Audio transcript available at https://youtu.be/0kEJ46YGC_g.
Pentecost 11C 31st July, 2016
Well, I began last week by asking you some questions about how you see God. I also began by saying that the readings were all about relationships. Well, here we are again with readings that are about God, about mankind and about the relationship between them, or in one case of course the lack of relationship.
The passage we read from Hosea last week was a terrifying view of God in a marital relationship with God’s people. The Israelites were running after other gods, worshipping Ba’al in particular. Hosea was prophesying to the people in the midst of a crisis. Hosea sees God as justifiably angry with God’s people. But here in this eleventh chapter Hosea presents a different side of God. “When Israel was a child, I loved him….I taught Ephrain to walk…. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down and fed them.” This is a picture of God as a loving and gentle parent. Hosea has been seeing God as angry and punishing but here we see the God of love. And God’s love is expressed in very human terms that we can relate to. Many of us are parents and we understand the deep and abiding love even for wayward children. Children who can make us angry, children who can do things that are not what we would have them do, but children, nonetheless that we love with our whole hearts. And perhaps if you have never had a child you might be able to understand this unconditional love in terms of some other relationship, a partner, a parent, a friend?
And the important thing for us to realise is that God’s love for us is so much greater than any human love, so much more encompassing, and unconditional. God, loves more than the parent, God loves more than the lover. God who sees all our weaknesses and imperfections in the blaze of God’s glorious light, nonetheless loves us to completion, as it says in John’s Gospel. God refuses to relinquish us, regardless of how much we turn away from God.
And that is the foolish man’s problem, isn’t it?
The foolish man is focussed on himself and on his wealth, on living a comfortable life without thinking at all of God or for that matter of other human beings. He is a fool because he thinks that he has all that he needs to be happy. Jesus says to the crowd, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus then tells this little story to illustrate his point. But I am very interested that he says, “be on your guard against all kinds of greed”. What does he mean by that? Well the obvious answer is in the parable- a man who has a lot, tries to store up more- that defines him as greedy. But if greed is only about goods and money then why does Jesus say “all kinds of greed”? Well, I think that there are lots of other things about which humans can be greedy. We can live for experiences- we all know people who don’t settle down in relationships because they want to be free to ski every weekend of the winter or travel every holiday that they get. And there is nothing wrong with that. We can also be greedy in our obsessions about things- if we choose to watch every game of football that we can, or go out dining in restaurants every night, we might be being “greedy” with life as well. Now, am I saying that holidays and eating out and football are bad things? No, not at all. All these things are neither good nor bad, just as it is perfectly all right to store things up for the winter. The problem is when they interfere with our relationships with each other and with God.
This foolish man talks to himself, “Soul,” he says, “you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” In what he says there are many omissions. The first is that he is not considering anyone else. He isn’t discussing it with his wife, his children his neighbours or his friends. I know that this is just a brief story but in Hebrew texts you always look for the omissions and here nobody but the man himself is considered in any way. This points to a self obsession that is extremely unhealthy. And then there is the lack of reference to God. This man does not thank God for his abundant crops even though as Jesus tells it, it is that the land has produced abundantly. There is no relationship with the poor, even though in a society without social security payments it is the responsibility of the wealthy in the community to support the rest. This greed is by its nature inhibiting all the relationships that the man might have. In being obsessive about things material or immaterial we run the risk of ignoring the others in our lives, and in our society. The brother who asks the question that stimulates Jesus’ little parable needs to consider the needs of the brother with whom he is disputing and of course that cuts both ways. We are called, by Jesus to be people with generous hearts, that consider the people with whom we are in relationship, and also, of course the God who is the source of everything.
We need to seek the things that are above, having been raised with Christ. We are in an eternal relationship with God, and that bond should enable us to see the important things. The language that Paul uses here is the language of Baptism- we have died with Christ and been raised with him- this is the reality of our baptism. We die in the water to self and the world, and are raised as part of the eternal relational God.
Paul reminds us, just as Jesus did, that the preoccupations of our earthly life can lead to all kinds of wrong living, and broken relationships. We must “get rid of” anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from our mouths. Now, that sounds like a catalogue of things that nice polite Christians wouldn’t dream of saying, but the subtle put down, the barbed comment, the joking unkindness are just as bad. The small lie about another person, the passing on of gossip and the glory that we feel in another’s downfall are also things that we need to guard ourselves against. Sadly, we did not read on to the next section so let me read it to you.
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
This is the way to be in relationship with God and with others. This focus on relationship with God and with your neighbor is Jesus’ constant theme. The man in the parable is a fool not because he stores up grain but because he thinks he can do it without considering anybody else, not to mention the God who gave it. We are greedy with things when we forget that they came from God and that whatever we do we should think of others.
God, the same God of Hosea, of Jesus and Paul is a loving parent who wants only good for God’s children. But good is to be found when we are united with God in Christ Jesus and living in the way that God would have us live.