Unconventional Fools!

Psalm 107: 1-9, 43       Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Luke 12: 13-21             July 31, 2016

“But God said to him, “Fool!  In this night your soul they demand from you.

Prayer:  Please push us, O God, toward you, that we may be what you want us to be.  Amen.

Well, the political world is buzzing right now, isn’t it?  Wow!  Both national conventions are finished—may the Lord be praised!  Both had the conventional setting of the platform, doing the roll call of states, lots and lots of speakers, lots of ideas, lots of negativity, which by the way has become quite conventional.  And, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are riding on the wave of energy the conventions produced.

But, in several respects, these national conventions were hardly conventional.  For better or worse, there’s a lot of unconventional things going on… former A-list candidates not attending the big event, some not endorsing the nominee.  There’s disunity within the parties, there was in-house protests, walkouts, all because of the two most unconventional things of all… this is the first time a non-politician has been nominated, and this is the first time a woman has been nominated fro major parties.

Nevertheless, we as Americans, after more debates that are sure to come, after more comparing and criticizing, after more mud-slinging and verbal attacks via negative tweeting and egregious insta-gramming, we will be asked to pick one candidate or another.  We will be asked to “vote our conscience” and elect our next President and other political candidates who aspire to lead us.

Whomever you pick or support, whatever political side you are on or end up on, as one of your pastors and teachers, please hear my loving suggestion and hopeful encouragement—let your faith in God and your walk in the Christian life have a strong influence on your political preferences and the choices you make.

Or, to say it another way, watch out for the trap that suggests our faith in God and our walk in the Christian life should not be connected to our politics.  If someone tells you that, feel free to question it, for this is what has become conventional in today’s political climate.  It’s sort of the “new normal” which is actually a version of the “old normal”—remember that the ancient prophets of Israel stood in judgment over the political and religious leaders’ corruption?  So, the idea that our God of history and of our lives is to be separated from government and public policy has becomeconventional… again.  God’s influence, we’re told, is for spiritual and personal reasons only, and not to be intertwined with social issues embedded within the political decisions.

 But, I believe that idea is misguided. I believe, as people of faith, as people who desire to follow God, as people who are transformed by the living Spirit of Christ within, we are called to speak out and live out the truths that are rooted in our Judeo-Christian faith.  As Christians, we live in this world, but as we live, we practice principles that are of God’s world.

So, be unconventional!  As I have said in some heated political conversations recently, “Vote for the candidates whose stances come closest to aligning with what you believe as religious values and as a person walking the journey of faith.”  In my opinion, the religious values of love toward God, neighbor, and self, the values of hospitality, of justice, of compassion for the disadvantaged—these values I encourage, are to influence who we vote for.

The parable Jesus tells gives us a sense of what values are not of our faith, let alone of God.  The values of self-centeredness and greed are not of our faith. For self centeredness The rich man is delighted in his good fortune but fails to recognize that the “harvest” he enjoys doesn’t come from his own efforts.  God is where the energy comes from to make the crops grow.  For greed, the man is so focused on his own well-being and greed that he can’t see that God is the one who blessed him in the first place.  He focuses on his own security and comfort, his wealth and material ways to store his wealth.  Did you notice how many times the pronoun “I” was used?  I, I, I, I,…what should I do? I will tear down my old barns… I will build new ones...etc.

The religious value of sharing God’s abundance with others, especially those in need, is far from the rich man’s mind.  The value of hoarding his grain and goods and all his wealth, the value of having more, more, more—so he could consume in comfort and with privilege—those values were first for him.

The value of tending to his spiritual life with God was replaced by tending to the demands of materialism and consumption.  Greed demands that people be materialistic, and being materialistic demands that people be greedy.  It’s a vicious circle, and certainly it can lead to the death of one’s soul, because the demands of the materialism can disconnect us from our true life Source.  The actual Greek text says, “Fool!  In this night your soul they (referring to the ample goods) demand from you.” You can lose your soul.

Or, as Jesus said in another passage Jesus “What good is it to gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your soul [or your life]” (Luke 9:25)?

