The Choices We Make
Sermon 4th August 2019 “The Choices We Make”
Reading – Luke 12: 13-21
What is a good life well lived?
I feel like I am preaching on this topic all the time, yet maybe this is what Jesus ultimately was trying to teach us!!
Let me read the quote I finished my sermon with a couple of weeks ago, from Barbara Brown Taylor –
“Add this, then, to the things on the kitchen table that I have decided I will keep: I will keep my faith – in God, in God’s faith in me, and in all the companions who God has given me to help see the world as God sees it – so that together we may find a way to realise the divine vision. If some of us do not yet know who we are going to be tomorrow, then it is enough for us to give thanks for today while we treat each other as well as we know how. “Be kind,” wrote Philo of Alexandria, “for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle”. We may be in for a long wait before the Holy Spirit shows us a new way to be the church together, but in the meantime there is nothing to prevent us from enjoying the breeze of those bright wings.”
Be kind!, wrote Philo of Alexandria, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. This became so real to be when I went back to Uni for this semester and found out that one of the colleagues, a young man, married with 3 kids under 7, was very ill. He has cancer and was on an experimental drug that does not seem to be working. His prognosis is very poor. Yet when I worked with him he was positive, helpful, kind, and grateful for the job he had given when he couldn’t now work as a dentist. Living a meaningful life in the muck and misery and marvel of it all.
Maybe there’s a lesson for us in that.
Sometimes living a life, however short, can show us that it’s as simple and as difficult as loving. Once we love, know love, give love, we will never find life meaning less. And to live with gratitude and wonder that we are alive at all helps us on the journey . I think that is what my beautiful workmate is doing. For some of us seem to find the inner truth of life, even when life is not so joyful.
I’m not sure whether he is a Jesus follower or not, yet maybe he has the essence of today’s message without even trying.
Today we have a reading from Luke which includes a parable, or some would say an example story, from Jesus, which reinforces all that I have just said. Fullness of life does not come from having more things, coveting more things, but from sharing more love, and caring for one another.
The reading starts with an exchange between Jesus and a man about a family inheritance. These opening sentences are very early, well before Jesus becomes a person of worship and the gospels were written. They are earthly and practical, much like his life. In the exchange Jesus doesn’t really answer the question. Instead he talks about greed, thinking the man is being fuelled by greed and suggests that one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
Pretty direct, don’t you think?
But just to emphasise the point Luke follows this exchange with the parable of the rich farmer.
This story is only found in Luke, but there are parallels in many of the Jewish writings. Writings that talk about sharing and community and the poor. We could say that there are also parallels in much of what Jesus says and does.
You recall that the parable opens with the landlord celebrating the fact his land has produced abundantly. This may not be such a bad thing, except in the 1stcentury this was a very bad thing. Because the idea that everyone can be rich was not how they understood it. If someone was rich then someone was poor, and desiring more for oneself was the most terrible of vices and destructive to community.
So it is not just the fact that the farmer was rich, although there are many parables and stories that criticize wealth. It is about what he did with his wealth. It is about greed, which has a greater impact on those around us. And on us.
So what did the farmer do? As Rex Hunt suggests
We hear him thinking about it …
I don’t have enough room for my abundant harvest
I will pull down my barns
I will build a bigger one
I will take things easy, eat drink and have a good time.
He has no thoughts for others
Slaves, family, tenants, day workers, peasants.
No thoughts for others or what he could do to improve their lives.
As Greg Jenks says “in a world where so many of his fellow citizens were falling into debt, his response to the amazing good fortune that had befallen him seems incompatible with the generosity of heaven that Jesus celebrated in his action and his teachings. Rather than proclaiming a messianic banquet and inviting to the feast those unable to repay his hospitality, this farmer wishes to hoard it away for his own benefit in the times to come.”
How can he hoard his gift, his abundance while so many go without the necessities of life? He seems to believe the miracle is his, the abundance is his alone for him to use as he wants.
But there is a sting in the tail!
In the end the farmer dies overnight, and there are no times to come. There is no taking it easy. No good times to be had. We find out that being rich does not save you from deaths unexpected arrival.
I feel like a joke was played on the farmer. A very bad joke.
Yet the story is extremely powerful, a story that hits at the heart of our own world, our own lives as well as those who were listening in the 1stcentury.
And its’ actually very uncomfortable to hear it.
Don’t we also try to protect our wealth, invest and endeavour to grow our nest, planning for our future?
