A wise man of another faith tradition once told me to hold life and things like a precious teacup. Do not put it on a shelf worried to use it - or break it. Use it daily: love it. Then if one day it happens to fall and shatter you will have enjoyed it completely.
It is actually a story about impermanence. In Christianity that is not a common term, but instead we speak about inheriting the eternal Kingdom vs the World; about Spiritual things and temporal things; or about Spirit vs Flesh; About grass that withers and Treasures in Heaven.
Jesus teaches us the story of the “rich fool” to help us see how ridiculous it is for us to store up possessions. They are impermanent. They are earthly. They are susceptible to moths and rust.
But he also tells this story in quite an interesting fashion: The man has this awkward internal dialogue with his self. He doesn’t look to God or the community for answers. Instead he is completely self-reliant for inspiration, advice, and comfort. He also doesn’t look to make his life rich towards others. He isn’t thinking about the community, and he seems to be confusing his eternal soul with his temporal self.
The suffering of our temporal self is the topic of the Letter to the Colossians in which Paul reminds us to “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” These are manifestations of suffering. “But now you must get rid of all such things-- anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. To paraphrase Jesus, it is not what goes in the mouth but what comes out that profanes us.
And Returning to the teacup metaphor: In the chapter of Luke just leading up to this one, Jesus says,“Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” The passions are what hurt us when we are attached to outcomes and things: When we prioritize stuff over the “stuff of life” (Living)! Luke 12 actually has a theme about letting go; not worrying about what we will wear and what we will eat. He says 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[b]?
The World offers us so much candy. Like kids in a candy store we walk through life obsessed with things we can’t have. Or once we've gained them, then we worry incessantly about them: how to store them, insure them etc. We suffer when we are attached to things that disappear, break, wear out, what is temporal. And we fight over them.
Jesus is asking us to be “rich toward God.” So what does that mean to you? If God is Love, then to be rich toward God, always means to be rich toward one another and God’s Creation: The Living. Jesus models a life of celebration, living fully: of turning water into wine, of deep conversations with disciples and friends, engaging in theological arguments with those he disagreed with - all usually over meals. How do you wish to be like Jesus?
One of my friends is discerning to become a religious. She is taking her first vows in the order of St. Margaret in the RC church. One of my classmates at GTS and fellow priest (ordained with me) has also been an Episcopal nun for twenty-five years. They have a particular call to Poverty. That is how they feel called to be “rich in God.” They are uninhibited by collecting things - And there is massive freedom in it!They can give to the community without the burden of things - and all of the emotions and worry that go along with having "stuff."
You and I do not need to give up marriage and belongings, but it is interesting to get into the mindset that there is freedom in letting go. There is freedom from grasping, clinging, storing up, and worrying!
Jesus even said this about himself: When he was in the garden after rising from the tomb, he said to Mary Magdalene “Don’t cling to me.”
He also told the disciples, “I must leave you so the Holy Spirit can come.” In letting go there is freedom to LOVE even greater in the moment.
In letting go as Paul says, “you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”
We may not have to give everything away, but remember to practice attention and love to what is living. That is being rich toward God. Love people fully while you have them, so that you are assured - and they are that you’ve appreciated them. That is being rich toward God.
Use your gifts while you have them. Don’t hide your light under a bushel!
That is being Rich toward God
So when the grass withers and the Tea Cup Breaks…You have enjoyed it thoroughly, lovingly, richly!
Jesus said, “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you…”
The disciples ask Jesus, how do we pray?! Teach us!
The solution Jesus provides is to be persistent in our quest for the Spiritual Life and to Trust. If it was just a matter of listing off the things we want or don’t want it wouldn’t be necessary to teach prayer or to practice it. We are not talking about praying for material things, but about spiritual things. Jesus pairs this with a teaching that shows the expansive love of God. He compares God to a very loving parent who is responsive. As Fr. Mike said last week, “God is so expansive. God offers so much more in generosity and Love than we can imagine.”
In our story about the child’s request, we are told:
God will not hold back if you ask, and God will not give you something harmful on purpose.* Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t say if your child asks you for an egg you will give an egg. He says, “You will not give a scorpion. You know how to give good gifts.”
