Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Introduction and Call to Worship We live in one of the richest communities in the country (and world!) and we should always give thanks to God for the blessings we have received and pray earnestly that we may rely upon God and not on our own self-sufficiency. Today’s Readings First Reading Ecclesiastes 1:2. 12-14; 2:18-23 According to the disillusioned teacher, human life is repetitious and without purpose and all human endeavour is empty. Why leave the rewards of human toil to those who may be foolish and lazy? Second Reading Colossians 3:1-11 The Colossians are urged by St Paul to rid themselves of all their old sinful habits. Like them, we need to re-clothe ourselves in Christ and take on his nature. Gospel Luke 12:13-21 The rich man lived only for himself and resolved to build more storage for his expanding worldly goods. Others may have considered him wise and prudent but God considered him a fool. In his preoccupation with wealth the man had lost the sense of what really matters. True riches, Jesus teaches, are of another kind. HOMILY Jesus warns: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) Above everything else are you “rich towards God”? Today’s Gospel is a classic text, the parable of the Rich Fool, which follows Jesus’ response to a question from the crowd about money and our Lord’s clear warning, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) We may have first heard it at Sunday School as a child, or been taught the parable at school. It speaks of values and priorities but can be hard to hear in a post-modern culture, especially here in Surrey where most of us, although not all, have so much. It seems that much of the anxiety around daily life, the cost of living and an ever-increasing pursuit of money, is unchanged from the time of our Lord. Perhaps a difference is the desire for individuals to accumulate. In the US today the richest 400 American families are believed to have more wealth than half of all Americans combined. Property, wealth, possessions and so much more besides are the goal for most of us. In the UK the old regime of status based on a born-into structure has been almost completely replaced with new money. If you have it, you are respected and if you don’t, well what does that mean for you? You are trapped, sometimes in a never-ending circle of anxiety. Some argue there is an inherent injustice in a few people getting richer and richer at the expense of a majority who don’t. We must not gloat, for the UK is one of the wealthiest nations upon earth. Most of us here today have some disposable income. We can choose how we use that wealth for the best and this is where we can make such a difference; thinking about the way we shop, reducing our use of things that can be thrown away and striving to support others in need. There are questions of justice that should underline our financial decision making; this applies to households and to the church community. The Old Testament book of Wisdom has some insight here to offer: “If riches are a desirable possession in life, what is richer than wisdom, the active cause of all things? And if understanding is effective, who more than she is fashioner of what exists? And if anyone loves righteousness, her labours are virtues; for she teaches self-control and prudence, justice and courage; nothing in life is more profitable for mortals than these.” (Wisdom 8:5-7)
As with last week’s Gospel reading, once again scripture offers a sentence which I know is so unfashionable today but speaks of everything holy; wisdom teaches self-control and prudence, justice and courage! Like the rich fool in Jesus’ parable it is so much easier to seek comfort and security in material things, ignoring the fact that being “rich towards God” is the only wealth that truly lasts and comes through justice. The rich man in the parable had devoted his life, gifts, priority to accumulating goods and property. When the abundance exceeded his ability to store and hoard he could have given some away or, at least, shared with others his gains. No. In the end his desire to acquire more and more consumed him. In speaking this story Jesus was no doubt repeating well-known words from Psalm 49: verse 10 reads, “When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others.” And verses 16-20: “Do not be afraid when some become rich, when the wealth of their houses increases. For when they die they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them. Though in their lifetime they count themselves happy - for you are praised when you do well for yourself - they will go to the company of their ancestors, who will never again see the light. Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.” Such striking similarities here with the parable in the Gospel which concludes with this chilling warning from God: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20) Whose indeed? This also mirrors the words of Paul letter to Timothy in which he writes, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6: 6-19) With society’s preoccupation with pension pots, and the whole business of providing for a comfortable retirement, the parable of the rich fool has an uncomfortable message for many of us. It is important that we do not misunderstand the teaching of the parable. Jesus is not taking a swipe at rich people, but he is consistent with the teaching on money found elsewhere in scripture. He is not quibbling over whether we own property worth millions or no property at all. He is not making a judgement on whether we run a big chauffeur-driven limousine, an old banger or a bicycle. What he is questioning is whether our possessions have become so important in our lives that they blot out God’s searching light and priorities. And should we be blessed to have a little bit put away, how do we use that to help others as we seek to grow the Church, reaching people in need and transforming lives? As we look to complete our 20:20 Vision and embark upon a new stage in our life together so we need to priorities the building-up of God’s kingdom values, the sharing of resources and the joy that is realising faith in our midst. For only our Souls can journey on to be with God; we must one day leave everything else behind. It’s a sobering thought that, what we do today, the priorities we make and the decisions we take now, are the only ones that can make that difference. Scripture, our Lord, God couldn’t be clearer! Are you “rich towards God"? Amen. Summary 1. Possessions may create the illusion of self-sufficiency but we never lose our need of God. And God has work for us to be about, transforming lives. 2. The only possessions worth caring about are those which death cannot take away. True riches are not of a worldly nature; they are found in God’s kingdom. 3. Possessing more than we need may result in others having less than they need. How can we re-evaluate what we have and learn to share more with others? 4. We leave this world with nothing other than our precious souls.