Sermon: Putting Aside the “Things” of this World.
And he said unto them, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” [St. Luke 12:15]
“Rogation Sunday” – many of us may not know from where this term came or what it means. Some believe it derives from an ancient Roman pagan festival where the fields were blessed, but it is not clear. In fact, the blessing of the fields was started by the Bishop of Vienna in 470 A.D.
In England, the priest, his choir, deacons and subdeacons would travel throughout the parish, blessing fields – and stopping at most of the pubs along the way. Because it was done on foot, it usually took Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to cover the whole parish. This is why the Rogation period is from Rogation Sunday until Ascension Thursday.
The Rogation Season is a period of fasting and penance and a request for healthy crops. Thus, the lessons for today have a lot to do with a right attitude and a right understanding of the world and God. And one of the most powerful lessons we can learn is that “things” are NOT important. What IS important is God.
And it is in our Gospel lesson for today that we see this lesson being taught:
And he said unto them, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
Have you ever seen that old bumper sticker, “The one who dies with the most toys wins?” This was a very popular belief in the 1980s and 1990s. But, it is also contrary to the Christian concept of what is important.
The word that Christ uses to describe the unchristian desire for things is “covetousness.” This word is used often. We say it every time we recite the Decalogue. But what do we mean when we describe someone coveting something? I would venture to guess that this is one of the most misunderstood sins, and it is one that we must understand in order to understand what Christ is trying to teach us.
Covetousness is not the wish to improve; it is not the desire to do better. It is not the recognition of what is beautiful or spectacular or special. It is not even the desire to possess something. No, covetousness is more than this.
According to Merriam-Webster, to covet something means to wish for it enviously or to desire what belongs to another inordinately or culpably.
It is the longing to have that which is not ours to have. It is a type of jealousy that wants what cannot or should not be desired. And, often coupled with this desire is a desire to deprive another of that same thing.
What Jesus is telling us is more than His desire that we not be covetous. Rather, what He wants is that our commitment to this world should not be great. In other words, our desire for things should not blind us to what is truly important or valuable.
We should not wish for that which is not ours. And, additionally, what we do accumulate is only nominally ours. As Saint Paul put it when he wrote his first epistle to Timothy:
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
It is a very hard thing to do, but as Christians, we are to hold onto the things of this world lightly. As Christ also said:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
And what I would say is that the converse is equally true: “Where your heart is, is what you truly value.” If we love money, then all our time will be spent in its acquisition. If our heart is in our job, then we will become a workaholic:
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
But, be careful. There are many people who love what they do and become very wealthy because they do it well, but they may not prize money per se. The person who loves money will start becoming miserly. The person who loves his work will not.
However, our desire for things may make us so preoccupied with the things of this world that we start to forget the things of the next. And in our Gospel lesson, Jesus warns us not to get too wrapped up in this world. In the parable that He told, Christ concludes with these words from God:
“But God said unto him, ‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?’ So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Material things can be stolen, broken, or ruined. They may fall apart with age. And, when we die, we can take NONE of these things with us.
But our faith cannot be taken away; it cannot be destroyed by any outside force; and it cannot fall apart because it has grown old. In fact, faith can become richer, more beautiful, and stronger with time! Only we can throw faith away. Only we can “break” it. When those things outside ourselves challenge our faith, it is we who permit it to destroy our faith. But, faith, in and of itself, is impervious to outside forces.
In our Lesson from the Book of Job, we have a rather strongly worded chastisement:
THEN the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding.”
Many people, when faced with a crisis will question God and His intentions towards us. We will act as if our knowledge is equal to God’s. But Job makes clear, this is not true. Our own limitations are made very clear by this passage. And when we engage in this type of questioning, we need to back off and repent.
So all of us must ask ourselves, are we so wrapped up in acquiring things that we have forgotten what truly IS important? Are we so concerned with what is happening in our daily life that we are forgetting God? Or do we understand that the things of this world matter very little? However, let us make it clear, God created this world for our enjoyment. Those who are sour and serious are NOT necessarily those who are storing their treasure in Heaven.
If we understand that the things of this world matter very little, there should be some tell-tale signs that prove this fact. Please note what Jesus also tells us to remember:
The light of the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.
The first tell-tale sign is whether we are vehicles of Light or Darkness. Does the love of God emanate from us, or are we vehicles of pride, anger, hatred, and covetousness? Do we see God around us, or just the world? These are hard questions, but unless we are honest with ourselves, we cannot fully understand what Christ is telling us. If we are full of God’s light, then others will see that light, even if we miss it. And that Light is Christ; that Light is the Holy Ghost; that Light is God!
The second tell-tale sign is evidenced by what we value; what is a priority in our life. If our priority is God, then things change.
If God is our priority, then we choose to do those things that further our Faith. Sunday services become a joy, not a duty. We WANT to be in communion with God and with our brothers and sisters.
If God is our priority, then we choose to learn all that we can about God. We, not only read, but also study Holy Scripture. We WANT to know who God is and what He expects from us.
If God is our priority, then we choose to give generously, not only monetarily, but also with our time and with our talents. We WANT to find something that we love to do that we can give specifically to further God’s Church here on earth.
And finally, if God is our priority, then our neighbors become very important. We must find a way to love them. This is not the “easy fix,” but rather sometimes takes the form of tough love. We WANT to do the very best for our neighbors, not what is easy for us or what eases our conscience at that moment.
So, where is our energy being spent? Is it on things of this world or is it with God? Only we can answer this question for ourselves. We must take a hard look in the mirror to see the truth. But, if we fall short, do not despair. In Christ is strength; by the Holy Ghost, we may change! And, if we seriously decide to put away our worries regarding this world, then we can have confidence in our collect for today:
Grant to us, thy humble servants, that, by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding, may perform the same.