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Thank the Good Giver – Br. Sean Glenn

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Br. Sean Glenn

Job 38:1-11, 16-18
Luke 24:44-53

A world in need now summons us to labor, love, and give;
to make our life an offering to God that all may live;
the Church of Christ is calling us to make the dream come true:
a world redeemed by Christ-like love; all life in Christ made new.[1]

Rogationtide is upon us, dear friends: a little season within a season when the church traditionally remembers and prays for the good blessings of the earth, a fruitful harvest, and freedom from agricultural calamity. While the cycle of sowing and harvest leaves a less distinctive mark on our common life than it did in our more agricultural past, the church’s act of Rogation (from the Latin, Rogare, or “to ask”) still asks our attention and reflection. As we begin to feel the impending shifts in our global climate caused by two centuries of industrialization and consumerism, the church’s inherited awareness calls us to remember that, as we brothers pray at Compline, it is God’s “unfailing providence [that] sustains the world we live in and the life we live.”[2]This little handful of days in the church calendar is but one of the many reminders of our shared vocation as givers of thanks—thanks to God for the “wonderful works of creation,”[3]lest, like the wealthy landowner in this morning’s gospel, we mistake the gift for the giver and miss out on the living possibilities always before us.

Many translations of the New Testament call the character we meet in this morning’s gospel “The Rich Fool.” 

‘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.’”[4]

What in this wealthy landowner’s behavior betrays his foolishness? “Do not say to yourself,” writes the author of Deuteronomy, “‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives.”[5]The “Rich Fool” in Jesus’ parable receives blessing in abundance, and yet acts richly toward neither God nor his neighbor. 

His concern is not for those around him for whom God may have purposed such material blessings, but rather for himself and his own private security. What will I do; I have no place to store my crops; I will do this; my barns; my crops; my goods; my soul. In the midst of his reasoning, we find no reference to God or God’s purpose, no thanksgiving or praise. He disregards the giver of the gift, and exchanges God’s purposes for his own short-term gain.

Alongside our lection from Job, we may take this reading a step deeper, for Jesus calls us to “be on guard against all kinds of greed” or neglect—not merely the physical. Recall Job’s story. A righteous man, Job is nonetheless visited by terrible loss and calamity. As Job grieves and questions his suffering, three of his friends come to him to “console” him. All they manage to accomplish, however, are speculations as to the various ways Job might truly deserve his suffering, holding fast to their own assumptions about God, justice, and righteousness. In the end, their superficial wisdom and counsel can only bring Job even closer to despair.

God gives all good gifts, the earth and his myriad fruits and comforts, and so too the gift of our rationality. The same rationality used by Job’s ‘comforters’ and the gift we are all given to intuit that there even is an Other with whom we speak or companion. Job’s tone-deaf counselors and the Rich Fool of Jesus’ parable give us pause to recall the ease with which we can misuse our powers of perception and communication if we forget to thank God for them. Just as the Rich Fool misses the deeper invitation to serve with the blessings given him, so too Job’s hapless friends miss the invitation from God to serve and companion their downcast friend in loving solidarity. “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”[6]Job’s friends may mean well, but they each instead abuse their powers of communication and reason, defining Job’s condition in terms of their own erroneous images of God and God’s ways. Instead of lovingly withholding their own desire to define God and Job’s suffering on their own terms, they deepen Job’s darkness by rehearsing their own comfortable assumptions. 

Rogationtide invites us each to be true to our vocation as givers of thanks. Thanksgiving, Jesus teaches us, orders our hearts and minds rightly. We learn to thank God not because God needs our thanks, but because by thanking God we learn to use God’s gifts rightly and justly—both the material and the immaterial. Our joyful gratitude to the Giver keeps us from misusing the good things given us, according to God’s mercy and grace. 

As those of old their first fruits brought, writes Frank von Christierson,
                                                of vineyard, flock, and field,
to God the giver of the good, the source of bounteous yield;
so we today our first fruits bring, the wealth of this good land,
of farm and market, shop and home, of mind, and heart, and hand.

A world in need now summons us to labor, love, and give;
to make our life an offering to God that all may live;
the Church of Christ is calling us to make the dream come true:
a world redeemed by Christ-like love; all life in Christ made new.

With gratitude and humble trust we bring our best to thee
to serve thy cause and share thy love with all humanity.
O thou who gavest us thyself in Jesus Christ thy Son,
help us to give ourselves each day until life’s work is done.[7]

Amen.


[1]Frank von Christierson (1960), from The Hymnal 1982 #705

[2]The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 134.

[3]From “the Baptismal Covenant,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979, with addendum of General Convention 2015 C105), 304-305.

[4]Luke 12:16-20 NRSV

[5]Deuteronomy 8:18

[6]Job 38:1

[7]Frank von Christierson (1960), from The Hymnal 1982 #705

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