Homily for Proper 13, Year C
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23. Psalm 49:1-12. Colossians 3:1-11.Luke 12:13-21
I talk this morning about simplicity. Simple.
Not simple as in lacking, stupid, inadequate, unsophisticated, not quite all there. Not that sort of simple, the sense in which the word is often used. A somewhat derogatory meaning. But simple in the way that it is properly used. In Latin, simplex: single, whole, having one ingredient, plain. Simple in the way that mathematicians and philosophers use the word: indivisible, incapable of being splintered—the opposite of diabolical. Innocent, modest, free from ostentation, unmixed.
Here is an image of our psychological development. We begin simple and whole in an allegorical Garden of Eden. Then as we see the world around us we begin to make judgments about what we think is good and bad. We become fearful. We hide behind metaphorical fig leaves. We tart ourselves up with finery to make ourselves look more impressive. We “embiggen”* ourselves with layers of flummery and hide behind spiritual cosmetics. We surround ourselves with more and more layers, like a Matryoshka doll.
Each hurt brings more and more layers of scar tissue around the simple core. We become heavier and more complex, weighed down, more and more rigid, less and less adaptable. There’s more to break down. Like electric windows in the car, they’re more difficult and more expensive to fix than the old fashioned wind up/down ones. The opposite of simple.
Simple is a beautiful word. A restful word even.
It’s easy to read today’s Gospel story as if it were about redistribution of resources. I am nervous about preaching such a message because it soon sounds sanctimonious: look how good I am because I ‘graciously’ give my stuff away. When I attack the mega-rich, it sounds suspiciously like envy.
We live in a society where governments and the evil advertising industry encourage us to want what we don’t need. The Lotto! How would you deal with winning millions? Go round the world? Buy this and that? Buy posh clothes? Eat and drink fine food and wine? So what? After all this, you are the same you, but now with new sensations behind you. Your quest for new experiences—for that’s what it is—means that ‘s now harder for you to experience the same degree of novelty. You need more and more of whatever it is to get the same degree of pleasure. This is the psychobiology of addiction. The more we have, the more we want. This is greed. It becomes dangerous for the community when we wilfully accumulate so that others are deprived. We possess – a terrible word. We think we are self-sufficient. If we have enough in the barn, we won’t need anyone else. Greed shows a lack of love and trust. We become lonely and paranoid like Gollum in Lord of the Rings.
In today’s gospel the man in the story was not condemned for being rich. Instead he was (somewhat tetchily) told by Jesus to use his wealth in ways that benefitted the most people, not just himself. It is not about renunciation, though there is plenty in Jesus’ teaching about exactly that. Today’s story seems more about how to cope with good fortune. It’s not about giving it away: it’s about sharing it. By sharing we demonstrate our being connected, our not being separate. When we keep things to ourselves we become wizened and twisted and consumed. We become inclosed in our own fat, living behind electric gates and security fences. Miss Havisham, unable to let go of the past
We can stop trying to accumulate goods and feelings and emotions and memories. We can simply exist and enjoy. Living with trust like this, directed towards the Divine, reminds us that there is no point trying to secure the future solely through possessing more and more just for the sake of it. Before it’s too late, let’s share what we have: talents, time, money. That’s what the men in today’s story need to be doing.To attempt to keep possessions and memories locked ‘in a barn’ is like chasing after wind. We can not recover the feelings we once had, we can not find the same stimulation we once found. We can relax. It doesn’t matter what I have or what I’ve done. What matters is who I am and how I share what I am.
Vanity of vanities. It’s all transient. You, we, are all going to die – maybe later today. Be ready. Get yourself sorted NOW so that when that time comes there is as little unfinished business and as few regrets as possible. Do not delay. One of my sons went to bed one night in October 2015 and did not wake up. That had and has a profound effect on the way I look at life.
A rich woman dies. Where there’s a will, there are relatives! How much did she leave? She left everything.
In our lives we move from simple to complex and hopefully to simple again. The wisdom of age, of experience, of searing self-reflection.
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ‘round right.
* embiggen came into use, along with cromulent, after being used in ‘Lisa the Iconoclast’, the sixteenth episode of The Simpsons, seventh series (1995-6).