Life is More Than Roller Coasters

Homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

What do we have that will really last?

When I was in high school and up through college, the thing that I staked my entire life on for some reason, and it still seems crazy to this day, was roller coasters.

I was a ful-blown roller coaster enthusiast. I went up and down the East Coast, riding as many roller coasters as I could possibly find. And because I was so desperate to increase the number of roller coasters I had ridden — I was counting each one of them — I’d even try to ride the kiddy roller coasters… just to increase the total number of roller coasters.

It was madness. It was crazy.

When I got up to something like 300 roller coasters, I thought to myself — Yes… now I can rest. Now I can be happy. Now I can show off to everyone else how many roller coasters I had ridden!

But you know, the next weekend would roll around, and I wanted to ride more roller coasters.

It did not scratch the itch. I was looking for something lasting in something completely temporary. Something that was over in less than a minute — the average roller coaster lasts like 45 seconds if you don’t count the chainlift.

They just don’t last.

So what do we have that really lasts?

Now thankfully, God crashed into my life, and with so much love and so much gentleness and so much love, spoke to me like he spoke to the rich fool from our gospel passage today:

YOU FOOL! You crazy person, what are you doing!?

And actually, He even went so far as to remove a lot from my life — Some friendships I had made within the roller coaster enthusiast community fell apart. I lost the job that funded my obsession. Things in my life started to fall apart, and I was angry and distressed. 

I thought: God, what are you doing? Why are you taking away what matters most to me? Why are you busting everything up? Why are you taking away the thing that I was stockpiling? Storing up… for who knows what?

What was the point of all that collecting and counting — really it didn’t amount to anything. And God in His love revealed to me the emptiness of the pursuit that I had engaged in. God so tenderly called me back saying: ANTHONY, you’re seeking after roller coasters… but what you’re really seeking after ultimately is Me.

Jesus in our Gospel today uses a disagreement among brothers over an inheritance to speak to this truth: What do we have that really lasts?

So the story goes, somebody from the crowd says to Jesus: “Tell my brother to share the inheritance with me! Tell him to give me what is mine, so I can store it up, so I can have what I need… for who knows what.”

And Jesus says Who made me your master over these matters of earth inheritance… these things that will not matter much at all, when you find yourselves in a little box in front of an altar?” And then he paints us a picture of this Rich Fool who thought he had it made. He thought his pursuits had gained him a little bit of rest, a little bit of ease and happiness. But then he lost it all in an instant.

I think what the moral of this story is that the inheritance that we should be striving for, that we should be opening our hearts up to receive is the inheritance that GOD wants to give us, which is ETERNAL LIFE… it is DIVINE LIFE.

In that second reading tonight, St Paul put it so beautifully that we have died with Christ, and our life is now hidden in him. He is our LIFE. And if we try to stockpile anything else, build anything else up to be our LIFE, it’s just not gonna cut it. It’s just not who we are anymore.

St. Paul even says it point blank: Stop lying to one another. You are more than your possessions. You are more than whatever you have built up to be your identity. You are so much more than any other lies that you happen to be stockpiling.

I was more than roller coasters, and God loved me enough to show me that.

I don’t know what your roller coaster is, what you’re building up in the hopes of some sense of rest and ease and contentment — but if it’s not the Living God, then our Lord will lovingly reveal to you in the depths of your heart: “My beloved child, that stuff is vanity, and you’re worth more than that. I am your inheritance. I am what satisfies you.”

As beautiful and good as the world is, at the end of the day, in comparison to God, we can say with our first reading: Vanity of vanity, all is vanity!

It sounds like a depressing reading, right? We just said “Thanks be to God” to this reading, and we may wonder… really? Why? Well, it’s important to situate this reading in its context.

Because these are the words of a man who has tasted everything that the world had to offer, and he finds that none of it lasts.

Now traditionally, the Church has understood the book of Ecclesiastes to be the words of King Solomon. As you may remember, Solomon was David’s son. This is the man who asked God for Wisdom and received it… and yet we see at the end of his life, he stockpiles all sorts of things that are not God. He stores up women… he has like 300 wives. He stores up weaponry… he builds up this strong army, not trusting in the God who will fight for him. And he builds up wealth. King Solomon’s riches were famous in the ancient world. And God had clearly said: Don’t trust in riches, because that will fail you. It won’t fill you up. So King Solomon did what God asked him not to do. 

And so here we find him… at rock bottom. His words are so heavy with cynicism and despair: Vanity of vanities! All is vanity! Everything that I thought would make me happy HASN’T.

This is where the Gospel comes in. Jesus Christ speaks to people like Solomon — people like you and me — and he says to us: “You are made for more than all the wealth, power and pleasure you can collect. You were made to receive ME, to find rest only in ME.”

God is enough. He is always more than enough.

That has been one of the questions I’ve wrestled with over and over during seminary: “God, will you be enough?”

It’s really hard to ask that question, but it’s so crucial. Is God enough for you? Do you have what really lasts? Or are you grasping onto stuff that will be gone in an instant when your life ends?

Refuse the temptation to be too easily pleased!

Let God be enough for you. Think of things that are above, put to death all the greedy grasping in your heart, and trust that He is enough. Trust that He means to give you your true inheritance. Trust that He wants to give you what really lasts: Nothing less than God Himself.

By Anthony Ferguson

Anthony Ferguson is a transitional deacon preparing for the priesthood of Jesus Christ for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. He is currently in Fourth Theology at Theological College in Washington DC.

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