A Temptation of Wealth

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And Jesus told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:16-21)

The error of the rich fool in Christ’s parable is easy to see.  He assumed life would go on as it is forever.  He forgot he lived in a world defined by change.  And that change includes the fact that we are mortal beings – each life is bound by a beginning and an end.  His great plan came to nothing as his life ended.  There is a lesson to learn: how not to have one’s life end in nothing.  Life will end, we will die, but that doesn’t have to equate with life meaning nothing in the end.  We can live in a way that others will regret when we die, but even that is minor. To live so that in the end nothing is the only thing left might be good in Buddhism, but in Christianity there is a full life in the world to come.  We don’t want to end in nothing but rather in abundant life found in God.   [see also my post Sins and Debts.]

We of course seeing the rich fool’s error might decide that we can avoid his mistake, we can plan to win the lottery and give a sizable portion to charity, not just store up the winnings for our ease.  There is folly in this as well as St John Climacus pointed out.  Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou writes:

Yet St. John of the Ladder warns us that even the idea of charity—the desire to have plenty in order to give to others—can be little more than an excuse for avarice:

Do not say you are interested in money for the sake of the poor, for two mites were sufficient to purchase the kingdom (cf. Luke 21:2). . . .

The pretext of almsgiving is the beginning of avarice, and the finish is detestation of the poor. The collector is stirred by charity, but, when the money is in, the grip tightens. The demon of avarice fights hard against those who have nothing. When it fails to overcome them, it begins to tell them about the wretched conditions of the poor, thereby inducing those in the religious life to become concerned once more with material things.    (Thirty Steps to Heaven: The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life, Kindle 1343-49)

One might be the rare person who would give all their lottery winnings to charity.  But then we might turn out to be like the rich young man who according to Mark 10:21-22 Jesus loved yet despite this who walked away from Jesus when the Lord told to give his wealth away in charity.  “And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.”   We might start off believing we wanted the wealth to help others, but how long before we decid to keep back just some for ourselves?  We might read again the Acts 5 account of Ananias and Sapphira.   Money as they saw is a good servant but a bad master.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never fail you nor forsake you.”   (Hebrews 13:5)

Managing our Wealth and our Investments

The Gospel Lesson from Luke 12:16-21, occurs within a larger context in Luke’s Gospel and the context helps us understand the lesson.   The immediate context is Luke 12:13-34.

One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

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The first thing to note is that the parable of the rich fool follows immediately upon Jesus warning against covetousness or greed.  Jesus does not believe that life is a game where whoever accumulates the most stuff wins.   Life is far more precious than how much you own or what you own.

What is wealth?   Not just property, money, material possession.   What about your relationship to the living God?   Is that not the most valuable commodity we can own?

There are countless other intangibles which are incredibly valuable to us, such as: salvation, health, wisdom, special talents, peace of mind, a loving family, good parish, long life, great job, good habits.  These are all priceless possessions for us, and can be had by people with no money.

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According to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, our true investments are our every action toward family, friend, neighbor, stranger, the poor and enemy.  The profits from those investments await us in the Kingdom of God.

God will not ask you on the judgment day how your stocks fared on Wall Street.  He will not ask you whether you supported tax cuts or deregulation or what you rate of return was on your 401K.

And with all this in mind we hear Christ’s parable:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

God owns everything.   You might hear a priest say at the graveside before a burial these words:  The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who dwell therein. (Ps 24:1)  They remind us that we cannot take our wealth with us beyond the grave.  Our blessings are given to us to use for the benefit of others in this world.  God is the true owner of everything.  But he does seem to give us in the next life all the blessing we gave to those in need.

3754785121_5587ea2f09_nSt Basil the Great speaking to those who did not give much to charity in their life time but promised to leave a donation in their wills to the poor  upon their death, has them say:  “’when my life is over I will make the poor to inherit the things I formerly possessed, and in a written testament will declare them to be the owners of my property.’  When you no longer exist among human beings, then you become a lover of humanity.  When I see you dead, then I shall be able to say that you love your brother.  . . . when you are lying in the tomb, and decomposing into earth, then you … become big-hearted.”  (Sermon to the Rich)   Basil goes on to say, as you can’t do business after the market closes,  as you can’t win an Olympic medal when the games are over and as you cant show your valor once the war has ended, so too you can’t postpone godliness until the afterlife.

His comments have a humorous edge to them, and yet are deadly serious.

