Sermon: Proper 13 RCL C – Work for Your Soul

The podcast is available here.

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Due to inherit a furniture factory when his sickly, widower father died, Clyde decided he needed a woman to enjoy it with.

Going to a cafe, he met a woman who was Scarlett Johansson good looking.

“I’m only an ordinary man,” he said, walking up to her, “But in just a week or two, my father will die and I’ll inherit a 20 million dollar business.”

The woman went home with Clyde, and the next day she became his stepmother.

At first glance, our Gospel reading appears to be about two different topics. First we have the young man asking Jesus to settle a dispute over an inheritance, and in the second we have a parable that speaks of greed, but it is underneath both topics that we find the point Jesus is conveying.

Just moments before our Gospel today, Jesus had been teaching the same crowd and had said to them: “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8-9) Jesus does not state that he is the “Son of Man,” but it is implied, and in this roll, he acts as the judge who will either acknowledge you before the Father and the angels as one of his own or he will deny you as one of his own. From John’s Gospel: “The Father has given [Jesus] authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:27-29) Jesus makes the eternal judgment with regard to the final outcome of our lives. It is then the person in the crowd asked, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Jesus responded, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

I always read Jesus’ response as saying, “Not my department. I’ve got other fish to fry,” but a closer look shows that Jesus may have truly been looking for an answer. “When you ask me to be a judge over you with regard to the inheritance, your recognizing my authority over temporal things, but do you also recognize my authority, as the Son of Man, to judge eternal things? Specifically, your salvation.” Jesus was not denying his authority to judge, he simply wanted to know if the person asking about the inheritance was also accepting Jesus’ authority over his soul. It is with that understanding that the second part of the Gospel makes more sense.

We know that the farmer was already a wealthy man, because he obviously had enough land to produce a crop that would fill all his current store houses and he had the money to tear them down and build larger ones to store the bumper crop. When complete, he says to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” With all that he has, the farmer believes himself to be set. “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” God called the man a fool, not because he was rich or because he had stored up for the future. God called the farmer a fool because he wrongly believed that because his earthly needs were satisfied, he was set. His material needs were taken care of, so what more could he want? The author of Ecclesiastes asked, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?” The answer: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Put another way, “Worthless of worthless! “All is worthless.” All the efforts the farmer put into storing up his crops were worthless, because, in the meantime, he forgot to care for his soul. He forgot to work as hard at storing up treasures in heaven as he did storing up treasures on earth. And when the Son of Man, the Judge, comes with all the authority of Heaven, the farmer’s final end: “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.”

“The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7) The man became a living soul. God breathed his breath into us. He breathed our souls, made in his image, into us, and this soul—realized or not—is our most precious possession, and we will be judged, based on the condition of that soul at the end of days. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Did you know that this coming Saturday, August 10th, is National Garage Sale Day (FYI: the following Saturday is National Thrift Shop Day—I promise I’m not making this up). Anyhow, not everything you purchase at a garage sale is worth the $0.25 you paid for it, but in 2007, a family in New York purchased a small bowl for $3.00. They put it on a shelf in the living room and more or less forgot about it until 2013. In 2013 a friend came by to visit and was astonished. That bowl was from the Northern Song Dynasty in China and was approximately 1,000 years old. The bowl was placed at Sotheby’s Auction House for sale. Original estimates had it going for $200,000. It didn’t. Someone in London purchased it for more than $2,000,000.

Why would someone sell a $2,000,000 bowl for $3 at a garage sale? Answer: they did not know what they had and therefore did not know what it was worth.

The same can be true of the soul. We put a $3 price tag on it and never give it a second look. We can become complacent, never thinking we will be judged; therefore, we spend great amounts of time building up and filling our store houses and very little time caring and working for our souls. However, God cares very little for our store houses and their contents. Instead, he looks at us and sees our souls, and in so doing, sees his own image and for that he cares greatly.

So, what are we to do? How do we go from viewing our souls as $3 trinkets to our greatest possession? St. Paul answered that for us in his letter to the Colossians that we read, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2)

What are we to do? The Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton, wrote in The Seven Storey Mountain, “The soul of man, left to its own natural level, is a potentially lucid crystal left in darkness. It is perfect in its own nature, but it lacks something that it can only receive from outside and above itself. But when the light shines in it, it becomes in a manner transformed into light and seems to lose its nature in the splendor of a higher nature, the nature of the light that is in it.”

What are we to do? We are to recognize that Jesus is the judge and that the soul deposited within us has the greatest value. Then we are to set our minds on the things above and let the Light in. In this, we receive, not an earthly inheritance, but an eternal inheritance. St. Peter writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

As you apply yourself in the care of your family, job, hobbies, etc., apply yourself to the care of your soul, because on the last day… it’s all that matters.

Let us pray:
For Your mercies’ sake, O Lord my God,
tell me what You are to me.
Say to my soul: “I am your salvation.”
So speak that I may hear, O Lord;
my heart is listening;
open it that it may hear You,
and say to my soul: “I am your salvation.”
After hearing this word,
may I come in haste to take hold of you.
Hide not Your face from me.
Let me see Your face even if I die,
lest I die with longing to see it. (St. Augustine)

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