“I love when you get on an airplane and the attendants talk about loss of cabin pressure,” said the Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday Ecumenical Service of Worship and Sermon in the Amphitheater.
Her sermon title was “Talking to Yourself is Not Enough,” and the Scripture text was Luke 12:13-21.
“The attendants tell you to pull the mask down,” she said. “Tighten yours first, then take care of your children. Then breathe normally. Really? We have been trying hard to breathe normally for a long time.”
Her sermon could have been very short, she noted, because Jesus gave the punch line at the very beginning. He said, “Take care! Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
“This is when we should have received the offering,” Lundblad said. “We expect the story to be about a bad man so we could distance ourselves from the story. But there is no evidence that he pushed peasants off their land or was mean to the hired help.”
The rich man had land that produced abundantly.
“I grew up on a farm in Iowa, and we all wanted our land to produce abundantly,” Lundblad said.
The rich man’s neighbors thought he was very devout, observing all the commandments, so as Deuteronomy 30:9 reads, “… the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings.”
While it was not a sin for the man’s land to be highly productive, for him to plan to store part of the harvest or plan to build larger stores, he was talking only to himself.
“The man says, ‘I will pull down my barns, I will build larger ones, I will store my crops,’ ” Lundblad said. “I, I, I, ay ay ay. He has no memory of God, no memory of the commandment to leave grain at the edge of the field. He never thinks to ask if there is anyone with no grain at all. He was not a bad man because he was productive, but because he was so egocentric that he thought only of his own life.”
Lundblad liked that the man talked to his soul.
The man said, “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ ” That very night, his life was demanded of him; he had no more years, let alone one more morning.
“God did not strike him down,” Lundblad said. “He died like I will die one day, but he thought only of himself. One of the people in my Bible study group this week found a note in her Bible that said, ‘It was like the rich man thought there would be a U-Haul behind the hearse to carry his possessions.’ ”
Following Jesus means to leave the self behind; following Jesus has economic ramifications.
“There is an odd economy with God,” Lundblad said. “Jesus said that where your treasure is, your heart will be. We say it the other way — where our heart is, our treasure will be. It is as if your heart is in the right place, you don’t have to worry about money or the poor. Jesus calls us beyond the ‘m’ word — my stocks, my church pension.”
Lundblad said it has always been hard to think that way.
“But it is harder now,” she said. “Let me make a confession. I preached on this text six years ago right here on this platform. It is the text for the lectionary today as it was six years ago. Who would remember?”
Lundblad recalled that in her sermon six years ago, she talked about Congress trying to establish a means test for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The plan did not completely come to pass.
“Six years later, Congress is trying to get people kicked off food stamps,” she said. “The treasury department thought they should ship people boxes of food for half their rations. The treasurer said it would be like Blue Apron, with all the ingredients. They decided to ditch that plan when someone pointed out it would cost a lot of money to mail multiple millions of boxes of food, just to attack people’s eligibility.”
There might be better ways to balance the budget. Lundblad noted that our military spending in the United States is greater than the next nine countries combined.
This is the August recess in Congress.
“Why don’t they talk to people who are receiving food stamps, talk to the people most affected?” she asked. “Talking to yourself is not enough.”
Lundblad quoted “late night theologian, Stephen Colbert.”
Colbert said: “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition, and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
Where is the grace in the sermon?
“Didn’t they tell you this is a week on grace?” Lundblad asked. “There is not a lot in the text or this sermon, but there is ‘anticipatory grace.’ Jesus shows us what grace is by showing us what it is not. It is not talking to yourself.”
She told the congregation the story of the rich man; Lazarus is another story that is not about grace, but a story that asks us to do the opposite of what is portrayed.
Lundblad retold the story from her text for Sunday. The rich man produced more than enough from his land, so he went and talked with his neighbors.
“He talked and listened,” she said. “He asked if anyone nearby was hungry.”
He invited his neighbors to take what they needed, and they did not take his part, just what they needed. Then they had a feast together and ate, drank and sang songs, and were very merry and those who were hungry had plenty.
“Not long afterward, as all of us will, he died; but he did not die alone,” Lundblad said. “If you can’t imagine grace, you will not see it. I hope God opens all our imaginations. So may it be.”
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president of religion and senior pastor, presided. Candy Littell Maxwell, chair-elect of the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees and the first woman to hold that position, read the Scripture. The responsorial Psalm was “Lord, You Have the Words,” by David Haas. The hymn-anthem was “Daa Naa Se,” a Ghanaian folk song written and sung in Twi, Ghana’s second official language. The Chautauqua Choir sang “Amazing Grace,” by John Newton, as the anthem. Mary Ellen Kimble was the soloist. The offertory anthem was “Be Thou My Vision,” arranged by Gwyneth Walker. The organ postlude, played by Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, was “Toccata in D,” by Marcel Lanquetuit. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.