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Proper 12 - Pentecost IX C

  • To:
  • Subject: Proper 12 - Pentecost IX C
  • From: Grant Morris Gallup <grant73@turbonett.com.ni>
  • Date: Sat, 28 Jul 2007 14:17:06 -0600

                                HOMILY GRITS
                        Proper 12 - Pentecost IX-C
                               August 5, 2007

Book of Common Prayer lectionary:
Ecclesiastes 1:12-14; 2:(1-7,11)18-23 This also is vanity
Psalm 49 Audite haec, omnes
Colossians 3: (5-11) 12-17 Clothe yourselves with compassion,
Luke 12:13-21 Conspicuous Consumption

Revised Common Lectionary (trial use):
Hosea 11:1-11 My compassion grows warm and tender
Psalm 107:1-9, 43 Confitemini, Domino
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 see above
Psalm 49:1-12 Audite haec, omnes
Colossians 3:1-11 If you have been raised with Christ, seek the
things that are above
Luke 12:13-21 One's life does not consist in the abundance of

Percy Bysshe Shelley used the Greek name Ozymandias for the Egyptian
ruler Ramses II, in his poem that will always remind us briefly of
the pharoahs, but more lastingly of the fleeting nature of all fame
and all power.

 I met a traveler from an antique land
 Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
 Stand in the desert. . . Near them, on the sand,
 Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
 And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
 Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
 Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
 The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
 And on the pedestal these words appear:
 My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
 Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
 Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
 Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
 The lone and level sands stretch far away.

In 1983 at the Art Institute of Chicago I saw the Vatican Exhibit,
and in it another enormous statue, of another king of kings, the
first universal dictator, the first emperor of Rome. He was the world
ruler of his day, the George W. Bush of his time, which was also the
time when Jesus was born, as Luke says, "in the days of Caesar
Augustus." His name from home was Gaius Julius Octavianus, and he was
Julius Caesar's grand-nephew. He pretended to be a republican (as
does the Republican party -- one knows so many) but veiled his
monarchy with such lies. He took the office as well of pontifex
maximus--a title later claimed by the humble successors of the Big
Fisherman, and worked (like our own U.S. emperors) through clever
manipulation of finances and fictions. Within a few years after
Jesus' birth, Augustus was gone, his empire and his statue eventually
disappeared. In the 1880's, appropriately, the statue was uncovered
in the rubble of what had one time been the garden attached to the
house of one of his wives. His empire has taken a while to resurrect
in Washington, D. C., complete with imitative architecture and
armaments. Powerful, rich, worshipped indeed as a god in his
lifetime, we still willy nilly (except for observant Quakers) honor
him in this month named for him, faithful to our imperial heritage
and modus operandi. From time to time, on what my young friends call
"the Hitler Channel" we see on TV the jutting chin and strutting
stance of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, who also tried to resuscitate
the corpse of Roman hegemony, or as much as Hitler would let him
have. Il Duce's hundredth birthday on August 10, 1983 was celebrated
by his children on Italian television, around a statue of him in the
garden of a villa where a thousand people gave the fascist salute.
Rotary International issued a volume with his photo for the
frontispiece, back in his heyday, when his making trains punctual was
admired and the bundle of sticks tied together with an ax--the
Fascist symbol of fasces--had not yet been recognized as feces.
Benito was toppled in 1943, in July (named for Julius Caesar) and was
arrested, then rescued by Hitler, then caught again in 1945 and with
his mistress Clara Petacci was shot, and they were hanged by their
heels in Milan, the old Fascist headquarters, and their bodies
exposed to abuse and insult. "His shattered visage, his frown, his
sneer of cold command" were left only in some fallen sculptures in
the sand. The news frightened Hitler into suicide with Eva Braun
rather than face the outrage of like-minded Germans or Yankee
infantry a few months later. Since then, we have seen dozens of
tyrants toppled, 'though not nearly enough--Idi Amin lived out his
days comfortably in our protectoarte, Saudi Arabia, and Baby Doc
Duvalier lived out his in luxury on the Riviera. Our faithful
proconsul Pinochet was ignominiously declared "loco" and given a
pass, if not a pardon,courtesy of Henry Kissinger who is still like
Job's Satan, going up and down in the earth, seeking what and whom he
may devour.

Vanity of vanities, says Koheleth, the Preacher, in our first
reading. The Book of Ecclesiastes warned them all of their "striving
after wind" and boasts, "I made great works," mocking those who set
their hearts to empire and ownership. "I built houses and planted
vineyards, I made myself gardens and parks and planted them, pools
> from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and
female slaves and had slaves born in my house. . . great possessions
of herds and flocks" And Texas ranches. Copper mines in Chile. Oil
fields in Arabia. And so on and on, "Then I considered all that my
hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and behold all
was vanity, seeing I must leave it to the ones who come after me."

