Eight Sunday After Pentecost
Hosea 11:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

There have been far too many Sundays that I have stood in this pulpit and made note of a mass shooting that has happened in this nation. Since our worship service last Sunday—just one week—there have been three more. Last Sunday, a gunman killed four and injured 15 at a festival in Gilroy, California. Yesterday, an estimated 20 were killed and 29 more injured in a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas. And early this morning, at least 9 were killed and 16 more injured in Dayton, Ohio. Two of those shootings have been confirmed to be driven by racist, white supremacist ideology, and the motive behind this morning’s shooting is still being determined as of a few minutes ago. If I’m being completely honest with you, I’m still processing the news and don’t know what to say about it this time around.

But I am angry that I have to keep coming up with something to say. I am tired of having to figure out what to say. I am impatient with those who suggest that all we can offer as the Church are “thoughts and prayers” divorced from repentance and action. And I am heartbroken that children are going to school with bulletproof backpacks and that so many—especially people of color and immigrants—are terrified to leave their homes because of the ever-present threat of racist violence.

But what I am not is surprised. And that grieves me.

Let us pray.

How long, O Lord? We gather this morning in the wake of even more violence; of even more hatred. We gather as your people—some of us angry and some of us brokenhearted; some of us weary and some of us afraid. And yet we gather in expectation of your Kingdom that is coming into being within and around us. Grant us the ears to hear its arrival; grant us the eyes to see its emergence; grant us the courage to still hope for it; and grant us the courage to boldly live into it. Amen.

At first glance, there are quite a few things to fear. It seems as though every day there is a breaking news report or study that warns of the next thing that we should be afraid of, be it a group of people or an imminent crisis on the horizon. There’s always the looming anxiety that comes with job security or the finances, especially in a city like New York. By now we’re surely aware of the climate catastrophe, as we worry about global warming, the global shrinking access of clean drinking water, and the concern over rising sea levels. And let us not forget our neighbors who are living under the threat of ICE raids, of housing scarcity, and of violence due to their sexuality, race, or gender identity.

If we were to go around this room, we surely could come up with hundreds of situations that scare us. There’s quite a bit of uncertainty and turmoil in our world, and at times it does not seem as though we are making any kind of progress. As much as I would like to wish otherwise, it seems as though fear is all around us, and many of those fears are reasonable and understandable.

The question before us this morning, however, is how we respond to that fear. For I am convinced that our actions can spring forth from that fear, or our actions can spring forth out of hope; out of courage.

In our Gospel lesson this morning that Lisa just read for us, we are introduced to a man who knows a little something about fear.

Someone in the crowd around Jesus calls out to him: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” The teacher, however, doesn’t want to get wrangled into that family feud, and so he instead gives a warning to all of his followers and listeners: “Avoid greed in all its forms. Your life isn’t made secure by what you own—even when you have more than you need.” He then begins telling a story.

There was a rich farmer, and when harvest time came, the land produced a bountiful crop. And as he’s thinking about what to do with all of the extra food, he begins to talk to himself. “What will I do? I have no place to store all of this.” Then he thought further: “I know! I’ll tear down the barns that I have now and build even bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. Then And then I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. Take time to relax and take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry.”

But God said to the farmer, “You fool! This very night your life will be required of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

Jesus summarizes the story for his listeners: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

It’s a strange parable to hear, especially to us in 2019 New York City. After all, it only seems as though the farmer is preparing for a rainy day. By all accounts, the farmer seems to be a wise businessman who happened across a good harvest. He simply plans for the future by building larger barns, in the same way that we might store away a bit of our earnings in our 401(k) plans or in our IRAs. We might draw connections to the story of Joseph in Genesis, who convinced Pharaoh to save up the excess in those seven years of plenty so that there was enough food for everyone in the seven years of famine. There’s no suggestion that he treated his workers unfairly or was unethical in his business, yet according to Jesus this man is a fool.

What’s happening here?

In the words of the preaching authority Fred Craddock, perhaps it’s best to say this: “He lives for himself, talks to himself, plans for himself, congratulates himself.”

“What will I do?”, the farmer says. “I have no place to store my harvest. But wait—I’ll pull down my grain bins and build larger ones. All my grain and goods will go there. Then I’ll say to myself: You have blessings in reserve for many years to come.”

For the foolishness of the farmer does not come with the fact that he had a good harvest or that he thought about saving for the future, but rather that he seems to be living in his own little world, separated from anything else that is happening around him. There is no regard for the one whose crops did not produce as well; there is no thought for the sojourner or widow who has no crops to rely on. He may be living the life of abundance, but there are so many around him who are living the life of scarcity. The foolishness of the farmer comes from his greed, which is fundamentally rooted in his inward fear of not having enough and his fear of death.

An so too for us is greed grounded in the fear that there isn’t enough to go around, which can easily lead us to the necessity of turning in. It’s how we look out for number one, regardless of the cost or of the situation of our neighbor or our community. It’s our way of trying to grasp our own security because, somewhere along the line, God’s providence and grace have long been forgotten.

One preacher goes on:

Human greed is [also] an expression of human desire. Perhaps we desire so much at times because at the heart of our own desires is to be desired. We strive to gain more things, to hoard more possessions in order to surround ourselves with material goods only to find out that these things have no heart and cannot desire nor love us in return. We may love these things, but they cannot love us in return. They cannot fill our desire to be desired. Thus we can quickly become dissatisfied with something because it hasn’t loved us in the way we want or need to be loved so we go and add other things to our barns…We fill our lives with stuff because we are afraid to be alone. [And] That’s part of the fear. [1]

Thomas Aquinas continues this train of thought, suggesting that greed “is a sin directly against one’s neighbor, since one…cannot over-abound in external riches, without another…lacking them.” Greed prevents us from loving one another because it is so turned in upon the self. It worries only about the self, thereby exacerbating our fear. It loves only the self, thereby showing a lack of love for God or for our neighbor.

Greed takes our need for security and love and misplaces and distorts them. It finds security in those things that we hoard rather than in the abundance of grace. It finds love in things rather than within one another. It fears that what God has created is not good enough. And fear begets fear begets fear.

Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise what Jesus says immediately after this passage in the Gospel of Luke:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear,” and “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” [2]

Before us this morning are a lot of things that can cause us to fear. And if we continue to allow ourselves to be governed by fear, I believe that this past week will become our new normal. Acts of cowardice, selfishness, and hatred will keep on happening.

But, my friends, there is another way if only we can hear what these troubling times are calling us to. We can recognize our own fears and instead respond to them with trust. We can see the terror that our neighbors are living under and respond to them with hope. We can see the hatred and violence in our world and respond with a bold and transformative love.

The time before us is calling for transformation, it’s calling for repentance, and it’s calling for action. It’s calling for protests, it’s calling for an audacious hope, and it’s calling for a bold love. It’s calling for unwavering courage.

And it’s calling for that bold love that Hosea says does not let us go. Let us not be afraid.

[1] Luke Powery, “The Liturgy of Abundance”, A Sermon preached in Duke University Chapel, 4 August 2013.
[2] Luke 12:27-34