Updated: Aug 16, 2019
Today’s scripture readings call us to live into and deepen the life-giving relationship we have with God and with one another. While writing today’s sermon, I found the message for today contained within the famous speech given by Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar to the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress in London. The Bishop’s own summary of his speech lays the groundwork for my sermon today.
In his address, Bishop Weston wrote:
“Now to put it quite clearly our present duty as Anglo-Catholics is to make a far deeper surrender to our Lord Christ and to make it over a far wider area than ever before. We are to make such a surrender of self to Christ over the whole area of our life that were he to choose to come on earth...neither you nor I would find it necessary to alter the principles upon which we conduct our work, our prayer, our worship” (Our Present Duty, 1923)
By setting forth this challenge, Bishop Weston reminds us that the ongoing goal of a Christian is to seek a greater relationship with God and our neighbor.
Our first reading today from Ecclesiastes sounds less like a book from the Bible and more like something an angsty teenager would have written for a poem in their literature class. It’s inclusion in our Sunday readings, however, invites us towards greater examination and exploration of this seemingly sorrowful piece.
“All is vanity” writes the author of this book. “I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me -- and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? … I turned and gave my heart up to despair … because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:18-21).
Two thousand three hundred years after the Book of Ecclesiastes was written, there is still so much about today’s first reading that connects with us.
How many of us have languished over the uncertainty of what our legacy will be once we are no longer around?
“Will people remember us?” we may ask.
“Will my life have made a difference?”
“Will all for which I have fought and toiled over have been for naught?”
“There are three deaths,” writes author David Eagleman. “The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time” (David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives). Despite our best efforts, our names, our stories, may only at best be remembered by our loved ones and those sitting across from us in the pews. Jesus warns us today that while we can store up for ourselves physical wealth—dollars, gold, jewelry, artwork, furniture—we can also store up for ourselves false ideas of our own immortality and our importance in the grand scheme of the universe.
What has been gifted to us, whether it be money, intellect, ability, or talent, has been precisely that—a gift, freely given to us by God. Many of us have worked very hard for what we have or for whatever fortune has come our way. Working hard, saving for the future, planning for the future, are not sinful ways of living. What today’s scriptures invite us to consider is the relationships we help or hurt in the process of doing so. Do we strive for treasures in heaven or treasures which cannot be kept eternally?
In the end, the truth that God loves us and grants to his children the gift of eternal life should be enough for us. “For what shall it profit a man,” says the Lord, “if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).
In our Gospel today, we encounter Jesus in the midst of daily life as a popular traveling rabbi. As any good rabbi and teacher of the time, it’s not unusual to see Jesus asked to settle a dispute.
“Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,” reads our Gospel, “‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But [Jesus] 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.’”
The farmer in Jesus’ parable today never once thinks of anyone other than himself. He says, “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.’”
Even in Greek, the number of “I” statements made by the farmer reinforces the point again and again—this is a person who has forgotten others and has forgotten God.
Jesus says, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” We are invited today to ask ourselves, “What does it mean then be rich towards God?” If, as Jesus says, one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions, then we are also invited to consider the next logical question, “Of what then, does one’s life consist?”
Saint Paul in his letter to the Colossians delves into these questions. In today’s epistle, the Apostle urges those raised in Christ to live into and deepen the life-giving relationship they have with God and with one another. He says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). And what are these things to which Paul is referring? He says these earthly things are, “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)” (Colossians 3:2). Paul also says we must “get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from [our] mouth. Do not lie to one another,” he says (Colossians 3:8,9).
While some may be quick to call St. Paul puritanical, old-fashioned, or simplistic, what St. Paul is stating is absolutely necessary if we are to deepen our relationship with God and with one another. Those things on the earth St. Paul mentions, are these not times when our psychological and emotional distance between our neighbor and us is at its greatest? When we engage in these aforementioned “things”, we forget an essential aspect of our human nature—that we were created to love each other, to care for each other. Saint Paul seems to say to us, “We need each other. One cannot be a Christian without a community. To be a Christian means to be in relationship—relationship with God and relationship with one another.” The divisions created by society or ourselves were not the intention of God from the beginning. Last week, by teaching us to call God our Father, Jesus revealed a central belief of what it means to be Christian—namely that all of us are brothers and sisters. And, in the beginning of the Book Genesis, the creation of man and woman presents us with another truth of our human nature: namely, we cannot exist without each other. We are made for one another. As John Donne might say, “No man is an island.”
As Anglo-Catholics, remembering our heritage stems from the slums of England rather than her palaces reminds us that to be an Anglo-Catholic means to serve rather than to be served. Another famous line by Bishop Weston from the same speech I mentioned earlier, ought to be implanted in the mind of anyone who calls themself an Anglo-Catholic. “You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle,” he said, “if you did not pity Jesus in the slum” (Our Present Duty, 1923). Our church here in the heart of Hayes Valley, and which is known for its liturgical beauty and catholicity, has a wonderful opportunity to share with others the power and glory of the invisible God we worship everyday. For it is in our worship where we deepen and enlarge our love for God and our neighbor.
No one is saying that, come tomorrow, we have to give up everything we own and walk around like Mother Teresa. Even the Franciscans don’t do that. But, just as much as the mind of an Anglo-Catholic may be drawn to the beauty of Gregorian chant or the smell of incense, the Anglo-Catholic must not only observe the pitiable situation of those on the street but must experience in that person the face of the suffering Christ. And, from that Incarnation, bring themselves to be moved to action.
When I look at the pews today, I see rows and rows of wonderful people. I see many, many smart people. I see many kind people. I see people who are honestly trying to live out the high ideals you know Christ has set for us and continually challenges us to achieve. What I do not mean to imply is that everyone here as somehow failed in practicing their faith. If that were the case, then I would be at the top of that list. I am, however, inviting us all to share in that surrendering of our all to Christ as Bishop Weston reminds us.
Let Christ have total reign over the whole of our lives. Let our fulfillment of the Sunday obligation extend throughout the week. Let us invite God ever more deeply into our hearts to show us the treasures he has gifted us through his gracious providence. As devout Anglo-Catholics, as devout Catholics in the Anglican tradition, we have a unique opportunity to witness to the loving and life-giving relationship God brings us in Jesus Christ.
May we become a community who, when upon seeing or hearing of us, people might say of us, “These people here read the life of Jesus Christ” (St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way).
Homily for Sunday, August 4 2019
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 13 |Year C
Church of the Advent of Christ the King
San Francisco, CA
First Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Second Reading: Colossians 2:6-15(16-19)
Gospel: Luke 11:1-13
Brother James Nathaniel can be contacted at email@example.com.