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Things don't always go as well in life as they should. Whilst I believe that I should make a decision and live with it's consequences, there are times when it would be wonderful to be able to pause the live action, or rewind a little and redo, unsay, undo whatever it is.
In those situations, I am one of those people that plays a situation over and over and over again in my head to see if I can discern a better way of playing it, or when I am feeling at my lowest, to bathe in my own self-pity and guilt.
I had a phone call earlier in the week from a senior colleague. They left a very cryptic message on my machine about a letter that they had had sight of. Now experience say that no one writes to senior colleagues unless there is trouble. The message said no more what the letter was about, and I went into a flat spin...
What had I done? What had I not done?? Who had I offended??? I went through the catalogue of recent events in my head, file by file examining each. Had I behaved honourably? There was a wrenching knot in my stomach. This self examination went on into a sleepless night... A colleague on twitter described that night accurately as '...the Cloud of Unknowing and what it does to our grave imagination that hurts most...' So right.
I expected the colleague to call me back the next day to disambiguate the issue. I heard nothing. The creeping dread in me continued to rise towards paranoid levels. Perhaps understandably... I was more wound up that the proverbially tightly coiled spring...
Finally I heard from the colleague. I listened to the issue in question and tried to explain how the way they had left me hanging had made me feel.
What do I feel? The sense of panic laced fight or flight is still subsiding. My gripe is to do with the 'gut-wrenching notknowingness' of what the issue was about and the power dynamic that that created. None of us like being scrutinized for our motives but this situation got me prepared to be scrutinized and ready to fight or flee from the conflict to come.
So are you with me? I feel abused. I don't like things being held over my head. My guard is up. I am ready for whatever is going to be flung at me...
And then Jesus wanders into my consciousness... Do not be worried or afraid. Believe in God. Believe also in me. Do not be troubled little flock it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom... How can I not worry Lord? How can I not be concerned for my own welfare, for my and Your reputation, for anyone else in this scenario??? Don't worry? You must be joking...
No He's not. Despite having upturned every stone in my life over the last 48 hours, and now subsequently feeling exhausted mentally, spiritually and physically, I realise that Jesus is right on so many levels.
I shouldn't worry. What's done is done for good or bad. It cannot be undone. Hurts can be healed. Cracks can be repaired. But going over the past again is not going to help. Forgiveness can be offered and received.
Jesus reminds me though that God and His kingdom are also at the heart of this emotional car crash. The fact that I am not blameless and that I am perfectly capable of hurting and failing others and myself blinded me to the presence of God in my life and indeed all around me.
All too often I am the fourth monkey: see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil, and see no God. That's me. I had failed to see the hands of God continuing to hold me, indeed us all, in good times and in times of fight or flight. After all, I regularly pray: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done... why not in this situation too?
As a Christian I believe that God is there for me, irrespective of whether I deserve His presence or love. He's there, not because of me, but because of His never ending love for me. Despite the mess I make of my life, of others lives, or others make of mine, He is there holding, embracing and giving the tools to rebuild and repent by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How does this monkey feel now? At peace. My guard is down and I am open to seeing the future that the God who hold me in his hands is constantly opening up before all of us.
I trained for ordination in Durham and Durham Cathedral is still now probably one of my favorite places in the world. Next to the tomb of the historian of the English church, the Venerable Bede, stands a figure. Next to Bede, one might have thought of the need for grandeur next one of such ecclesiastical greatness, but no. Controversially stands the diminutive stature, the slight frame, the delicate features not quite grown into yet of a teenage girl.
There is a gracefulness and yet awkwardness about her as she stands almost coyly next to the English saint. This is Mary - the shy, unassuming girl edging with some difficulty into womanhood whom you still see coming out of Boots at 4.30pm with her school uniform untucked, who spends hours with her friends trying out the cheap make-up she bought in the bathroom mirror. That said, by Jewish standards, she will have been a woman socially, legally, and religiously.
Secondly, the religious context. Mary as a good Jew, was expecting the Messiah who would redeem God’s chosen people and liberate them from the Roman tyranny. The Messiah would be David’s son - a political tour de force with the heavenly armies at his command. This divine leader would exercise the righteous judgement and wrath of God over people and nations. The expectations of most seem to be that this person would come from ‘above’ as an exalted leader and would certainly not be born fragile and delicate in our midst ‘with us.’
Mary must have wondered about the future and what it would bring after her angelic visit - for the child she was carrying promised the world much, as what the angel said challenged her own hopes for her baby, but the angel’s words also challenged what her faith told her about the nature and action of God. In her discussions with angel, we also learn something fundamental about this adolescent and her radical obedience to the will of God.
The Mary’s we see probably every day are often very self-conscious and extremely image conscious. So if Justin Bieber or some other teen idol had spoken to her today, my guess is Mary would have been terrified, excited, and embarrassed all at once. It is hard to begin to imagine how one feels in the presence of an angel but I suspect that it must be all that multiplied to eternity. Either way, after the initial rush of emotions, most of us would be very perplexed at being called ‘favoured one!’
