Hosea 11:7-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11
The Rev. Andrew D. Brislin
Whenever my brothers and I would argue over some toy or some material thing because we felt like one of us was getting more than the other, my dad would always tell us that he never saw a Brinks truck following behind a hearse. My father’s quick wittedness often resulted in the befuddlement of me and my brothers. This rather morbid image would leave us sitting there for a for a while and pondering what he was saying until finally one of us spoke up and asked, “What is a Brinks truck?” Even after our dad explained to us that a Brinks truck was the big, armored truck that hauls money everywhere, it took some pondering by us to try and figure out what he was saying. One of the big news stories of the week has been the Mega Millions lottery drawing making it to more than $1 Billion. This brought to mind the many trips I would take with my dad over to Florida when he retired to Orange Beach for him to purchase a lottery ticket. It would be a fun exercise while traveling to discuss what he would do when we won. Hiring a good tax attorney and accountant are always first on the list. Then there is the discussion of beach houses, whether or not to buy a boat, paying off debt, and all sorts of fun things not the least of which was a skybox at Bryant Denny Stadium. What would we do though if we came into this kind of windfall? While it is fun to talk about the extravagant things we could accumulate, I think most of us would understand the blessing that we had just received and certainly try to do good with it.
In our Gospel reading this morning we first hear the story of the person approaching Jesus and asking him to serve as arbiter between him and his brother regarding their inheritance. It was tradition at this time that when a father passed that the oldest son received two-thirds of the inheritance while the remaining one-third was split between the other siblings. This request is met with a quick rebuke and admonishment to guard against focusing on building up one’s material possessions. Jesus then tells the parable of the man who tears down his barns to build new ones so that he can store up more crops. While Jesus’ reaction to the brother seems to make sense in light of the tradition of the time, even though it doesn’t seem fair. This parable can seem somewhat puzzling as it contrasts many of the lessons, we are taught growing up. This parable seems to run contradictory to many of the economic lessons we are taught about thriftiness regarding saving up for a rainy day. Even Joseph instructs the Pharoah in Genesis to store up grain during the productive seasons in preparation for the draught that will surely come, so how are we to interpret this reading this morning?
I think we must begin with envisioning what right relationship with God means. When we can understand that God created us first and foremost to be in relationship with him and with each other. When we are grounded in this understanding of who we are as God’s beloved then we can understand our relationship to all things worldly especially our relationship to money and to material things. This is not to promote a prosperity gospel in which we think we are rich because God loves us but rather, we are given steward over all things given to us. We affirm this each Sunday in the Doxology. We sing ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, Praise him above ye heavenly hosts, Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghosts.’ In these few short verses, we are establishing our relationship to all thing’s material. Living into the American dream has always been about having the opportunity to grow and develop and thrive. However, all too often, the mantra that follows though is that it is all up to us and our work ethic. These are all important traits; however, the issue is not with how much have we invested or what kind of dividends have we seen as a result of those investments, but have we been distracted from what is important? A few weeks ago, we heard the story of Mary and Martha. We challenged ourselves to identify with one or the other and all too often we empathize with Martha because she seems to be working her tail off and yet Jesus chastises her. He does this though not to punish but to call her back. He wants her attention. The work of salvation that Jesus was sent into the world to accomplish was to call humanity back into relationship with the Father. When we seek to be in relationship with each other we are being church and when we are being church, we become the Body of Christ in the world.
When my brothers and I would be fighting over a toy or arguing between who would get to participate in some activity and our father imparted his coded wisdom we unknowingly were sent into a state of discernment as we tried to figure out why he said what he said. I still look back on those memories and it is only now as I am older that I can begin to see what it was that he wanted us to know. Our dad sought to impart the knowledge that you cannot carry material items into the afterlife with you in the Brinks truck following a hearse analogy. This knowledge is supported by the fact that my relationships with my brothers could never be replaced by material items. Accumulation of wealth in and of itself can be life giving when engaged in a Christ centered way. In a way in which one is aware that these gifts are given so that we might engage in the work of Christ in the world. So, from now on when I am daydreaming about receiving a huge windfall like winning the lottery, I will be thinking about the portion to give to the church, what can I do to help alleviate the suffering of so many and yes, how can I provide fellowship to others in that Bryant Denny Skybox.