On from Young, 2011

One Man's Web

You can listen here.  The links between the pieces of Luke 12:13-48 mean any divisions by the lectionary are artificial, but it seems telling that lectionary leaves out vv22-31 and vv42-48, which are particularly challenging for we who are rich. My first conclusion on reading the text is that we are so rich that we do not know how to read these words, and my second is that we have left out some of the most challenging words.

At church last night I told people of a younger friend who had said, "Given my age, I may just get to die in bed." She and I were talking about the consequences of global warming, which now seem to be an unavoidable climate catastrophe.  I suggested to the meeting that if we are not addressing how to live in a dying civilisation and, perhaps, even as a part of a dying species, then we have nothing to say to younger people. Climate catastrophe is their world, and their reality. Do we take seriously that it is in such a world that God wishes to give us the Kingdom, or are we carefully averting our eyes from the rising waters and temperature?

NT Wright says of the text

Jesus ... is now warning that a crisis is coming, a great showdown for which one must be prepared in the same way as servants who listen eagerly for their master’s footfall and knock at the door. Jesus seems to have envisaged a coming moment at which the forces of light and darkness would engage in a terrible battle, resulting in his own death, and a devastating catastrophe for Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular. Though this passage and others like it have often been taken as predictions of Jesus’ final return, Luke throughout his gospel seems to suggest that they refer principally to a complex of events which Jesus knew would happen within the lifetime of his contemporaries. (Luke for Everyone pp156 SPCK 2001)

Does Jesus speak to our coming catastrophe? Will we have anything to say to our contemporaries? How can we be prepared and "dressed for action?" (Luke 12:35) I begin this post with the climate catastrophe because climate catastrophe is a direct result of giving our hearts over to material riches rather than the Kingdom of God. And we westerners must begin with the admission that we especially are blinded by our riches, and that much of what we say needs to be the confession of enslaved hearts. It is truly a time for us to listen.

The Heart
The heart is the centre of my passions and being. It is who I am. It is the thing which drives and empowers me. The heart is also the centre of my happiness; it is the part of me which feels that the life I am living is "real" rather than a pretence, or a mistake, or an illusion, or has no meaning at all. We people properly seek to fill the longing of our hearts; there is no other way to live. The latest power tool or gadget, the newer model phone and, indeed, the latest fashion of any kind, all promise to comfort and fill an empty heart, so that a person may live. Yet most men's sheds are full of clutter they thought would comfort their heart and give them meaning, but which didn't. And our full sheds show us how little we have allowed the Christ to fill our hearts.... Read on >>>>

20But 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?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Sermon

The thing that is horrific about this story is not that the man dies. Everyone dies. And if we knew that death was simply oblivion, well ... I guess we would learn to live with that. What's horrific is that the man's does not just die; his life is 'demanded of him.' The phrase reminds us that we do not own ourselves. Our life is not our own. What the story implies is that when the man dies— when his life is demanded of him —  he has nothing to give. He only has money.

Understand me here. It is not that God will reject this man. God leaves no one behind. 'Nothing… can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord,' Paul said. And centuries before Jesus, God said to his prophet Ezekiel in chapter 18:32 "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone."

No one is left behind, but despite this, our best thinking and our deepest praying cannot not escape the sense that the way we live has consequence.

I remember a town where the church hall was basically a tin shed with a rough cement floor and the red dust always seeping in. During one hot summer a lad got stuck in town waiting for money;  his wallet had been stolen; he needed help. I offered to turn a couple of the padded pews together in the church, for a bed. In those days, I think the church building had the best air conditioner in town.

But the lad chose to sleep in the dirt on the bare cement. Is that the future of the man with many barns? Does something about his riches mean that  like that lad, he can only turn away from, and refuse, the love of God when it comes to him?

What do riches do to us?

There was a time in Australia, when if you wanted to hire a colour TV in your hospital room, it would cost you a few extra dollars over the price of a black and white TV. My theology teacher went to visit a rich man who had hired only a black and white TV. He asked why. The man gave him a lecture in financials—percentages, and compound interest. He had all the pricing worked out; I suspect he gave my colleague the annualised cost of having a colour TV instead of black and white, and how much money he was saving. He said his father had taught him all this; money makes the man, you see. But he knew, the staff knew, and my colleague knew, that he would be dead in two weeks. Yet even then he could not enjoy a colour TV. He was a slave to his wealth.

On the other hand, I look at my mum's comfortable, but not that salubrious aged care room, and I say to myself, "When I need a place like this, I wonder if they'll let me put up my hiking tent in the garden," because... it's obvious I'll never be able to afford to stay in a place like that. Maybe the black and white TV man made the right decisions about money.

How much money is enough? What does it mean to be rich towards God?... Read on >>>>

Listen here

From the text...

Now how does this work for us— saying this prayer?

Well, back when there were no clocks people would measure time by a number of ways. One way, when you were cooking, was to say the Lord's Prayer. An old recipe might say "simmer the broth for three Lord's Prayers"! (Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat.) You made time for the cooking by saying the prayer.