This ordinary girl some extraordinary news. She has found favour with God. Why should she - she not holy, in fact she may have seen herself as wholly unremarkable, but she is exactly the sort of person that God likes to give status to - where the poor and humble are lifted up and the rich and proud are brought down. Gabriel comes with a commission, literally a co-mission with and from God. She is to bear a son and to name him Jesus which means saviour. It is a a joint mission with God as this child will be given the throne of David by God and his kingdom will last to eternity. This child is the promised redeemer, but He, like Mary, is not the person that people will expect God to use and he will redeem people for God, but not in ways that they will expect.
What is remarkable with this Mary, compared with her peers in today’s world, is that she has not had sex with Joseph or any other man. This she tells quite calmly to the angel. Gabriel reassures Mary that all this will be the work of the Holy Spirit - God’s doing. This is supposed to reassure Mary. How can she be pregnant - even if it is the work of the Holy Spirit? What will people say? What will Joseph say more importantly? This is it - the marriage is over - in Joseph’s eyes, this will be the consequences of sleeping around. She will bring shame on herself and her parents. She will be an outcast. Mary is not the sexually active or even curious teen of today she will somehow just have to come to terms with the social and religious stigma of having a baby outside marriage. Gabriel tells her that this child will be holy and called son of God. So what, who will believe her and how will she cope? The road ahead must have seemed confusing, complicated, even objectionable, but God will see to it Gabriel's says.
Gabriel directs attention to Elizabeth for proof of what he says - by revealing that she is pregnant. If old, barren Elizabeth is already in her 2nd trimester, then certainly God can work with the opposite problem - a young girl who happens to be a virgin - for nothing will be impossible with God. Mary exclaims to Gabriel the ultimate obedience to God - let it be to me according to your word - God’s word which proclaims a vision where the impossible is possible where He looks with favour on the lowliness of his servants and yet does great things for them. He shows strength with his arm; he scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He brings down the powerful from their thrones, and lifts up the lowly; he has fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty.
In Mary the teenager, God takes something very ordinary and does something extraordinary in the miracle of the conception of the Christ child. The truly extraordinary thing though is not what God does, but I believe it is what Mary does - that she hears the Angel’s words, believes, and obeys, despite the concequences of what others will think of her.
We can learn much from Mary. The Orthodox Church call her Theotokos - God Bearer. As we celebrate the fulfilment of gabriel’s words in her, in us today, we have a choice, a co-mission with and from God. Either we can resolve to hear and obey God’s call to bear Christ to others in our whole lives, for as Christians we believe that God made a permanent and lasting difference to the world in this child. We must not shy away from the consequences of being Christian, and God using even us to tell others in our words and actions of His love. Let it be to me according to your word. Or, we can do nothing leaving it all to to others, besides what might others think of me - thank God Mary didn’t. Amen
Time is never time at all You can never ever leave, without leaving a piece of youth And our lives are forever changed We will never be the same The more you change the less you feel
Believe, believe in me, believe, believe! That life can change, that you're not stuck in vain We’re not the same, we're different. Tonight, tonight, tonight So bright Tonight, tonight
And you know you're never sure But you're sure you could be right If you held yourself up to the light And the embers never fade, in your city by the lake The place where you were born
Believe, believe in me, believe, believe! In the resolute urgency of now And if you believe there's not a chance tonight Tonight, tonight, tonight So bright tonight, tonight!
We’ll crucify the insincere tonight (Tonight) We’ll make things right, we'll feel it all tonight (Tonight) We’ll find a way to offer up the night (Tonight) The indescribable moments of your life (Tonight) The impossible is possible tonight (Tonight) Believe in me as I believe in you, Tonight, tonight, tonight, Tonight Tonight…
I enjoyed it all over again. I hope you do too... :-)
I have always been passionate about the church engaging in a relevant way with people so they can effectively hear and see the Gospel. In other words, I have longed for a church that looks to see what God is doing, and seeks to join in. Or another way still, I am passionate that the church becomes passionate about mission & evangelism.
My recent sabbatical reconnected me with this deep longing & rediscovering the central and primal part the Eucharist plays in reconnecting the church with her modus operandi.
I thank Paul Walker for mentioning one of two recent reads on Facebook...
With all of that said, I have read much about how churches effectively & sustainably grow.
Two inspirational reads recently that deserve wider readership are:
1. 'Breaking the Missional Code' by Ed Stetzer & David Putman. 2. 'Transformational Church' bt Ed Stetzer & Thom S. Rainer.
They are an easy read & share good practise through theory & story. They are focussed on the US church, but the principals translate to the UK church without much difficulty.
Passionate about mission? Passionate about church growth? Passionate about incarnational & transformational ministry?
