own, and perhaps a few personal items and maybe a little food and a chicken or two running in and out of the house. And here I’ve got everything. Who am I to preach to them on wealth? They should be preaching to me.
I realized my soul is asleep to what I have, asleep to the problems of the rest of the world, to real poverty and real suffering. Who should be preaching about wealth and the soul are those whose lives are given not to their savings or possessions or material security, but given in full confidence to the Lord. These poor Hondurans should be preaching to me.
I learned a lot from them, and even though I’ve shared details about them before it seems worthwhile to share again. The church where I served, St. Peter’s by the river, San Pedro Cerca del Rio, was built in the shadow of the town’s trash dump. It was just across the street and up the hill from our church. And day and night the trash from the capital, Tegucigalpa, was brought up to the dump.
They would burn it, which sent noxious fumes down the hillside and throughout the homes of the people. They would bury it, and after years of buried trash, what little water came from the wells was a nasty green color and it smelled horrible. And they would let the trash blow about and the wind would scatter it, so the people in our church always had this random collection of junk that would blow into in their yards.
Many of the enterprising members of our community made their living on the trash. They would collect bottles, cardboard, paper, metal, and bundle these things together up and try and sell them as scrap. And they would try and create art of the things they found in the trash. They would find nice things that the rich people in the city had thrown out and clean them up and bring them back to sell on the streets on the streets of the city, sometimes even perhaps to the same rich people who threw them out in the first place.
It was an amazing community, and they preached to me about wealth. Every time I visited them, they preached to me about wealth. When I went to see the little homes where they slept with the little beds and the dirt floors and the chickens running in and out, they preached to me about wealth. When I saw their kids get sick and suffer with their parents not being able to do anything about it, they preached to me about wealth.
And they preached to me about the struggle. And I got to understand why people want to come to the United States, even though they knew, most of them, that they would never make it. Because they had few options. Because they could work and work and work and never get ahead there.
And I realized that they have this different sense of wealth and life and the struggle of the soul. And they preached to me about the soul.
This man in the Gospel today has said to his soul – we have so much wealth that we can just sit back and relax, and you can fall asleep. For your work is done. So he gives permission to his soul to just sleep. And I think, in general, if your soul has fallen asleep then in a way you’re already dead. Just like in the Gospel – God comes to him that night and he’s dead.
Now for many of us, it may not be wealth, it may not be greed, it may be something else that has captured the fancy of our souls. And in our comfort and the course of day to day life maybe our souls have just kind of fallen asleep. Maybe not like the man in the Gospel, but maybe they’re just dozing a little bit, they’re slumbering, they’ve taken a little rest and they have become complacent like the man in the Gospel, for we have said – well, soul, we’re doing fine, and things are all right. Why not just close your eyes and lie down? .
And I think that’s how so many people live. Going on day by day with the things we do, and not really getting the soul involved or passionate about life or the world our there, and keeping it at a distance as we march forward in the progress of our days.
That’s how the disciples lived, fishing with their nets and just going about their lives until Jesus came to call them. That’s how St. Francis lived in his luxury and his wealth overlooking the city, until Jesus came and touched him and told him to rebuild the church. That’s how Oscar Romero lived as a priest in El Salvador until he saw the suffering of his community and the injustice and he and decided that he needed to get involved.
It’s how countless numbers of us live, kind of dozing with our souls, perhaps not with huge million dollar barns but enough contentment and satisfaction about our lives that we convince ourselves that most of the time our souls are pretty complete.
The Honduras with whom I served knew that their souls were not complete, and their souls would never be completed by their possessions, by their wealth. For they had none. They knew that that was just not an option. Like me knowing I will never be six feet tall. It’s just not going to happen. And so while many of us have directed our souls to the comfort of the material world around us, the Hondurans have been forced to direct their souls to God.
I won’t say that the Hondurans have lives that are particularly enviable given the amount of suffering and struggle they face every day. But I will say that I envy their faith. I envy the ability to live on God. I envy the ability to wake up in the morning and just know that God will give you your daily bread. Because your work isn’t going to do it. You can work and work and work and not get ahead. And then one day something blows in from the dump into your front yard and you’ve got what you need. God provides.
What is it really like to direct our souls to God? Well, you have to begin with the admission, first, that your soul might be asleep. That maybe it’s been some time since your soul was awake and out there doing its business in the world, which is the business of feeling the suffering of the poor and knowing the cry of the weak and being outraged at the injustices of life, and being knocked around by the slings and arrows of things out there. Perhaps if you’re not bothered by what’s going on out there, your soul might be a little bit asleep.
But then there’s so much more for the soul, for the work for the soul is also to attain to joy, to work with God to create things and find meaning and touch places where God is waiting to be touched. To connect with people, to build people up, to rejoice in humanity. And to sing.
When you’re in Honduras and you’ve got no electricity and no TV or Play station or anything at all, you spend a lot of time singing. And your soul is pretty awake to the stars in the sky above, and to the people around you, and to the preciousness of life, and to the beauty of this moment. You develop a sense of how beautiful and precious things are when your soul is awake, not your possessions or your accomplishments but your life.
When was the last time your soul was aware of the preciousness of life? When did it last know how God calls it and God loves it, and God feeds it and clothes it with these things in our barns? And is your soul awake to the way your chaotic life manifests god? Does it rejoice at the fact that we have all this? That we have each other and those whom we love. And that we have out there this world to work in, to try and bring God’s presence to, in which we try and help make Jesus known¬. This week, let’s check in with our souls, and if we need to wake them up, let’s do it.