Saturday, 31 July 2010

Building bigger and better?


Sunday 1st August 2010

Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
           Luke 12:13-21
Vanity of vanities… all is vanity.
I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.
What a gloomy picture the philosopher paints in Ecclesiastes.
Even if one works hard and does well, what is the point – Those who come after may not be at all careful with the results of one’s labour.
So why bother?
In the words of Eeyore – it’s just “another gloomy day”.
Fortunately, when we come to our gospel reading, we meet something much more optimistic – a completely different outlook on life – a farmer who had done well, who has had a good year, and who wants to capitalize on his hard work and prosperity.
Surely there is nothing wrong with that?
It seems perfectly natural to want to make the most of something that has been achieved by hard work and commitment.
Indeed, we even have biblical precedent for such good stewardship:
Joseph, at the time of a predicted famine in Egypt was encouraged, by God, to save in the good years, to enable provision for the lean years.
So, what is the difference here?
Why has this parable become known as the parable of the Rich fool?
Is it foolish to look ahead?
Is it foolish to plan well for the future?
Of course it’s not.
Why then did Jesus end the parable with these words:
But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

What is being condemned in this passage is not prosperity but priority.
Of course Jesus isn’t condemning the farmer’s hard work.
OR his satisfaction at his achievement.
What Jesus is condemning is the priorities he sets.
Priorities that are more about consolidating than about sharing.
More about gathering in than about spreading out.
More about living the good life than living the blessed life.
God does not condemn any of us for being good stewards, particularly in the affairs of the kingdom, but God is concerned that, when our hard work pays off, whether in the lean years or the prosperous years, that we will get our priorities right and concentrate on blessings rather than on possessions.
That our focus will not be on becoming bigger and better so that we can take it easy but that our priority will always be to serve God as best we can by serving God’s people.

This parable speaks to this people in Castlehill church today.
A people who began worship together in a barn.
A people who, at God’s prompting built bigger and better barns.
A people, some of that generation and many of the next generation, who have priorities to set today about our witness and our worship in this time and place.
God speaks to us today.
Those words of Jesus about being, first of all rich toward God, call us to account today.
To make sure we get the priorities right.
So that before we look to the good life, we first of all ensure that we seek to live a blessed life.
Sharing with others the prosperity that we know.
Even in these days of economic recession.
Even in these days when government predictions are all about further cuts and higher taxation.
Especially in these days, God prompts us to get our priorities right.
It’s not that it’s wrong to be proud of where we are, of what we have achieved – and the achievements of those who have gone before us.
We have much to celebrate.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
But what is important is the priorities we set for the future, building on those blessings that we have known.
Still we are called to serve this parish and this community.
Still we are called to reach out to those around us – to share our wealth, to share our blessings.
As the demands around us increase, as our buildings demand more time and money and effort, it is tempting to think we can draw back from serving in order to consolidate what we have.
That’s when God tells us: you fools.
Because the whole point of building a bigger barn, in God’s eyes, is to serve better.
To reach out more.
To grow, not our own empire but the kingdom of God.

All around us the world calls for a drawing back.
A consolidating of all that we have, to see us through the lean years we are experiencing and that are predicted.
Even in the National church, the call seems to be about consolidation – cutting the number of ministers, cutting the number of buildings, preserving reserves.

Today’s parable runs at odds with the philosophy of today.
As controversial now as it was when Jesus told it.
Our priorities have to be different from those of the world.
Our priority has to be a willingness to share and to share again, not just to keep the roof over our heads, but to serve those who are our neighbours.
To serve a community in which folk are struggling, folk whom we are called to serve, folk with whom we have more than enough to share, if only we can get our priorities right.

So, where are we this morning?
Are we with the philosopher in Ecclesiastes, declaring “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” ?
Why should we be careful when those who come after may not be?

Or are we heeding Jesus’ parable to get our priorities right.
To put first the Kingdom of God.
What use is this fine barn if God’s people are not being fed?
What good is our fine history if we cannot use our prosperity in the service of the Kingdom of God?

But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

1 comment:

Mompriest said...

well said! excellent.