Barns Filled With Nothing
Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 18, 2007
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
There is a misconception that the Christian life is supposed to be miserable. Why, if that is not true, would the Church ask us to fast, to sacrifice and to deny ourselves the pleasures and goods of this life? But the opposite is true in fact. Although we do not use this word often in our conversation, happiness is one of the main goals of the Gospel message. We might use the word peace instead or contentment, but in the Christian context they are the same.
Jesus came to offer the way to true happiness. That is the point of the Gospel today. The Rich Man thought he could find happiness through the accumulation of material possessions, but he had forgotten the overarching truth that no matter how much you attain in this life, death will eventually take it all. There can be no happiness, no peace and no security if we do not take death into consideration. When we do we realize that death is not the figure awaiting us at the end of a hopefully long, productive life, but the companion who accompanies us at every step along the road. Then, if all the screws are tightened securely, we have to admit that the pursuit of worldly things as the basis for happiness is doomed to failure.
In today's parable Jesus relates how the Rich Man meets death just at the moment when he thought he had everything he needed to live happily for years to come. He had so much that he had to build more barns to house it all. Then he spoke saying "to his soul" (which cares nothing for material things!), "Now you have enough! Eat, drink and be merry!" The point to us is: do not be like him.
The remembrance of death puts everything into perspective. If I knew this was my last day, how would I live it? What would I do? What would I say? We Christians are supposed to live remembering that each moment may be our last. The remembrance of death puts the right punctuation to life. Does this sound morbid? It need not be morbid at all.
One of my spiritual fathers, the blessed Archimandrite John Namie knew this well. One of the last times I saw him at his home in Pennsylvania he greeted me from his bed by saying, "I want to show you something!" He had the biggest smile on his face like a child on Christmas morning. He always radiated joy even in his suffering. Actually, I never heard him complain once about his pain, never! "Look in the garage." So I went to the garage and opened the door and there was only one thing there; a simple, pinewood coffin. "I heard him call from his bedroom, "I designed it myself!"
There was no morbidity in this at all. He had come to accept and embrace death and found that in doing so, like so many before him, there is freedom and joy. Christ embraced death did he not? And in embracing it he turned the greatest enemy of life into an ally.
We spoke of the dangers of attachment a few weeks ago. Attachment is what happens when you place your hope for security in things that cannot possibly supply it as did the Rich Man in the parable. To hope in things of this earth leads eventually to despair because nothing in this life is permanent. So Jesus tells us to place our hearts and minds on the things of Heaven that are forever. "Where your heart is there will your treasure also be," he says.
St. Paul instructs us to take every thought captive to obedience to Christ. Let me quote the passage from 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 and give a little running commentary.
"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds...
We must not be deluded. The "strongholds" Paul speaks of are in our own minds and the weapons against them are meditation, prayer, fasting and sacramental living. As happiness can only come from within by...
...casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God...
And what are these ideas that exalt themselves against God, but the arrogance that felled Lucifer, Adam and Eve, the Rich Man; the idea that we can be happy without God, that we will never die and that peace and security are to be found in the world that passes away. Arrogance is the enemy. Humility is the weapon, the sign of true holiness and guarantor of happiness.
...bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."
You see, if we do not take our thoughts captive they will take us captive and lead us, as they so often do, to places we do not wish to go, that is, to more and more suffering. The Rich Man was deluded. He could not see things as they really are and so death surprised him and revealed his spiritual poverty. He went to bed and discovered that the barns that matter, the storehouses of his soul, were filled with nothing. "Be rich," Jesus instructs, "in the things of God,"
If we are following Christ and paying attention to what is going on inside of us we will begin to see reality and gain insight into how things are. Then we will be able to embrace all of life and not be surprised at anything that happens and with all joy and gratitude be able to give thanks to God in all things. That is the path to happiness and peace.
St. John Chrysostom died on the road as he was being taken into exile from Constantinople. He was exhausted from being the mistreatment he suffered at the hands of the guards who accompanied him, but as he died his last words were reported to be, "Thanks be to God for all things." This is faith: not the attempt to control things and give thanks when we succeed, but to trust in God so much that we rejoice in all that is.