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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

What Are You Saying To Your Soul?

2013-08-04 What Are You Saying To Your Soul?

Scripture: Psalm 90, Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15 And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."

16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18 Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'20 But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."


Um, sorry. This'll just take a minute.

[dials phone]

Hello, Soul? Hey. It's me.

I'm doing ok. Thanks.

How about you? No, wait, don't answer that.

See, that's why I called.

I think I've been kind of distant lately.

Yeah, thanks.

I was wondering if we could get together, you know, just to catch up. You know, maybe grab some coffee.

Uh, what was that? I couldn't hear you.

I'm at the church. You know how bad the signal is here.

What? You're breaking up.

Soul? Soul? I can't hear you.

If you can hear me, I'll get back to you later. Bye.

So the rich man whose land produced so abundantly that he had to rent out an entire parking lot full of climate-controlled storage units to hold all his stuff - the rich man has a little talk with his soul. And he says, "Soul…."

Now. I know Jesus is just telling a story. It's just a story, not reality TV. But it got me to wondering: what if we really could have a one-on-one with our soul? What if you really could call up your soul? What if you could have a sit-down, face-to-face meeting? You on one side of the table, your soul on the other, a barista bringing you fresh coffee for the duration?

What would you say to your soul? What would your soul say back? Would you get along with each other? Or would there be a lot of, "You said this, but then you did that," and, "All you ever do is make me feel guilty," and maybe even a, "Listen up, fool!" and a, "Hey, you should have known who you were getting into."

You hear a lot of talk about getting your soul saved. But what if it's more of a two-way street? What if your soul is trying to save *you*? What if your soul is calling, trying to reach you with an important announcement, and you're letting it go to voice mail?

The rich man in the parable has a very one-way conversation with his soul. He says, "I will store my grain and my goods and I will say to my soul…" He doesn't stop to ask what his soul might be saying to him. Instead, he sits surrounded by high piles of abundance given him the luck of the harvest. His stacks of good fortune deafen his ears to what his soul might be trying to tell him.

2000 years later, are we really all that different? Here we are, comfortably surrounded by the harvests of good fortune. Are the things we're temporarily blessed to call our own muffling the call of the soul that's trying to save *us*?


The rich man says, "So I will say to my soul, 'Soul…'"

When the hearers of this parable heard these words, what did they think about the man's soul-conversation?

When Jesus spoke of a soul, he would have thought of it as taught in the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. To the Hebrews, body and soul were like two sides of the same coin. Body and soul were like two branches of the same tree, wrapped so tightly around each other, and grown so completely together that it was impossible to think of one without the other. You had a soul, and your soul had you. You didn't *have* a soul as much as you *were* a soul, a living being both physical and spiritual, clay of the earth and breath of God, both at the same time. You couldn't save one without saving the other.

In the Old Testament, there are a few scattered references to the word we translate as "soul" but not as many as you might think. The Hebrews were far too earthy and practical to make a big deal of philosophical abstractions. You were what you were, it is what it is.

Where you find the word for "soul" the most is in the Book of Psalms. In the Bible Jesus knew, "soul" was a word from poetry, a word of songs. Soul wasn't a philosophical or biological or scientific concept. We of the age of science ask, "What's the soul? Where is it located? How does it work?" The writers of the Psalms might have laughed at us. How ridiculous, they might have thought, to try to cut one branch of life from another.

How close are you and your soul? If your soul was trying to give you a message, would you be able to hear it? Or do you compartmentalize your life from your faith? Are you like a picnic plate, with dividers keeping the food of the spirit cleanly separated from the food of the body? What is it that makes us think we can divide matters of the soul from day-to-day living?

One thing that separates us from our soul, Jesus taught, is greed.


Two brothers come to Jesus, wanting him to settle a squabble over an inheritance. Notice, this inheritance was something neither of them did anything to create. Like His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Lewis of Cambridge, all they did was be born. They were arguing over the good luck their family provided them.

Jesus then tells the parable of the rich man whose lands produced a good harvest. Like the two brothers, the rich man had reaped benefits he didn't create. His abundance was handed him by the good fortune of good land, good weather, and good luck.

It was greed that divided the brothers from each other. It was greed that divided the rich man from his soul.

You don't have to be Jesus to preach on greed. Preaching on greed is easy. Everybody knows greed is bad. Even greedy people know greed is bad because greedier people really tick them off. Jesus says: "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed."

But why? What's so bad about greed? Like so many times, Jesus doesn't say outright. Instead, Jesus hints at a deeper, more soulful purpose.

"Be on your guard against all kinds of greed," Jesus says. "…for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."

In our minds, we know this is true. You can't take it with you. He who dies with the most toys doesn't win; he just dies, like everybody else. And then his kids fight over the inheritance. In our minds, we know this is true. And yet, we often deny it to our souls. Maybe this is why the rich man in the parable is having such an arrogant, one-sided conversation.

"And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'"

What does the rich man's soul get to say in response? Even if he gave his soul a chance to speak, would he hear it? Or would the message go to the bottom of his inbox?

