Homily from Service on Sunday, July 31, 2022 – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily or a transcription. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s really pretty straightforward, isn’t it? In my study bible, the footnotes describe today’s gospel in this way: “The peril of wealth is demonstrated with a parable” (Source, p. 1789). It is cross-referenced with an earlier verse from Luke – you’ll recognize this one: “What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:25). By the time we arrive at today’s selection, Jesus has been speaking to a growing crowd for some time now. We’re told a few chapters earlier that he has “turned his face toward Jerusalem,” he knows that time is short, and he’s trying to convey as much as he can to his followers. As the pressure builds, he’s starting to get a bit snippy. We heard that in his response to Mary and Martha a few weeks ago.
Here’s what has just happened immediately prior to today’s Gospel selection: Jesus casts out unclean spirits; he talks about not hiding your divine light under a bushel, but placing it up high on a lampstand so that everyone can see it (Luke 11:33-34); he chastises religious leaders for hewing to the letter of the law but neglecting “the love and justice of God” that the law calls them to (Luke 11:42-43); he challenges a gathering crowd to acknowledge him before others, telling them not to be afraid, that in that moment when they most need it, the Spirit will teach them what they need to say (Luke 12:8-12).
Pretty amazing signs and wonders. Pretty meaningful teachings.
And with all this as background, someone speaks up from the crowd…presumably this person has heard Jesus teaching…and yet the thing foremost in his mind is to ask Jesus to resolve a money dispute. So, we can see why Jesus would conclude that this man might benefit from a parable in which “the peril of wealth is demonstrated.”
Jesus responds to the man by teaching this story, The Parable of the Rich Fool, warning his followers to “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (Luke 12:15). The rich man in the parable wasn’t satisfied with enough. He wanted more. Rather than recognizing his abundance as a gift from God, rather than sharing, he tears down his barns to build bigger ones so that he can have “ample goods laid up for many years,” so that he can “relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). Well, we know how that ends, don’t we?
Now, the rich fool is a fool for being obsessed with having more and more // and for hoarding it all to himself. I think there’s another thing here, too, though. I think the rich man is trying to buy something that can’t be bought.
Let’s face it: in the end, these most important things in life – our health, our material well-being, the well-being of our loved ones – the truth is, as the man in our parable discovered, we are frighteningly NOT in control.
But we try, don’t we. We try to control it. We busy ourselves building a backstop, like the “Rich Fool” did, so we can distract ourselves from the reality that we are frighteningly NOT in control.
When I read this parable and sense this impulse to control, a time-honored prayer comes to mind. You may know of it, it’s called the by its Latin name, the Suscipe. It was written by St. Ignatius of Loyola, and it goes like this:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
- St. Ignatius of Loyola [Source]
The Suscipe is sometimes called ‘the radical prayer.’ In praying this prayer, we are placing ourselves, “all that we have and call our own” – EVERYTHING– in the hands of God. There was a time in my life when this prayer was central to my spiritual practice. It was a time of transition and movement in my spiritual life, in my life as a spouse and parent, in my vocational call. Daily I prayed this prayer. It reminded me that “all that I have and call my own,” is a gift from God, and I offered it up to God. Desiring first and foremost to discern God’s path for me….or so I thought.
After a while, I realized I was holding back one thing from that “all that I have and call my own” part. Well, technically, I was holding back three things. My sons. I was – without even really being aware – I was praying, “all that I have and call my own, you have given to me, to you Lord, I return it…” Except, of course the boys. I will hold on to them tightly. I’m not offering them up.
So, for a while, that’s what I prayed. “All that I have and call my own, you have given to me. To you, Lord, I return it…except for the boys. I’m gonna hold onto them.” “Do with it as you will…except the boys…” “Give me only your love and your grace…and the well-being of my sons…”. “That…that’s enough for me.”
Each of us…we each have our own thing to which we cling tightly. What is yours? Your children or grandchildren? A beloved partner or friend? An honorable profession or vocation? Your home that you’ve worked to make warm and nurturing? Material well-being or security? A self-image that you cling to? The list could go on. Like the Rich Fool and his ever-increasing storehouses, we each have things we grasp tightly, things we need to be in control of.
So let’s go back to the Suscipe. One morning it just hit me: why am I holding my boys back from God? Doesn’t God care for their well-being at least as much as I do, with infinitely more ability to actually affect the outcome?
Today’s scripture selections actually put beautiful language to this notion. I am particularly taken with the passage from Hosea. Hosea was compiled following the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the exile of the bulk of the population of Judah to Babylon. In the aftermath of this devastation, the authors and editors of the prophetic material were trying to make sense of this watershed event in the life of the people – how God could possibly have willed this to happen to them, this catastrophe from which they still hadn’t recovered? /// As part of this sense-making, though,/ they still retrieved, kept sight of and passed along this image of God as loving, compassionate parent. Sprinkled in among the God of vengeance, which is a reflection of their wrestling with how this devastation could have happened, / we find a moving depiction of God as one who always and only desired to be in loving relationship with God’s people:
- “When Israel was a child, I loved him / and out of Egypt I called my son.”
- “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk / I took them up in my arms.”
- “I led them with cords of human kindness / with bands of love.”
- “I was to them like those / who lift infants to their cheeks. / I bent down to them and fed them.”
- “How can I give you up, Ephraim? / How can I hand you over, O Israel?”
- “My heart recoils within me…”
We could fruitfully spend a lot of time pondering the theology of why the world is the way it is, / to borrow a phrase: “Why bad things happen to good people.
Today’s lessons remind us, though, that there’s a less intellectual, more experiential side of this question, as well. And perhaps this is a more fruitful exploration. We are being invited into God’s freedom. We are being invited to let go. We are being invited to ask God to receive all of us and all that we care for / and turn it toward God. And we are being reminded that God will care for everything we offer / with a love and gentleness that not even the most dedicated and loving earthly parent could muster.
Take, Lord, and receive. All that we have and call our own you have given. To you, Lord, we return it. Do with it what you will. All we need is your love and your grace…and to walk in your ways. That is the path of freedom. That is enough.