I do apologise because you’ve now had me three Sundays in a row, and the plan was for me to be on next week too! But Ros is kindly relieving me of the sermon next week – many thanks! Yet it’s always a blessing for me (perhaps not for you!) to be on the preaching rota, because I get to look into the passage in depth – and it is so rewarding digging into the teachings of Jesus!
The message today is quite simple: avoid greed and the entrapment of objects. Guard yourself against the enticing power of objects. Remember: possessions are never owned by you. You are possessed by them. You are the temporary thing, not the object. You might have a Ferrari all your life, but on the day after your funeral, it will still be there and you will be gone. It is more accurate to say that it possessed you…
In the gospel reading today we have a man crying out for someone to support him in a family argument. My brother should divide our inheritance with me! On the face of it, this seems right. It implies that the brother is doing something wrong in not dividing the inheritance. However, we should note the reaction of Jesus – there seems to be more going on here than meets the eye.
Jesus responds by saying “Man, who made me the judge in your Family Court law suit?” It’s quite a natural reaction really – if you shouted “help me get to the airport on holiday”, I could say “who made me your taxi driver?”. The use of ‘man’ by Jesus, in that culture, is like a rebuke.
But also, Jesus is not liking the motive at work. The guy calling out is trying to get money from his brother, and it seems that Jesus sees that this man is not seeking an equitable distribution of the inheritance, but actually just wants some more money! We should remember that Jesus has a history of seeing right through our pretences to exposing the heart of what we are saying.
You can’t take it with you
And so we have a key sentence in our reading: your life is much more than the stuff you own. Your life does not consist of the objects you collect in your house. Who you are, who you follow, who you become matter far more than things that you never really own. You can’t take any of it with you – just ask the pharaohs! The objects they were buried with to help them in the afterlife are today being dug up by archaeologists in Egypt. Meanwhile, the pharaohs themselves, their qualities and their characters, are mysteries only known to God.
Jesus thus reacts to the guy wanting some more cash. He tells him “don’t seek after money and wealth because stuff on this planet us not real treasure”.
And yet, the more we get the more it controls us. Have you seen the film “All the Money in the World?” It’s about Jean Paul Getty (played by Christopher Plummer) and his grandson who was kidnapped. Getty, the richest man in history, initially refused to pay any ransom. When asked “You are the richest man in history, what would it take for you to feel secure?”, he growls “More!”
And so the man in Jesus’ parable is probably deceiving himself too. “I’ll lay up my wealth, store things up, and then I can sit back and enjoy the income, enjoy the fruits of my labour, and I can eat, drink and be merry!” The Good Life! Yet how many people actually do that? I had a relative who worked to earn so he could have the good life, but never had enough. Then he realised he had stage 4 cancer and his days were numbered. All his work went to someone else.
Selfishness V Sharing
There are numerous messages in this parable, but I think the one that hits me is the attitude of “looking out for number one” – which Jesus opposes. This attitude is in essence one of selfishness.
The guy in the parable lives in ancient Israel. Most people lived in small village communities. The lives of everyone in that village were entwined. They all knew who was struggling, who was suffering, and who needed help. Yet here we have a guy making some money, doing well, finally getting some prosperity, and thinking immediately … of having a yacht, a Rolls-Royce, and putting his feet up!
There is nothing wrong with yachts and Rolls Royces. But when Christians – our brothers and sisters – are being hunted to extinction in the Islamic world, when Christians are being forced into poverty by climate change, and when Christians are being silenced and arrested even closer to home, to think of getting luxury items before helping the vulnerable and suffering, is selfish. It is earning treasures on earth and rejecting treasure in heaven.
In the year 2000, Peter Mandelson said “New Labour is intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”. I wish he had added a bit more to that statement, because as it is, I don’t think Jesus would agree. Getting filthy rich is fine so long as everyone else is doing well or that you are willing to step in to spend your riches paying for healthcare for the homeless, for the sick, or for the elderly.
The man in the parable lives in a community. He is well aware of the struggles of others. Yet his first and only concern is storing up his own wealth. “I’ll be fine, even if the others are not”. This man has no community spirit, no connection with his fellow humans, and no thought to God. He does not see himself as having any duties or responsibilities. He has, in essence elevated himself to godlike status.
The Thrust of the Scriptures of God
And in a society like ancient Israel, that was awful! He was going against the entire thrust of the Old Testament scriptures and the prophets who wrote them, teaching us to care for one another and support our families and the vulnerable elderly. His first thought was “how can I relax more” rather than “how can I help the people for whom I am responsible?”
As an only child, I have always prized being an island. But I am wrong: No man is an island! John Donne is right. We are connected to each other, and Christ calls us to be his body, his connected church, a family dedicated to worshipping God and showing the world a new kind of love.
How should we live?
So how do we live? Possessions are traps. Jesus is telling us to guard ourselves so that we do not become the possessions of our possessions. He is talking to people who had some stuff, not a lot, but who were tempted to see the solution as more stuff. Jesus knows you need stuff, he’s guarding against the desire we all have for more stuff.
If only I had a new computer, I’d be happier. Wrong! If you want true pleasure, the solution is to lay up riches toward God. Stuff fools us into thinking we are gods, and we forget our passing, temporary nature on this earth.
Jesus is telling us to watch our hearts and give an honest assessment. The rich man received an abundant harvest – which ultimately is a gift from God – and immediately thought of his own profiteering.
When we are doing well, do we immediately think of a new iPhone or do we think of helping others? Do our lives, does the money we earn, help the world’s poorest? Are you and I storing up treasure in heaven by helping the suffering, spreading the good news of Jesus, and feeding the poor? When we are weighed in God’s balances, will we have used our financial blessings to help God’s family…?
Let us commit ourselves to love shown in giving more of the blessings we enjoy.