Saturday, 4 August 2007

This Sunday's Sermon.

'Eat, Drink, have a good time' But God said to him, 'Fool! This very night the demand will be laid on your soul'
For those who asked, here is the text of my sermon for tomorrow. Bear in mind it is also for a Baptism, so don't go copying it and reading it out all blearly-eyed at the 8am Holy Communion and wonder why you lose people towards the end.......
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

This gospel, like so many others, revolves around money and property. It is not surprising that the subject comes up so often, given how much of a part of life these things are. Often Jesus himself raises the subject of our need and desire for money, but on this occasion he responds to a demand made of him.
The man in the crowd who shouts to Jesus has become embroiled in a family dispute about inheritance. From the little that is said, it sounds like one of those typically acrimonious quarrels among siblings about who will get their parents' money. This man has become pretty absorbed in the dispute -- you notice it is the very first topic he considers worth raising with Jesus. And think about how we get absorbed in things which are not of God next time you swear at a passing driver for cutting you up!
He may have good reasons for his absorption. Reading between the lines, he is a younger brother and he has got a rough deal. The elder brother would have received most of what was left by the parents - as was the norm in Jewish inheritance law - and now this elder brother is refusing to part even with the much smaller share owing to his sibling. So the man who addresses Jesus has not only missed out on the inheritance of an elder child, he has been cheated out of what is legally his. No wonder he protests.
Jesus takes issue with none of this. In some ways, he sounds sympathetic to this defrauded sibling. He addresses him in familiar terms (he calls him by an expression that could be translated 'friend'). At the same time, the whole question of the inheritance is firmly put to one side; it is resolved neither one way nor another. Instead, Jesus draws attention to something else. Here, as so often in the Gospels, Jesus’ responses do not quite fit into the space bracketed out for them by the people who ask the questions. Like any good teacher, Jesus tends to want to move people on.
Here what he addresses is not the particular case, the injustice of the elder brother: instead, he speaks about the effects that certain kinds of preoccupation with money can have on who a person is. Jesus is responding not so much to the complaint of the cheated brother -- or to the thousands of cases like it -- as to what he hears beneath these complaints. What he cares about for the time being is not this case but something more fundamental, which is what our possessiveness does to us.
'Take care and keep yourselves from all greed'. It is not hard to see some of the reasons for this warning. In the case of the defrauded sibling, attachment to the inheritance has already brought division and mistrust between the brothers. Greed has led the older brother to cheat his younger (and so more vulnerable) blood relative. The younger sibling is tormented by the injustice done him. In the light of all this, a warning against 'greed' seems very much to the point. But Jesus gently goes further in revealing the mechanisms that lead people to hoard.
In the parable, the landowner's absorption in 'free enterprise' also has quietly had very destructive effects. So intent is this successful businessman on being comfortable that he loses sight of other more important things. His world is a strangely egotistical one: you notice he speaks only to himself and of himself, neither to God nor to his friends. He tries to carve out a little corner of happiness for himself -- a temptation to all of us -- but that in a way makes him blind. This landowner has put his trust in his financial well-being: by so doing, he has destroyed his capacity for more the fundamental kind of trust which is faith.
He has become so absorbed in his grandiose projects for the preservation of his wealth (tearing down barns and building bigger ones), he has given so much energy to these plans, that he shows no signs at all of having time to recognise the wiser and more benevolent project at work in the universe as a whole. He thinks he is safe and never considers that his only real safety is with the one who loves the whole world infinitely and unpossessively.
What this man has done is the very opposite of what Jesus again and again tries to teach people to do. Instead of trying to create happiness for themselves by storing up their good gifts -- a tempting impossibility - they are to give themselves away. They are to be generous, extraordinarily generous; they are to give away all they can. In that way they are to know and love and become like their Father, who gives endlessly and without demanding anything in return.
What are your barns, our barns? What do we tear down to make again in bigger, better and flashier ways? Our clothes? Houses? Jewelery? Car? Status? Our vanities. None of these things matter, for when we are called before the Judge at the end of our time, which could be anytime and anywhere, there are signs that we will bear which are indelible. Things that we cannot rub out. Sin, greed, lust, envy, grace, joy, love and so on. We believe, and the wider Christian church believes that Baptism is the key to life in Jesus Christ. We believe that it is key to our passage over the Jordan. When we call the ferryman, it is the only currency he takes, the thing we can undergo or have done to a child that is of lasting and permanent value.
We all, as a community baptize each other. Fr Patrick does not baptize you, I do not baptize you, we, through the power of the love of God, baptize each other. We welcome you into our family and we give each other serious bonds to fulfill before the whole community of God. To love, cherish, teach and protect the baptized and to continue the saving Grace given in this Sacrament throughout our lives.
In the mean time, until Jesus comes again, he has called each and every one of us here, to this place, here and now. He has called us to follow him into repentance and into cleansing and into prayer. Then he calls us to follow him into the world to live righteously. He calls us into the streets to cloth and house the needy. He calls us into the hospital wards filled with the unwanted to show God's mercy. He calls us into the fields to put out the fires of hatred. He calls us into the homes to bind the broken lives. He calls us into the darkness of human life to bring the light of Christ.
But how can we do all that; minister to the brokenness of the world. We are often broken ourselves. How can we overcome the power of sin, when we are often powerless? Jesus could do it because he was God, but how can I follow him? It was easy for Jesus. He was born to be the savior of the world, but how can we who need saving ourselves, play a part in delivering others?
The answer is in a little detail in Jesus' baptism. After Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove. When we respond to God's call, as Jesus did, the spirit descends on us. When we repent and ask God to cleanse our lives, God empowers us to minister as Christ did. Jesus didn't need any more power than he already had, but we do. We need the Holy Spirit's power.
Baptism is a symbol of God's action of adopting us as his children. And as his children God assigns us certain chores. I don't want to call them chores. Because God's calling is a joy. Just as God called his only begotten son to minister so he calls us, his adopted sons and daughters. The task that God calls us too is too big for us alone. But God does not abandon his children. God is with us through the Holy Spirit's presence.
When you give yourself to God, the Father will anoint you with the Holy Spirit and make you a spirit breathing child of God. John said, "The one who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." That is a promise from God. Believe it! Expect it! Wait for it! Stand on the tip of your toes looking for God to be at work in your life. And as surely as the spirit descended on Jesus, it will descend on ……… (N)……….. And empower ……… (N)……….. and us to perform the acts of God's children.
We are about to do the most wonderful thing here, together as a family of God. Let us take a little time in prayer to thank God for our lives and our baptism and to pray that when the demand is made on our soul, that we may be found ready with our lamps burning and hearts on fire.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.