When all the toys are taken away,

when the inheritance has been spent,

when all the barns are empty,

your soul is what remains.

Your soul is not what you have; your soul is what you are.

When was the last time you had a conversation with your soul?

Did you say something more meaningful than that farmer did?

Did you listen for what your soul might be trying to say to you?


Greed is the addiction to our wants. Greed is our desperation to cling to this life. But the soul sees more than what we can hold in our hands or claim in our bank accounts. The soul sees the truth: This life is just a temporary condition.

The Psalmist sings to God and to his soul,

Teach us to number our days aright,

that we may gain wisdom of heart.

Return, O LORD! How long?

Have pity on your servants!

This is the song of one who has been too long separated from the wisdom of the soul. Greed makes us grab for life's junk food that too quickly disappears without satisfying. Yet, the soul longs for the rich feast of eternity. When greed shuts out the song of the soul, there's only one voice left within us, and the conversation is cut off into a fruitless monologue.


In the book of Proverbs is a little saying about our conversations with our souls. Proverbs 23:16 says,

"My soul will rejoice when your lips speak what is right."

Is your soul rejoicing in what you say to it? Or is your soul starved for conversation? How does your own greed shut off the wisdom and joy of your soul?

Let us pray:

O Lord who knit us together in body and in soul, we pray for wholeness. Help us to heal the divisions within ourselves, that we might then be able to heal those around us, those divisions we have created, as well as those divisions we have inherited. Give us the courage to set aside our greed, and to welcome the rich word of our souls. Instead of seeking earthly satisfaction, help us to seek first your kingdom. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Church Is a Midwife, Not an Epidural

Church Is a Midwife, Not an Epidural

"I went back to church thinking it would be an epidural... and the church was like a midwife saying, 'Push.'" - Dr. Brene Brown

Brene Brown is one of the more remarkable speakers and writers to come along in quite a few years. Beginning as a data-driven researcher, she was transformed through her work, very reluctantly, finally realizing the strange and marvelous power of vulnerability. The speech, the Ted Talk, that made her famous on the Internet and is largely responsible for her book becoming a bestseller is at

Brown is no stranger to the church, although her relationship with it has ebbed and flowed over the years. Her criticism of the modern church is that it has become a numbing agent. Religion, she says, has changed from a place of belief in faith and mystery to a place of certainty, of rightness and wrongness, with no middle ground. 

So, she says, when her life was at its most chaotic, she returned to church, thinking it would give her quick relief and easy answers, that it would numb her pain, she says, like an epidural. She was disappointed. She says it turns out church was more like a midwife, saying, "Push!" and pledging to stay with her through the pain. She explains this in the video at http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/jesus-wept

Brown speaks of how her research led her to believe that the place of our most painful fear and shame is also the birthplace of love and connection. 

The Bible says pretty much the same thing when it speaks of being born of God and knowing God, only it calls the place of greatest fear and shame, the cross.

1 Peter 2:24 says, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." In Luke 14:27, Jesus says, "Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

It's impossible to carry the cross and at the same time ignore our own fear and shame. The cross is both the symbol and presence of the shared dread of being unworthy. The cross is the wounds life puts on us. And you can't heal a wound by ignoring it, or numbing it, or pretending it's not there. You have to accept the pain of your own vulnerability in order to give birth to love and connection.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7). 

Brene Brown's book: "Daring Greatly - How he Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" can be found here: 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013



How do you set and keep a daily routine of prayer? It's not easy. But there are some excellent resources out there that can help.

I recently rediscovered a really great site for your computer, tablet, or phone. It's pray-as-you-go.org and can be found by clicking http://www.prayasyougo.org.uk/

There's a free Android app for your phone or tablet at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=mansoftware.rv

Pray-as-you-go is produced by Jesuits in England. An extra benefit of the podcasts is you get to hear scripture and prayer in lovely accents and brogues.

Their website says:

A new prayer session is produced every day.  It is not a 'Thought for the Day', a sermon or a bible-study, but rather a framework for your own prayer.

Lasting between ten and thirteen minutes, it combines music, scripture and some questions for reflection.  The aim is to help you to:

become more aware of God's presence in your life

listen to and reflect on God's word

grow in your relationship with God.

It is produced by Jesuit Media Initiatives, with material written by a number of British Jesuits and other experts in the spirituality of St Ignatius of Loyola.

Although the content of pray-as-you-go is different every day, it keeps to the same basic format...

Bells - the call to prayer

Opening music, with a few words of introduction

Scripture for the day

Questions for personal reflection

Repeat of the scripture reading

Final reflection

Conclusion: Glory be to the Father...

I listened to a couple of days' podcasts while on a walk today. They'd also be great for the car, or anywhere else you want to pop in the earbuds.

Subscribe to "Sermons and a Little More" - at http://jamesmctyre.blogspot.com. I post thoughts about life and faith on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday (schedule permitting). You can have these sent directly to your inbox by clicking HERE and entering your email address where it says "Subscribe via email." Like this? Forward it to a friend.