We hear a lot about multi-tasking these days. We watch TV, check our email, talk on the cell phone, text our friends, and carry on a conversation. Of course, truth be told, it’s not easy to do more than one or two things at a time. Think talking on the cell and driving at the same time — and you know what I mean.
One of the major themes that runs through Scripture is that you can’t serve more than one master. At some point you will give allegiance to one or the other. Each in its own way, these three texts speak to the danger of idolatry. We hear Hosea cry out to his people on behalf of God, warning them about the dangers of continually walking away from God and pursuing their own agendas. In the Colossian letter a disciple of Paul reminds Gentiles of where they had come from and who they are now – now that they are in Christ, their focus should be on the things above rather than on the things below. Finally we have Jesus’ parable of the rich fool, reminding the people that when you die, you can’t take your riches with you. So, instead of building bigger barns, store up treasure in heaven by being rich toward God.
In the Hosea passage, we hear the prophet describe God’s compassionate outreach to the people of God. The prophet uses parental images to describe the relationship that exists between God and Israel – “When Israel was a child, I loved him;” and “out of Egypt I called my son.” Although some might find the reference to son a bit off-putting, it’s important to remember that in this case Israel is being personified as an individual – looking back to Jacob. With this in mind we see Yahweh acting as a parent, teaching his Son to walk and picking him up when he cried out, bringing healing to his child, and yet the child didn’t acknowledge this love. Instead, Israel chose to follow after the gods of the neighbors, shifting back and forth between Egypt and Assyrian – probably hoping to stay on the right side of these super-power rivalries. But, Israel continued to go his own way, leading Yahweh to let them suffer the consequences – and face the sword of their enemies, for they have gone their own way. Ah, but that’s not the last word, for God cannot let go of his son. His heart recoils within him and he finds that compassion is welling up within him, and so while tempted to unleash his wrath, he is not a human, but God, and therefore God will not come in wrath.
The message of Colossians seems very different from that of Hosea, and in many ways it is different in focus. But it too speaks of making choices. Writing to a Gentile audience the author, who is likely a member of the Pauline school, reminds the readers from whence they had come. You used be living with an earthly focus, one that led to fornication, anger, wrath, malice. But now you’re in Christ, so put away these sinful things, and keep your focus on Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. The image used here it indicate the change of life’s focus is putting on new clothes. You are a new person, the author writes, so act accordingly. You have been renewed in knowledge, “according to the image of its creator.” Yes, in this new existence, this new life, with its new focus on Christ, you will experience the oneness that is Christ – no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free. There is one pair that is missing here – male and female (Galatians 3:28). Certainly this is oversight! The message here, however, is as with Hosea one of focus – who is it that you will serve? As with Hosea there is a word about wrath directed at the disobedient, though interestingly unlike Hosea, there isn’t any promise of pulling back from the brink. That absence should give us pause as we consider the nature of our relationship with God.
Finally we come to the gospel lesson. It comes from the 12th chapter of Luke, where Jesus finds himself pulled into a family squabble. Divide the inheritance among us the man says? Jesus says – that’s not my job. But, recognizing the issues that are at play in the conversation he tells us a story about a rich fool, a man who had a great harvest, so great that he decided to build bigger barns to contain his abundance. You might not think that this is a bad idea – people do it all the time. But Jesus seems to have a problem with it. Jesus reminds the audience, including the man who wants his share of the inheritance, of the dangers of putting one’s focus on the material things. After all, if you die, those bigger barns won’t do much for you. In this case, that’s just what happened. He built his barns, but he didn’t get to kick back and enjoy his Epicurean delights by eating, drinking, and being merry! I realize that this Epicurean philosophy stands at the heart of the American dream. After all, the “Declaration of Independence” promises us “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But Jesus isn’t impressed, and suggests that we put our focus elsewhere. Instead of building bigger barns, be “rich toward God.”
As we look toward Sunday, possibly preaching these texts or engaging with these texts as a worshiper, the question stands: “Where is your focus?” Is it on earthly things or heavenly ones? By heavenly I don’t necessarily mean focusing on “pie in the sky in the bye and bye,” but rather focusing on the things of God, the God who according to Hosea is our parent who loves us, lifting us up to God’s cheek, comforting us and healing us and welcoming us back into the fold!
By Bob Cornwall
Bob Cornwall is Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, MI and Editor ofSharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. Holder of a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, he loves to write, having authored several books, with a book on the Lord’s Prayer due out in November. Besides contributing to this blog, he writes nearly every day at his personal blogPonderings on a Faith Journey, as well as contributing regularly to the Christian Century blogTheolog.