foundryhillfinal1w180h142.jpg Dilapidated Barns: A Sermon for Proper 13/Ordinary Time 18
Hosea 11.1-11; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21; Psalm 107

One of the most common scenes when you drive through rural New England, particularly in Vermont and New Hampshire, is the old, run-down, partially flattened, crooked, caved in or otherwise dilapidated barn. Some of us perhaps don’t need to even go very far to see one or two; I have to look at ours pretty much every day of the week in the summer when we’re here in New Hampshire. Most of us, perhaps, look at them and think nostalgically back to days when beautiful barns stood proudly in a field of carefully tilled soil, like a symbol of good, hard work, provision, care, and extended family. Others drive by these collapsed structures and perhaps think to themselves “For heaven’s sakes, that thing is an eyesore! Why don’t they just knock it down and build something new and better, something that will hold old all their stuff, or at least make the yard look better?” Where the former observer might feel a sense of sadness, the latter is more disgusted.

Our dilapidated barns are indeed good symbols of our society today. Our society is littered with storehouses of various types that are old and run-down and decrepit, signs of what is always, invariably, the final result of investing so much into a close-to-suicidal consumerist economy that places such a premium on cheap-junky stuff that surpasses our needs and instead satisfies our whimsical desires, as well as our real needs, at the cheapest price possible. Worse still, our participation in this state of affairs fattens the bank rolls of the very people who confidently tell us that participation in their system is all to our benefit. “Soul, store up, hoard, and consume for many years, and you will be happy, taken care of, and provided for.”

Regardless of where we find ourselves here, the Scriptures from today’s lection do not permit us the luxury or thinking along the lines of the world today, and for that, I think, we should be grateful. Hosea 11.1-11, today’s first lection, reads:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2The more I* called them,
the more they went from me;*
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.

3Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my* arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
4I 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.

5They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
6The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
7My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.*

8How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
9I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.*

10They shall go after the Lord,
who roars like a lion;
when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west.
11They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria;
and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

What I want for you to see here in this passage is the heavy dose of Exodus imagery that appears all over this passage, and I also want you to see how important the theme of idolatry is here as well. Both themes are two of the central elements in the story of Israel and, I submit, of God’s chosen generally, whether Jews or Christians or anyone else. There is also the theme and threat of exile sounded in verse 5. We also see God portrayed here as a nurturing mother in one of the most moving descriptions of God’s tenderness in all of Scripture in verses 1-4 and 8-9. We need to unpack this a bit.

In Egypt, Israel built up storehouses for their Egyptian rulers and overlords. They were caught and stuck in a system that created profound need for those with little while simultaneously creating-and attempting to satisfy-want and desire for those with much. By introducing the theme of Egyptian slavery and building the Egyptian storehouses, the writer of Hosea sounds a note that was profoundly sensitive to his 8th century hearers. For Israel had spent 400 years in Egypt, the world’s most powerful nation, a nation who wrung their bread from the sweat of Hebrew faces. And yet God, in his tender mercy and fierce justice, heard their cries for help, justice, salvation, and deliverance from Egypt even while they continued to build the barns and storehouses to preserve and store up the things of earth.

In antiquity, these storehouses and barns were the equivalent of today’s stocks and investment accounts. People believed that a full barn or storehouse was their security for a future of eating, drinking, and making merry all the days of their lives. But Hosea reminds us that the lesson of Egypt is that our storehouses, no matter where we put them, are no guarantee of security, and indeed, they could prove to be a profound security risk and liability, just as they are today. Ancient empires were founded on their ability to consume the resources of other nations, especially successful ones, and the result was always the same cycle of conquest and reconquest to determine control of the barns and coffers of rival and successful states. The story of Egypt reminds us that not even putting faith in carefully planned provisioning will provide security and safety from the justice of God, as the 10 plagues show, and Hosea warns his contemporaries from 2800 years ago that Israel, who has similarly placed her faith in places where it ought not be placed, is about to suffer the same fate as the might Egyptian empire did at the hands of the Assyrians (v. 5-6). As the storehouses of the Egyptians ultimately proved to be their undoing – twice! – so Israel’s faith in gods other than yhwh would be theirs.

Hosea pleads with Israel to abandon her dependency on things that do not satisfy. He begs Israel to cease making sacrifices to Baals and idols, reminding Israel that it is the LORD who nurtured and loved her, who called her out of Egypt, to taught her to walk and who took her in her arms, who healed them and who led her with kindness like a mother who lifts her babies to her cheeks and who bent down and fed (nursed?) them. We see here the agony of God, whose heart recoils within him as he struggles to uphold justice against his wayward child even while nurturing his warm and tender compassion (v.8). Our provision comes from the LORD himself, who loves us with a mother’s love, but who also disciplines us as a father might; desist from counting on our plans, our barns, our accounts, to be there for us in our hours of greatest need, for this is the world’s way, not the way of the heart of the LORD.

