Pastor Amy

Don't hold back

Luke 12: 13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, "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 toward God."




This past week on my walk through the Reeveston neighborhood of Richmond, I cam across an empty plastic bag on the sidewalk. Now, an empty plastic bag is not uncommon in the alley by our house where I walk our dogs in the morning. But that is not Reeveston. Ours is a mixed neighborhood that we love living in. And the alley culture is vibrant and messy, private and secretive. Largely unseen except the trash that gets dropped by folks who walk alleys. So we just pick it up. 

But, the Reeveston neighborhood in Richmond was planned and built up in the early 20th century, with legal parameters that there can be no two houses with the same layout. So it is an architectural riot of Tudor, Spanish, Colonial, Art Deco, Modern, Bungalow. Old style property wealth in Richmond in the beginning. Now, younger, far more diverse families are buying these up, and bringing lots of kids and dogs. But not lots of trash. They take their neighborhood very seriously. And I just walked on by the errant plastic bag, sure that the homeowner would survey their property at some point and go pick it up. 

Our parable today opens with a couple of brothers bothering Jesus. I suppose it was legit for them to think Jesus an authority and decider of their family property. It was a common role for rabbis. But Jesus is clear that he is not their decider. Jesus is clear about who he is, and he is not here to connect humanity with material wealth but for a connection with God. So he tells a story that comes with a warning. 

I can just see the Rich Man in the parable with that glint in his eye of a dream realized, of relief, of things turning out ok. His barns cannot hold the abundance that is being produced on his land. So build more barns! I can imagine him standing on the edge of the equivalent of what would now be his back deck, hands on hips. We will imagine it is evening, so the workers have gone home. This affords him the illusion that somehow he has done all the work, and that the rewards are all his. Build the barn! Bring in the crop! Sell, make money, hoard it! And don’t worry about anything! I’ve got it all!

Can’t you just see him there? Maybe his has sat down now….Feet up on a footstool. A glass of wine from his own vineyards, food on his table, brought by servants, no doubt, who quietly and invisibly hover out of eyesight to make sure every need is met. Yes. This is the life. And it is his life. And he can keep it all. 

The parable continues. Jesus tells them and us, that God’s voice encroaches into that blissful scene of much and more, and lays it out flat for the rich guy with one word. 


“Fool.”

We all fall into foolish ways every now and again. The journey of the Fool is that of innocence and inexperience going through all manner of trial and tests, leading toward maturity, wisdom and profound connection. It might take a lifetime. It might last the 33 days needed to walk the Camino de Santiago. It might last one morning’s walk in the neighborhood. The reckless naivete of the Fool becomes a reckless abandon for living a mature life, not holding back because we have finally seen things, lived things, made mistakes and corrections. We have become and have been known and are knowing more. 

This rich guy, not so much. Jesus is clear, if you store up earthly treasures, you will be disappointed and it leads to death. Store up connection with God. That is life. 

This parable has been used often to warn of a life of hedonism and greed. Looking closely, and lifting some of the overused interpretations off this simple text, we can see that the incrimination isn’t of a life of leisure, nor is it building the barns or even having a lot. It is storing up abundance and not sharing. Our main character isn’t acting badly on the surface. Jesus would have directed us to notice bad behavior with words like greedy, cruel, unaware, self centered. But we don’t get any of that. There is a meanness, a baseness within his lack of vision, yes. We basically have a guy who has it all, has more than enough, and wants to sit back and enjoy it without a thought or care. Without a thought or care he sees the abundance and doesn’t even consider once that it might not all be for him. 

And now, we can begin to turn this text toward ourselves to guide us into our own moments of life or death. Maturity or meanness. For we are witnessing every day the meanness of the world around. The world is mean. It is base. It is run on survival of the most powerful. And we can lose faith in another way of living. 

The meanness that we are seeing, is a lack of elegance, a show of shabbiness in matters of manners, culture, discourse and collective good. It is far worse than the example of the Rich Fool in today’s text.

Dr. Christine Porath, professor and researcher at Georgetown University, has a TED talk on her studies on incivility in the workplace. Her studies and research and analysis show that incivility in the workplace reduces productivity. 66% of those who were the object of incivility cut back their efforts,

80% lost work time, 12% left their job. Cisco, a huge technology systems corporation that worked with Dr. Porath estimated conservatively that incivility cost their bottom line 12 million dollars. And it didn’t just demean and diminish those who were the recipients of incivility.Witness performances decreased, those that saw it happening to coworkers were equally affected. Dr. Porath says, Incivility is like a bug, it is contagious.  She indicates that stress is the #1 reason we are not civil or we do not disrupt incivility.

