Friday, August 5, 2016

Building Walls

I preached the following sermon on July 31, 2016, my final Sunday as the YASC missionary at St. Paul's in Rome.

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 13
July 31, 2016
Mr Charles Graves IV
St. Paul’s Within the Walls

Site of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium, which I visited in July.
"Walls" of human lives to protect an empire.
I Love the Gospel of Luke. In fact, Luke happens to be my personal favorite of all of the Gospel narratives. And every third summer, we in the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion, along with Roman Catholics and many other denominations find ourselves walking together Sunday by Sunday and story by story in sequence through Luke’s account of Jesus’ teachings. I’m thrilled that this is one of those Summers.
Where the other three Gospels are often more ethereal or metaphysical or more satisfied with spiritual generalities and heavenly interpretations, Luke gets right down to the nitty-gritty. Luke talks about things, possessions, money, sin, righteousness, death not generally, but directly. He goes straight there in no uncertain terms.
In part owing to Luke’s extraordinary directness, this morning’s reading is unusually short, compared to others in Luke and especially in the other three Gospels. The story is very simple. Faced with a simple property dispute among siblings, one that perhaps many of us will have faced at one time or another, Jesus in classic form goes beyond the issue at hand & he does it with a parable.
These days it’s often called the Parable of the Rich Fool, for reasons that are easy to tell. The protagonist, seeing a great surplus of wealth, decides to erect bigger storehouses to hold all his physical gain and take it easy the next few years, hoarding his manifold resources for himself. But wouldn’t you know it, death comes suddenly (as Luke says elsewhere) like a thief in the night, and as they say, you can’t take it all with you anyway.
Conventionally, preachers and religious scholars take this as a simple but very powerful lesson – Use your resources to serve God and others rather than hoarding it for yourself. Guard against greed because you never know when your time may be up. It’s true, and that’s a lesson we all need to learn and be constantly reminded. But there’s another way we ought to see this too.
Building up storehouses isn’t just about greed – it’s about fear and dependence. It’s about seeking to protect ourselves from the outside world by building bigger walls to keep ourselves and our things in while keeping others out. It’s about hoarding our overwhelming resources – much of which were gained on the backs of poorly paid laborers and taken from the mouths of the hungriest in our societies. It’s about fear of interacting with, or seeing the shared humanity of those who work the hardest and receive the least and trying to “protect” ourselves with that which isn’t really even ours to begin with. It’s about thinking that our walls – walls built by the way with the sweat of precise those intended to be kept outside of them – no matter how big or tall or wide or menacing are ever enough to contain the love of God or keep out the sacred equality of all God’s people. Because when in history has that ever worked?
A sign I found on a fence at the Frankfurt, Germany train station.
Just being very rich, sure doesn’t make a person, or a society any more intelligent. In fact, sometimes it makes them even more ignorant and even more foolishly afraid of the world outside its ill-gotten walls. We try to build firmer barriers, not just physically but with our words and in our society. We resort to increasingly gruesome and disgusting forms of intolerance, or racism, or sexism or xenophobia. We harden our hearts and our souls, saying and doing things we otherwise would never have imagined, because we don’t know what else to do. We push more and more extreme forms of separation in a desperate and pitiful ploy to preserve the world as we think we know it.
Try as we might, our walls and our storehouses will never be good enough. And they shouldn’t be. Because this day our very lives are being demanded of us. Just read the headlines of the last few weeks, and you will be quickly reminded of the extreme fragility of this mortal life. Places like Munich, Berlin, Kabul, Normandy, Nice, Fort Myers, Dallas, New Orleans, Baton Rouge and countless others have been tragically reminded, through the shier force of shocking human brutality of the ways in which death can come suddenly and without warning. No city it seems, and no one can feel truly safe in this frightening modern-day world, and what can be more fearsome than that?
It can be so natural to resort to fear and wall-building and hiding behind our money and materials to escape that which makes us nervous and reminds us of our own mortality. But in doing so, we will always always fail.
Instead, this parable and the whole of the Gospels of Christ call us to do just the opposite. To tear down the walls of our fear and recognize the equality of all. Not just to let ourselves out and let others in, but to realize that in the revolutionary love of Jesus Christ, there is no such thing as “in” or “out”. There is no “us” and “them”.
As Paul tells us today, “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”
Yes, friends, today and every day our very lives, all that we are and all that we have is being demanded of us. Not only on the days on which our mortal lives will end, but every single day. Because every day that God wakes us up and puts air in our lungs and food in our bellies, God is calling us to share that same love with every person we meet. God is calling us to share those resources with all those around us – especially with the poor, the refugee, the stranger, the dis-empowered laborer and and whose who need it most. Because at the end of the day, all that we are and all that we have exists in God alone.
No wall, and no storehouse can change that. This very day, your life is being demanded of you. What then will you do?

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