All This Every Day Luke 12:13-21 July 16, 2017 Shelly Wilson
Jesus speaks this parable on his way to Jerusalem where he will meet his death at the hands of the state. He seems to be pressing to provide every single teaching he can—all the valuable God-vision he can share before it is over and he is silent. You may have known times like that when you have felt the press of time when you or your beloved one tried to say it all, get it all in, while there is still time. And in the middle of Jesus’ teaching, a man interrupts to triangulate him into a family fight about who should get an inheritance. But Jesus is having none of it and he sort of blows him off by saying, “Do I look like a real estate attorney to you? Can’t help you there, but let me tell you a story. And then he speaks what has become known as the Parable of the Rich Fool. Except when I typed it I wrote, rich food, which also works.
In this story, Jesus is not warning against having money or any other material abundance. He is warning about greed, about the insatiable feeling of never having enough. The farmer’s problem isn’t that he’s had a great harvest, or that he’s rich, or that he wants to plan for the future. The farmer’s problem is that his good fortune has curved his vision so that everything he sees starts and ends with himself. The parable teaches, essentially– “Your life is about more than all this worry about your stuff! You will die and you can’t take it with you.”
My great uncle Jerry died when he was one hundred years old. He was notoriously frugal, quite well-to-do, and when he was told once by a preacher that Jesus said he couldn’t take it with him, he responded firmly, “Well then, in that case, I ain’t going.” But he did go…we all will. And when we do, all these things to which we have given our lives, then whose will they be? And though it is a positive thing to have money, save for a rainy day, and to be prepared as we can for the future, one day there will not be one, a future, and so the important question is about what occupies the heart before then. And about how we might handle in a healthy way the spiritual problem of greed—the Greek word used here is pleonexia.
The great theologian William Barclay defines pleonexia as an “accursed love of having”, which “will pursue its own interests with complete disregard for the rights of others, and even for the considerations of common humanity.” Thus, in Barclay’s view, pleonexia is an idol and takes the central place of God—the worship of materialism as devotional practice. And Jesus says, be awake– “Protect yourself from every form of greed.” In this life where we are so bombarded by the obsession of possessions and accumulations of every kind, goodness knows, we very well may need a reminder to protect our souls from being defined by what we can collect–the simple reminder from Dr. Seuss that, “Christmas does not come from a store” and neither does an awareness of abundance. An attitude of gratitude and peace and security does not necessarily come from having more and more stuff–but sometimes when we feel insecure or distracted or inadequate or obsessed, we forget–and start to think that more and more retail therapy or bigger accomplishments will help us feel less afraid.
In their writings, Plato and Aristotle also used this Greek word for greed pleonexia in their works. Aristotle especially defining it as an attitude of entitlement–a life that acts “unjustly at the expense of others to amass more and more” until one is consumed by it. For the tragic irony of pleonexia is that there is never enough stuff to satisfy the longing.
So…the antidote to the poison of pleonexia, I suspect, is the old faithful spiritual practice of giving thanks with a humble heart–acknowledging the truth that what actually blesses me most, I did not create. The trees I love or the food I eat, the wonder of the twitching tip of my ginger cat’s tail, or a hundred other tiny miracles—that my heart beats on without my consent and the responses of my eyes to light and darkness are not my choice, and the kindnesses that others offer to me are grace—completely free. Often big blessings get poured out on me, on you, and the small ones, well, they are too numerous and even sometimes, too subtle to notice or to count. Wonders of nature are ethereal and glorious and powerful. People are delicious and delightful and distressing and discouraging. All the time.
