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Monday, February 22, 2016

The Twilight Zone - A Love Story
By Mike Powers, Delivered at Scottish Rite on Feb 14.

Scripture reading Luke 12:13-21 (The Parable of the Rich Fool)

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.”

Today I am going to tell you a love story.  However, it is a love story that does not
quite fit the mold of what you may have come to expect.  For quite awhile I have
been a fan of the old television series, “The Twilight Zone”.  To be clear, I am
talking about the series that was produced by Rod Serling from 1959-1964 and not
the later imitators.  I don’t get to see the shows much anymore but over the New
Years holiday one of the cable networks ran a Twilight Zone marathon so I was
able to watch more than a few episodes.  The thing that I enjoy about The Twilight
Zone is that generally it tells a relatively simple tale that always has a twist and
communicates a larger message in an effective way.

In one particular episode, there was a young man named Sal who was desperate to
win the love of a young woman Leah.  Leah was a very pleasant, kind person who
lived in meager surroundings with her father who was also pleasant and kind-
hearted.  Sal did not have much money and was not well-educated but was very
anxious to prove to Leah that he was worthy of her.  Sal obsessed about his self-
perceived shortcomings and aggressively pushed Leah to commit to him in
marriage.  Leah saw that Sal did not love her but that Sal wanted simply to control
her as a means of demonstrating to himself his own self-worth.  With this in mind,
Leah rejected the proposal of marriage and broke off the relationship.

Sal believed that Leah’s father had undermined his chances with her so he
confronted the father accusing him of being responsible for the fact that Leah no
longer wanted to see him.  The father responded that while he never would have
chosen Sal for his daughter to marry as he felt the young man did not truly care for
her, he would never stand in the way of the two marrying if that is truly what Leah

Sal became very angry and swore that Leah and her father were wrong about him
and that Sal would prove that he was deserving of Leah.  As he stormed off in
retreat, Sal in a fit of anger punched a wall and broke his hand.

While in the hospital to get his hand mended, Sal was commiserating with a fellow
patient.  The fellow patient complained about a cough that he had and Sal told him
that he would willingly trade his own broken hand for the man’s cough.  When
both agreed that this would be a good exchange, then as only it could occur in The
Twilight Zone, magically Sal had the cough and the other patient had a broken hand.

Sal recovered from the cough and then went on to discover that he had the unique
ability to prompt other unusual trades.  Sal approached an elderly man who was
quite wealthy and offered to exchange his own youth for the older man’s wealth.
The older man agreed to this and Sal suddenly became very rich but fifty years
older.  Shrewdly, he regained his youth by trading back one year of age at a time
with fifty different young men each for relatively small amounts of money.

With his youth restored and now fabulously wealthy, Sal returned to Leah’s house
and demanded that she see him.  Observing that despite the wealth that he had
attained Sal had not really changed, Leah congratulated Sal on his success but
refused to resume their relationship.  Sal was crestfallen. As he was about to leave,
Sal saw the father and he had an idea.  He would propose a trade to the father.

We will return to that story in just a bit to see what Sal had in mind.  What lessons
can we draw from what we heard so far?  If you had Sal’s unique ability to make
trades of the sorts that he had entered into, what would you want and what would
you give up?  Sal regained his youth by trading amounts of money which, while
perhaps a year’s salary to the young men with whom he traded, were relatively
small compared to the enormous sum that he had received from the wealthy man.
If you were twenty years old, perhaps giving up a year of your life in exchange for
a year’s salary in a lump sum might be appealing.

Now it is not possible to make such a trade in real life but what we do see young
people engage in risky behaviors involving lifestyle choices that can have the
effect of shortening one’s life in exchange for a momentary thrill or to gain social
acceptance.  If we are honest, most of us have probably done this at some point in
our lives.  It is not until later that many of us realize how foolish we may have been
with our choices in the past.  When you are young, mortality is something to worry
about later.   It is probably part of the thought process of thinking only if I knew
then what I know now.

This may have been the thinking of the wealthy man in the story gave up all of his
money in exchange for Sal’s youth—fifty years his junior.  Do you think he
wanted to do things differently with his second chance at living?

What would we do differently if we had a second chance?  Is there something that
we are doing now that in the future we will say “I wish I had been smart enough
not to have done that.”?  While we cannot go back in time to change the past, we
can all change our behavior going forward.