The message of the Gospel is not so much that you should never make provision for life, for your family, for the future, but that you should not be self-centered, self-absorbed, practicing self-preservation.  Christ speaks bluntly however against greed and covetousness and selfish excess.  Remember Christ’s own teaching that God’s commandments can be summed up in two precepts:  love God and love your neighbor. This is what the rich fool ignored.  He mentions no one but himself.

After the parable, Jesus went on to say:

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass which is alive in the field today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith!

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And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

What is the effect of prosperity on us Christians?    Does prosperity make us  more generous, loving , compassionate, merciful, kind, patient, peaceful, virtuous?  Does it help you to be a disciple of Christ?  to be a Christian?

Is prosperity the highest virtue in life which we should be pursuing with all our soul, heart, mind and strength?  What about with our investments, what should we be doing with them?

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Don’t strive for riches, strive to hear the Word of God and live by Him.  That is what Christ taught.  You live in the world and you are not forbidden to be successful, but use your prosperity and blessings for the good of others.  Practice the commandment to love one another.

Prosperity is not a virtue, but a blessing.  Wealth is not a virtue but a blessing to be shared. The parable reminds us of the truth that  Money is a good servant, but a bad master.

The Folly of the Wealthy

Then the Lord Jesus spoke this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:16-21)

St. John Chrysostom comments:

Why are you so concerned about fleeting things that must be left here? Nothing is more slippery than wealth. Today it is for you; tomorrow it is against you. It arms the eyes of the envious everywhere. It is a hostile comrade, and you acknowledge this when you seek every way to bury and conceal it from view. While the poor are prepared for action, the wealthy wander about, seeking where they may bury their gold, or with whom they may deposit it. Why do you seek your fellow slaves, when Christ stands ready to receive and to keep your “deposits” for you. Those who receive treasures in trust think they have done us a favor. But with Christ it is the contrary, for He says He has received a favor when He receives your deposited treasures. For the guardianship he provides He does not demand a fee, but instead gives you dividends.

You are a stranger and a pilgrim with regard to things here. But you have a country that is your own in the heavens! Transfer there all that you possess…

Would you be rich? Have God for your friend, and you’ll  be richer than all men!

(Sermon: The Rich in This World, pp. 4-5, O Logos Publication)

God’s Blessings: Treasures to be Shared

In Luke 12:16-21, our Lord Jesus tells us the parable of a rich fool.  Rich in terms of worldly possessions, but foolish in living only for this world, for life is short.   Death shows us that we are living on borrowed time, and our possessions are really just a temporary loan.  We do not truly own our possessions as we cannot take them with us when we depart this earth.  All of our possessions remain behind.

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.  And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) commenting on the parable says:

St. Metrios the Farmer

“That rich man whose ground brought forth plentifully (Luke 12:16-21), and that other one who was clothed in purple and fine linen (Luke 16:19-31), were justly condemned, not for wrongdoing anyone, but for not sharing what was theirs. Treasures are common to all, as they come from the common storehouses of God’s creation. Anyone who appropriates what is common as his own is greedy, though not perhaps to the same extent as someone who openly takes possession of other people’s belongings. The first, as an evil servant, will, alas, undergo the terrible punishment of being cut off. The second will be submitted to things even  more dreadful and terrifying. Neither will ever be able to escape these penalties, unless they receive the poor with hospitality, the one making good use of the things entrusted to  him by God, the other distributing what he has accumulated by evil means.” (The Homilies, p 98)

St. Nikolai & Thankless Prosperity

Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us often not through direct commandments but in parables.  Parables are stories which have one or more lessons which are derived from the story.  In Luke 12:16-21, Christ

“… spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.  And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.'”

But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?”

So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.'” 

The Holy Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic comments on the parable:

Jesus spake a parable unto them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought within himself, saying: ‘What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?’

He was not just rich; he had such a yield from his harvest that he did not know where to store it. Looking at his wheat-covered fields, and his orchards and vineyard whose branches were weighed down by fruit, his gardens over flowing with all kinds of vegetables and his hives full of honey, this rich man did not look towards heaven and cry out with joy: ‘Glory and praise to Thee, O most high and most merciful God! How great an abundance Thou hast, in Thy power and wisdom, brought forth from the black earth! Thou hast, through the sun’s rays, poured sweetness into all the fruits of the earth! Thou hast given every fruit a wonderful form and particular flavor! Thou hast rewarded me a hundredfold for my small labors! Thou hast had mercy on Thy servant, and hast poured such gifts from Thy full hands into his lap! O my most wondrous Lord, teach me to give joy to my brethren and neighbors with these Thy gifts. May they, together with me, rejoice and thankfully glorify and praise Thy holy name and Thine inexpressible goodness.’ ” (Homilies, pgs. 270-271)

The Limits of Being Rich

 At that time, Jesus told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:16-21)

Many believers wish that God would at some point in their lives speak to them – if for no other reason than to know for sure that He existed.

