Sermon from Sunday 31 July

Be more Bertie!


Reading(s): Luke 12: 13-21, Colossians 3:1-11 and Ecclesiastes 1:2, 1:12-14 and 2:18-23. This sermon was given by Vanessa Lawrence at St Mark’s and All Saints.

When I have my breakfast toast in the morning, I can pretty much guarantee that I will have company in the form of Bertie, my German Shorthaired Pointer. He will sit there, looking at me, in absolute total and utter certainty that I will give him the end of the crust that I am eating. And however big or small, or burnt or covered in marmite the crust might be, he eats it joyfully. I often think that I wish I was as trusting of God to give me good gifts and to intervene in my life as Bertie is of getting his toast crust in the morning! And I wish that I could recognise and receive those gifts with joy, regardless of how big or small they are!

‘God is the author and giver of good gifts’ our collect says today. The alternative collect says ‘generous God, you give us good gifts, and make them grow’ I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to trust that God gives us good things, hard to trust that God intervenes in our lives and wants to give us life in all abundance. Maybe we all need to be a bit more Bertie!

We hear today the parable to the rich farmer. And we may wonder why he is being called a fool? We could easily argue that the rich man is a wise and responsible person. He has a thriving farming business. His land has produced so abundantly that he does not have enough storage space in his barns. He will have ample savings set aside for the future and will be all set to enjoy his golden years.

Surely Isn’t it wise and responsible to save for the future? The rich farmer has worked hard and saved wisely. Now he can sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of his labour, perhaps?

But there is one very important thing the rich man has not planned for — his life with 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?”

The rich farmer is a fool not because he is wealthy or because he saves for the future, but because he appears to live only for himself, he has no thought of God or placing faith as central in his life. And therefore, as we hear in Ecclesiastes, his work is simply ‘a chasing after wind’ meaningless and empty.

When the rich man talks in this parable, he talks only to himself, and the only person he refers to is himself: “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” “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’” (12:17-19).

The rich man expresses no sense of gratitude to God or to the workers who have helped him plant and harvest this bumper crop. He has more grain and goods in storage than he could ever hope to use, yet seems to have no thought of sharing it with others, and no thought of what God might require of him.

Vanity and emptiness. Our Colossians reading reminds us powerfully of the emptiness of life without God. Greed, materialism, selfishness – we are all human, and all enticed by pleasures that do not last. This reading from Colossians is not a suggestion that we must give up all worldly pleasures and live like nuns – although I suspect nuns have far more fun that we give them credit for – instead, we must first and always have in mind that we are raised with Christ and given good gifts by the God who loves us. We can trust in the gifts that God gives us, that if we set our minds on God, we will receive more than we will ever need – although those gifts might not be what we imagine them to be.

You may be aware that the Lambeth Conference is currently meeting – bishops from the Anglican Communion across the world meeting in Canterbury as they do roughly every 10 years. You will probably also be aware that there has been ongoing division among progressive and conservative wings of the church over same sex marriage and the place of gay clergy in the church. I was deeply saddened to hear that a number of conservative bishops had refused to receive communion at a service where there were openly gay colleagues also receiving communion.

The Eucharist is a gift of God. It is a place where the veil between God and humanity becomes very thin. It is a place of unconditional love. To refuse this gift in anger, to use it as a weapon, is to refuse to engage with the transformative power of God who seeks to make all things new.

Our readings today are about priorities – knowing God’s central place in our lives. It is about how we invest our lives and our minds that God has given us. It is about how our lives are fundamentally aligned: towards ourselves and our need to control, or toward God and our neighbour, toward God’s mission to transform the world. For me, the Bishops who have refused to take communion this week have not trusted in God’s gifts, in God’s abundant love, and are focused soley on their own fears and preoccupations.

But neither our lives nor our possessions are our own. They belong to God and we are merely stewards of them for the time God has given us on this earth. We rebel against this truth because we want to be in charge of our lives. Yet this truth is actually good news, because all that we are and all that we have belongs to God, our future is secure beyond all measure.