But we may not always recognize the gifts of the Spirit if we have pre-conceived ideas of what they are. The Gospel today is a lot about prayer and about trust. Have you ever heard the story of the
fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.”
The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”
So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.”
The stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”
To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
Good Gifts, right?!
But the man was in fact expecting something else.
How often we project an image, an idea, a scenario that is…just that: a projection?
And we do not trust.
The disciples are asking Jesus how to pray for a couple of reasons: It is a turning point in the Gospel because the disciples are being told they will not always have Jesus with them. They’ve been told a few times now. So In this prayer he is giving them a loving and consoling image; reassuring they can trust God when he is no longer with them.
This community in Luke was part of the Greco-Roman World and the Christian Community that had grown up there had separated from Judaism. They were becoming an independent cult without the protection of the long standing Jewish community in the area. Just outside of Palestine in somewhat urban areas, they were more at risk from the Roman authorities. To the Lucan ears, Jesus was asking them to TRUST the father in such uncertain times.
As the teaching goes on he lets us know just how loving this father is by comparing him to us saying: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
I have a particular objection to the translation here that Jesus called his disciples evil. The word in Greek used here for Evil is also translated as Slothful. Something tells me that this is a much clearer interpretation of the message Jesus is conveying particularly because his parable is about a guy who is sleeping and doesn’t want to get up to help his friend.
While we can’t really relate to being Evil. We can easily relate to being lazy at times. Sometimes our inner values are not always at the forefront of our activity. We know we love our families and friends more than anything. Of course I would do anything for you….“But you want me to get out of bed and do what for you…now?!” We do it, but our very initial instinctual response is to ourselves and our own comfort. Jesus give us a pretty basic example.
But you can see how that dynamic might play out in much greater patterns in our lives. It takes some discipline at first to recognize what our spiritual priorities are. Then it takes practice to really being attuned and attentive to them; to making our priority be our first instinct!
"Knock and the door shall be open to you. Search and you shall find."
So what does the Lord’s Prayer have to do with this saying? Why might Jesus pair these teachings?
For the early Christians, and for those who practice the daily office, the Lord’s Prayer is said three times a day. And we recite it at every service. We are persistent. Jesus is teaching that Prayer is what sustains us.
Second: I think it’s very important that we are asking collectively.
We do not say:
Give me this day my daily bread
Forgive me my trespasses
We are praying as a people.
And we are not praying:
my kingdom come my will be done…
St. Gregory of Nyssa a Bishop in the mid 300s speaks specifically to this collective. He relates the Lord’s Prayer to the world’s need. For us to have our daily bread means that for me to have my daily bread means for everyone to be receiving it too. He tells us the Lord’s prayer is about the healing of relations.
And this is easy to see if we look at it line by line:
The Kingdom of Peace
Nourishment for all
Forgiveness of self and others.
Jesus is reminding the disciples they are a community: “a community which faces an unknown future in which their task is to build up and hold the Christian community together. Jesus’s assures that the heavenly Father will generously give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks. Prayer created and sustained the community in early 1st century Palestine at its origins…and it created and sustained community in the late 1st century gentile world”(1) in which Luke is writing. And Prayer is what continues to sustain us today in our own uncertain World.
What is the future of our Christian Community going to look like for one another and bettering this World? Do we have expectations? Will we recognize the good gifts?
On the Global level: This summer is the Lambeth Conference which occurs every ten years where members of the Anglican Communion come together to pray and make decisions about the future of our Church. There are 185 million of us in 165 countries.
On the National Level, we just finished General Convention that occurs every three years to make resolutions and decisions about the Episcopal Church.
On the Diocesan level this fall we will be electing a New Bishop.
And on a personal level we will be making decisions about the future of St. Paul’s.
This year is a great reminder of how expansive our lives in God are… and how connected we are across the Globe. Our church leaders have asked us for our prayers. Jesus gave us our instructions. And we are persistent in so many languages. Next time you say the Lord’s prayer imagine the chorus of trust ringing out of the mouths and hearts of millions.
1. Moira Izatt (http://www.shizuoka-eiwa.ac.jp/media/kiyou11-03.pdf) July 23, 2022