"Gotta Serve Somebody"

July 29, 2016

 

Homily: Yr C Proper 18, July 31 2016, St. Albans

Readings: Hosea 11.1-11; Ps 107.1-9, 43; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21

Image by Mike Murga (Creative Commons)

 

“Gotta Serve Somebody”

 

There’s a Dylan song that goes like this:

 

You may be an ambassador to England or France

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

 

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed,

You’re gonna have to serve somebody.

It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

 

For me that Dylan song from 1979, Gotta Serve Somebody, captures the essence of our three scripture readings this morning.  Who are you gonna serve? What are your priorities, what are your choices in life?  Are you going to serve the Lord?  Or is it something or someone else?

 

Our first reading, from the prophet Hosea is one of the most beautiful love songs in all of scripture.  God himself, speaking through the prophet sings of his love for his people Israel using the image of a parent and child.  “When Israel was a child I loved him.  It was I who taught him to walk, I took them in my arms.  I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks, I bent down to them and fed them.”  It’s a beautiful image and it’s a declaration of God’s love for his people, for us.

 

And yet it is an anguished love.  For these are children who turn away from their father, children who go away and refuse to return when called.  They turn away from their true father to worship false gods, offering sacrifice to the Baals and incense to idols.  You’re gonna have to serve somebody – and the children of Israel choose to serve false gods and idols.  The consequences are real:  the sword rages in their cities and devours because of their schemes.  Israel falls under the dominion of Egypt and Assyria.

And God, the loving parent knows the anguish of any loving parent whose children become estranged.  Should I become angry?  Should I give up on you?  No, how can I give up on my own child!  My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.  I will continue to call, and when they come I will bring them home.  But in the meantime, God knows the pain of a parent whose children have chosen to serve the wrong thing.

 

In his letter to the Colossians, written some 700 years after the prophet Hosea, Paul is also writing about priorities and choices, about who you’re gonna serve.  He writes not in the form of a love song but as an exhortation to the newly formed church in Colossae.

 

“Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

 

There is a clear recognition on Paul’s part that we are active players in our own life journey, in our own faith journey, and so we need to get our priorities straight and choose wisely, because how we live matters.  We have been raised with Christ, yes, so we pray that we might live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing him, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God and being strengthened with all power.  We are a new creation, and so we are to set our hearts and minds on things above, on faith, hope and love.  And in so doing, we leave behind all that other stuff that Paul talks about, the stuff that drags us down, evil desires, lust, greed, anger, and lies.  Because, as Dylan puts it, who you gonna serve?

 

And if Hosea and Paul haven’t gotten to you yet, if they haven’t managed to get through our defences and complacency, then Jesus does in today’s gospel.

 

Because Jesus talks about money.  And money gets people’s attention.

 

Jesus talks a lot about money, especially in the gospel of Luke.  He talks about money because money gets people’s attention, and because the way you use and think about money reveals an awful lot about your values and your priorities.  And when Jesus talks about money, he doesn’t leave us with a lot of wiggle room.  You gotta serve somebody – and you can’t serve both God and money.

 

Your relationship with money reveals a lot about you and your priorities.  When I used to run a business, if I wanted to try to assess an employee’s character, to figure out what made them tick, I would go through a few of their expense reports.  Within minutes I could see who was fiddling with exchange rates to make a few bucks on the side, who was calling their family at home, who was trying to slide in extra drinks with their meal expense, and who was including false receipts in their expenses.  How we handle money reveals an awful lot about us.

 

In today’s gospel, someone in the crowd makes what at first glance to us, seems to be a reasonable request.  Apparently he didn’t receive his fair share of the family inheritance, so he appeals to Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him.  Now Jesus was regarded as a wise man, and as a prophet, and there was a tradition in Israel of prophets making these sorts of judgments.  So, seems reasonable.  But Jesus uses this request about the inheritance to talk to the gathered crowd about something much more important and to issue this warning:

 

“Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.  For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

 

I can see how Hosea’s 7th century BC concerns about worshiping false idols may have struck us as a bit dated.  And we may not have gotten too worked up about Paul’s exhortations to the Colossians.  But as 21st century Canadians, whose last election was fought over the economic concerns of the middle-class and whose newspapers are constantly telling us about the status of our gross national product, Jesus’ words should be hitting us where it counts.

 

Because he then goes on to tell us the tale of what for us we would consider a model farmer and businessman.  “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.  And he thought to himself, “what should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then 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; relax, eat, drink, be merry.  But God said to him “You fool!”

 

So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves and are not rich toward God. 

 

You’re gonna have to serve somebody.  Who you gonna serve?

 

This morning, I want you to respond to this story.  So we’ll take a sometime in our Open Space this morning and I’m going to give you three questions to consider:

 

  1. Where did the rich man go wrong?

  2. Consider how you think about and use money - what does it reveal about you and your priorities?

  3. What does it mean to be rich toward God?

 

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks

 

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody

 

Amen.

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