Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry?

Eat, Drink and Be Merry?
Lk. 12:13-21[1]
  Greed is one of those words that by definition simply has no positive meaning.  Only the most callous Wall Street capitalist could say with a straight face that “greed is healthy.”[2]  Most of us will agree with that on the surface of things, but once we walk out the doors of this church, our lives betray a different creed.  I’m afraid we’re all more products of a culture of “consumptive consumerism” than we’d like to admit.  One definition of this way of living is “The preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.” I’d say that pretty much sums up the way we live these days--preoccupied with the acquisition of stuff.
  So when Jesus says, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Lk. 12:15)[3], I doubt that too many people in our world really believe that. We might nod our heads in assent.  And none of us would go so far as to say “greed is healthy.” But, as a people, we continue to occupy ourselves with acquiring more and more.[4]  It would seem that we really do believe that our lives consist in the abundance of our possessions.[5]  It would seem that we believe that’s what it takes to be able to “eat, drink, and be merry.”
  All of that is fairly obvious to anyone who has the eyes to see it.  I don’t think belaboring it helps anybody.  I think the real issue is where this obsession comes from, and how we free ourselves from it.  It seems to me that the source of our greed is a lack of satisfaction with life.  We just don’t seem to have it in us to look at where we are today, what we have, what we’re doing, and say to ourselves that it’s just fine the way it is.[6]  There’s always something we want to change.  Always another “golden calf” out there that we imagine will make our lives complete.[7]  But no matter how much stuff we manage to acquire, it’s never enough.  There’s still an empty place inside us that won’t be filled with newer, nicer, better things.
  Others among us think that we can fill the void with activities.  If we work hard enough and long enough, we can distract ourselves from the real question that haunts us--the question of what it will take for us to be truly happy with our lives.  It’s a painful question, and one that isn’t easily resolved.  So we really rather not have to face it at all.  Instead, we run from one activity to another, immersing ourselves in busy-ness so that we won’t have to think about that emptiness that gnaws at us when we’re too still and quiet. [8]
  But the solution to the compulsion to fill our lives with something, with anything, so that we don’t have to feel that emptiness, can only be found elsewhere.  Centuries ago, St. Augustine said it this way, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”[9]  The ancient truth is that the only way to be free from the obsessions that fail to satisfy us is through the steadfast love of God.  It is a love that surrounds us constantly.[10]  It is a love that is in the very air we breathe, in the sunshine that drives the trees to produce the air we breathe, and in the chemical process in the leaves of the trees that gives off oxygen.  If God’s love can be found in something so basic to our very existence, surely it can be found in the other aspects of our lives as well, if we have the eyes to see it.[11]
  The Psalmist reminds us that it is the steadfast love of God that provides us with the very food we eat (Ps. 107:9).  And so he calls us to “give heed to these things” (Ps 107:43).  I think that means we’re supposed to catch a clue, get the hint, learn the lesson.  If God goes to such lengths to establish the very cycle of nature that supports our lives in ways we take for granted, we can surely trust God with the other aspects of our lives that we think we have to manage.  St. Paul took that one step further.  He reminded us that God also gave us what was most precious.  God gave his only Son for us all so that we might have new life.  And Paul draws the natural conclusion: “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (Rom. 8:32).[12]
  The real solution to seeking our lives in how much stuff we have, or in how much we can do to distract ourselves, or how well we can “eat, drink, and be merry,” is to find our lives in the new life that God offers us all.  It is a life that is truly fulfilling, a life of learning that becoming content with God’s love turns whatever we have into everything we could ever need.  It is a life of loving God in return and therefore serving those around us in love--especially by sharing what we have with them.  Jesus calls this “being rich toward God” (Lk 12:21).[13] When we find our lives in this way, then we can see the folly of thinking that anything else could possibly satisfy us.  Then we can see the truth that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/4/2013 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Ivan Boesky made this statement at his 1986 commencement speech at The University of California at Berkeley.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Boesky.
[3] Cf. R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” New Interpreters Bible IX:255, on the dangers of wealth in Luke’s Gospel.
[4] Cf. U. S. Department of Labor, “100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending,” May 2006, accessed at http://www.bls.gov/opub/uscs/report991.pdf. In the introduction, the report says, “Mass consumption, spurred by advertising and consumer credit, has become a distinguishing characteristic of modern society. Today, consumer spending has become the largest component of U.S. gross domestic product.”
[5] Cf. Darrell Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1146, 1150, 1155, where he points out that Luke’s intent in conveying this parable was to warn his Christian audience against the danger of placing one’s trust in wealth.  It would seem we still need that warning!
[6] Cf. Pema Chödrön, Taking the Leap, 61.  She describes getting to this place as a gradual process: “I find that it’s essential during the day to actually note when I feel happiness or when something positive happens, and begin to cherish those moments as precious. Gradually we can begin to cherish the preciousness of our whole life just as it is, with its ups and downs, its failures and successes, its roughness and smoothness.”
[7] Cf. St. Paul, Colossians 3:5, “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: ... greed (which is idolatry).”  Cf. also Fred Craddock, Luke, 163, where he says that the problem with the rich man in the parable is that “He lives completely for himself.”  Cf. similarly, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 972; and Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke” NIB XI:257: “Until the voice of God interrupts the fool’s reverie, there is nothing in the story but the man and his possessions.”
[8] Cf. Chödrön, Taking the Leap, 15, where she uses the analogy of a young child with poison ivy who cannot resist the urge to scratch, which only makes things worse.  She says, “in the face of anything we don’t like, we automatically try to escape. In other words, scratching is our habitual way of trying to get away, trying to escape our fundamental discomfort, the fundamental itch of restlessness and insecurity.”
[9] Augustine, Confessions 1.1; accessed at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf 101.vi.I_1.I.html . On this, cf. John Caputo, On Religion, 28, where he comments that when people “go off in search of other things, ... , they are really engaged in a ... search for God, except they do not realize that it is God for whom they search.” Cf. also Henri Nouwen, Here and Now, 21: “there is a space within us where God dwells and where we are invited to dwell with God.”  Cf. also G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, 196: Man never appears as an isolated self-contained entity, or in the pure factuality of his weakness or strength or poverty or riches, but always and exclusively in that relationship which so decisively defines man in the full actuality of his existence (cf. Ps. 84:6, Luke 12:21).
[10] Cf. Nouwen, Here and Now, 20: “Jesus’ core message is that God is ... a lover, whose only desire is to give us what our hearts most desire.  To pray is to listen to that voice of love.”
[11] Cf. Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, 78: “Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, the wonder of our breathing.”
[12] Cf. Nouwen, Here and Now, 136: “Wherever we are there are voices saying: ‘Go here, go there, buy this, buy that, ...,’ and so on.  These voices keep pulling us away from that soft gentle voice that speaks in the center of our being: ‘You are my beloved, on you my favor rests.’”
[13] Cf. Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” NIB IX:257: “the rich man’s vision of the future sounds uncomfortably like one that most of us have for our retirement years. Are we really planning prudently? What gives our life meaning now, and what will give it meaning then?” Cf. similarly, John Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34, 688.

No comments: