All is Vanity

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

No one likes being called a fool. It’s just not nice. Unless you are intentionally acting like a fool—then I guess it is ok. But in the normal course of life, no one likes being called a fool for things they are not meaning to do. Take King Solomon. We was given wisdom from God that surpassed everyone in his day. Yet in our Gospel lesson today, he is called a Fool by the same God who gave him that wisdom.

Solomon had it all in his day. He was king of God’s Chosen People which had a lot going for it during his day. Solomon’s father David had united the 12 Tribes of Israel under one banner after ridding the land of all its enemies. He was given a peaceful kingdom in which he didn’t have to focus on defense so he was freed to pursue whatever he chose. Many travelers brought him exotic gifts and so he could fully pursue the background of his gifts. “Oh wow that is a really cool animal. I want to know everything there is about animals.” And then, he had the freedom to do so. He was not restrained by time or money, so he could (and did) pursue a PhD in Biology just to satisfy his curiosity. And then when he finished that, something else would pique his interest, and he would go find out everything there was about that subject as well.

But he was not just a person who amassed a great wealth of knowledge—he had the freedom to pursue anything that tickled his fancy. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Not counting all the tributes coming from explorers, or merchants, or even that coming from kings to the west, nor from the governors of his own lands, Solomon had an ANNUAL income of 666 talents of gold. I did a little research, and in today’s market, that is roughly 1.1 BILLION dollars a year! According to some sources, his peak net worth was an estimated 2.2 TRILLION dollars. The bible tells us that during his reign, gold and silver were as common as stones. He was so rich that he didn’t even value silver—he had too much of it. Even his drinking cup were made of gold. He seemingly had everything.

But we are given a glimpse into his thinking in out OT lesson today. The book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon toward the end of his life providing wisdom to be passed down. And he says of all of this: “I have seen everything that is done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and a striving after the wind.” All of this wealth and he considered it worthless. (O that I had his problem.) Solomon after all had divine wisdom that enabled him to see that there was something missing.

Jesus makes a comment about such an amasser of wealth in our Gospel lesson today. A man is upset with his brother because he would not share his father’s wealth with him, and he asks Jesus to intervene. Jesus, of course wants none of it, but he does speak to the man’s inner desire. “Take heed and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” At which point, Solomon chimes in, “Tell me about it.”

Jesus goes on to demonstrate what he means to the man through a parable. “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully…” Notice here, Jesus lays the praise for the bumper crop, not on the man’s ability to farm the land, but on the land itself—thus making it come from God, the creator of the land.

Yet notice also the man’s mentality. “And he said to himself, ‘What shall I do; for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And 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 you for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” The man uses “I” six times, “my” five times, and he is so wrapped up in himself that he talks to himself, and then, within that internal monologue he has to create a whole other character that is also himself! Guess who he gives credit to for the bumper crop?

Jesus goes on to call this man “Fool!” Now calling someone fool has a very specific meaning here. In the OT the word indicates one who rebels against God, or has forgotten him. He forgot that it was not he who was the force beneath the crops forcing them skyward. It was not he that sent forth the rain to water the crops. The man did some work probably, maybe he was just the landowner and other people did all the work, but he took all the credit for himself. God gave him an opportunity, but all he saw was a windfall for himself. Solomon calls this vanity.

Now Paul chimes in on the poor Fool and tells him, “Put to death what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Put to death those things which distract or even draw you away from God, O Fool. Put on instead, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another, and…forgiving each other. And Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Paul counsels the Fool, be thankful. Combat covetousness by giving generously. That is the best way to prevent the I, me, my mentality of the Fool. When God blesses you with something, be equally generous back with praise to God and then pass it on to those whom he loves—namely everyone he created. When God blesses you with something, even something you worked especially hard for—unlike the Fool—give back to God as a remedy against the mentality of the Fool, he who forgets God. It’s hard to forget someone whom you regularly honestly thank, even for such things as daily bread and a regular paycheck.

Paul says, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Back to Solomon. This thanksgiving is that Solomon neglected and it cost him dearly. When God gave him his gift of wisdom, he told him, that this was a conditional gift. “If you walk in my ways, keeping my commandments and statutes, then this will remain with you.” But as he piled up more and more wealth, he forgot God and he ceased having God’s wisdom which caused him to lose everything God had given him. His great wealth became as nothing to him—all is vanity. His wives and concubines took him away from God. He even built altars to foreign gods—even gods who required child sacrifice—within eyesight of God’s Temple in Jerusalem.

Fool! Jesus calls him. He who lays up treasure for himself and forgets God forgets that it is God who has the authority over your soul which is greater than all the wealth even that Solomon was able to accumulate.

Beloved, you are not Fools. So give generously that you may remember God and that you may not find him calling you Fool when your soul is required of you.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.


What We Have Here Is a Complete Lack of Trust

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

We have an issue of trust in America. We cannot trust each other any further than we can throw them. We cannot trust them because “they” are not people with whom we identify. We do not identify with them because they refuse to join us. They refuse to join us because they do not trust us. It is a vicious cycle that cannot be broken unless someone takes the leap to trust another person and try to find a common link.

While I was away at Camp, apparently all hell broke loose here in Dallas. I had to play catch up with the news because while I am at camp I am not attached to my phone—too much water-related activities going on for me to bring my phone and have it killed as we try to cool off. But as I have gathered information one thing above all else stands out—a lack of trust. #Blacklivesmatter formed to bring to the forefront a perceived (and probably very real for some) failure to respect the dignity of life of the black community. And from its own words, the #BLM movement is concerned with the fringe of the black community. This is seen most especially in the relationship between the black community and police officers.

