Sermon 9th Sunday of Luke

LUKE 12:16-21

The Lord said 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 these things, he cried out: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The man in today’s gospel was already rich. He had everything he needed already. Therefore, this is not a parable against being prosperous. This is a parable against excess and wastefulness.

What you have will be given to someone else: that is true for all of us. So why not give away the excess now?

What I see in the today’s gospel reading is a toxic and worldly kind of joy. It is a joy that consists in en-joying what feels good right now.

All of us are drawn to something that only gives us momentary satisfaction. All of us have something we feel we have to have right now

But it’s never enough. Never enough of the newest and latest stuff. Never enough control over the people in our lives. Never enough of the arguments and scandals of politics. Never enough TV, food

We all have something that we can never get enough of, and at the same time it is weighing us down and causing us to become cut off from the needs of others.

At Coffee hour we’re going to hear from Rob Hinz about the work that is being done by Teen Challenge with addicts. Teen challenge runs two houses near Saskatoon where people go for a year-long program to recover from addictions.

Today’s gospel reading, made me think of addicts; about the mindset of a person who can never get enough. Recovering addicts know that getting your quick fix only gives us fake joy. Recovering addicts know that the quick fix, the seemingly happy and joyful experience of getting what you are yearning for now, does not give you real joy. They know that people who say they’re just having fun, people who claim that they just like to party, those people are usually not truly happy.

Because recovering addicts understand this they try to find a deeper joy. Some of them call it Serenity. This joy a sober kind of a joy that is joyful because we know that we are weak but Jesus is strong. The sober joy knows that true strength comes from admitting our weakness.

True joy comes from taking an inventory of our character and of our actions, and then admitting to another person the ugly and complicated truth of who we have become. We do that because we trust that God can make us who he wants us to be. This sober joy is real joy.

I remember asking God one day, many years ago, “I want to find a church that is a kind of AA for sinners.” I want to go somewhere where I can confess my sins to someone, and take that kind of “fearless inventory” regularly.

And God answered my prayers. For me, the Orthodox Church is AA for sinners. All sinners. We get to admit that unless Jesus helps us, sin has power over us; that we need help.

The Greek word for confession is also the word for exclaiming and rejoicing. Confession is to joyfully proclaim: God loves me despite these sins. These are the sins I believe God can and will help me to purge out of my life. I trust in God’s love and in his healing, and so I joyfully confess.

The sober and true joy of recovery is to discover what really matters. Feeling a temporary fix of emotion, a fake sense of well-being, giving ourselves a false sense of security: that is me-centred, and it only attempts to fix my first-hand experience.

But when we stop trying to feed the first-hand experience of me, then we are free to discover that the most precious things in life are our relationships. Not me but us. And salvation stops being only about me and God. Salvation begins to be a matter of us and God.

Addicts have often sacrificed their relationships in order to get what they are addicted to. And in recovery they make a list of people they have hurt. They try to make amends. And they try to keep making amends whenever they realize that they have hurt someone. It becomes a lifestyle of relationship and humility. That is true joy. It’s not a WHOOO-HOOO kind of joy. It is a peace that passes understanding.

One of the most advanced levels addiction recovery is when someone has achieved enough sobriety for a long enough period of time, that they begin to reach out and help other people. Eventually someone will become a sponsor and a leader.

The whole enterprise of recovery is others-oriented: I need others, I admit my faults and sins to others, I am supported by others, I make amends to other. Finally, I give back to others.

The peace that passes understanding is a motivating joy. This is a joy that causes us to give the love of Jesus Christ to other people. It is not joy for the sake of feeling joy. It is not ecstasy for the sake of feeling ecstasy.

There are many religions institutions, including many Christian ones who offer lots of happiness and excitement, but whose vision of joy is so distorted by a worldly and me-centred mindset that they end up offering a false joy. There are many loud and boisterous expressions of the Christian faith that promise us an experience. A Christian entertainment experience. They promise that we will be overcome with emotion, sort of transfixed by a spiritual high.

