The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Luke 12:13-21
We had a camera issue for the first few minutes of the sermon, but the audio is all there. The live video starts about three minutes in.
Today, our gospel tells the story of abundance. No, that’s not quite right. Today, our gospel tells the story of gluttony. I know that gluttony generally applies to food or drink, but I think it’s a useful term beyond that interpretation. Because gluttony indicates consumption beyond need. The hoarding of abundance until it makes the body sick.
There is a powerful distinction between abundance and gluttony. After all, we’re told that Jesus came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. God created a world in which there is always enough for everyone. Even now, this world has enough food to feed everyone. This world has the capacity to house everyone. This world has the resources to bring healthcare, education, and stability to everyone. That’s how God made it. With abundance.
The reason people are hungry, unhoused, sick, and struggling to make ends meet is because of gluttony.
I think that is the distinction our gospel is making today.
God said to the man who had abundance beyond his need, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.” It’s usually interpreted as a call to recognize that in the end you can’t take your material abundance with you. It’s future-looking. When you die, what’s going to happen to you and all your stuff? And what does that mean for your eternal soul?
But that’s actually a skewed translation from the original Greek. The original Greek reads literally, “Fool! In this night your soul they demand from you.” Nowhere in the New Testament is God referred to as they or them. Even the Trinity is only referred to in its separate parts. So it’s not God demanding the rich man’s soul in the night. No, it’s more likely that the pronoun “they” refers to the man’s abundance of things that are now consuming his attention, even as he lies awake at night.
His belongings, his material possessions are pulling his soul away from him. Now. In the present. So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
What does it mean to be rich toward God?
You all know what I’m going to say. Because I say it a lot. Because it’s what the Torah says, and it’s what Jesus doubles down on. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you’re concerned for your own well-being, being rich toward God means to be just as concerned for the well-being of your neighbor.
In other words, abundance is a gift from God and how we use our abundance is how we are rich toward God. Or not.
And how we hoard our abundance is how our soul is pulled away from us.
A lot of you know that I worked at a homeless services organization in New Haven, Connecticut, before I went to seminary. Actually, it was my experience there that led me into ordained ministry. I worked in communications and fundraising, which meant I got to talk to a lot of the people my organization served.
One story I heard over and over again was that people either declined housing that they were entitled to or lost the housing they got because that housing took them away from their community.
You see, a lot of these neighbors lived in encampments, often in the woods, where many of them gathered together to share resources and to keep one another safe. Or a different group stayed in the shelter that my organization ran. They ate dinner together in our dining room, hung out until lights out, and then set off together during the day.
This wasn’t everyone, of course. There were certainly a fair share of loners. But there were enough people living together in their own kind of community that housing solutions for these folks became unexpectedly complicated. Because the housing they got was usually whatever subsidized studio or one-bedroom apartment that came available. More often than not, that apartment was miles away from where their community was based.
This played out in a few ways. Some of these people who got these apartments often just…didn’t stay there because they didn’t feel comfortable or even safe. They went back to their communities even though they had their own place. Some brought their communities into their apartment, which wasn’t allowed, so they lost the housing. Some of them fell into depression because the isolation was too much. A lot of them turned to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate…and then they lost the apartment and ended up back outside, worse off than before.
The people who made decisions about housing for these neighbors just assumed that abundance was living alone in their own apartment with their own stuff doing their own thing. Relying on themselves and their own efforts for happiness. But for so many neighbors I talked to, abundance was being around their community, having support from other people who understood their life and struggles.
Community was essential to their survival.
Again, I don’t want to romanticize the poverty and crises that forced them into their situations. There’s an injustice there that’s a whole other sermon. No one should be forced to choose between having community or having a roof over their head.
But I was moved by the way they valued their relationships, the way they leaned on their community and trusted that they would be supported by their community. Or in the language of our faith, the way they trusted in the Body of Christ.
It made me think about my values when it comes to my resources. Do I lean into community—sharing my resources for the good of the whole body, trusting that I will be supported when I’m in need? Or do I isolate myself and store up my abundance—just in case—while people around me are in need? I won’t lie—thinking about it makes me squirm.
This gospel today is hard. It challenges us to think about where we put our trust and therefore our abundance. It challenges us to fully step into our faith, to be rich toward God, which means being rich beyond ourselves.
The good news is that we practice that here at St. Luke’s. We practice sharing our abundance—gifts and skills and money—beyond ourselves for this Body of Christ. But it is our call to take the love and trust that we learn here and to bring it into every aspect of our lives. May it be so.