11 Pentecost: Hearing voices

Listen, I am Shabby
"Listen, I am Shabby" by Camilla Engman, on Flickr
Hosea 11:1-4
"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them."

Colossians 3:1-3
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "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! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

A friend of mine in high school, feeling all wise after taking a semester of psychology, told his mom that she wasn't crazy if she talked out loud to the dog...she was only crazy if she expected a response! (There’s high school hubris for you...)

I wonder, then, what this friend would have said about talking, out loud, to yourself. Do the same rules apply? Is it better to talk in your own head or to talk out loud to yourself? And does it make a difference if you expect a response? I mean...just how much of a conversation can you have with yourself before you ought to go find somebody else to talk to instead?

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable of a rich guy who amongst other problems, has a bad habit of talking to himself.

Did you notice that when this rich man was faced with a conundrum of abundance, his first recourse was to start talking to himself? First, he talks to himself about barns. And then - then! - he starts talking to himself about a future conversation that he plans to have with himself once these barns are completed. He says, “I will (later) say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”

While there are plenty of lessons to be learned from today’s parable about wealth and greed and generosity, maybe one of the more important ones for us is a lesson about the danger of staying stuck in your own head.

It turns out that we humans can convince ourselves all sorts of crazy and misguided things when we only talk to ourselves. From the very start of creation, God intended us to be in relationship with other human beings and with God himself. Because it wasn’t good for us to be alone. We need companionship and we really really need God and others to help us see reality. And so things get a little messed up when we ignore those relationships and listen only to the voices in our heads instead.

Because without a reality check from the outside, the voices in our heads can turn dark. At our worst, they can convince us that we are something other than we actually are: beautiful, beloved children of God. It’s the voices in our heads that tell us that we’re weak or undeserving, or too fat or too thin, or unforgivable or unloveable. The voices in our heads are really good at convincing us that it’s okay to take that one more drink, or that it’s okay to treat someone who has hurt us with resentment instead of forgiveness.

And the more we listen to the voices in our heads more than we listen to God and others, we start to believe two big, crazy lies that the rich man in today’s parable came to believe.

First, we start to believe that we don’t actually need anybody else. We start to think that we are totally self-sufficient, and that we can control our own destinies, and that our happiness depends on nothing else but our own efforts. This rich guy had plenty of wealth, plenty of crops, plenty of security for his future. And so his grand plan is to settle down, eat, drink, be merry, and believe that he, of his own accord, had secured a blissful future for himself.

And when we believe that we can do it on our own, we do the same thing. We keep buying stuff that we don’t need, because it makes us happy for a while, and then we buy more stuff when that first round of happiness wears off. We constantly chase wealth and success, and we store up extra toothpaste and canned vegetables and clothes that don’t fit, not because we are so worried about scarcity, but because the more stuff we collect around us, the more we can keep up the illusion that we don’t need anybody or anything outside of our own selves.

If we keep listening to those voices in our heads, unchecked, we start to believe a second big, crazy lie. We start to believe that nobody else needs us. The rich guy had way way way more than he needed to keep himself alive and well. But he never got around to thinking or caring that somebody else out there might need him to share his abundance.

We’re really good at convincing ourselves that nobody needs us. In our worst moments, we convince ourselves of this in despair. When we aren’t feeling so confident or appreciated or valued, we can talk ourselves into a really dark “nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms” sort of place.

But those voices in our head can also try to convince us that nobody needs us as a defense mechanism against the brokenness around us that is simply too much for us to handle. If we let ourselves believe that nobody needs us, then we don’t need to turn on the news at night and hear about war and scandal. If we believe that nobody needs us, then we can postpone that visit to the neighbor who might just unload all of her loneliness and pain on us. If we are convinced that nobody needs us, then we don’t need to bring food or money to the pantry and risk running into the face of poverty in our midst.

To sum up: Believing the voices that tell us we don’t need anybody puts us in the position of having lots of stuff, with nothing left to need. Believing the voices that tell us nobody needs us puts us in the position of having lots of stuff, with nothing to give.

And these two lies are at the heart of the rich man’s problem. Because thinking of ourselves as an island is a really quick path to greed.

This is where God steps in with a couple of harsh reminders. He nudges us into recognizing our foolishness, and reminds us that we are mortal, and that wealth is fleeing, and that there are plenty of people who have need for our extra stuff and our love and our forgiveness.

God steps in with the voice of Hosea to remind us that we are bound to him and to one another with cords of human kindness and bands of love, and that even if we listen to voices that try to separate us from God and others, God has this compassionate and relentless heart that won’t ever let us go.

God steps in with the voice of Jesus to tell us that our lives do not consist in the abundance of possessions. He shatters the illusion that abundant life is something that we can make for ourselves, or something that we can find within us. He gives us Jesus, the living bread from heaven, who says “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” who says, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus reminds us that abundant life comes from God, the source, the giver, the merciful, and not from inside our own heads.

God steps in with the voice of Paul to remind us that we have been liberated from ourselves through Christ, and that our old worries and lies and misgivings were trampled by the cross, and that we aren’t captive to the voices in our heads anymore. Paul tells us that we have been raised up, and that our true lives and futures have been revealed in Christ, and that we are children of light and glory and generosity. And so we are no longer bound by voices of greed or anger or abuse or dishonesty.

The good news, friends, is that God has a really big voice. And so no matter how often we fall prey to the conversations we have inside our own heads, God’s voice is always bigger. And he is bent on getting our attention, whether by priests or prophets or judges or disciples or apostles or the words of Jesus, or the loud sound of hammer to cross, or the sound of a rock sliding away from an empty tomb, or the rush of the Spirit across our ears.

And the voice of God is always a voice of freedom. It tells you that you are free to love others and let them love you. It tells you that you are free to give yourself away because God will always come back to you with an abundance of love, mercy, and compassion. The voice of God tells you that you are loved and beloved, that you are not alone, that you are very much needed and valued, and that you have good to offer this broken world.

So come to this table today, and hear the voice of Christ that says, “This is my body and my blood, given for you.” Hear these words and feast on the bread of life. There is plenty for all. At this table, we eat, and we drink, and we can be joyful, because we know that our lives belong to God, and not to ourselves. There is no need to worry. There is no need to fear. Life is here, waiting for you. It is abundant. It is free. It is enduring. It is the sweet taste of grace. It is the sweet voice of love.

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