Sometimes I write my sermons at a local coffee shop that is not Starbucks. Interesting people hang out there. Sometimes there are parents in line, getting breakfast with their little kids. Sometimes there are people with many ragged bags and belongings, also sipping coffee or chai that others bought for them, their fingers wrapped around the cup. The passwords vary from day to day and come from Shrek or Star Wars, so even connecting to wifi is a little piece of pleasure. Oh, and the coffee is great, too. On my way there the other day, to work on this sermon about pressing back against greed with gratitude, I learned on NPR new research that shows yet again that coffee probably helps us push back against many kinds of cancer, and not decaf—the real stuff. The young people who work in this coffee shop are wonderful and welcoming. They are always cheerful and shout into the drive-through microphone, “Hello, friend! What can I get for you on this beautiful day?” And their conversations with one another and customers in the store are always public like the Wi-Fi, often loud and strange, and unfailingly kind. Though I use earbuds because I’m easily distracted while I’m writing, there is always that first five minutes or so when I’m getting set up into the process and the conversations behind the counter penetrate my reverie—so the other day I’m in my usual spot, in the back room, facing the corner and in front of my screen that contains a blinking cursor and only the title, “all this every day” when I hear someone say to the barista, “Yeah, dude, it happened! I got to sing. Every Thursday is open mic and anyone can go up there and perform an act. Yeah, it’s at a for real ordained church that’s been going for like 30 years and it is like outrageous… in the best possible way. (Here’s the point when I’m actively eavesdropping … the words “for real ordained church…and outrageous” always catch my attention…) She continues, “Yeah, and the first person up to the mic was like a fun sort of dominatrix clown. The minister is named…” now I’m really listening… “Rev. Somebody, oh, I can’t remember his name.” Yeah, you were right, when I sang—they clapped a lot. It was great.” Long pause, other comments around me. I tuned out and then, the girl added, “Yeah, I did. I sang that song I wrote for my mom last year, before…. I choked at first cuz I was so nervous. But then they liked it. They liked me. You know.” I sat with the wistfulness for a moment. Then as they were moving toward the door came a cheerful voice, “Of course they did! It’s a great tune. Here let me give you a hug. Your mama, she was probably watching you from heaven like an angel.” At many coffee shops, they recycle those cardboard sleeves that protect your hands from the heat, and so when I went to put mine into the basket later, I noticed a couple of them had messages written like “have a great day…” or “you’ve got this.” So I wrote one too and said a prayer. I tried hard to think of just the something someone young whose mama is an angel now might need to read—some little message of hope– while they sip their blessed brew.
Anne Lamott wrote once “the grace of this world is so hilariously huge and the mercy of this world is all-pervasive.” And that’s the antidote to greed and despair, and sometimes I can be so distracted with important tasks and busyness and first-world problems and preoccupations that I miss the chance to witness small kindnesses like I overheard in the coffee shop. But all around us, all the time, are the hilariously huge grace moments, and tiny mercies penetrating the noise and reminding us to take a moment to be filled with gratitude. That we have this sweet place where we live–where just for a few minutes we can sit and breathe and look around and listen. Here, in your life, in this place. We have places to read or to learn or teach someone to read, and books, and we can overhear delightful conversations just outside our orbits. We can experience greetings and laughter and hugs that can help another keep on. Every day, we can understand to the degree we are able to, the terrible beauty of what it means to be born or to die and in between we drink coffee and are offered opportunities in “like outrageous ways—in the best sense of the word, dude” to really see one another and help one another to have the courage it takes and we have natural wonders—the prairie and Sweetwater Preserve and the springs and one another and our own miraculous lives. All this every day.
I first read that phrase in a novel by Anne Lamott called Hard Laughter. The main character Jen moves home for a few months to care for her father who has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Here’s what she writes, “I drove over the hill singing loudly along with the radio and taking in the extraordinary beauty of the mountain greens and the sky. One of my favorite Clement poets wrote a book called All This Every Day, which I consider to be the finest mantra, and I thought, Gee all this (trees, sun, birds, flowers) every day, for the next six months.”
I love using it as a mantra; too—it is a way to center and to find my way back to gratitude because it is appropriate for almost all seasons and circumstances of life. During the hardest times when the one you love is lost to you, when the diagnosis is bad news, when there is one more worry, one more hassle, REALLY, “all THIS every day? The cry of exhaustion and sorrow… all this EVERY day?” In the simplest little moments of your life, the joy and the sorrow, the life and the death, silence and the music… grateful… to have been here, for all this, every day. The way I see it, the drive to accumulate more—the pleonexia Jesus describes as soul-crushing gets short circuited when I remember my place in my own life—as grateful recipient of the experiences that I did not create by earning them—they just are– for me, for you. All this, every day. Amen.
Prayer: So, Spirit, deep thanks for the people everywhere who work at coffee shops or hospitals or clean streets or care for animals or children, who brighten the soul of someone else in small and large ways. For those of us whose soul’s arteries can so easily be clogged with too much, we pray to learn again the sweetness of opening and freedom. Amen