Do you ever get that feeling of déjà vu?
I did, when preparing this sermon. Three years ago, when we last had this gospel reading, here’s how I began my sermon.
Well – there’s certainly no shortage of news at the moment is there! And plenty to leave us wondering – and worrying – about what the future might hold. Recent weeks have seen us gain a new Prime Minister and the inevitable questions from all sides about where we are heading over Brexit. And if that doesn’t worry you, then there is global-warming – a week last Thursday resulted in the hottest day ever recorded in the UK. What does the future hold? No wonder someone said to me, “I can’t cope with any more news!”
Well, that was three years ago. And here we are three years later, and it seems that what the future held was just more of the same. The news now isn’t much different to the news of three years ago. We are waiting to see who our new Prime Minister will be. We all know the issues with the Northern Island Protocol, and have seen the queues at the port of Dover of people trying to cross the channel, both reminding us that Brexit is still an issue. And two weeks ago, we saw the hottest day ever recorded in the UK.
And I went on to talk about our worries about our financial security and what the future might hold. And here we are today doing just the same.
Of course, it’s only natural that we are concerned about our financial security and about what the future might hold for us – whether as individuals or as a country. And as we see in our gospel reading this morning there is nothing new in that. It begins with a man whose concern is about his financial future.
And today’s gospel reading could almost have been written by Luke for a modern money-based society like ours, with its powerful challenge to us to reject the love of money and possessions. And to force home the point Jesus tells the parable of the man who stored up his riches so that he would be prepared for the future, but who died before he could use them.
The parable that we have just heard, usually called the parable of the rich fool, has something to say about how we prepare for the future and what our priorities should be. It says much about the difference between having the means to live and having a life with meaning.
And it brings to mind people called ‘preppers’. Now, I suspect most of you don’t know what preppers are – it’s not a term in common use.
I learned the term from our daughter who, a few years ago, got talking to a guy who used the same coffee shop as her. And it turned out he called himself a prepper. A prepper is a person who believes that an apocalypse is coming, complete collapse of civilisation as we know it, and who prepares for it so they will be safe – hence the name. Sometimes called ‘survivalists’ there are thousands of them in the United States, but I’d never come across any here.
Some of them have thought quite seriously about possible futures, like this guy who has decided that worldwide economic collapse is almost certainly coming and that when it does civilised society will essentially fall apart. For example – he reasons that as supermarkets only keep around three days of stocks, that food will run out because new stocks won’t be delivered, and the banks would collapse so you couldn’t buy food anyway.
Society’s infrastructure he believes will simply collapse. So he has buried at various sites around the countryside, and only he knows where they are, everything he believes he will need in the event of the worst happening. He has buried not just food supplies, but spare clothing, medical supplies, camping equipment – tents, fuel and so on – everything he needs to ensure that he can survive.
Rather like the rich man in our parable, he believes that he has everything in place to ensure that he will be okay for the future. Of course, such an approach only works if you are fully prepared to keep everything for yourself and leave others to suffer. Like the rich man in the parable he has stored up treasure for himself to use when he needs it. He has ensured that he has the means to live – but does he have a life with meaning? I doubt it.
Most of us wouldn’t go to those extremes – well, I’m assuming not but presumably you wouldn’t tell me where your secret stashes of anti-apocalyptic supplies are if you do have them. But whether we are willing to admit it or not, people on the whole, when push comes to shove, are less willing to part with their own money to help others than they like to think. We like to know that our own future is secure.
Such is the way that humans live and have always lived if they are able. Like the rich man in the parable we think it is fine to store up our treasure to prepare ourselves for the future – and only then look to others. But Jesus challenges that way of thinking. And if we are honest we find what Jesus says somewhat uncomfortable. Of course we find it uncomfortable, but he is clear: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions!”
It’s important to note that it’s our attitude to wealth – not wealth itself – that’s important here to Jesus. It is sometimes said that “Money is the root of all evil”, and people usually think that’s a quotation from Scripture. It’s actually a common misquotation – and what the original actually says is: The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
The complete quotation, from Saint Paul’s first letter to Timothy, reads:
Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
Well, back to the rich farmer in our parable this morning. There is no suggestion from Jesus that he has got rich at the expense of others, though perhaps much goes unsaid. But he does appear to be intent on using his wealth purely for himself.
He and his workers – because he hasn’t done this on his own – have worked hard, they have gathered in so great a harvest that the barns are not big enough to contain the yield. The farmer has vast new barns built and thinks that he will have enough for many years to come. What is worse, he thinks this happy situation can go on forever. “Eat, drink and be merry,” he says to himself. What he has he will go on possessing and enjoying for many years to come.
Well, that’s his plan, anyway. The future is a long way off and he need not worry about it, though he doesn’t appear to have given a second thought to the futures of those who have worked to give him his abundance, or indeed to God. He has forgotten that one’s life is not made secure by what one owns. And the security he thinks he has is an illusion. He has the means to live – so he thinks – but he has a life without meaning.
Perhaps what Jesus is saying about possessions and riches seems rather gloomy and depressing. Of course we need to be able to live. But Jesus is teaching us not to put our faith in material goods. He is teaching us that there is something of infinitely greater worth that does last for ever, that we can take with us when we die. His message is: use money as a tool, but don’t put all your faith in it as the thing that will make your life worth living, for life isn’t about what you have but about how you live it. It’s not about having the means to live but about having a life that is meaningful.
And we are rich not because of what we have in the bank but because of what we have in our hearts.
“Where your treasure is, there is your heart also,” says Jesus, a little further on in this chapter of Saint Luke, and part of next week’s gospel reading – yes, we get more of this challenge to our attitude to wealth next week. Where is your treasure? Is your treasure in the accumulation of wealth and possessions, like the rich farmer, or is it elsewhere? Is it in heaven with God? Do you, as Saint Paul encourages us in our second reading today, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Let us remember that it is not having the means to live that makes life worth living. It is, as Saint Paul tells us, living life with meaning – setting our minds on the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.