Don’t we also sometimes wish for an easy relaxing life, without stress and worry, without the need to help or nurture others?
Don’t we sometimes dream of cars and houses and holidays?
I know I do, particularly the holiday part.
And what about our responsibility to others in a world sense, for we are now a global village.
How different are we from the rich farmer, with our response to global need in the face of our amazing and undeserved prosperity!!!
We just marked world overshoot day, as you know from the children’s address, which maybe says it all. To remind you, Overshoot Day is the day, each year when humanity has consumed a full year’s worth of resources, and for the rest of the year we are running on credit or we are diminishing the earth. Internationally this day fell on July 29, but in Australia, we are drastic consumers of the planet and we met our overshoot day on March 31.
A bit shocking, don’t you think!
So these are not easy questions, not for any of us living in an affluent society and country which expects us to buy more things, achieve more things, own more things, and then rest easy without thought to sharing what we have.
But there is something else in the parable which also speaks to us today, which may help direct us and give us strength for the journey. It comes right at the end. For in the closing we hear that the man was not rich towards God. He did these things because he was not rich towards God.
Rich toward God, what does that mean?
As Bill Loader writes, “his could mean having credit in ones God account which will pay off any misdemeanours and ensure a place in the divine rest home.” Or for some future life in heaven.” Many believe that. But Bill suggests otherwise, “ it most likely means living the kind of life which God values, whether there is a reward or not, or which has its own reward.”
The passage assumes that life and being rich towards God coincide. Life is Gods life, sharing Gods life, being what we were made to be.
Jesus gives us an image of that life. A fullness of life that has nothing to do with money or possessions. When the lawyer asked about external life and pressed the point he heard a parable about a Samaritan. We know that God’s way through Jesus is about kindness, generosity, love, forgiveness, justice and equity and above all peace.
This is God’s way, Jesus’ way, and it’s our way as well.
As Albert Sweitzer said, which I also used in my last sermon,
“The demands of Jesus are difficult because they require us to do something extraordinary. At the same time he asks us to regard these acts of goodness as something usual, ordinary”.
Let me read the parable again, this time using Nathan Nettleton’s paraphrase, which I love.
Luke 12: 13-21
Someone called out to Jesus from the crowd, saying, “Teacher, tell my brother to give me my fair share of the family inheritance.”
But Jesus replied, “Come on, mate. What makes you think I’m in the business of family mediation?”
And turning to the crowd, he said, “Keep a close eye on your values! Greed has all sorts of ways of getting under your guard if you don’t take care. Don’t get sucked into thinking that life is all about how much stuff you own. Let me illustrate. A certain rich man had an absolutely bumper year. His business interests and investments all went through the roof, and at the end of the year he had so much money he didn’t know what to do with it all. So he said to himself, ‘I’m going to put it all away for myself and live off the interest. I’ll never need to work again. I’ll surround myself with the best of everything and just put my feet up, pat myself on the back, and eat and drink to my heart’s content.’
“But God said to him, ‘You mindless twit! Your number’s up. Tonight you’ll kick the bucket, and what will you be remembered for? Nothing but a stockpile of goodies heading for the tax office!’
“That is the way it goes for all those who accumulate wealth for their own selfish pleasure and have nothing invested in anything that God values.”
So it is clear from the parable that economic prosperity does not provide a deep satisfaction with life. We would be twits to believe otherwise. We need a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning and a shared life with others to give that deep satisfaction. We also need to pause, be grateful and sit in awe with the life so abundant around us. Nothing should be taken for granted.
Yet there is more. We also get a deep satisfaction from living a life rich towards God, a life that is in harmony with the Divine spirit found within us and all of creation,. God I think urges us out of the deepest areas of our inner self. To connect with and for others
But life is complicated at the best of times. We can be influenced by our society’s need for quick fixes and instant gratification, and the call to buy more things at whatever cost.
Maybe we need a guide.
Our guide is Jesus for we believe the spirit of God is seen most clearly in Jesus of Nazareth.
And what did Jesus value. A relationship with God and with each other.
Unfortunately the rich farmer didn’t get it in our story today. Jesus doesn’t make it prescriptive, it’s a choice! It was a choice for him and it’s a choice for us.
You may not need to be a Jesus follower to get it, like my very ill colleague but sometimes it helps, so that our choices continue to be positive and life giving, for everyone…
Jesus leads the way for us.
Even though it will never be easy.
Sometimes we should scoff at easy, and just get on with it. For getting on with it will lead to a good, and meaningful life for us all and a future for our world.