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Sunday Sermon 31/7/2016

How Foolish can you get?

Luke 12:13-21

A sermon preached by Canon Simon Everett

on Sunday, 31st July 2016

Lady St Mary Church, Wareham

There’s a point in the movie ‘Braveheart’ where William Wallace states that, "Every man dies, not every man really lives."

Well, ultimately today’s readings ask us to think about what life is really about, how it should be lived and to whom we are accountable (if anyone)?

If you were here last Remembrance sermon you will know I used a quote from Field Marshall Lord Montgomery, who said, ‘True Liberty is to do what we ought to do.  It is not liberty to do what we like.’  They are words of great wisdom (prophetic words, even) that I keep coming back to in my thoughts and prayers.  Unfortunately they are words that have largely gone unheeded.  As time passes people increasingly want the right to do as they like, when they like, and how they like.  And woe-betide anyone who disagrees, they are soon labelled and marginalized as bigots.   Liberality it would seem does not equate to tolerance!  This is why, so often the Church is seen as out of touch and irrelevant.  But if you look at the mess our society is in at the moment you have to wonder who is it that is out of touch?   ‘True liberty is to do what we ought to do, not what we like.’ And what ought we to do?  The answer is live lives that are pleasing to God.

In today’s parable the rich man could represent so many people in the world around us, we probably know many who have the same world-view, “Relax, eat, drink and be merry”.  For so many, it is all about living in the now and enjoying it to the full.  That’s what the advertisements tell us; that is what our politicians aim for and the media suggest we are entitled to a life of enjoyment.  The philosophers, scientists and social commentators tell us this is all there is, so we might as well make the most of it.

And this is how it is in the parable and too late the rich man discovers this is not the case – there is more.  He may be rich and contented in his own eyes, but in God’s eyes he is a fool.

First, he is a fool because he had full barns, but an empty heart. He was rich in the eyes of the world; he was poor in God’s eyes. The question that we should ask ourselves this morning is: Are we rich in God’s eyes?

St. Jerome, writing about 400 A.D., tells of a godly woman who “preferred to store her money in the stomachs of the needy than in her purse.” It is all right to make investments, as long as we understand that the best investment that we can make is in the Kingdom of God.

The man in the parable was a fool because he banked on full barns. But let us, the people of God, store our money in the stomachs of the hungry, the minds of the uneducated, the bodies of the sick, the spirits of the oppressed, and the spread of the Gospel. Then we shall be rich in God’s eyes, which is what really counts.

Secondly this man was a fool because he overestimated his own value in the scheme of things. Listen to how he talked: I will store my grain, I will build bigger barns, I will say to myself. In four short verses the rich man used the word “I” and “my” ten times. He did not see others as the source of his bounty, or even God, only himself. His error is not that he was a wealthy man, his foolishness lay in his superficiality and egotism.

A PhD student in agriculture said that by his estimate nature provides 95% of the energies necessary to produce a crop, while the farmer provides 5%. Yet, in Jesus story this narcissistic farmer is using the words I and mine as though he is the only one involved.

In the movie Shenandoah, James Stewart plays a Virginia farmer during the Civil War years. He begins every meal with the same prayer: “Lord, I planted the seeds, I ploughed the ground, I gathered in the harvest. If I hadn’t of put the food on the table it wouldn’t be here. But we thank you anyway.” We had all better understand the role of grace and mystery in life or we too might fall pray to the sin of thinking too highly of ourselves.  It’s so easy to think that it’s all about me (because I’m worth it), and about what I do.  But as Christians we must look to the bigger picture, and acknowledge the part that God plays, giving thanks.

Third, this man was a fool because he forgot what his real business in life was all about.  As his possessions possessed him, the man’s world shrank until his own comfort completely filled his horizons.  The needs of others and the worship of God failed even to register on the periphery.  You see mortality brings reality, and his true state was revealed – but too late.

Jesus is suggesting to us that our business in life goes far beyond wealth, investments, and tax forms, even our own happiness.  Our business in life is not to be successful; it is to be faithful. It is not to amass worldly goods, but to grow closer to the mind of God. It is not to become rich in things, but to deepen our love for people. That is our business, but a fool will never grasp it.

So how do we go about living a life that pleases God?  This is where our reading from the Epistle to the Colossians (3:1-11) comes in.  (I am going to read it from a very contemporary version of the Bible called ‘The Message’ it is loosely translated as if Paul were righting to a younger person of today, but it captures a life and vitality that is sometimes lost in some of the more traditional translations.)

‘1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

5-8 And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.

9-11 Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.’1

Is that what your life looks like?

I urge you:

-       Store your money in the stomachs of the hungry, whoever they may be.

-       Acknowledge God’s part in all that you have and all that you are.

-       Bring Christ in to every part of your life.  Be defined by Christ, and love as he has loved you.

Then you will be rich in God’s eyes.

1. Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.”