Sermon by Revd Canon Paul Maybury
Last week were listening to a reading from Luke Chapter 11 and here we are, this week, in the Luke Chapter 12. There’s some interesting teaching and healings in between but the chosen reading today includes the so-called Parable of the Rich Fool.
There are plenty of references in the Gospel to the challenges faced by those who want to follow Jesus but who also have some wealth.
What must I do to inherit eternal life, says the rich young man to Jesus – “go and and sell what you have; give it to the poor and then come and follow me”, says Jesus. “It is easier for the camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven”.
And from today’s reading, Jesus says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist of the abundance of possessions.”
It’s only a few weeks now until Sarah and I move house, so we’ve begun the task of sorting and tidying and realising that somehow, since we’ve cleared both our parent’s homes in the time that we’ve been here, that we have an abundance of possessions and we need to do something about it and soon!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t quite understand how clothes in the wardrobe multiply in the way that they seem to do or toys for the children or food in the cupboard or books on the bookshelf!
And here, in today’s reading, the focus of the story that Jesus tells, is of a rich man who was blessed with land that gave a good return on his crops.
As you read through the Old Testament you will see that people like this are understood to be blessed by God for having such fruitful land. Even in other stories that Jesus told, like the parable of the talents, there is the expectation, from Jesus, that the right thing to do; the best thing to do, is to take the talents you’ve been given and to multiply them. It was the person in the story who failed to multiply the talent that he’d received who was told that he did not do what was required.
So what about this story, what challenge is Jesus bringing? What point is he wanting his hearers to go away and debate?
I think that the introduction to the parable gives us the clue, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”
And as we look at the parable we soon see that it wasn’t so much the abundance of the crops that Jesus had any difficulty with, rather it was the selfishness and greed of the land-owner that Jesus was challenging.
Listen to the way in which the land-owner speaks:
Firstly, he thinks to HIMSELF, what should I do, for I have no place to store my crops. 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.
This guy has no interest or concern at all for the rest of the village or for the workers in the man’s fields. After all it is LAND which has produced abundantly.
But, he’s focused solely on himself!
He is the epitome of selfishness. No thankfulness to the Creator for the fruitfulness of the seed. No gratitude for the rain and the sun. No acknowledgement of the work of others. No recognition of the sovereignty of God over all things.
Do you remember to the story of Zakeeus? The short tax collector who climbed the tree so that he could see Jesus? And Jesus invited himself to Zakeeus’ house for tea. He wanted to become a follower of Jesus but he had been greedy and selfish and so he decided to give back to those that he had taken from. He made reparation for selfishness and greed. This is what naturally happened when he started following the Master Carpenter from Nazareth.
So back to the story. The selfish and greedy man, stockpiling for the future, “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have AMPLE goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
Even children understand this story. This rich man is the one you would boo at in the pantomime. He is the baddy! He’s the one who has got his attitudes and priorities all wrong. He is indeed a FOOL.
And then the story abruptly comes to an end because the God “in whom we live and breath and have our being” calls time and what happens to all the stored crops in the larger barns? It is all wasted as the rich man is no longer there to enjoy his savings.
“So it is”, says Jesus, “with those who store up treasures for THEMSELVES.” It is ultimately a complete waste.
And I guess that we can understand and agree with what Jesus is saying and can think to ourselves, of course, I’m not like that! But am I?
And if I’m honest with myself I have to admit that I now have two bicycles in my garage when I only used to have one. Yes, I have filled a few more shelves with books over the last few years. Yes, there is more money in my deposit account than there was previously. Maybe, however, it’s not so much about the quantity of what I have but more about the value I place upon what I have? How would I be if I lost many of my possessions or much of my wealth? How would I be then?
But am I selfish or greedy – of course I’m not! But maybe I am more than I think I am!
On Wednesday evening a number of us met online, as we do regularly, to read the forthcoming Gospel reading and to pray in silence asking God, by his Spirit, to speak his word to our hearts.
It’s an ancient way of allowing the words of the Bible to be heard in a fresh and often very powerful way.
And as we prayed in silence more than one of us were drawn to the final phrase in today’s Gospel.
“So it is with those who store up treasures for THEMSELVES but are not rich towards God.” It was the phrase rich towards God which challenged us and got us asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be rich towards God”?
This seems to be the positive side of the coin – to discover being rich towards God and so I found myself praying, “Lord show me what I can do to be rich towards you.”
So, I encourage you to pray that prayer as well, “Lord show me what I can do to be rich towards you.”
Being rich towards God seems a good aspiration to have. It seems to be the conclusion that the Gospel writer, Luke, wants us to take away with us. But what does being rich towards God look like?
The rich man in the story believed that his riches were only for him rather than acknowledging that they were God’s gift to be shared with others.
God’s generosity knows no bounds! But, as we often say in our worship, “All things come from you, and of your own do we give back to you.”
There is that biblical understanding that everything is God’s and we are but custodians and stewards for the period of our lives.
It was last Sunday that I received an email from a family member saying that the person that I had taken a memorial service for had left some money for the Cathedral in their will and they wanted to know the Cathedral’s bank details.
It was a lovely surprise. The person who had died had made a decision, whilst they were alive, to share some of the grain that they had stored in their barn, with the Cathedral. They were not a member of the Cathedral congregation but respected and valued the ministry of the cathedral. Their donation will help support the delivery of that continuing ministry.
Being rich towards God may well involve being financially generous to God’s church both whilst we’re alive and after we’ve gone.
To be rich towards God is, I believe, to value what God values and to use, what resources we might have, to support what God values.
It’s wonderful that so many of us here today volunteer in different ways to help support and sustain the life of the Cathedral. Whether during the week or on a Sunday, many of you generously give of your time, your energies and skills to support the ministry of the Cathedral. Many of you also do the same with other charities in your communities. Doing so is being rich towards God and if you’d like to find out how you can volunteer please speak to any of the clergy or the churchwardens over refreshments afterwards.
But this is not really a plug for money or volunteering. This is about encouraging you to be in a good relationship with the God who created you, loves you and trusts you to be used by him to be the bearer of the good news of the kingdom.
You and I have been generously given so much by God (and here I’m not thinking only about our possessions and homes and bank accounts). God has generously given us so much. For some of us this may feel that it was some time ago but, “today is the day that the Lord has made, so let us rejoice and be glad in it.” And let us be rich to God by hearing his words to us and quietly and confidently trusting him and following him and sharing what we have received.
God has been and will continue to be rich towards you and in return we are invited to be rich towards him.
May we each be blessed in finding what that looks like for us – today and each day this week.