Sermon for Sunday 31 July 2022
Luke 12.17. The rich man said, What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?
In the middle class newspaper which I read, there is a Money section, very popular among our readers. You can send in your questions to the money experts. The same question comes up month after month: What shall I do? My annual pension contributions are going to exceed the government allowance yet again. The tax implications horrify me. What shall I do? Shall I stop work? The pundits reply. Our advice is: build a bigger barn. We’ll help you keep your money in all sorts of clever ways and wheezes. Then you too can retire, take your ease and eat, drink, and be merry.
The rich man in the parable which Jesus tells today is avaricious, controlled by his possessions, but not necessarily godless. After all, you take your ease, eat, drink and be merry, at least I hope you do, without neglecting God in your life. In the Bible these verbs, often found together, eat, drink and be merry, actually imply well-being, satisfaction, security, good things of which God approves, not necessarily selfishness and dissipation. The rich man will have all these good things, however unpleasant and greedy he might be, because God sends rain on both the just and the unjust. The world teaches us that. In the eyes of the world today, this man’s a winner.
And yet, there is something plaintive about that cry, What shall I do? The possessions have begun to control the rich man rather than the other way round. He is paralysed by anxiety. Greed would not let him part with anything, and that could be justified because in a year of poor harvests a reserve was needed, but because he had so much there was nowhere to store the latest harvest. In fact, that anxious cry What shall I do? Is not dissimilar from the cry of a poor man who sees no way out of poverty. What shall I do? Then death takes the lot, that very night, and if it was today, the taxman gets a huge share. But Jesus’s parable is more than just a morality tale about taking nothing with us when we die. It is about us today and the way we are trying to live a Christian life. Tonight, today, your soul will be required of you; tonight, today, my soul is required of me, not only in death, but in life. That is the crisis which approaches each of us, call it the approach of the Kingdom of God, it is none other than Christ crucified who wishes to enter our souls and give us His life. How easily we avoid this crisis as we transfer possessions from barn to barn. The rich man in the story faced the wrong crisis. We shall never be entirely free from the cares of this world, including the temptation to riches, power and control, but the crisis does come upon each of us, the moment when we can no longer avoid Jesus’s demand that we see the world, and our lives, from the perspective of the Kingdom of God. And this is a crisis which each of us should welcome, because when Christ enters our souls, death is no longer the enemy. We need not share the panic which must have overcome the rich man in the parable at four in the morning as death approached, because, in the words of our epistle, Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God”. And we are raised with Christ, surely that must mean something happening to us now, “a new nature”, a new vision of ourselves requiring that we should “set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”, to turn with determination from darkness to light, from falsehood to truth. That today is a contrarian action, which many will mock, but that doesn’t matter if it sets us free. The world today is in chains, like the rich man imprisoned in his anxiety. We are consumed with progress, success and achievement at the expense of authentic human identity, and the information overload and mass communication, despite the many benefits, feed into this need for more for me, for endless competition, overfilling the human mind, like overfilling a barn with junk just as the rich man filled his barns with surplus crops. That leaves neither time nor space to stop, to look beyond ourselves and our feelings, towards the Kingdom where Christ makes us welcome, with His gift of eternal life.
For St Luke, money and possessions were indicators of loyalty. We in our complex world should be aware of the dangers and responsibilities that arise from what we own. So what are we to do, with all the stuff we accumulate, the funds, the property, the power, the knowledge, the collections, the barns full of crops. What attitude change could we make? I found one answer to that, not in the columns of the Telegraph, but in a sermon on this text from St Luke by St Basil the Great in the fourth century. “Consider yourself, who you are, and what has been committed to your charge… Do not imagine that everything has been provided for you. So… take decisions regarding your property as though it belonged to another.” Now there’s a challenge.
Fr. Julian Browning