Sermon Preached at St. Barnabas by the Bay in Villas, NJ on
Sunday, August 5, 2007
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” These words were spoken by FDR in his 1933 inaugural address to our nation. In 1933, the United States was at the height of the Great Depression with unemployment at an all time high of 24.9%. And Roosevelt, stepping into a role of leadership in these dark times did not, in his inaugural address, tell the public, “it’s all under control” nor did he tell the public they need only trust the politicians to get things turned around. Instead, he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
In this year – 2007 – we are far from the perils of 1933; although a look at the evening news may sometimes cause you to question that. Nonetheless, I assure you, unemployment rates in our nation fluctuate from between four and five percent and here in Lower Township that number falls to about 3.5% But I do not call your attention to these inaugural words of Roosevelt in order to talk this morning about statistics or about national politics – though I am enjoying the irony of using someone else’s inaugural words as part of my own inaugural words. Instead, I bring these words to our attention – “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” – as a way to help us delve into today’s Scripture readings which, at first blush, are not all that cheery and, in fact, may have some of you wondering – as I did earlier this week – where is the Good News?
Jesus says to the gathered crowd, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Really? Are we sure about that? I have to wonder if this statement of Jesus was as counter-cultural in his time as it is in ours. Because in our time – especially in the Western hemisphere – we are obsessed with possessions (or at least the advertisers think that we are). According to advertisements, we want to – no, need to have a gas grill that is bigger and more powerful than that of our neighbors, we need to have a yard with a gazebo and a pool, our cell phones need to have all the latest features (I’m not even sure what features those are any more). Small homes in relatively good condition are torn down so that mansions can be built in their place. Drinks and beverages that list their serving sizes are not even sold in packages that small. Everything around us is geared around our obsession with possessions, our obsession with more.
The flip side of this obsession can be a feeling of inadequacy when we do not have what everyone around us has. When we have less than those around us, we may begin to feel panicky. In the church, we can become panicky about what we don’t have – enough young families with children in the pews, enough opportunities for Christian formation or outreach – and we can become panicky about paying for what we do have – a new Vicar, the electric bill, repairs to the building. We see what others around us have and what others around us are doing and we think, “in order to be successful, we have to have those things and do those things too.” And in the midst of our panic and our fear, we lose sight of something very important.
In Jesus’ parable this morning, God tells the rich man who has torn down his barns to build bigger barns – large enough to hold his over abundance of crops – God tells this man, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" The rich man in the parable has lost sight of what is important – he has lost sight of the promises of the reign of God. Like the rich man, you and I, when we focus on what we do not have, will find it is very difficult to see and be thankful for what we do have. And, perhaps even more importantly, our focus on our perceived shortcomings makes it difficult to see that in God’s presence, what we already have and what we already are is more than enough. For, in the presence of God, enough is always more than enough.
You and I are just beginning our journey in ministry together. My toes are barely wet and already the gears are turning in my mind as I ponder what “might be” in God’s future for us. What is God planning for St. Barnabas? I am looking forward to being out in the community with you working with God for justice in the world. I am excited about opportunities for ministry with St. Mary’s in Stone Harbor to which God may call us. I am thankful that you have called me here and I am looking forward. I am excited and I hope you are too. I hope that you have ideas for what “might be” in the future of St. Barnabas. And I hope you are setting time aside to ask God where St. Barnabas is being called. Looking ahead, daring to dream, listening for God’s voice in the midst of our community is healthy work. This looking forward is necessary work if we are to walk together and grow in faith together.
But here is the point I want you to take home with you today. As important as it is to be excited about our future together and as important it is to start dreaming dreams, it is even more important that you know this truth. The St. Barnabas of yesterday and of today – with all of your hopes and all of your fears, all of your disappointments and all of your accomplishments – this St. Barnabas, sitting in this sanctuary today, is already living in the presence of God. There is nothing magical about my being here and there is nothing magical about our future together. You are, as you are, enough. And, in the presence of God, enough is always more than enough.
 Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933, as published in Samuel Rosenman, ed., The Public Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Volume Two: The Year of Crisis, 1933 (New York: Random House, 1938), 11–16 accessed online on August 2, 2007.
 Steve Kangas, “The Great Depression: Its Causes and Cure,” Liberalism Resurgent (1997) accessed online on August 2, 2007.
 Luke 12:15.
 Luke 12:20.