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Where Our Riches Await

Luke 12:13-21 and The Seed Market by Jalal al-Din Rumi


July 31st, 2022


By: Amanda Shaw Newsome


If I were going to rename this sermon, I’d call it, “How do we marry the ocean?"


Good morning. Happy Sunday and thank you all for the warm welcome to church.

Church is something relatively new in my adult life and I must confess that I tend to fall

away attending in person in the summer. So thank you for inviting me into this space so

warmly.


I really appreciate preaching from the lectionary because it requires me to take a deeper

look at places I tend to skim over. Like today's reading. Ok, so the parable of the rich

fool. “Greed is bad, folks, don’t be greedy.” Got it. Done. Let’s all go have brunch.


Of course one way to read this parable is that we should not commit the sin of greed

here on earth because greed is a sin and we want to get to heaven. I’m not a real “pie in

the sky when you die” person, so that read feels a bit hierarchical for my faith.


And we can easily and perhaps righteously read it as an ancient warning against our

modern neo-liberal capitalism. Greed is bad because greed fuels empire. After all, we

live in a system that thrives on greed, on want, on the perception that there’s always a

bigger better version of life we can buy. I’ve got no problem with that critique…but then I

wonder where the promise is.


Funny thing: the Greek word we translate to “possessions” is “yparchonton” and rather

than meaning “stuff or things or wealth” it means “that which exists to them.”


So Jesus says, “Beware of that which exists to you.”


We read further into the chapter, in fact the very next lines of Luke, Jesus says,

““Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body,

what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Consider

the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet

God feeds them.”


And there it is. God promises abundance. Free from worry.


I don’t know about you, but I am not experiencing a life free from worry these days.


So this word “possession” that appears in our translation made me think of

something I’ve read recently, by the Buddhist priest Pema Chodron.


Here in Boulder, you all are likely quite familiar with Pema, perhaps even more so than I

am. I lead a pandemic-inspired book group on Zoom with my home church in Aurora,

Parkview Congregational, and we’ve been reading Pema’s latest book called,

“Welcoming the unwelcome: Whole-hearted living in a broken-hearted world.”


In the book, Pema Chodron describes the Buddhist concept of “emptiness.”


Here’s what she says about emptiness, using a tree as an example: “The word “tree” is

just a convenient name for a collection of parts—trunk, limbs, leaves—that are always

changing, day by day, instant by instant. We label it all as a “tree,” but that label is just in

our minds. In reality, there’s nothing we can pin down with our limiting concepts. There’s

nothing permanent or solid we can hold on to. And this is true not only of trees, but of

everything in the universe…Everything is empty of fixed ideas and labels. But at the

same time, a tree doesn’t disappear when we recognize its emptiness. We just see it

more clearly as it really is: fluid, open-ended, and interconnected with everything around

it.”


Another Buddhist teacher, Ruth Ozeki, uses the metaphor of the ocean to illustrate this

concept of emptiness. She says that we take the shape of waves in the water, that we

rise up and out of the water and feel big and powerful and important, and then pretty

soon we just sink back into the ocean. As the poem says, “where you came you came

from.”


And when does this emptiness become truly apparent? Pema says, it is when our

bubble’s of perceived reality—that which we label wealth, or safety or comfort — when

our bubbles burst. When things fall apart.


That is when we are kicked into the emptiness.


And emptiness, she says, isn’t nothingness—it is reality. It is a place we should learn to

dwell, to abide. It is a new perspective where we should learn to rest.


A place free from worry.


————-


Early on I got some very good advice about preaching, and that is to preach from your

scars but not your wounds.


So it is with some trepidation that I tell you that my life is not going the way I wanted or

expected it to right now. I’ve experienced some major bubbles burst recently.


And I share this with you here because I suspect you can relate.


Fundamental elements of my life that I took for granted as solid aren’t really, as if I

opened my barn of grain to find it was filled with packing peanuts. Or as though I spent

years setting a beautiful dinner table with delicate glasses and gleaming china and fresh

flowers and exquisite food and some giant arm came by and cleared it of everything.


I think “emptiness” is a very good word for it. And I find myself reconsidering everything

I thought was real and important. And here’s the thing: I find this to be a holy place. Not

easy, not happy, certainly not comfortable. But holy.


So yesterday morning I gave a ride to a woman experiencing homelessness. And

before you say anything, I know, it doesn’t sound safe. She had tried to walk from a

hospital in Aurora to a big shelter in Denver—about nine miles (with an injured foot) and

she’d gotten almost half way before she fell asleep right at the entrance to The Urban

Farm. And Saturday morning, when I arrived at the farm, there she was, snoring with

her bum foot hanging right out into the driveway where folks come in.


Another farm volunteer approached this person with me and we determined she hadn’t

overdosed, so I woke her up as gently as I could because I was worried she was going

to be hit by a car.


And as she woke up, she stood up, and got her bearings a little bit and then looked at

me with big, green liquid eyes and said, “you’re not going to believe this, but my sister is

dead. And I am alone in this world.”


And as we stood there together, I felt my own raw wound burn.


And it was clear that this young woman’s bubble had burst long ago. If she ever had

one—if she’d ever had safety and comfort. It was long gone.


Just for a moment, under that warm sun, we grieved together.


So after a few minutes, I learned she was trying to get to the Smith Road shelter,

another four miles down the road. And I imagined her walking on her injured foot in the

heat for hours. So I offered her a ride over to the shelter. She also had a knife that I can

only describe as a small machete strapped to her hip. “but if you please put your

machete in your bag and your bag in the backseat we’ll be good.” Soon we were just

two people drive down the rode together on a short drive. And she mentioned she

wasn’t accustomed to traveling by car and how things looked different. And when an

ambulance sped by with its sirens on, she prayed out loud, immediately empathizing

with the people inside.


When we pulled up to the shelter, her friends—her chosen family—greeted her by

racing toward her with open arms.


————————-


“Beware of possessions. Beware of that which exists to you. Beware of that which you

perceive.”


These are bubble-bursting days. Days when the whispers and nudges of Spirit turn into

shouts and shoves. Days when things we thought we could count on—safe trips to the

store, basic rights over our own bodies, safely breathing in and out—are falling away.


These are days when worry is everywhere. You can see it on people’s faces, hear in

their strained voices. Where is the abundance? Where is God’s promise?


But I wonder if these are also sacred days. Days for us to work together to loose

ourselves from the confines of our comfort zones and prepare our ears for something

new, something shared and vast and more life-giving than any material riches, or

amount of power, or privilege or false security could ever offer.


“Beware of that which exists to you.”


We are not promised permanence. Only belonging. We are promised a place in

emptiness, in the truth of the world. A world you and I hardly know yet.


These times that call for mourning and wailing. These days call for lament from all our

corners of our shattered bubbles, all our cracked voices, our weak breaths in search of

divine wind.


How do we marry the ocean? How do we abide in the emptiness? In the vast

abundance of God’s love?


A dear friend and mentor reminded me of this translation of Psalm 137 this week by

Nan Merrill. Will you pray it with me?


Let us seek and await Jesus in the emptiness. Let us meet each other there, our spirits

poor, our egos fragmented and our imaginations open to the wide dream of God.

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