Like Hosea, the apostle Paul warns us against putting our faith in the world and in the world’s “solutions”.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your* life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.* 7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.* 8But now you must get rid of all such things-anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive* language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal* there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

The Apostle is very clear that we are to set our minds on the things above and to get rid of the things that are below. Paul sounds both theological and ethical notes here as counterparts to the message of Hosea and of Jesus himself, as we will see in a moment. You see, Paul knows that his is a world that is obsessed with satisfying its cravings and desires. The first century is an uncanny analogue to our own day, where a the major superpower of the world, the Roman Empire, had built up for itself and for its benefit a global economy based on consumption of stuff and of satisfying wants and desires through acquisition of wealth and other worldly goods to be hoarded up and stored away for future use far beyond our means to preserve or even consume. Paul recognizes the rapacious, consumptive, and predatory nature of an imperial society better than we do, I think, and he, like Hosea, warns God’s people in Colossae against putting their faith in the system that many thought was ordained by none other than God himself.

But how could such a system be of God? Paul has a remarkable grasp of the psychology of economics, and he knows that “that which is earthly,” which puts its faith in this imperial economy of the first century, an economy that says our security and future depends on its ability to function for our benefit even while creating unbearable and intolerable need for those not part of it, promotes the same earthly ethical sins he lists in 3.5: Sleeping around, letting ourselves be dominated by our passions, living filthy lives (impurity), having “evil” desires, and greed. In other words, we can not allow ourselves to fall into this cycle of being dominated by our passions to consume and posses what we desire and crave: money, oil, women, men, children, technological toys, for giving in to these earthly behaviors promotes anger and wrath, malice, bitterness, and of course slandering, lies, abusive language to those who oppose what we believe is within our rights to consume and take possession of.

For Paul, as for Hosea, it comes down once again to idolatry, but Paul is more blunt about it than the Prophet was. He doesn’t coach his warning in flowery poetry or with doomsday warnings of being exiled or annihilated, as Hosea does. But make no mistake, Paul is preaching the same message to his community in Colossae that Hosea preached in the old kingdom of Israel 800 years before.

And Paul’s message is likewise the message of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus tells an unnamed interlocutor a parable warning against greed in Luke 12.13-22, and then follows it up with a discussion of the parable’s significance with his disciples in v. 22-31.

Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15And 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.’ 16Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then 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. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20But 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?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

This parable is, really, pretty transparent, and I don’t think it needs my help to elaborate its clear message. The parable warns us against storing up treasures in our barns and storehouses, wherever we build them, as security measures. I don’t see Jesus as saying that we should not be mindful of the future here, or that we shouldn’t build barns and storehouses or keep savings and investment accounts. I hear Jesus telling this individual that we should not place our faith in these, which is the warning of Hosea and the admonition of Paul.

We, of course, are always at risk of being rather like rich man whose land produced abundantly. In 21st century America we are constantly in danger of falling into the trap of complete self-sufficiency and arrogant confidence in our ability to provide for ourselves today and for the future. We have a difficult time stopping to ask if whether our decisions to procure security and blessing (so we like to call it) for ourselves might not also be wringing bread from the sweat of contemporary Hebrews elsewhere in the world. We don’t want to hear Paul’s words that our choice of lifestyle results in an ethics of passion and possession, of impurity and infidelity, of corruption and carelessness. Hosea, Paul, and Jesus, in their own different ways, are nevertheless one in letting us know that this is not the way of God, who alone is to command our faith in our care, our nurture, our security; and they are one in telling us that failure to recognize this brings consequences we would rather not experience.

But what is God’s provision? And what is to be our response to it? To answer this, I want to let the Psalmist speak for us. God’s provision is, in fact, his deliverance. And our response is to remember times of deliverance and salvation from want to blessing and sustenance, and in our remembering, to give praise and thanks for our daily bread.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
2Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
3and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.*

4Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to an inhabited town;
5hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
6Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;
7he led them by a straight way,
until they reached an inhabited town.
8Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
9For he satisfies the thirsty,
and the hungry he fills with good things.

10Some sat in darkness and in gloom,
prisoners in misery and in irons,
11for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12Their hearts were bowed down with hard labour;
they fell down, with no one to help.
13Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress;
14he brought them out of darkness and gloom,
and broke their bonds asunder.
15Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
16For he shatters the doors of bronze,
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

17Some were sick* through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
18they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress;
20he sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction.
21Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
22And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

23Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the mighty waters;
24they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their calamity;
27they reeled and staggered like drunkards,
and were at their wits’ end.
28Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out from their distress;
29he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
31Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
32Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

33He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
34a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
35He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
36And there he lets the hungry live,
and they establish a town to live in;
37they sow fields, and plant vineyards,
and get a fruitful yield.
38By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their cattle decrease.

39When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
40he pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
41but he raises up the needy out of distress,
and makes their families like flocks.
42The upright see it and are glad;
and all wickedness stops its mouth.
43Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

Let us indeed consider the steadfast love of the LORD; let us put our faith in his nurturing, his care, and his sustenance. Let us trust that the LORD himself will give us this day our daily bread. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.