It appears from the story that Sal saw having money as a way to establish himself
as worthy of Leah.  But even though she herself was poor, she was looking for
something else.  She was looking for someone who loved and cared for her.  Not
someone who just happened to have a lot of money.

If Sal was thinking that a long life with Leah would make him truly happy, he was
certainly going about it in the wrong way.  If he had focused on her needs instead
of his own, his chances of spending his life happily with Leah would have been
much greater.  Extending love to another benefits both parties involved.  Acting
selfishly benefits no one in the long run.

Reflecting on our own lives, we should ask ourselves whether we are focusing on
helping others or are we acting selfishly like the Rich Fool in the parable?

So back to the story.  What is it that Sal sought to trade with the father?

After returning from a commercial, we see that Sal and Leah are happily together
and very much in love.  It is obvious that Sal has changed and is now a very kind
and generous person, the same characteristics that we had previously witnessed in
the father.

Sal approaches the father, tells him that he has changed and loves Leah very much.
Sal then asks for the father’s blessing to marry his daughter.  The father stares at
Sal with an uncharacteristic look of anger on his face.  The father tells Sal, “I told
you that I would never have picked you as a man for my daughter to marry.”  He
then pulls out a gun and kills Sal.  The End.  Roll the credits.

Wow that was fast.  Sal’s fate was even more sudden than that of the Rich Fool
who was to die the night that he was planning to start to enjoy his life-long
accumulated riches.  Probably not the feel-good “and they lived happily ever after”
story that you were expecting or perhaps for which you were hoping.

So it would appear that the trade that Sal completed was an exchange of his anger
for the kindness of the father.  Sal was smart enough to realize that it was his anger
and selfishness that was keeping him from a relationship with Leah.
Unfortunately, the path that he chose was not to eliminate that anger but to move it
to another where it was able to return and prove to be his undoing.  The father
killed Sal because of the anger that Sal had traded to him. In essence, Sal was
killed by his own anger.

From the perspective of the father, why did he agree to this trade?  Maybe he
thought that he would be strong enough to overcome Sal’s anger and that by
imparting kindness in Sal his daughter could be with a man who loved her.  It is a
noble thought but the story demonstrates how destructive anger can be.  Once it is
inside of us it is difficult to overcome.  We need to be ever vigilant against
allowing it a foothold within ourselves.

Although we cannot make a trade in real life like the one apparently made by Sal
with the father, anger can be contagious and we can be infected by the anger of
others.  We can also infect those around us.  The words we use and the actions that
we take do have consequences that can harm ourselves and others.

We seem to be a society that is experiencing a high level of anger right now with
respect to a number of topics—the economy, political polarization, terrorism,
immigration, refugees—you pick the topic. We need to guard against this anger
infecting us and diverting us from Jesus’ command to love God and our neighbors.

As I have noted, it is interesting that in both stories that we heard—the parable of
the Rich Fool which was told by Jesus in the scripture reading and the story of Sal
from the television show, the central figure dies suddenly before attaining their
life-long goal.  In the case of the Rich Fool that goal was an easy life of retirement
and with Sal it was a happy marriage with Leah. In both cases, they fell victim to
their own neglect to love others.  The Rich Fool focused on accumulating wealth
for his own benefit which had no worth to his eternal soul.  Sal was more
concerned about establishing his self-worth than showing love for Leah.  In the
end, rather than struggling to overcome his selfishness and anger, he simply moved
them to another person and they proved to be his undoing.

Fortunately, we can learn from their mistakes.  Although acting selfishly may in
some cases provide some short-term benefit, in the long run it is a losing
proposition.  We have the ability to avoid this.  It is within the hearts of each of us
to look to each other with kindness.  God has inculcated human nature with the
desire to want to help each other.  We feel better when we do it.

On the night before His death, Jesus told us to love each other and by our love that
is how others will recognize us as His disciples.  Loving each other is how God has
made us to be, it is what Jesus has instructed us to do and it is the direction in
which the Holy Spirit propels us to go.

As the Apostle Paul wrote in First Corinthians chapter 13 verse 13 as translated in
The Message: “Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And
the best of the three is love.”    

We can make our lives our own love story—not just for today but for all of our
days.   And by this everyone will know that we are His disciples.