Her Ted Talk goes on to say, There is also a perception that if I am “Nice” I will finish last. But, Further studies show that civil and nice people are actually 2X more likely to be seen as leaders. Those who are civil are linked with the following attributes that are highly valued: they are seen as warm and competent, friendly and smart. It doesn’t require a huge shift to move from incivility to civility or to shift the culture toward civility. Efforts can be simple and small, Porath’s research shows that 

thanking, sharing credit, listening attentively, humbly asking questions, acknowledging others and smiling have a positive impact. 

In the church, we talk about the gospel. We talk about the fruits of the spirit. We talk about agape love as a standard of living. I will be the first to admit that while I have not lived sequestered or in a state of separation, I have lived life from the very beginning among people who take simplicity, peacemaking, justice and community very very seriously. And I often take it for granted. Bad behavior is most certainly present in our structures of faith. But so is apology, self critique, support for growth, a belief for something more for each person. There is a basic belief that all are children of God, and that loving God, self, neighbor, stranger, enemy are basic foundational starting points to come back to, again and again. The world sees this all as foolishness. Civility or Gospel, There is an intentional hope in the Way of Jesus.

In the Reeveston neighborhood, the biggest lot and house, is protected by a high-end buried electric fence and Dobermans. When neighbors are out walking their dogs, the Dobermans will charge the perimeter right to where a person and their pets are, and do what they’ve been trained to do. Which is to signal that you are in their territory, you are not welcome, I will rip you to shreds if you touch that Solomon’s Seal plant on the edge of the flower bed (Kurt risks his hands every time). The owners of this large urban property seem to own what is beyond their own borders via their guard dogs bark-reach. It is a tangible energy of Mine. Mine. Mine. I walk on with heart racing from fear. 

Contrast that with my walk on Friday with a home that has a fenced yard and two large dogs that could jump it if they wanted to. One of the dogs began a ferocious barking jag as I was half a block away, on the other side of the street. The owner was outside. He called the dog to him. Firmly told him to be quiet. Then loved on the dog, who had indeed gotten quiet. His viewpoint as seen in his actions was to look up and outward. He was taking in the variables of the neighborhood. He acknowledged a stranger, me, on the street as a legitimate part of the landscape and quieted his dog with firm and loving commands. Stranger, homeowner, and alert dog were all brought together. We became more than disparate and unconnected elements. It was just a quick moment, but connection can come quickly. I walked on with a smile on my face. 

A few blocks later, a pick up truck slowed down to idle beside me. My immediate thought was, “Do I look that worn out that someone is offering help?” But no. It was Jeff Carter, President of Bethany Theological Seminary. He was coming home from a local Men’s Bible study, wearing not his ubiquitous suit but an orange polo shirt, heading home to mow the lawn, do some chores as assigned and maybe some golf. He was happy to see me. I was happy to see him. We talked and connected. I walked on with a smile on my face. 

I was feeling good, seen, respected, and it was building with each positive exchange. It changed something in me on my own morning fools journey. My mind then sent me back to that empty plastic bag on the sidewalk. The one I had passed by earlier. I felt the lowness, the basic meanness, the shabbiness of my inaction, that I did not bend over and pick it up. I didn’t go back, but I continued on, now picking up a straw wrapper, a crushed cigarette pack, a bottle cap, and bit of icky dryer sheet, dropping them into my own trash can at home. In a moment I was part of this neighborhood and its well being is now my well being. 

Our parable it is not about  a simple chastising finger wag  to not be greedy. Or an equally chastising finger wag to be generous. The Rich Fool, was indicted because he was not living from a place of connection, which is the Kingdom of God. The new Jerusalem is marked by gates that are always open, the light that is God always shining, a magnificent welcome on the walls with gems and precious stones. In the middle is a river and a tree whose branches are for the healing of the nations. It is our home, for us to walk into freely. An open invitation to everyone and everything.

The kingdom of God here and now is in the streets. It is the art in the murals that tell of change coming, it is sitting on our back patios and inviting the walkers in for an evening drink, or sharing a lemonade with the yard workers, roofers, or bored kids. It is putting your own plans aside when someone experiences an unexpected health crisis and needs someone to sit with them. We then share the moment as equals, rather than anyone being outside of the moment, disconnected, afraid. 

