The Parable of the Rich Fool
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable:“The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? ’ Then he said, ‘I will do this:I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. ’ 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.”
I've just spent a few days on Iona. A very restful few days. In many ways, Iona is just another Scottish island, with its white sandy beaches, subject to the vagaries of Scottish weather, whatever the season, and with its resident community fighting for survival, trying to preserve a fragile economy and ecology while yet welcoming visitors and offering lavish highland hospitality. But, in other ways, Iona is, for many people, a very special island, a place of spiritual retreat offering rest and renewal. A thin place - a place where the divide between heaven and earth is very fine indeed.
We stayed in the Episcopal Retreat Centre, where the day started with Holy Communion and ended with Evening Prayers, all of which seemed a fitting rhythm, a backdrop to the wonder of creation unfolding all around us - in the people, from all over the world, with whom we shared meals and stories and companionship and in the raw island beauty, birds and animals and wildflowers and tides and weather.
This simple rhythm of life and of love made me think of how busy and cluttered we allow life to become. And of how, in that clutter, much of what gives life is squeezed out.
And, instead of that cycle of prayer and worship giving rhythm to life, it becomes a fevered punctuation that we insert, often as an after thought or in the least appropriate moments, bringing a jarring discord rather than resolute harmony.
It's tempting to imagine that it is much easier on an island - especially one as breathtaking as Iona to give ourselves over to the simple things of life, to better appreciate creation and the God who is at the centre of all things, to de-clutter so that our focus is on the things, or, more likely, the people, who are central to our lives. But the idyll of remoteness brings its own pressures, not least the pressure to stay connected with life beyond the physical boundaries.
One night, over supper, we got talking about the grace of God. And of how we in the church, while we might ( though not always) proclaim that the amazing grace of God is free, we don't often live as though we are convinced.
Rather, we signal that the gospel to which we subscribe is a prosperity gospel - where we, the deserving people of God are rewarded for our labour and for just being generally good folks. We take pride in all that we have achieved. We acknowledge that, yes, God has a hand in that, but only because we are such worthy receivers of Gods grace.
And the problem is that, bad enough as that is as a premise, that kind of supposition, that acceptance of Gods goodness as being no more than our proper entitlement doesn't stop there but spills over into denying those in need any sharing of our deserved wealth - because clearly those not as fortunate as us are quite simply not as deserving. And we wouldn't want to share our hard earned desserts with those who do not find favour with God as we do.
That sounds pretty grim, doesn't it?
We'd be quick to deny that the gospel we live by is anything less than grace filled.
But our actions, or lack of them, speak louder than our words.
And our constant battle to acquire the symbols of status that show us to be favoured by God testify to something other than the gospel our words proclaim.
And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
So what does it take for us to shake off something instilled in us with our mother's milk? How can we strive less to own more?
How can we stop ourselves from judging and looking down on others whom God has not blessed as well as us?
Everyday I have the privilege of walking alongside many of you who have learned and are learning that lesson well.
Every day I have cause to thank God for you who show me a new way of being, who, even and especially in the face of hardship and adversity trust in God to carry you and, in the waiting and in the living, find cause to give thanks.
Those of you who do not shut God out but rest in Gods promises even and especially in the darkest of times.
Those of you for whom prayer and worship are not mere interruptions to the daily cycle but the very fibre of your being, as important as breathing, and just as instinctive.
Tides and seasons.
Living and loving.
Breathing and praying.
The rhythm of grace filled lives bathed in the grace of God, founded on the companionship of love.
Not based on earthly possessions but grounded in all the riches of God.
An abundance freely given to be freely shared.
Thanks be to God.
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