04 August 2019
‘And I will say to my soul,
Soul, you have ample goods
… relax, eat, drink, be merry’
Sunday 4 August 2019,
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VII)
9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limeick.
Readings: Hosea 11: 1-11; Psalm 107: 1-9, 43; Colossians 3: 1-11; Luke 12: 13-21. There is a link to the readings HERE.
May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
I did not watch any of the episodes of Love Island. Nor am I too fond of television quiz programmes, or programmes that ask silly questions of people.
You have programme presenters sitting there, looking smug with both the questions and answers, researched by paid researchers, and the poor members of the public sitting there, anxious about obscure questions about the crew members of the Moon Landing in 1969, or the No 1 hits in 2009, or celebrity weddings in 2019.
I could not, for the life of me, answer any one of those 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, I find it demeaning. I enjoy the fun of table quizzes as fundraisers. But I have never wanted to hoard up all the answers for a television quiz, or, for that matter, for a parish table quiz. As I advance in years, I know this is anxiety that I do not need, and it is probably knowledge I am better off not storing up.
Recently, watching one of those programmes as we were idly flicking through the channels to see what was on the television, 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, that I love them, that I really enjoy their love? And I don’t meant what passes for love on Love Island.
On the other hand, I understand why the man in this Gospel reading 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 ‘townie,’ it should bring joy to your heart to 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, allows us to plan for the future. Surplus food is the foundation of economics … and it makes possible generosity, charity and care for the impoverished.
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 this morning’s psalm (Psalm 107: 1-9, 43);
● or the way the Prophet Hosea reminds the people, in our Old Testament reading this morning (Hosea 11: 1-11), 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 … yet it is never an excuse to ‘relax, eat, drink, [and] be merry’ (Luke 12: 19).
This Gospel reading 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 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, he makes himself look foolish, for thinking that all that matters in life is my own pleasure and my 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 (verse 19). 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 the Psalm reminds us that he ‘fills the hungry soul with good’ (Psalm 107: 9).
His spiritual persona never reaches out to or acknowledges God who has blessed him so abundantly, or to the people around him who have needs and who could benefit from his charitable generosity or from his business acumen.
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 the 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, how we never hear whether he dies?
The story ends just there.
The Gospel reading on the last Sunday of next month [29 September 2019, the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity] 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 are never told 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?
These may not be the sort of questions you would be asked on Who wants to be a millionaire?. However, 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, just like Christ reserves judgment on the man who wants a share of his brother’s riches.
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?’
‘Would that choice reflect the priorities Christ sets us of loving God and loving one another?’
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Luke 12: 13-21:
13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘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 towards God.’
Liturgical Colour: Green
Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
Graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
May we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
569, Hark, my soul, it is the Lord (CD 33)
260, Christ is alive! Let Christians sing (CD 16)
41, God, whose farm is all creation (CD 3)
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.