One way of looking at us, and at our relationship with God, might be to say we are a bit... undercooked. We need to make time to be in the presence of God. That's what prayer does.  And the Lord's Prayer, if we take time to say it slowly, changes all our other praying. It reminds us what our praying should be about. It reminds us that Mercedes Benz's and Porsches and big TV's have nothing to do with a good life. In fact, wanting them, and praying for them, makes us sad... Read on >>>

If I succumbed to the temptation to title this piece with a dad joke, having remembered my cousin Murray jumping down into the grain-pit and discovering he was sharing the space with a Brown Snake, I would call it Pitting ourselves against the serpent because of its references to Genesis 1-3.  You can listen here.

One of my colleagues characterised the lie of the serpent as "'You will be like God'... when we already are like God." The essence of idolatry lies in this misplaced adoration which is really a rivalry with God, and is deadly.  The worst thing about possessions is that they can help us imagine we are like God in the wrong sense. They let us think we have a hedge against contingency, that we can buy our way out of being, in the end, a creature which is utterly dependent upon God— by the second. Possessions are too easily our sign to ourselves that, really, we are God.

The thing about a second-by-second dependence upon God is that it is our natural state. It is the way we are made! God's ordering of probabilities and somewhat unpredictable biological processes creates and sustains us, even though we would prefer a life chiselled out of certainty. The last thing we want to consider in our rivalry with God is that perhaps our natural state is good for us; that perhaps there is a sense in which needing to dodge bears and pick our way around the edges of steep hills, orients us towards a kingdom life, both as individuals and as a culture... Read on >>>>

Listen

Made by Prayer

There is a monumental head shift which we 21st century people face when we read this text. In a world where the very notion of God is up for argument— it is simply part of the landscape of our consciousness that God is an unlikely reality, and the church often seems to live out a functional atheism— in this environment, prayer seems an even more bizarre notion. The charge that we have an imaginary friend is not, first of all, meant to be insulting; it is an altogether sensible incredulity. But in Luke's world, the idea that there is not a God is almost inconceivable. In that consciousness, the point of incredulity is more likely that there could be people who do not pray! In that world the only question is how to pray.

One of the reasons my younger self privately agonised over prayer as a useful spiritual discipline and part of my discipleship, and the reason the Prayers of Intercession were always a challenge to write, is that I learned to pray in the wrong way. The how and why of praying was tied up with the proving of God. Good fundamentalist that I was, I wrote out my prayers in a book, and crossed them off as they were answered. That was how I was taught to pray.

Take time to laugh or cry, draw a deep breath, or whatever it is you need to do here. I am still not quite ready to let myself weep about this because... how would I stop? :)  Read on >>>>

Perhaps you've heard people say that it's not just the notes that make a piece of music; it's also the spaces between the notes. Something the same happens when we tell stories. It's not just the story. It's how we tell the story, and where we place the story, that can make all the difference.

Luke emphasises that hospitality across social barriers somehow enables the kingdom of God to come near to us. "Do this and you will live," Jesus said to the lawyer, last week. (Luke 10:28) There is a sense in which God comes to us through and in the person to whom we show hospitality, and God perhaps especially comes to us in the stranger to whom we show hospitality; the stranger is the person outside our normal social networks. Martha shows hospitality, but the telling and the placement of the story about her hospitality asks us some deep questions about what kind of church we will be.

In ancient thinking, to show hospitality, was to welcome a person into the protection of your house. It was a sacred obligation. In Sodom, rather than leave two men to camp in the town square, where, as strangers, they were open game, Lot took them into the protection of his house…. Read on >>>>

Listen here
... So, rather than the life of the age to come, also known as eternal life, also known as the kingdom of heaven, being about us getting blessed by more material riches, it is about us being blessed by learning to live with less, so that more of us may live. ... Read on >>>>

Listen

The ministers who berate Martha's busyness have often forgotten who made their breakfast.  And many of us would be far better preachers if we stopped marthaing around in our busy parish and chose the better part, spending a day or two in the few verses of the lectionary, letting it unsettle our being. There is a certain singlemindedness in Mary's determination to be sitting at the Lord's feet and listening— suddenly he is not being called Jesus; this is serious teaching— and it is this determination which will affect how she reads the law, which, as Alison1 says, implies with whose eyes she reads it. If I am busy, I will read with the eyes of the busyness around me. I will not have the headspace to listen, or to determine what at this time is the one necessary thing.

The reading is as important for what it exposes about our prejudices as it is for what it might say to us! My memory of the text as a child is that it criticised Martha for her lack of spiritual submission to Jesus, whilst it was still expected that the Martha's of the church would have spotless houses and be the spiritual fount for the home, so the men could get on with whatever they deemed to be important... Read on >>>>

Why is there a priest and a Levite in this story? I've heard moralising sermons reproving the priest who was on the way to temple service and couldn't risk becoming unclean.  This is a thinly disguised antisemitism  for it ignores the fact that, in this story, everyone is going down to Jericho; that is, any religious service in the temple was already completed.

The priest and the Levite stand for us. They are supposed to be people— us— at our best. The fact of their Jewishness is simply incidental. They are meant to be exemplars of the way of being of their people; we would tell such a story using exemplars of our religion or our way of being. The priest and the Levite knew what was law, and they knew who was neighbour. Nothing which the lawyer said and which Jesus affirmed would have been news to either the priest or the Levite.  Indeed, they were a bit like the students in the "Samaritan experiment." Surely seminary students would understand what God wants and will act accordingly!!  

Just as the lawyer sets out to test Jesus, the parable, and the setting for the parable, test us.... Read on >>>>

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