In Luke 12:16-21, we are presented the story of a man to whom God spoke directly.   Unfortunately, God’s words to the man were “You fool!”  It certainly would be a rude awakening for any of us believers if when God finally spoke to us, first words were to call us a fool!   We might then wish that God had never spoken to us, for such a judgment by God would not be a welcomed word by us.

If we examine our own lives and our own values, do we imagine that God’s first words to us would be one of praise for our lives and thinking, or would we be rebuked for our folly – for basing our lives on shallow ideas, on goals that turn out to be phantoms which disappear in a second when we wake up to reality?

The man’s folly was not that he had become rich, but he had not become rich towards God.   Wealth and prosperity can be a blessing from the Lord, but they are given to us in order for us to accomplish His will, not to selfishly spend it on our selves which also turns out to be folly.   

Being rich is not the same as being rich towards God.  Blessing received from God are by God’s design meant to enable us to give – not just to be thankful but to be generous as well.

This Gospel lesson from Christ offers us one of the earliest glimpses into the notion of a “bubble economy.”  For the rich man’s bubble was burst in that moment when he was told he was going to die that night.  His wealth was shown to be a mere dream but not the reality upon which to base his life’s decisions. It was not even the case that his wealth was the result of ill-gotten goods – he didn’t lie, cheat and steal to obtain his wealth, but worked for it.   Yet in the eternal scale of things, his wealth was not all that valuable to that man.   Blessings received might make us rich, but we have to receive those blessing and use them to make us rich towards God.

The Folly of Wealth

While wealth and prosperity may be a blessing from the Lord, they represent a certain temptation, humanly speaking, for those trust in their wealth.   Our Lord Jesus told this parable:

 At that time, Jesus told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”   (Luke 12:16-21)

Wealth and prosperity are much welcomed and valued in this world, yet they are of no value in any life beyond this world.  They are thus the materialist’s best friend for getting through this life.   For those who believe in God, life in this world represents only a limited portion of the life in God – for God’s plan and Kingdom exist beyond the limits of death and this world.   Thus wealth and prosperity cannot be judged only for their value in this world but also for the impact they may have on life in the world to come.   St. John Chrysostom (sounding a bit like the Buddha) says that the wealth of this world is but a dream—when we die, we will awake from this dream and understand the true value of wealth.

Present realities, you see, are no better than a dream; rather, just as people imagining in sleep they have money, even in control of a king’s ransom, are more indigent than anyone once day dawns, so too with this life, because you can take nothing to the next, you will be more indigent than anyone, even if in possession of everyone’s property. You were rich in dream only, after all.”

Prosperity squandered on one’s self in this world is of no real benefit in this world for bringing about satisfaction nor in the world to come.  Profligacy and prodigality do not quench one’s selfish passions but rather inflame them.  Taking all one can get leads to wanting more, not to being satisfied let alone being generous.    Overeating leads to obesity to longevity.    Sharing one’s food, even with a modicum of ascetic self denial, can lead to longevity of life in this world, and eternal blessings in the life of the world to come.

Take a few minutes to read Leo Tolstoy’s HOW MUCH LAND DOES A MAN NEED?

Parable of the Rich Fool: Redux

Sermon notes 2008      Luke 12:16-21       The Rich Fool

 Then the Lord Jesus told them this parable:

“The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 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?’  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.'”

A 2008 retelling of the parable for Americans in the midst of an economic crisis: 

“The land of rich men produced abundantly. And so they thought to themselves, ‘What should we do, for we have no place to store our savings and investments?’ Then they said, ‘We will do this: we will pull down those laws which limit our profits and we will invest more with larger risks, and we will build ever bigger loans for ourselves, and there we will invest our unbelievably large gains and our portfolios and net worth will grow immensely. And we will say to our selves, Selves, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry, for property and stock values can only go up.’ But God said to them, ‘You fools! This very year your loans and margins are being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.'”

What have we as Americans been investing in for the past 30 years – in God, or in personal wealth and selfish gain?    Are we concerned about being rich towards God, or just in being rich?   Being rich towards God means being generous towards people, including the poor, needy and strangers.

