Sermon for Proper 13 2022

Today we’re considering the third element of The Vine Community which is an initiative of the Diocese of Blackburn. This is based on the question ‘How can I show the hope and joy of Jesus Christ in the world?’ Even if you’re not involved in The Vine Community, it’s a question everyone can reflect on from time to time, and it is well located in today’s Gospel reading about the rich man and his huge barns.

Let’s look at the context in which this question is asked; let’s look at the church and society as they are right now. I think if you did one of those vox pop interviews in town and asked people what they thought of the church, there would probably be a lot of negative answers. People would likely mention child abuse and homophobia – the global meeting of Anglican Bishops at the Lambeth Conference been the source of homophobic statments this week, with some Bishops staying they will not receive Holy COmmunion from a gay bishop who is in a partnership. 

People on the street might not mention sexism, because most people don’t realise that women can be legally discriminated against in the church – parishes are still allowed to say that they don;t want a woman vicar, and men can (and do) ask to be ordained by a Bishop who has never ordained a woman – a sort of purity ritual. 

People might say that those who go to church are holier than thou, self righteous, narrow minded hypocritical. This is, very often, the way that Christians are portrayed in the media. Some of it is true of some people. Most of it is not true of most Christians – most Christians are kind, generous, and compassionate, but you can see that showing the hope and joy of Jesus in the world might be a struggle in the face of our shattered reputation. 

And then we look at our society. There are good things here – there are some amazingly good people doing all sorts of amazing things. This week in the press, there was the story of a man who climbed Snowden carrying the fridge on his back to raise money for charities. There are good neighbours, people who go the extra mile, loyal friends, people full of compassion, people who spend their whole lives doing good. 

But all this is becoming rather counter cultural. We live in a world where more and more wealth is being held by fewer and fewer people, where there is incredible selfishness and defensiveness, government is marked by ‘do as I say, not as I do’, we no longer trust our politicians, even though most of them are actually decent, hard working people. Some of the policies being touted by our two potential future prime ministers are inhumane, jingoistic and dangerous. It is common to come across behaviour which is incredibly self centered, ignorant of the needs of others, oblivious of the need for common humanity. And big business degrades the planet in the face of increasingly alarming climate change, and rakes in huge profits whilst ordinary people struggle to pay their bills. 

All in all, in the church and in the world, there is hope, but we also rightly despair. 

My friend Jan has just retired, so her income is reduced. But during my current situation, with my husband being terminally ill, she is driving over from Liverpool every week and taking me out for an evening meal, which she won’t allow me to pay for. She listens and encourages – tells me how well I’m doing, and there are sometimes tears in her eyes when I tell her about the struggles of the past week. 

She could spend this money on herself, save it for a rainy day, or put it in her holiday fund. But she has chosen to be generous to someone else, and, to me, this kindness and generosity has been a lifeline: I reminded that I’m loved, that someone thinks I’m worthy of kindness, and shown the value of a long friendship – we’ve been friends for over 40 years.

Look again at the words of the man in today’s Gospel: 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.’

This man is entirely wrapped up in himself. Here are 6 ‘I’s and 4 ‘my’s  in two short sentences, and the only ‘you’ he refers to is still himself – his soul. He has plenty of money, but no friends. He invests only in himself – he is centre of his own universe.

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.”

It’s interesting that, in this passage, richness towards God is effectively richness to other people – the opposite of his extreme self centeredness. He must have been a lonely person – he is a sad, rather pathetic figure.

So, if we are to show the hope and joy of God in the world, we need to look always to others, we need to invest what we have in others. This man had  a lot of money – most of us don’t have so much,  but we have enough for simple acts of generosity, and we have riches in other ways – we have time, gifts of personality, are all good at one thing or another. So you could sign up, in the third set of promises in The Vine to be kind to other people, generous in giving what you have, to listen, to look out for people in need of help or encouragement and offer what is needed. We can all be kind with words – this costs us nothing except a willingness to ‘see’ others and communicate. 

To do this – to invest in others – is a thoroughly Godly thing to do – this is the meaning of the Incarnation – God, in Jesus coming to be with us, investing in us, being generous in care and love for people. Much, much more than quoting the bible at people, denouncing people as wrong, excluding people, and certainly much much more than simply looking after yourself, investing in others (and not just your friends) is the way to show the hope and joy of Jesus in the world. Let’s do it!

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