This too is also an un-sober, addictive and me-centred kind of joy. The feeling is always going to fade. The entertainment will one day begin not to have the same effect. When we don’t find a more substantial reason to follow Jesus Christ than emotion and entertainment, one day we will not be able to remember why we were ever following Jesus to begin with. It’s never enough, and never enough, and then one day we can’t get any at all.

The joy that Jesus Christ gives us is not a fleeting experience. The joy that Jesus Christ gives us is a calling to serve him. The joy of Jesus Christ is the joy of following him to the Cross. One of our hymns says, “through the cross, joy has come into all the world.”

The joy of Jesus Christ is the joy of finding our life hidden in his life, which was one long journey to the cross. The true joy of life is the joy of dying to our sins, and living for God. It is a joy that is not predicated on what we get or how we feel; it is a joy that comes from knowing who we are.

I don’t need to treat other people with disrespect and disdain: that’s not who I am anymore. I don’t need to puff up my ego and use material things like a car, an expensive watch, the latest gadgets, just to show people that I’m important. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. That’s who I am. I don’t need those things. I don’t need to try to make you think I am important. I know who I am. I am a servant of Jesus.

Knowing who we are is what sets us free, not a quick fix of hyped up emotional addiction. Christianity is not a relationship with a God who gives me goodies in the form of feelings, emotions and experiences. Christianity is a relationship with a God who lives in me, who heals the world through me; a God who gives me the words to say at the right moment, and that moment is the moment of martyrdom. St. Stephen was given words to speak by the Holy Spirit when he was facing martyrdom.

This past Friday, in the Orthodox Church, we began the Advent fast. During the Advent Fast we eat vegan food. And we also add fish to our vegan diet during Advent except for Wednesdays and Fridays. We call it a fast, but perhaps when you hear the word, “fast” you think: no food at all.

We do eat food, but we eat less food during Advent. We abstain as much as possible from TV, social media, entertainment. We strive to pray more. We take time for God. We try to cleanse our minds. And very importantly – we increase our giving to the poor.

Fasting is a sacrifice and it’s done together with the other sacrifices of prayer, repentance and almsgiving. As we pray, as we visit people who are lonely, giving of our time and our presence, as we renew our commitment to Jesus Christ. We increase our giving because unlike the man in today’s gospel we know that we only ever have anything at all because God gives it to us.

Everything God has given us is given in order for us to live a life of service, in order for us to live a life of loving our brother and sister,

of taking up our cross and following Christ. The food we eat is the food that will give us energy to carry our crosses. The house we live in and the bed we sleep in are given to us in order to nurture us as we carry our crosses. We carry a joyful cross, knowing that true life is restored relationships

True life is sobriety. True life is knowing who we are, and what we are called to in Christ. True life is placing the ten talents God has given us on the table, and then taking out ten more talents, and saying, “Master, I have doubled your money.” True life is the hope and the longing to hear the words, “good and faithful servant.”

Think about how much you might be able to give to our alms project this Advent. Because if we are realistic we know that we are all struggling to recover from an addiction to something.

I may be addicted to anger and rage. I may be addicted to politics. I may be addicted to a sense of self-righteousness and legalism. I may be addicted to my emotions. I may be addicted to my pride. I may be addicted to controlling other people. I may be addicted to self-pity. I may be addicted to my image and my ego.

This Advent we are going to share from the resources God has given us, in order to walk together and struggle together with our brothers and sisters who are trying to recover from things like drug and alcohol addiction.

And we will send them a greeting asking them to pray for us in our recovery.

May God give us a vision today of the truly joyful, sober and life-giving journey of following Jesus Christ who did not come to entertain us but to send us out to the nations to proclaim the good news.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference!

(If you want to join St. Vincent’s efforts to support Teen Challenge, you can either earmark a check for that fundraising, or contact Rob at Teen Challenge directly: rob.hinz@teenchallenge.ca.)