A few other sayings of Jesus which are in the spirit of the Holiday Season:

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”   The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.   (Luke 16:13-14)

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. “  (Luke 6:32-36)

 “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,  and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”   (Luke 14:12-14)

Sermon on the Rich Fool (1992)

Sermon notes 1992        (Ephesians 2:4-10)   and   Luke 12:16-21Today in our community we have been blessed by being witnesses to the baptism of Paul B…. It is a blessing for us in many different ways. We all have seen a child of this world born again as a child of God. We have watched Satan being thrown aside. We have caught a glimpse of the unending life in God’s Kingdom. In addition to all of these blessings, we each have had a chance to hear again the words of the baptismal prayers. These same prayers were once said over each of us. So at each baptism, we are given the blessed chance to renew our own commitment to God. We come to understand at each baptism what it is that God expects of each of us in this world, since each of us are also baptized into Christ.

I want to remind you briefly of one reason why we do baptize so that you can today more fully appreciate the baptism of Paul and your own baptism.

We baptize in order to give a new birth and life to people. We are born into this world as a child of this world. But this world, although filled with many tempting pleasures, can ultimately lead us only to sickness and death. For this world is a world corrupted, made sick, by sin, by a separation from the life-giving God. Through baptism, Paul, you, and I can now live for the true life, the spiritual life of God’s Kingdom. This is true life because it is unending life, and life without sickness, nor sorrow nor any pain whatsoever.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.           (Ephesians 2:10)

We all are the workmanship of God. God fashioned each and every one of us for life with Him. However, that beautiful craftmanship of God has been badly battered and scarred by the evil of Satan, as well as by our own rebelliousness against God. The eternal beauty has been lost in us. Christ Jesus came into the world to restore that beauty to us. In baptism, the dirt and filth of this corrupted life are washed away in order that true beauty of the spiritual birth can be revealed to us.

As St. Paul said, God created us for good works in Christ Jesus. God intended us to do the good works of His blessed Gospel commandments. He wants us to “walk in them”. To walk in them means to follow them and to do them. But that must be our own choice. We must train ourselves to do the good which God has set before us. This training which is the discipline of Christ’s disciples is something we all must choose if we want to preserve the beauty of the baptismal life. To all of us today, but especially to Paul’s parents, godparents and grandparents, it is up to you to train him in the way he should walk to keep the beauty of God’s workmanship. You have baptized him, now you must teach him how to be a disciple of Christ.

One aspect of being God’s child and disciple was taught us in today’s Gospel lesson. The rich man who was storing up great wealth for a life of ease in this world, only to discover that he had to die. Since he had lived only for himself and his own pleasure, he found himself totally impoverished when he died and came face to face with God. All of us who are baptized, think about this lesson. To walk in the way of the Lord, means not to live for a life of greed and getting more wealth in this world. The riches we accumulate in this world will do us no good in the world to come. Because when we die, we will leave all of this wealth behind. We must choose to despise worldly wealth and to live for God’s kingdom. For the Lord Jesus clearly taught that if we use the goods given to us for the love of God and of neighbor, those riches will be stored up for us in the world to come.

Remember the lesson of the rich man. All of us are to teach the lessons of Christ. The best teacher is our own EXAMPLE.

O Lord, help us to enter upon this spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well pleasing to you. Amen.

The Parable of the Rich Fool

nikolaivelimCommenting on Luke 12:16-21, the Parable of the rich fool, Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic wrote that a man so blessed should have not been boastful but spoke to God in a spirit of Thanksgiving:  

“Jesus spoke a parable unto them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought within himself, saying: ‘What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?” He was not just rich; he had such a yield from his harvest that he did not know where to store it. Looking at his wheat-covered fields, and his orchards and vineyards whose branches were weighted down by fruit, his gardens overflowing with all kinds of vegetables and his hives full of honey, this rich man did not look towards heaven and cry out with joy; ‘Glory and praise to You, O most high and merciful God! How great an abundance You have, in Your power and wisdom, brought forth from the black earth! You have, through the sun’s rays, poured sweetness into all the fruits of the earth! You have given every fruit a wonderful form and particular flavor! You have rewarded me a hundredfold for my small labors! You have had mercy on Your servant, and have poured such gifts from Your full hands into his lap! O my most wondrous Lord, teach me to give joy to my brothers, sisters and neighbors with these Your gifts. May they, together with me, rejoice and thankfully glorify and praise Your holy name and Your inexpressible goodness.'”