Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost / Ninth Sunday of Luke, November 20, 2016
Galatians 6:11-18; Luke 12:16-21
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Today we are wrapping up our five-week sermon series asking this question: What is our mission?
The Gospel reading we hear today for the Ninth Sunday of Luke, which is about the rich man who is not rich toward God, might not seem to speak to this question, but as we consider it carefully, we will see that it very much does.
Let’s revisit the story in case it didn’t quite sink in the first time. It’s brief, so here it is again:
The Lord spoke this parable: “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: 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; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” As He said this, Jesus called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: This parable describes a lot of people in our culture and indeed our culture as a whole. Compared to most of the world and to most people in history, we are super-rich. But even if we’re not rich or don’t feel rich, our culture is really aimed at this approach to things. This is the American dream! Accumulate wealth, store it up for the future, and enjoy it. Yet death always comes, and it often comes quite unexpectedly, even for the super-rich 1% who feel like they’ve got everything taken care of.
This parable also has another obvious side: It’s about how you use your money. This guy had stored up all his money for himself. He was rich toward himself, but, as Jesus says, he was not “rich toward God.” This was not a man who understood that everything belongs to God, that he had to worship God with everything he had, including his finances. This man was not a tither, for sure. And if he did give toward God’s mission in this world, he probably didn’t give very much. So this is what happens when we’re not “rich toward God.” We lose everything in the end, whether death comes quickly and unexpectedly or whether it comes after the long withering of age. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
Now let’s talk about the somewhat less obvious side to this parable, and this is where we really focus in on what this means in terms of our mission, both as individual Christians and also as a parish.
There are lot of Christians who have some great things to celebrate. Perhaps they had a life-changing conversion experience that shaped everything from them on. Perhaps they’ve done a lot of reading and learned a lot about the Scripture and the teachings of the Church. Perhaps they’ve acquired a beautiful collection of iconography. Perhaps they’re really philanthropic with what God has given them, tithing to their parish and giving to other charity and most especially to those in need around them. Perhaps they’ve gone on numerous pilgrimages to holy places and met holy people. Perhaps they’ve comforted the downtrodden and worked for the uplifting of those suffering from neglect or injustice. Perhaps they’ve helped to found new churches, to pioneer new ministries, to bring the Orthodox faith to those who are ignorant of it. Perhaps they’ve put in a lot of hours working in their parish, helping to clean, to raise funds, to teach, to lead, to administer.
A Christian with one or more of any of these features has every reason to look at himself and think, “Good job!”
There are a lot of Christian churches who have some great things to celebrate, some great features, some great ministries, some great people. Perhaps they have a long history with a beautiful array of accomplishments and black-and-white photographs to show for it. Perhaps they have beautiful buildings with soaring architecture and stunning iconography. Perhaps they have numerous ministries with a vast, complex array of both outreach and community care. Perhaps they have great leadership among their clergy and their laity. Perhaps they have a choir and chanters that bring the people flocking in. Perhaps they have a highly integrated congregation, where the people know each other well, take care of each other, and marry their children to one another. Perhaps they are well-known in their community for their love and their dynamic, prophetic voice.
A parish with one or more of any of these features has every reason to look at itself and think, “Good job!”
But here is the problem: When Christians or parish communities get to the point where they look at what they have and find themselves satisfied, then there is a problem. When we look at what we have and what we have accomplished and say, “Good job!” and say to ourselves that we are done now with all the hard work, with all the expansion, with all the stretching and with all the pushing forward, then there is a problem.
When that is our situation, we are just like the rich man in the parable. We are saying to ourselves what he said to himself: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.”
My dear brothers and sisters and sisters, we are Christians. And that means that we are saying we are like Christ. That is what Christian means. It means “little Christ.” And if we are going to be like Christ, we cannot sit back and say, “I’m done. Good job.” Indeed, there was a moment when the Lord Jesus said, “It is finished.” But what did He do next? After His death, He rose again, spent forty more days teaching His disciples, ascended bodily into Heaven, sent His Holy Spirit to empower the Church, and continues to be actively with us, working in us and through us for the salvation of the whole world.
So given all this, what is our mission? Our mission is to be on a mission.
If we someday fulfill all the dreams that we have for St. Paul’s, if we develop all of our worship, education and outreach to its fullest, that is not enough. If we someday overflow out of this building and into a temple raised up to God’s glory here in Emmaus, that is not enough. If we convert the whole of Emmaus and the Lehigh Valley to Orthodox Christianity, that is not enough.
If each of us become as saints, filled with the power and energy of the Holy Spirit, seeing all things, knowing all knowledge and wisdom, healing the sick, raising the dead, and evangelizing to the ends of the earth, that is not enough.
Forever, unto the ages, we are a mission church. We are a missionary church. We are missionaries, and we are on a mission. To be on a mission means to be “sent” by God. This is what mission means. To be the Church, the ekklesia, means to be “called out” from among the nations. And why were we called out? We were called out to be sent on a mission.
In Isaiah 6:8, we hear the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then our response is the same as the Prophet Isaiah’s: “Here am I! Send me.”
Send me, Lord! Send me to the one next to me who is hurting. Send me, Lord! Send me to the member of my family who has lost his way. Send me, Lord! Send me to the parishioner who needs some help just making ends meet or just keeping it together.
Send me, Lord! Send me to the ignorant who have never heard of You or who do not know the real You. Send me, Lord! Send me to those who are hungry, to those who are sick, to those who are in prison.
Send me, Lord! Send me to the leader in my community who is discouraged because of apathy or abuse. Send me, Lord! Send me to an ugly world with a message of beauty. Send me, Lord! Send me to a confused world with a message of truth and clarity.
Send me, Lord! Send me to the hurting, the broken, the corrupt, the despairing, the unwise, the violent, the lost, the scattered, the imprisoned, the ignorant, the proud, the lowly, the rich and the poor.
Send me, Lord! For I have heard Your call, and even though I am broken and imperfect and sinful myself, You have called me by converting me and redeemed me by baptizing me and empowered me by sealing me with Your Spirit and strengthened me with Your Body and Blood.
Send me, Lord! For this is why we are given all of these great gifts. Do not let me become satisfied with myself or with my church. Do not let me say to my soul, “Take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.” Do not let me ever rest until my very last breath.
We are a people on a mission. We are a mission church. We are a church on a mission. We are a people who have been redeemed out of the world and sent back to it for its redemption.
Let us never rest—never. To the end, we fight the good fight and keep the faith. To the end, we press forward toward the prize of the high calling of God. To the end, we continue on our mission.
What is our mission? Our mission is to be on a mission.
To the One Who gives us our mission, our Lord Jesus Christ be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.