The Introduction and Summary Statement
There is a story more likely told for its humor than its exactitude, about Noah Webster, the man who produced the dictionary that bears his name. Legend has it that during a party Noah was caught, by none other than Mrs. Webster herself, kissing the maid in the kitchen pantry. When she opened the door and saw her husband in that compromising situation, she said, "Why, Noah, I am surprised!" Noah Webster, ever the stickler for correct word usage, replied, "No my dear, you are amazed, I am surprised." Life is filled with surprises!
As that great philosopher, Forrest Gump, said: "Life is like a box of chocolates ñ you never know what you are going to get. Either we learn to incorporate the element of surprise into our life expectations or we will miss out on lots of good, sweet things.
Have you ever thought about how much time and effort is spent trying to keep surprises down to a bare minimum? For all of our good natured humor about surprises, and for all our ability to cope with surprise, most people really do not like surprises. We much prefer predictability. I have seen and participated in many surprise parties for people, and there is always (even if but a split second) a flash of horror on the face of the honoree before they realize that they are surrounded by friends, and that every thing will be all right. We are not very comfortable in any situation in which we are not in control of what is happening to us. We do not like surprises.
Recently, there was a well-known motel chain that took advantage of the universal fear of surprise in a nationwide advertizing campaign. It characterized their motels as being a place of "no surprises." Things would be exactly as you expected they should be. When you are away from home, tired and preoccupied with business, surprises are not welcome. Good ad! It struck at the root of a basic fear.
In spite of all our efforts to arrange a predictable world, there are so many unpredictable elements in life that very few things end up as we hoped, planned or thought they might. One of the greatest sources of stress and anxiety is the necessity of adjusting to the unexpected. Many people are unable to survive the surprises of life, which often happen to us while we are in the process of trying to make life more predictable. Life is seldom what we plan, but what happens to us on the way to what we planned.
There is a legend about a man who wanted very much to know where the stock market would be in 30 days. (wouldnít we all?!) If he could predict the level of the market at the end of 30 days, he could invest his assets in such a way that he would make enough money to be secure for the rest of his life. He could make his life predictable and eliminate all those life changing surprises. One morning he got up and found on his door step a copy of the New York Times dated 30 days in advance. It was a miracle! He grabbed it and ran to the kitchen table and spread it out, looking, of course, for the financial section. It was the opportunity of a lifetime! As he searched, his eyes fell upon the obituary column, and he could not resist the impulse to look. As he read, he froze as he saw his own name - just 30 days away. Now nothing else mattered. Surprise!
This story brings us to the Gospel lesson for today. Jesus was asked to become the arbitrator in a family dispute over the division of an inheritance. He refused, but he did have a word of counsel, which he gave in the form of a parable. (Read Luke 12:13-30)
T h e S e r m o n
There is nothing that can more readily twist life out of shape, poison our relationships and kill kindness and consideration than the unchecked quest for absolute control. At the bottom of greed and our lack of concern and respect for other people is the desire to gain complete control and have everything "our way." The desire to dominate people and situations almost always leads to a specie of disrespect and pettiness that wounds everybody in sight. It crushes the more gentle souls, and angers and disgusts everyone else. The over-weaning need to dominate essentially kills the spirit of civil consideration.
There are some who, in the absence of the power to dominate with a strong personality, will try to dominate with their wealth. And, while it is true that wealth is power, it is not all powerful. It gives a kind of control, but is not total or complete, and certainly not permanent.