From the emphasis of this movement on the value of the lives of the fringe, has sprung up other movements that seek to widen the focus of the spotlight. Two movements sprung up as a result of this one movement, #Alllivesmatter and #Bluelivesmatter. #Alllivesmatter rose as a reaction to the hashtag #BLM in an attempt to show the counterpoint—that BLM implies that only lives matter when, in fact, all lives matter.

Then #Bluelivesmatter to bring to the forefront that the lives of police officers matter as well. In response to a silenced voice that was now being heard and being empowered, fringe wackos of voiced their frustrations by attacking police officers simply because they were wearing a uniform that represented a perceived oppressor. So the hashtag #Bluelivesmatter arose to shed light on the fact that police officers are people too.

All of these hashtags are now dividing up the population of our nation and even the world at this point. (#BLM has chapters in the US, Canada, and Ghana.) This is all bringing back up to a boil race relations that have never been strong. So now the tension is such that it is palpable. It was only a matter of time before it breaks out into an all-out war—if it hasn’t already.

Shootings only add to the lack of trust, so now it will be an arms race—peaceful protesters will turn into peacefully packing protesters because they do not feel safe in the presence of the already armed police force. This will obviously increase the level of stress and twitchiness of the police who, naturally, have to be there to enforce the peace. Which will then increase the overall stress and the feeling of distrust between the #BLM movement and the police. Pray that something gives before this war breaks out.

This distrust, however, is nothing new—not even in the biblical world. Relations between Jews and Samaritans were horrible. Samaritans were originally the northern kingdom of Israel. In a rather interesting history, God promised a land to Abraham, told Moses to go inherit it, though it was actually inherited under the leadership of Joshua who only mostly cleared the land of its inhabitants. It was not fully claimed until King David who united all the lands into one United Monarchy (previously they were content to live as twelve separate tribes).

The United Monarchy lasted for two kings—David and his son Solomon. Due to Solomon’s lack of fidelity to God, God decided to remove the kingdom from the hands of Solomon, but due to God’s love for David, he allowed Solomon to keep ruling but would remove his son Rehoboam. Rehoboam split the kingdom into two as he failed to give into the pleas of the people and as a result 10 of the northern tribes left to form the northern kingdom of Israel, leaving Rehoboam to rule the southern kingdom of Judah.

Since the Temple of God was located in Judah in the south, the northern kingdom of Israel had to make up their religion since the only place where sacrifices could be made was in Jerusalem at the Temple. So the northern Israel set their capital in Samaria and set up two temples to golden calves which resulted in the eventual slide into paganism. This was acerbated when they were sent by God into exile under the Assyrians for their lack of worship, never to be heard from again. They merged into a weird sort of synchronistic worship of God, the golden calves, and the religion of their captors.

Then, later under the Babylonians, the southern kingdom of Judah went to exile because they failed to learn the lesson from the kingdom of Israel and to solely follow God. But after 70 years, the Persians came to power and sent everyone back to their native homes to send tribute back to Persia so that everyone could be happy. The Judahites went back to Judah and rebuilt the Temple and resumed the proper worship of God, while the Israelites went back to Israel and brought back whatever they had been doing for almost 200 years.

So, as a result of all this, the southern kingdom, the Jewish people, resented their northern neighbors for their failure to remain faithful to God during their exile. Their failure to remain faithful made them worse than Gentiles because they had a favored status as God’s people and rejected it.

So when we hear Jesus speak of the “Good Samaritan” it should hit our ears as an oxymoron—a good person cannot be a Samaritan and a Samaritan cannot be a good person. Yet it was this Samaritan who saw the value of the life of this traveler who fell among robbers who left him half dead. Jerusalem and Jericho are both in Judah making this traveler a Jew. This Samaritan crossed enemy lines because he saw a fellow human being injured and about to die and took care of him.

The traveler’s fellow Jews—the priest and the Levite—could not be bothered to help the man because he was obviously dead or at least close enough to dead that they would risk their ability to worship by becoming unclean merely by touching him. Though the Law allowed for such generosity to the traveler, they would have none of it because, to them, he was no longer a person but a threat to their way of life. A threat that must be avoided at all costs.

Yet the Samaritan saw none of this. He saw a fellow human being, made in the image of God and reflecting his glory in that mere fact. So he helped the traveler, and not only that, he went above and beyond to make sure that the man was ok. This is the length to which Jesus points in his parable that we should expect to go for another human being.

This radicalness of generosity is what is lacking on both sides of the current situation in which we find ourselves. All we see in the #BLM is the lifting up of criminals who should have been punished by the law for breaking the law. What they see is a system which is diametrically opposed to their well-being and as a result everything must be taken because it sure won’t be given. And in the midst of this we see the good name of the police being drug through the mud for a few people who couldn’t control themselves and failed to be able to see the person as a person.

If this is going to be resolved somehow trust is going to need to be re-established. And the only way this is going to happen is if we have more Samaritans willing to see the person in front of them as a person and not a thing. Things can be taken of, people cannot. The love of God is best expressed when we see people who have the ability and desire to harm us, and yet we love them anyway and take steps to ensure their wellbeing. Until we are all willing to do that, then all I see is an unavoidable war in the streets of our cities. Beloved, pray for the love of God to win out. And pray that God will raise up the person to mediate this situation.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.