The Preacher found early on what we all discover late or soon--that
death awaits everyone, good or evil, human or animal, wise or stupid,
and always God's ways are beyond our ken. Mammon, made or stolen,
bought or inherited, can be lost in a moment to a market that is
fickle or a child who is foolish, to a thief who is clever or a
politician who is corrupt. It doesn't only happen to individuals, it
happens to nations and continents. Eduardo Galeano's three volume
epic, "Memory of Fire" tells the story of our hemisphere, from its
ancient empires to a 1984 maypole in Bluefields, Nicaragua. Much of
it is the story of another Naboth's vineyard, all of Latin America,
and how it was hi-jacked and is still being impoverished, by its
powerful and greedy neighbor to the north, Ahab of the Americas. The
greed of multinational corporations--oil companies, barons of the
sugar, banana, and coffee plantations, owners of the mines and
forests, owners of the people's labor, have made the peoples of
Central and South America into their serfs, slaves, and indentured
servants. Even our best leaders, the ones we thought were the knights
of our Camelot, like John F. Kennedy, did their best to thwart the
revolutions in the hemisphere which tried to restore autonomy and
self-determination to the people. Cuba wrested itself out of the
clutches of the Selfish Giant and stomped on Sam's toes, and still
suffers for it.

In the gospel today someone in the crowd comes to Jesus with a
complaint about an injustice, saying "Rabbi, there's been an
injustice in my family. The inheritance laws aren't being properly
enforced. As a rabbi, your opinion carries great weight in these
matters, so I want you to tell my brother to treat me fairly in this
matter. Bid my brother divide the inheritance with me."

Laws govern property rights more enthusiastially than human rights.
Jesus knew this, and you know it. Tax officials and thieves know it.
Rich people have one foot up on the poor, on their necks, for they
write the laws, make them their special study, and hone them as tools
of oppression.. Exploiters always know their way around in law, and
around the laws. History outlines what they are, and governments
codify them. Reactionaries always appeal to "law and order" and
revolutionaries point to "justice and equity" instead, to change
them, in the class struggle. Which you mustn't mention in the U.S. of
A., where we pretend to have no classes or castes at all. Mussolini
declared quite logically that "Other countries have colonies in
Africa, why can't Italy have one or two?" And tried to take
them--Ethiopia and Eritrea--but Haile Selassie thought that he owned
them, too, as personal property (as Somoza claimed Nicaragua was his
"finca"). Fulgencio Batista, installed by the U.S. as Playboy
Terrorist in Cuba, to look after the gringo's casinos, brothels and.
plantations, heard the word from Fidel, "Thou fool!" and fled to
Gringolandia as well. They all heard, didn't they, in one frightening
night or another, "Thou fool! This night thy soul shall be required
of thee." Augustus Caesar should have heard it the night that Jesus
was born, in a remote village at the edge of his empire. The angels
that sang Gloria in Excelsis at the birth of the poor one overheard
also the taunt "Thou fool! This night thy soul shall be required,"
and the song of Mary, "He has put down the mighty from their seat,
and exalted the humble and meek."

Jesus said to the young man who came to him for an answer, "I am not
your answer. You have come to the wrong place. Who made me a judge
over these matters, an arbiter in property disputes? Take heed, and
beware of the covetousness which brought you here in the first place.
Beware of the concern with goods and chattels, empire and ownership.
Don't look to me to assign title to what is the common inheritance of
humankind, because the kind of life I have to offer is not to be
located in things. A person's life does not consist in the abundance
of the things they claim they own." And then he told them a parable.
The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully, and he thought to
himself, what shall I do? Money markets or municipal bonds? Smith
Barney for stealing it the old fashioned way, or juice loans with the
Mafia? I have nowhere to store up what I've got now, so I'll pull
down my warehouses and build larger ones. I'll store the farm crops
in caves in Colorado and starve the world's poor to keep the prices
up. I will store grain and goods. I will say to myself, 'Self, you
have ample goods laid up. . . grain silos and missile silos, ICBM's
to protect all your ill-gotten gains. Now take your ease, eat, drink,
and be merry and content.' "

BABOSA! THOU FOOL. This night your soul will be required of you.