We must look up to see one another. We cannot avoid the workers by day, to enjoy our perfectly quaffed lawns at dusk. What we may fail ourselves with is when we don’t look up and see that all are already invited in. Don’t hold back. Be reckless and grand. With your largesse or with your simple life. Our material possessions are not indicators of our worth or ability to share. Our worth is not in our  possessions. 

The parable alerts us that The possibility of missing the participation in theWide-Spread-generous-Arms-of-God-to-All is at stake. 


We know that our invitation into God’s Way is for mutual enjoyment, mutual belonging, mutual care, mutual sharing in the grand great abundant generosity of the hand of the Divine. The world is in great need of people, like you, who know to live lives of selfless love, whether defined by Gospel goodness or secular civility. 

~~

May our Rich Fool, look up from his limited understanding and self importance, and see his dusty field workers walking home. 


May he give a holler that turns heads. And with his arms in an over exaggerated gesture, call them to join him. 


May our Rich Fool leave the naivete of self centered ignorance and fill his serving trays with bread and wine, grapes and cheese to serve those who work. 


May our Rich Fool hear the jokes of the workers. 


May they share stories of babies born, of wise elders, of life rituals.


May our Rich Fool, when he forfeits his life that night, smile, knowing that what he once saw as his alone is now in the hands of everyone.














Title

June 23 2019

Luke 1:39-45

A few months ago, one of my spiritual direction clients returned from a week in Taize France,

at the Taize community. She had been looking forward to this week of singing, silence and

worship for a very long time. She brought back a small token for me. A wood plaque with a

replica of one of the stained glass windows. This one was of the moment when Mary goes to

visit her relative Elizabeth, and John leaps with recognition of Jesus…from inside the womb.

Pictured here like toddler beings in their becoming. One woman is reaching wide, the other

woman is reaching out, and the two enwombed figures reaching toward. The gift giver said that

this was how she saw spiritual direction; a recognition between two souls of something deep

within, holy connection.

Our text today, normally a December text, reaches backward to Zacharia, a priest, on duty in

the temple, setting the incense to smoke and scent. And wouldn’t you know it, the Angel

Gabriel shows up. The word spoken by this cosmic being is powerful and fearful. First, the

angel gives us its name. Maybe to ease the fear? The news is an answer to Zachariahs

prayer. A son is to be born to old Zachariah and his old wife, Elizabeth. Unbelievable, really.

And he will be for a purpose. A purpose that will have weighty implications for the people of

Israel, and his upbringing will not be normal.

The texts lets us know that not only is Zachariah a priest, but Elizabeth is from the line of

Aaron. From a priestly line. I want to read between these lines. I want to read the possibilities

of what it means for the text to record that Elizabeth is from the house of priests. And not only

that, but of Aaron, who Moses tried to foust his call onto because he himself could not speak

well, so let Aaron speak. And here we have the angel Gabriel, announcing something

spectacular, and then silencing the recognized priest Zacharia.

But not his wife Elizabeth, the decendent of priestly lineage of Aaron.

We dare not miss this. It is easy to do. We read these well known and well worn texts, which

beg us to slow down, and explore word for word anew. We go from Zacharia to his silence, to

Elizabeth, to Mary, then to our text today. It is easy to stay on the broad surface and see the

greeting of Mary and Elizabeth as a couple of women visiting during pregnancy, going about

their day to day.

There is a bit of connecting happening in this text. Larger to the particular. The scholars from

the new interpreters commentary make a bid deal that Mary traveled from a region to a town

the home of Zachariah and then to Elizabeth. Like links in a chain or a funnel to guide our

focus. And then there is both Mary and Elizabeth, carrying Jesus and John. And then, I can’t

help but wonder about what is within John and Jesus.

The larger story nests the next, and the next, down to their very atoms and hopes.

It feels important to notice the layers, or the elements within one and another. Like striations in

the earth, telling stories of even more ancient realities of earth experience, soil to coal to oil

and dinosaurs, striations within us telling stories of even deeper essential parts of ourselves.

