Sermon: Proper 23 RCL B – “I”

Photo by fikry anshor on Unsplash

Boudreaux and his wife Clotile would go to the state fair every year, and every year Boudreaux would tell his beloved, “Clotile, I’d like to ride in that helicopter.”

Clotile always replied, “I know Boudreaux, but that helicopter ride is fifty bucks, and fifty bucks is fifty bucks!”

One year Boudreaux and Clotile went to the fair, and Boudreaux said, “Clotile, I’m 75 years old. If I don’t ride that helicopter, I might never get another chance.”

To this, Clotile replied, “Boudreaux, that helicopter ride is fifty bucks, and fifty bucks is fifty bucks.”

The pilot overheard the couple and said, “Folks I’ll make you a deal. I’ll take both of you for a ride. If you can stay quiet for the entire ride and not say one word I won’t charge you a penny! But, if you say just one word then it will cost you the fifty dollars.”

Boudreaux and Clotile agreed and up they went. The pilot did all kinds of fancy maneuvers, but not a word was heard. He did his daredevil tricks over and over again, but still, not a word.

When they landed, the pilot turned to Boudreaux and said, “By golly, I did everything I could to get you to yell out, but you didn’t. I’m impressed!”

Boudreaux replied, “Well, to told you the truth, I almost said something when Clotile fell out, but you know, fifty bucks is fifty bucks!”

Money has a way of making people crazy. For some, if they don’t have it, they’ll do just about anything to get some. For others, if they have more than enough, they’ll do anything to get more. It makes people blind to others in their pursuit for more money.

In the time of Jesus, if a person was wealthy, it was assumed that they were blessed by God and if they were poor, it was a sign of being cursed, but Jesus—as we know—likes to turn things on their head and today he does not let us down: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Why would he say this? Because some who are rich do not feel the need for God. Why would I need God when I can go out and get it / buy it for myself? They feel as though they can put their trust in themselves and not in God. Not only that, but in their pursuit of more for themselves, they don’t see or simply ignore the needs of others. But let me ask you this? This not seeing and ignoring, is this only the problem of the rich? Is not relying on God a problem only associated with the wealthy? No. I believe that Jesus was pointing out a specific trap that those who are wealthy can fall into, but I believe he was making a larger point that is applicable to us all.

Shortly after the cousin graduated from college, the two of us got in the car and made a thirteen day driving tour of the west. Dallas to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City… all the way up to Vancouver, British Columbia, then back down and across Montana and South Dakota and home. If I remember correctly, it was about 5,000 miles. Crazy, but fun. This was pre-audio book times, so I drove and the cousin read aloud. The book that got us to Salt Lake City was Anthem, by Ayn Rand.

A dystopian novel about the elimination of the individual and the word “I” has been removed from the vocabulary. Only “we” can exist. Even the names of individuals have been stripped away, so the main character is known as Equality 7-2521. However, over the course of the novel, this character discovers the lost word “I” and then goes on to understand its meaning, but then it takes a bad turn. Equality 7-2521 gives himself a name, Prometheus (the Greek god that brought fire/light to humans), and says:

“Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: ‘I will it!’… I am a man. This miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before!” He concludes, “And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I’.”

For him, the collective “we” must be abolished, saying, “The word ‘we’ is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the grey of it.”

I agree with him in that the taking of the “we” to its ultimate end is bad. The individual should always have rights—“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”—but when “I” becomes the god we kneel before and worship, then things fall apart and the centre cannot hold.

In our Gospel, Jesus was pointing out a specific trap that the wealthy can fall into, but the teaching is applicable to us all, because the problem with wealth and for us all is seeking to serve the “I” without any concern for others and by making it a god that even the One True God must become subject to.

This teaching of Jesus came about because the rich young man came to Jesus and asked, “‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus told him, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

The young man lacked one thing. I suspect that we all have “one thing”—if not more than one—that prevents us from following Jesus as we should and I also suspect, if we will examine ourselves, that at the source, the center of that “one thing” we will discover “I”. An “I” that is not about individual rights, but an “I” that is selfish and greedy. An “I” that we say even God must be subject to. “This is just who I am and what I want, so God’ll just have to deal with it.” Which only shows all the more that it must be dealt with. And, as with the rich young man, the healing of that dis-ease may cause you a certain amount of grieving. It might even be painful, but if we will root it out, we will find that we are able to follow Jesus much more closely. Is this possible? Can you do this on you own? Short answer: no. You can’t, but “for God all things are possible.”

Turn from the god of “I” to the One True God, and allow him to work in you, bringing about in you what is well pleasing in his sight.

Let us pray: God, our Father, may we love You in all things and above all things. May we reach the joy which You have prepared for us in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against Your Will, and all that is good comes from Your Hand. Place in our hearts a desire to please You and fill our minds with thoughts of Your Love, so that we may grow in Your Wisdom and enjoy Your Peace. Amen.

6 Replies to “Sermon: Proper 23 RCL B – “I””

    1. Thank you. I hope to be able to get back to reading posts here soon. We are a small parish and have had three deaths in three weeks and it has been hard on everyone. Hopefully we’ll hit “normal” for awhile.

  1. Mutuality, ever-present in the Bible, is about “we,” responsible to and for each other, as well as completely dependent on God.

    I keep five French translations of the Bible. I use them primarily to check on second person pronouns–“tu” or “vous.” Given our Western individualistic focus, reading the Bible in English and falling into the default position or interpreting “you” as singular may be easy. Yet “you” is frequently plural.

  2. Additionally. I remember y’all making that trip. We all must learn from the past and God has a plan for our future. “…We are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity is to become the image of His Son.”

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