May I speak and may we hear in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It would be easy to think of our parable as a tale of woe against greed and wealth, I think there is more to it… The man is acting shrewdly he could sell his excess crops but wouldn’t get a great price because there were lots of crops being sold at harvest time, he could add onto his existing barns but then he’d be leaving less land for crop growing later on. What he had forgotten in all of his shrewdness and wealth accumulation is what it might mean to be wealthy towards God. The way in which God’s idea of what a rich life looks like and the man’s idea of what a rich life looks like are completely at odds. Jesus is asked to arbitrate over a piece of property, and you can’t escape the impatience in Jesus’ voice as he responds. I wonder if Jesus who ‘will come again to judge the living and the dead’, is really saying that he has no right to judge in this case? I don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about. The rich man has already decided what is important to him, and he has lived his life by that decision. The judgement then is one that he has already made and this is what Jesus wants us to understand.
Colossians might not cheer us up very much. There is a long list of sins and vices – that we somehow have to get rid of, or risk the wrath of God. Before we get too comfortable about this speaking to the people of yesteryear rather than to us I wonder if like me we can rest easy that we haven’t done all the things on the list but I suspect none of can’t identify a few things we have been guilty of! How do we put to death what is earthly, human? And how is that a positive thing to do, one that means we are obeying the command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength?
Each and every day we make choices and decisions about what to value, what to give our heart to. These brothers, fighting over their inheritance, have come to the Judge of all the earth. They have a chance now, to listen to Jesus and choose the kingdom, or to allow the squabble about money to distract them. I wonder what our distractions from choosing the kingdom might be?
Have you ever been in a position where you have had to make a life changing choice? A huge choice. The kind of choice where sometimes you make the choice first a painful or hard one but then have to grow into living the choice for real. There all kinds of choices like this aren’t there? This is the kind of choice depicted in Colossians. The people who are reading this letter have already made their choice. They have chosen the new life of Christ, to the point where they can emphatically say that the old life is dead. And yet that old life clings onto them, they can’t shift it. Despite the choice they have made, both costly and joyful, they are still unable to live Christ’s risen life. Over and over again, in all that they do daily, they have to go on making that choice in the small things. That one great decision, to live in Christ, then has increasingly to shape all the smaller decisions, so that each part of their lives demonstrates what they value. I don’t know about you but I was struck by the two lists in Colossians. The first list seems to concentrate on the big things, the ones I think that most of us would agree are signs of an immoral life, while the second one is focused on the smaller things, that are easier to forgive ourselves for, but that actually have an insidious and creeping effect on our judgement and on our life together. Colossians makes a forcible connection between these smaller choices and the huge choices for Jesus.
So how do we ‘put to death’ what is earthly, the qualities in us that we regret but also those things that are actively harming or damaging ourselves and those around us? And how do we reconcile this with the fact that we are earthly, human and fallible? I think this is where we need to be honest about what it means to follow Christ, and about those things that are incompatible with following Christ. If we choose God, truly choose God, then we are not to allow greed in such excess that others live in poverty, whether this is individual or corporate. The rich man in the story would’ve been more akin to a business or company – wealthy enough to own land and hire workers. It is criminal when rich companies do not pay their taxes. It is illegal when people are trafficked or exploited with no hope of fairness or freedom. It is scandalous when supplier’s prices are raised so much that people cannot afford to eat or use electricity or heat their homes. It is wrong when these values are called unrealistic or that those who hold to them do not live in the real world, because this is only the ‘real world’ if we allow it to be, if we choose to adhere to those values of greed and wealth over God’s values of justice and righteousness and love. As Christians we must raise our voices against such injustice and fight for God’s values and priorities to be upheld then we will be being the church bringing heaven to earth aligning with kingdom values.
The choice we are being offered is not between a harsh and world denying morality or a holistic and world affirming one, but between reality and illusion. The reality is that the world was made by God, and is utterly beloved of God. To choose Jesus is to choose to be part of what the world is actually for. It is to choose to be part of God’s image, his life that fills the world and redeems it. Jesus is not mean he longs to shower grace and new life on people of every race and place. But like with the man in our passage today can see when we become dependant on the security of things to the exclusion of God. God’s answer in those circumstances is short “you fool life isn’t like that. The kingdom of God isn’t like that”
The kingdom of God is at its heart about God’s sovereignty sweeping the world with love and power, so that human beings may relax into God’s values, letting go of the race of the world. This is not a command for all Christians to shed all possessions and treasures. In Acts Luke himself describes Christian communities which are bank rolled with money and where people are living in their own homes with possessions around them he doesn’t suggest this is rebellious or bad. What Jesus is advocating is the sharing of the resources that we have and a turning away from grasping and greed. What matters is the kingdom of God is bringing the values and priorities of God himself to bear on the greed and anxiety of the world. As disciples that is what we are challenged to model and to witness to the world.
The reality here is that to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength and to love our neighbour as yourself is something we all have to choose to do, and choose to do again and again and again. God made the world and is so utterly in love with their creation and with us, that when we too choose to love God, neighbour and ourselves, then we become part of this love and reflect God’s image. In this love redemption lies, in this love wealth that reflects God lies, in this love hang all the law and the prophets..” As the cost of living rises (maybe even before) I wonder how often you audit your energy provider, or your finances, pension provision, money which has to last until the next time you get some more. We all audit those things in some way in our households in one way or another fairly regularly. I wonder when the last time you did a faith audit. When you last asked what things took up your time, how the things you were doing, thinking and spending your time on fitted with the values and priorities of God? I urge you to consider doing that this week as we examine the things that are our priorities and evaluating them against God’s priorities and values and shed them, share them or use them for God’s purpose and witness. As a church our challenge is to consider how we as individuals and community model God’s priorities and values in the way we behave, use our voice to fight for God’s justice and how we model where we place value and worth. As a community and as individuals our faith audit will support us to assess whether we are fools like the rich man, or are on our way to turning to God and loving God with all our hearts