“Jazz for Brooks” (July 31, 2016: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 13C)

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 31, 2016 at the 6:00pm Rite I Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without thy succor, preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: Hosea 11.1-11; Psalm 107.1-9, 43; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21

“The things you have prepared, whose will they be?”—Luke 12.20[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Among my most prized possessions, currently in my office out at our parochial high school in Youngsville, is a Crosley CR44 Record Console along with over 100 LP jazz records from the 1940s-1960s.  Included in this collection are many of the greats of jazz: Benny Goodman, Les Brown, Harry James, Stan Kenton, Art Van Damme, Illinois Jacquet, and several others.  A couple of weeks ago, Coach Heath Whittington, one of my faculty colleagues, mentioned to me that his son, Brooks, who will be a sophomore at the high school this coming academic year, has become a big fan of Frank Sinatra and, at times, has coveted my LPs and record console while passing by my office.  Brooks intends to soon procure a record player so that he can begin collecting his own LP records.

Now those of you that know me well know how much my LP records mean to me.  The collection that I have is a combination of gifts, eBay purchases, and years of lucky finds in record stores, me being proud of the many original records I have.  But as much as I value my collection, I also felt moved to help Brooks start his own collection.  So from my own collection, with Coach Whittington’s permission, I gifted Brooks my best Sinatra album, Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!!, released by Capitol Records in 1961.  With musical arrangements by Nelson Riddle, each chart having a bright medium to up jazz tempo, it is considered an all-star of Sinatra albums.  “Zing! went the strings of my heart”[2] upon seeing the joyful look on Brooks’ face when receiving his first LP jazz record.  I am glad that I was able to share with him something that was special to me towards his own appreciation of America’s original art form.  It simply felt to be the right thing to do.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, in a parable, calls a rich man whose land produced a surplus of crops a fool.  He was foolish in that in direct contradiction to what Jesus today says, his life became ruled by the abundance of his possessions.  He tears down his old small barns and constructs new larger ones so that he can lounge back and enjoy the excess crops all for himself.  Because of this, the rich man interpreted “more” as needing to hoard and felt that “I, me, and mine” mattered more than anybody else.[3]  The rich man embodies the very thing that Jesus counsels us against, “Beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

My own story was not told with the intent of “tooting my own horn,” but, rather, to help illustrate the Holy Spirit’s power to move one’s heart to share a portion of the abundance that God has blessed them to have with others.  The author of Hebrews reminds us of our call to “not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”[4]   Just as God has been generous in giving to us His grace, our giving to others should be an extension of the Good News made known to us in Jesus.  Because to give generously is to recognize our common humanity with each other and, through that common humanity, experience God’s presence among us.

Although there is nothing wrong with being wealthy and/or saving up resources for ourselves for the future, the possession of abundant wealth should also be balanced with a love for God and a concern for our neighbors.  As the Chronicler reminds us, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”[5]  All that we are privileged to have is because of God’s love for us and being that all are equal in His Kingdom, we should be willing to share a portion of that which He has blessed us to have in this life with others.  Cheerful giving signifies a heart and mind focused on God’s Kingdom, whereby when we die and our worldly possessions pass away, we may be received into God’s eternal habitation.

And it is of that eternal goal—the Kingdom of God—that we see the deeper spiritual dimension of today’s Gospel.  “The point,” Saint Paul says, “is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”[6]  To give cheerfully is to invest in God’s Kingdom. And though (and thanks be to God!) our works do not save us, but, rather, the grace of the Lord Jesus, it is the work that we do in accordance with our abilities—contributing to worthy causes, volunteering time to serve and help others, giving to those in need, and helping with other worthwhile efforts—that helps secure our place in Heaven.  Our giving should be an expression of our joy for God having saved us through the death, resurrection, and ascension of His Son Jesus.  God has given us the gift of grace; we should want to give God thanks by willingly giving portions of our time, talent, and treasure to others, for we will reap bountifully of the spiritual abundance in the life to come.  As Jesus tells us, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”[7]  So Saint James is right: ‘Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”[8]

Some of us may be financially wealthy.  Others of us may not be.  Regardless of who is and is not wealthy, Jesus, through the Parable of the Rich Fool, today calls on all of us to reflect carefully on this: Are our desires and standards for what is enough driven by a determination to store up treasures for our own pleasure, or by our understanding of God’s blessings and our true purpose in life?[9]  Hopefully, our reflections will stir us toward the latter conclusion.  So whatever place it is that you currently are in your life, whatever it is that you have an abundance of—time, talent, or treasure, one, two, or all—do not hoard it all to yourself.  Whatever and however you give, may it be to God’s glory, for all of us, wealthy or not, will become rich in His most blessed Kingdom.  God will bless you and make you a blessing to others with your giving.[10]

I, myself, do not have a lot of money and, although I do tithe to Ascension, wish that I could tithe more than I already do.  But God has also blessed me with the privilege of keeping to my musical talents by accruing a treasure trove of LP jazz records that I can enjoy listening to for more years to come.  And to have been able to give to young Brooks from what God has blessed me to have a record of his most admired jazz singer, helping him start his own record collection, was a great joy for me.  It was in that moment that I sensed the Holy Spirit’s presence.  My only hope is that Brooks, as he lives His life for Christ, will, one day, pay me back by “paying it forward,” so that he, in his giving, can be blessed by God for blessing someone else.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, Catholic Edition, Copyright ã 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” is a popular jazz standard written by Broadway musicians Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn that was first introduced in the 1934 Broadway revue Thumbs Up!  Frank Sinatra recorded it for another 1961 album, Ring-a-Ding-Ding!, his first under the Reprise Record label.

[3] Theological Perspective on Luke 12.13-21, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C, Volume 3—Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16)) (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 310.

[4] Hebrews 13.16

[5] Jeremiah 29.14

[6] II Corinthians 9.6-7

[7] Matthew 25.40

[8] James 2.17

[9] Theological Perspective on Luke 12.13-21, Feasting on the Word (Year C, Volume 3), 314.

[10] Genesis 12.2

Published by Brandt Montgomery

I am a Priest and boarding school chaplain in the Episcopal Church (USA).

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