A Mid-Summer Night's Dream
This is mid-summer, and Oh that as in Shakespeare's play we could be induced to fall in love with the first thing God sets before our eyes. But that's just a dream, isn't it?
Some dreams are impossible. The song "The Impossible Dream" comes from a 1965 musical and you can't hear it without thinking it good, right, and beneficial to be self-determined, self-directed, self-assured. Our Gospel text says different. A dream centered on self, based on self, is impossible before God.
In the Gospel the Rich Man believes he can get life, that is the force that powers life, from possessions, things. Don't paint this rich guy as a crook. He was a good farmer or business man. He could've been a community minded man belonging to the Lion's Club and the Rotary of his day. To be sure, he was greedy but before men that isn't usually a bad thing. You don't feel bad toward the people lining up to win millions from the lottery. That's just a game we say. We don't feel bad toward the sport's star holding out for 25 million instead of the 22.5 he's offered. That's business we say.
That's greed, says the God who says "be content with such things as you have." That's another form of greed, says the God who says, "Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires." That's a form of greed to beware of says the God who says, "He who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished." Greed isn't defined in the Gospel reading by an amount. No, the greedy person is the one who thinks he can get or add to his life by increasing his possessions. This is the man Jesus calls a fool and who ends up a damned fool.
It's an impossible dream that you can get more life from having more things. It's an equally impossible dream to think our souls belong to us to do what we want when we want to. The Rich Fool after he has stated his plan is to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store his bumper crop literally says, "I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much good things laid up for years many, eat, drink and make merry.'"
We think we have as much authority and control over our souls as we do over our fingers or arms. We think the link to body and soul is held together by us. We think no one has a claim to our soul any more than in America they have a claim to our bodies. We think to some extent we determine how long body and soul are together. But that is a dream, and an impossible one at that whether it be dreamt in mid-summer or not. When God demands your soul back, you have no choice but to give it up.
As the text shows, the Rich Fool really dreams that he can take it easy, eat, drink, and not die. He dreams and it is no more substantial than that his abundance of possessions keeps his soul tethered to his body. Years from now when his possessions run low maybe then he will think about dying, but now? No, he'll stick with the impossible dream that having lots of things means he has lots of life because that dream thrills, exalts, motivates.
In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the fairies sprinkle magic dust on a sleeping person's eyes. When he opens his eyes the first person he lays eyes on he falls madly in love with. The impish fairy Puck gives a man the head of a donkey and then sprinkles magic dust on another fairy sleeping next to him. She wakes to fall madly in love with him. This is where we Rich Fools are. We're in love with ourselves, our power over our souls, our riches guaranteeing life. What has really happened is the Devil, the World, and our Flesh has sprinkled, dirt, and grime over our eyes so we don't see the long donkey ears sticking out of our impossible dream.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is not a tragedy but a comedy. Eventually the fairies maneuver everyone to be in love with the right one. And that's our dream too on this midsummer day. Dream? That's our prayer in several Collects of the Day throughout the Church Year. Here are a few. We pray: that God might give us love for Himself (Epiphany 5); that we might love what He commands (Easter 5), have an increase in love (Pentecost 4), have poured into our hearts love towards God (Pentecost 6), and that He would graft in our hearts the love of His Name (Pentecost 15).
God will do such things for us today. He will turn the impossible dreams churned out by our sinful Flesh, dreams wholeheartedly supported by the Devil and the World, into dreams that in the words of Jim Croce, can keep us going these days. In his 1973 song "These Dreams", Croce's dream of getting back together with a lost love keeps him going. That's a good dream if the one you lost was a blessing. This leads us to the Epistle text.
Here Paul tells me I can dream that I have been raised with Christ, seek the things that our above, and pay no mind to the things on earth. "You're dreaming!" the Devil, the World, and our Flesh say. Look about you! Don't you feel dead as ever in your trespasses and sins? Aren't you tied to this ground as firmly as ever? How can you not set your mind on the things of this earth? There is work to do, bills to pay, plans to make and execute. No, the dream Paul gives me can't be reality. Reality is flesh and blood. The things of this life.
Well, in order to be raised with Christ, you have to have died already. Watch a movie, there are several, where a person dies and is sure it's a mistake. I have no doubt that when the Rich Fool stood before the throne of God he too thought it was mistake. There was no way he could be dead. He had plenty left to live years on. He had made plans to finally pull back on his schedule, to eat, to drink, to enjoy himself. Death wasn't in the dreams he had for his body and soul.
In the parable and in those movies, Death comes too soon. I want you to leave here today in a dream world, which is God's real one, where you have already died. That's what Paul says. You can seek the things above, you mind can be set on things above rather than on this fallen earth because "you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
Have you seen those movies where the dead guy comes to terms with the fact that he's dead and now he's a ghost? He has quite a time being a dead guy on earth. He has no cares for this body or life. Why? Because he's dead. He isn't afraid of dying. Why? Because he's dead already. The things that trouble the person tied to this fallen world don't trouble him. Why? Because he's dead. Push this fictional folk tale through to the midsummer day's dream Paul invites you to live.
You've got the whole death and dying thing over with. For many of you when you were just a baby, for all of you in Baptism, you were buried with Christ. By Baptism you were joined to the death of Christ. The Law that accused you and proved you were a sinner was nailed to the cross, and you the sinner were nailed right there with it. You went through death and dying on Calvary's cross, but it wasn't you screaming in pain; it wasn't you clawing your way away from the flames of hell; it wasn't you upon whom the wrath of God landed till it crushed you like a bug. Ever have those awful dreams where you wake to screaming and realize it's you? Well in this dream, it's not you screaming; it's Jesus screaming in your place.
He screamed and screamed until every last sin of yours and all the sins of all the people that ever have lived or will live were paid for. And when His lifeless body was taken from the cross and buried in the tomb, yours was too. Paul says in Romans that you have been buried with Christ in your Baptism, but you share more than the dampness, the mustiness, the deadness of Christ's tomb. You share His life. Remember in the Epistle where Paul starts the dream that keeps us going these days? "You have been raised with Christ." In Romans 6 Paul puts it this way, "Christ has been raised from the dead never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus."
In Colossians Paul says "your life is now hidden with Christ in God." Stop looking for your life in your possessions, in your health, in your age, in your success, in your power. Through Baptism you are joined to the resurrected Christ. Your life is hidden in Him. It's hidden but not weak; it's hidden but not finite; it's hidden but not lost. Your life is found where Christ is now: in His Baptismal waters which the World counts as simple water only. Your life is found in Christ's Word of Absolution which the world counts as impossible for a man to speak. Your life is found in the Body and Blood of your Lord, Savior, and God which the world counts as nothing but bread and wine.
Paul says in Christ I can dream that I am not subject to the coming wrath of God. My name will not be lost as the Rich Man's was who was only addressed by God as a nameless fool. I can dream, and not daydream wishful thinking, but dream of a reality that is not yet visible where my soul will never be demanded of me or torn from me as in a nightmare. No with Christ on the cross I have already commended my soul to my heavenly Father. And I can dream of that day I get to leave this Valley of Sorrow; for on that day those in Christ aren't being torn from their real riches or from that which gives them life. No they are going home to both.
In the 80s TV show "Dallas", the questions and dilemmas of a whole season were resolved in the first episode of the following season by having the one before it be only a dream. You know how relieved you are to wake to find a nightmare a dream? On this midsummer day, wake to find Paul's dream is in Christ your reality to love. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (20160731); Luke 12: 13-21; Col. 3: 1-11