What was it that caused John to leap at the presence of Jesus? It caught Elizabeth by joyous

and maybe giddy surprise, like a catch of breath, causing her to proclaim the elements of the

moment “blessed”. Elizabeth is the prophet. A prophet in her home. She is the proclaimer of

blessedness. Her son will be the prophet in the wilderness, the proclaimer of repentence that

turns us to what saves us. Both turn our faces in new directions, to see God where God will

show up.

John, who is still in formation, recognizes Jesus, also still in formation. Elizabeth recognizes

greatness in this young girl, who we know from other extra canonical stories, may have been

being prepared her whole life for this role in the world. And Mary. Mary recognizes God and

the lowly and the irony. Mary recognizes her own greatness. Each recognition goes deep

into the essential core, becoming rich fuel for the next revealed layer.

These images of women gaining their voice, of raising the next generation to their own

greatness, is happening in this text. And it is happening all around us. Our biblical text is a

shared story, and when we open our eyes, we see it being played out again and again, in

recognizable ways and in new ways. Women are being seen and heard as proclaimers that we

might wake up.

In many Orthodox churches, iconography surrounds sanctuaries as larger than life murals of

the patriarchs of faith. Yet, rising from behind the iconistasis, the holy of holies half-wall of the

alter where only the male priests and deacons enter, is the image of Mary, known as

Theotokos. God bearer. Larger than all, looking down tenderly over every woman, child and

man, priest, deacon and cantor in that sacred space.

Women of today, like Elizabeth, are proclaiming an arrival of sorts. This past April, a 22 year

old female student named Alaa Salah in Sudan, stood on top of a car, in her white cotton dress

and flashing full moon earrings, arms raised amidst protests of the harsh regime of President

Omar al-Bashir. She sang the word for revolution, connecting a moment with a movement

toward something better. All of this has been caught and documented on hundreds of cell

phones. From many websites, including the BBC, we read that these women who were leading

the protests are being called Kandaka,' which is the title given to the Nubian queens of ancient

Sudan whose gift to their descendants is a legacy of empowered women who fight hard for

their country and their rights."

Closer to home: This week, Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscokee Creek Nation, is named our

national poet laureate. Her poetics, filled with images of cigarette smoke, whiskey spills, loss of

identity and the erasure of indigenous culture in the United States, tells a revolutionary story

that we might set what has been tilted, upright. If we listen with a holy listening, we will connect

in silence and allow the indigenous voice to proclaim.

And closer still in Fort Wayne is Sally Segerson. I was tuned into Sally and her foundational

work with Street Reach for the Homeless by Sid Gauby, former pastor of the Agape Church of

the Brethren. Every week Sally scans the Goodwill bins for boots, socks, sleeping bags, tents

and winter coats, and feeds 100+ gents and ladies several times a week with nourishing, belly

filling food. I follow her revolutionary seemingly one woman show on facebook. I don’t know

the full story of funding or founding or volunteering, but her agenda is clearly to proclaim the

good news that each person fed is loved.

Elizabeth proclaims the moment blessed.

Mary, like these women of today, takes it one step further: for she knows who she is, who she

has been raised to be, and what upside down, turning, revolutionary message she now sends

out into the world:

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all

generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is

his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown

strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has

brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry

with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in

remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham

and to his descendants forever.”

In our today news and in our scripture scene of Mary and Elizabeth greeting one another,

silent father Zachariah, of John recognizing Jesus, is a rising of what has been deep in the

human story and what is yet to be. There is a rising in your own spiritual journey from before

your birth, through your upbringing, to this very moment. What is within you to proclaim?

These are stories of Theotokos. God bearers, bearing God, again and again and again with

silence, with exclamation, with leaps, with food, with poetry, with full moon earrings. From large

exclamation to the tiny particular, we see the holy born.

The Universe bears God

The planet earth and her moon bear God

The waters and land bear God

The plants and animals bear God

The humans on each continent, unified and without borders bear God

The Miami Nation of Kekionga/Fort Wayne bear God

We are God bearers

You are a God bearer

This scriptural scene, these scenes all around us are awakened examples that have been

happening through all time. The voice of the lowly rising.

We who already have a voice,

can flip the message of being a voice for the voiceless.

And like Zacharia, stand aside in attentive silence and hear those

once silenced voices,

once dismissed voices,

once erased voices….

proclaim a holy moment,

to voice wisdom that has waited to be heard,

to rise up and proclaim the arrival of the Gospel

And when they do, oh, how our whole insides will leap with joy. Amen