Now we may say the rich man was pretty smart.  He was planning ahead.  He had a retirement package worked out in his head.  He would build bigger barns with greater amount of storage.  He figured out how to be “sitting pretty” without having worries of where his next meal was coming from.

We do that, too, don’t we to a certain extent?  We have our retirement packages set up.  We strive to figure out where the best place is to save our resources.  What mutual funds, stocks and bonds will get the best interest, and so forth.

We are, however, to not become so consumed by our own safety nets that we forget the concerns of those without safety nets, like the homeless and hungry, like the refugee and the immigrant, like those without health care.  Nor are we to forget organizations that minister to people with these needs.

But then theparable’s punch line to comes… this is what happens to those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God.

So, my encouragement is to be an unconventional fool!  Live our lives by being rich toward God, by making decisions and practicing the truths rooted in our faith.  Be a fool in the world’s eyes when it comes to following God’s ways, especially when it comes to responding to the needs the most vulnerable have at this moment.

Comedian John Oliver has a show on HBO called “Last Week Tonight.”  During a recent sketch in which he criticized the debt purchase industry, he announced that he bought the delinquent medical debt of some 9000 people—about $15 million worth—and set up a collection agency.  He negotiated the debt down to $60K, and then forgave the debt.  He called the effort absolutely terrifying, but “it was the right thing to do” (www.blaze.com, retrieved July 27, 2016).  What an unconventional fool!

Jesus’ message, of course, speaks to individuals, but the meaning of his words also speak to matters of national concern.  The rich man is the epitome of privilege and abundance.  As the psalmist suggests, we are a nation of privilege and abundance.  As a society, we supposedly are to live by a higher moral code, by higher standards of racial acceptance, by higher qualities that lead to peaceful living, higher forms of justice, fairness, equality, and the higher ideal that all men and women are created equal.

But, there is such social unrest in our nation.  It appears to me that, as a nation, we might be as the psalmist describes...wandering away from these higher ideals.  Maybe, our souls collectively, as a country, now are fainting within us because the privilege and abundance is not universal… these higher values are not the norm.

Our first night at MADD Camp, my co-director and I expressed that we wanted to have a good camp focused on producing a show at the end, but we didn’t want our youth to shut themselves off from the rest of the world.  So, we asked them what was on their minds.  And, immediately the social unrest came out.  There was concern about ISIS and terrorism.  There was concern about police brutality.  Someone said, “I don’t get this “Black Lives Matter” thing.  All lives matter.”  What a rousing discussion!

Yes, that girl was right— “All lives matter,” however, that hasn’t been and still isn’t what is practiced across the board.  Universal privilege for all lives isn’t there. For hundreds of years, black lives have not mattered.  For eons LGBTQ lives haven’t mattered.  Over the last decade, there’s been a huge push to say that refugee lives and immigrant lives don’t matter enough, and we should close our borders.  Children’s lives caught up in the sex trade don’t matter.  And now, in the wake of snipers shooting police, there is concern that “blue” lives don’t matter.

The fact of the matter is that to God, blue lives matter, so do black lives.  LGBTQ lives matter, so do refugee and immigrant lives.  

Children’s lives matter to God, and so do our lives.  The truth is each life matters to God.

But, as a society, we don’t practice that.  Perhaps we’ve not relied on God nearly enough, let alone turned to God in our national crises.  We seem to be like the nation found wandering in desert wastes, finding no way to an “inhabited town,” a metaphor for a life-giving, peace-filled place where all are welcome, where all have the same privileges, were all and live and grow and love.  It’s become conventional, normal, NOT cry to God in our troubles and in our hunger and thirst.

Friends, we are called to breathe in deeply God’s sense of divine passion for all humankind.  Let us be unconventional fools for God. Let it start right here in our church. Keep calm and be passionate about justice no matter what the world thinks.  Can we move with God’s grace deeply impacting our thoughts and decisions, our actions and our behaviors?

Be an unconventional fool!  You might just be the kind of person God wants you to be!  Amen!