Sunday, 4 August 2013

‘If money was no barrier, what would you buy?’

“I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods” (Luke 12: 18) … an empty barn on my grandmother’s former farm near Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 4 August 2013:

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity

10.30 a.m., The Parish Communion,

Tullow Parish Church,

Brighton Road, Carrickmines, Dublin


Readings:

Hosea 11: 1-11; Psalm 107: 1-9, 43; Colossians 3: 1-11; Luke 12: 13-21.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I am not fond of television quiz programmes, or programmes that ask silly questions of people.

You have the programme presenter sitting there, looking smug with both the questions and answers, researched by a paid researcher, and the poor member of the public sitting there, anxious about obscure questions about obscure football matches in 1993 or No 1 hits in 2003, or celebrity weddings in 2013.

I could not, for the life of me, answer any one of these questions. But some poor people, for the sake of €100 or €1,000 – never, it seems, on the way to being a millionaire – are made to look silly or ridiculous.

Quite frankly it’s demeaning. And I have never wanted to hoard up all the answers for a television quiz, or, for that matter, for a parish table quiz. It’s anxiety that I don’t need, and it’s probably knowledge I’m better off not storing up.

Recently, watching one of those programmes as we were idly flicking through television channels, I was told: ‘I could never go on a programme like that with you!’

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Because I could never answer: “What is his favourite piece of music.” Or: “If money was no barrier, what would he buy?”’

Well there is a lot of good music to listen to.

But if money was no barrier, what would I buy?

Would it make me happy?

Would it make anyone else happy?

Would it tell anyone that they are loved, loving, worth loving?

But don’t get me wrong, please.

I understand why the man in this morning’s Gospel reading (Luke 12: 13-21) does many of the things he does.

He has a bumper crop one year, and not enough room to store it. Was he to leave what he could not store to rot in the fields?

It is a foundational principle of all economics, whatever your political values – from Marx and Malthus to Milton Freedman – that the production of surplus food is the beginning of the creation of wealth and the beginning of economic prosperity.

Even if you are a complete suburbanite, it should bring joy to your heart the see the fields of green and gold these weeks, for the abundance of the earth is truly a blessing from God.

And it would have been wrong for this man to leave the surplus food to rot in the fields because he failed to have the foresight to build larger barns to store the surplus grain.

It provides income, creates wealth, allows us to export and so to import. Surplus food is the foundation of economics … and makes generosity, charity and care for the impoverished possible.

For the people who first heard this story, just image those people who first heard this parable – they would have imagined so many images in the Old Testament of the benefits of producing surplus food.

Joseph told Pharaoh to store surplus food in Egypt and to prepare and plan ahead for years of famine (see Genesis 41: 1-36). In the long run, this provides too for the survival of the very brothers who had sold him into slavery (see Genesis 42), and, eventually, for the salvation of the people of God.

The production of extra grain in the fields at the time of the harvest allows Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi to glean in the corners of the field behind the reapers (Ruth 2: 1-4). In the long run, this provides too for the survival of Boaz and his family line, and, eventually, for the salvation of the people of God.

When the people of God go hungry, the provision of surplus food is seen as a sign of God’s love and God’s protection … whether it is:

● the hungry people in the wilderness who are fed with manna (see Exodus 16), which is alluded to in the Psalm provided for this morning (Psalm 107: 1-9, 43);

● or the way the Prophet Hosea reminds the people, in the Old Testament reading provided for this morning that God is the God who can say throughout their history: “I bent down to them and fed them” (Hosea 11: 4);

● or the hungry people who are fed with the abundant distribution of five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14: 13-21; Mark 6: 30-44; Luke 9: 10-17; John 6: 1-14; see Mark 8: 1-9);

● or the Disciples who find the Risen Christ has provided for their needs with breakfast (John 21: 9-14).

Surplus food, wealth, providing for the future, building bigger and better barns … it is never an excuse to “relax, eat, drink, [and] be merry.”

A barn on a farm at Cross in Hand Lane, outside Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Our Gospel reading this morning offers the abundance and generosity of God’s provision as a sign of God’s love, for us as individuals and for all around us.

The rich man is not faulted for being an innovative farmer who manages to grow an abundant crop.

The rich man is not faulted this morning for storing up those crops.

The rich man is not condemned for tearing down his barns and building larger ones to store not only his grain but his goods too.

The rich man is not even condemned for being rich.

The man condemns himself, makes himself look foolish, for thinking that all that matters in life is our own pleasure and personal satisfaction.

We are human because we are made to relate to other humans.

There is no shared humanity without relationship.

We are made in the image and likeness of God, but that image and likeness is only truly found in relationship … for God is already relational, God is already revealed as community, in God’s existence as Trinity.

This man thinks not of his needs, but of his own pleasures. He has a spiritual life … we are told he speaks to his Soul. But he speaks only to his own soul. His spiritual life extends only to his own spiritual needs, to his own Soul, it never reaches out to God who has blessed him so abundantly, the God who in this morning’s Psalm reminds us that he “fills the hungry soul with good” (Psalm 107: 9).

His spiritual never reaches out to God who has blessed him so abundantly, or the people around him who could benefit from his business acumen or from his charitable generosity.

In failing to take account of the needs of others, he fails to realise his own true needs: for a true and loving relationship with God, and a true and loving relationship with others.

He has no concern for the needs of others, physical or spiritual. He is spiritually dead. No wonder Saint Paul says in our epistle reading that greed is idolatry (Colossians 3: 5).

But if he has stopped speaking to God, God has not stopped speaking to him. And God tells him that night in a dream that this man is spiritually dead.

God says to him in that dream that his life is being demanded of him. (Luke 12: 20).

But did you notice how we never hear how he responds, we never hear whether he dies?

The story ends just there.

The Gospel reading for the last Sunday at the end of next month [29 September 2013] is the story of the rich man who kept Lazarus at the gate, and then died (see Luke 16: 19-31). But unlike that rich man, we do not know this morning what happened to the rich man in this morning’s Gospel reading.

Did he die of fright?

Did he die after drinking too much?

Did he wake up and carry on regardless?

Or, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, did he wake up and realise his folly, and embrace the joys of the Incarnation?

I am challenged not to pass judgment on the Rich Man. Instead, Christ challenges me, in the first part of this reading (Luke 12: 13-15), to put myself in the place of this man.

If we are to take the earlier part of this Gospel reading to heart, perhaps we might reserve judgment on this foolish rich man.

Perhaps, instead of judging this young man with the benefit of hearing this story over and over again, perhaps in the light of the first part of this Gospel reading, we might reflect on this Gospel reading by asking ourselves two questions:

“If money was no barrier, what would I buy?”

and:

“Would that choice reflect the priorities Christ sets us of loving God and loving one another?”

[Silence]

And so may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Collect:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

O God, as we are strengthened by these holy mysteries,
so may our lives be a continual offering,
holy and acceptable in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at the Parish Communion in Tullow Parish Church, Carrickmines, Co Dublin, on Sunday 4 August 2013.

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