Whether we are talking of individuals or of nations, of whole
societies, classes or castes of people, the message of Jesus is the
same: God will take you for a FOOL and name you as one if you have
lived to yourself alone and for yourself alone and have thought you'd
have God to preserve it all for you. Paradoxically, Oscar Wilde saw
that the great aim of socialism was not, however, the pernicious
levelling of everyone to a culture of alternating drudgery and
class-less infotainment. In his little known essay, "TheSoul of Man
Under Socialism" he wrote that Socialism's great benefit would be the
abolition of that 'sordid necessity of living for others' that
diminished everyone to cookie-cutter sameness. "Socialism is not
going to allow herself to be tramelled by any hard and fast creed or
to be stereotyped into an iron formula. She welcomes many and
multimform natures. She rejects none and has room for all. She has
the attraction of a wonderful personality and touches the heart of
one and the brain of another, and draws this man by his hatred of
injustice, and his neighbour by his faith in the future, and a third,
it may be, by his love of art or by his wild worship of a lost and
buried past. And all of this is well. For to make men Socialist is
nothing, but to make Socialism human is a great thing."

"Little children," said Jesus, "It is your Father's good pleasure to
give you the kingdom." We are all to be "rich toward God" and rich
> from God. To live as persons made for a new age, for a new way, for a
new beginning for the human race. Jesus says to us, if you are
sharing your life and livelihood, you wont need me to judge and
divide your sharing. If you are living for the age to come, you won't
be hoarding your life into storehouses of privatization, you won't be
trying to save what cannot be saved. It has been said that all wealth
is theft, and it is true that as St. Francis observed, if we own
nothing, we do not need guards and guns to protect it. Christian
socialism does not have Lenin or Stalin for its arbiter, nor even
Jesus, who refused to judge between siblings and their real property.
Whether it is to be union leaders or politicians, Wall Street bankers
or People's Republic aparatchiks, ripping off the people and building
their little imperiums, their bigger barns to store their ill-gotten
goods, Jesus says: "Don't ask me to divide up your spoils. Who made
me a judge over such things? My message is to all: Beware of all
covetousness. Beware of greed." The letter to the Colossians spells
out the ethics of the age for believers: Put to death what is earthly
in you--whoring around (that is, treating people as things),
greediness which is idolatry--on account of these the wrath comes.
The wrath of God is the love of God, experienced by those who reject
it, C. S. Lewis wrote somewhere. It is God saying, "You want to be
alone? OK, my love includes the option for you to reject it and live
alone." Put away anger, and your own wrath, and malice and slander
and potty-mouth conversation. Stop lying to each other. Put on a new
nature, where there can be no divisions amongst you based on property
or class, race or nation, religion or philosophy. Put on, as
clothing, compassion, kindness, meekness, patience, forbearance--put
on love, which ties everything together .

And most of all, Be Thankful.

One of the remarkable prayers I learned in the Black community, where
I lived for thirty years on Chicago's west side, is the simple
African-American form of the Jesus Prayer. It is simply, "Thank you
Jesus." In the midst of oppression, poverty, deprivation; in the
midst of sorrow, sadness, betrayal, prejudice and rejection, my
neighbors prayed "Thank you Jesus." They prayed it too in the midst
of joy, in the midst of gladness, as the voice of vibrant life, at
births, and Baptisms, and weddings, at picnics and barbecues and
choir festivals, at farewell parties and at funerals.. With eucharist
in the heart, thankfulness in the soul, there is no room for greed
and covetousness. Dare to make your whole life a eucharist, a thank
you, in which the common elements of bread and wine, wheat and grapes
and labor and play, become the source of new life and of a new
communitarian Body and Blood. At the last, when we hear the news that
our life is to be taken into God, we need not know ourselves to be
fools, but instead beloved ones, and our last words may be "Thank you
Jesus, Thank you Lord."

Jelaluddin Rumi was a Persian poet, born in 1207, who died in 1273,
whose work has recently been translated into English by Coleman
Barks. Koheleth has Yahweh say to the Fool, "Your soul shall be
required of you." And the word "Nafs" in Arabic is the name for the
lower or bitter soul--Al-Nafs Al-Amara. It is that part of us which
is pre-human, devouring hunger which is our inheritance, what can
turn us into dragons. Barks translates it "animal soul", but it is
hard to know which animal behaves so badly, other than the dragon
with the flaming jaws.

Breaking the Dragon

The animal soul has given birth to all the fetishes,
A fetish made of wood is a little like a garter snake,
But a fetish made of energy is closer to a dragon.

To snap a wooden idol in two is extremely easy;
But to break a dragon is a task beyond our power.

My friend, if you're interested in the character of the insatiable 
Read an account of the seven gates of Hell.

Cunning evasions flow out of the insatiable soul
In every breath we take, and in that breath-stream
A hundred Pharaohs and all their armies could drown.*

*from "The Soul Is Here For Its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many
Cultures", edited and copyright  by Robert Bly. Hopewell, NJ: The
Ecco Press. 1995.