Buy, read & be inspired by the activity of the Missional God
This week 38 US billionaires have pledged to give at least 50% of their wealth to charity either now or after they die. It is part of a a campaign called The Giving Pledge. Some of these 38 will not be unknown to some of you and include Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, George Lucas and Michael Bloomberg. They are committing time and their money to causes such education and healthcare for all.
Last week we began to explore what makes us rich. We heard Jesus tell us that he hasn’t a problem as such with wealth and possessions as such. His problem is when we allow them to lull us into believing that they can make us feel independent. It promises us that we can transcend the everyday vulnerabilities and needs that remind us that we're mortal, created beings ultimately and always dependent on others and, most especially, on God.
We have pretty much bought into the assumption that equates money with personal worth and yet Jesus reminds us again this morning that our to riches should be found in God and He challenges us to fill our lives with things that have eternal value, ‘...unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also....’ We all have to make a choice between earthly and heavenly possessions - where do we trust? In possessions in this world or treasure in heaven? No wonder the unknown author of Hebrews celebrated Abraham - not just for his trust in God to provide him with descendants but also for his willingness to leave behind all the securities of his past life and to place his faith and trust exclusively in God.
What is faith? We talk a lot about it as Christians, and we speak about it as though it was something that everyone understands; as though it was something as tangible as money in my pocket. Faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see. Faith provides a guarantee, the peg on which we hang our hopes. Because of faith, our hope is no flimsy dreaming; it has substance and reality. Faith provides a ground to which we may hold fast. But that grounding also points us toward the future and gives us courage to move forward, launching out into the unknown. Faith moves us forward. By faith we understand, if we are to understand it at all, that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth….
The author of the letter to the Hebrews is not interested in leaving faith as some sort of abstract concept. He does more than provide a definition. He skillfully calls to mind stories that clothe these two dimensions of faithfulness with flesh and bones and sinew and breath. To know fully what faithfulness is, we must remember the stories about Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abram and Sarah. In the lives of this couple especially, two dimensions of faith shine forth. They show us that faithfulness requires both holding fast and moving forward. First, faithfulness is holding fast to the promises of God. God had promised Sarah and Abraham countless descendants and a land that God would reveal to them. But both promises were "things not seen.” Would God give these wanderers from Ur descendants as numerous as stars in the sky even in old age? That is why Sarah laughed so hard the first time she overheard their visitors tell Abraham he was soon to be a father. That is why their son's name would be Isaac, "Laughter." His name marked God's joy in upending human expectations.
Abraham and Sarah also held fast to a second promise of land. That promise was equally impossible, for these two were wanderers, pilgrims who set out not knowing their destination. Even when they arrived in the promised land of Canaan, they lived like strangers in a foreign country, in tents, always ready to pack up and move. But they did more than hold fast to this promise. They knew that the promise of God is also a call, and so they lived out the second dimension of faithfulness, that of moving forward. They lived in tents because they were not ultimately called to the land of Canaan. That was not their final destination. The journey was part of their obedience, but Canaan was not their home. They were looking for another city, the city with foundations not made with hands, "whose architect and builder is God.” They did not receive that promise in their lifetime. They only saw the promise on the horizon, beckoning, calling them onward in their journey. Because they experienced the promise as a call, they held fast to the promises of God, and they also moved forward in response to God's call. They knew that faithfulness is a form of courage that launches out into the unknown, moving into the future with God, knowing the future is God's. So how do we measure up to these two dimensions of faith? Some of us find it easy to "hold fast." We know the stories—stories of the Bible, stories of faithfulness and sacrifice. These stories matter because the stories we tell and make our own give us our bearings. They help us work out where we stand, who we are, and what we ought to do, but we find it harder to "move forward" into the future. We are not that fond of tents, and we travel with lots of baggage. Others of us have little trouble moving forward. We like to camp. We travel light. We ask, "Where can we join what God is doing now?" We are a people on the way, on the move, knowing that the future belongs to God, but we need help "holding fast," learning the story of God's faithfulness to promise. We need to know of loyalty and endurance that persevere even when the path is rough and long. Friends we need both dimensions of faith. We need to hold fast to the promises of God and to move forward into the future which is God's.
Beneath it all, however, there is a greater and more powerful but unseen reality for us all that’s not about being billionaire or giving away your fortune. I wonder what drove those rich to do as they did? To generate headlines? To do the right thing? Or because they felt a discontent deep within them?
We all sense that discontent from time to time. We're all homesick for what we cannot see but what we know, deep down, awaits us. In our lives, we have glimpses of what's in store for us in every moment of love, of light, of peace we experience here and now. And we have glimpses in every moment, every taste, of justice and healing in our lives and in the life of our communities, glimpses of the "new Jerusalem," a home that is shining and beautiful to which God calls us all. Amen.
Today is my day off. Aside from the usual call to let the dog out and make her breakfast, time today in one way is mine.
It's not of course. The time I have today is a gift. I am told by the Church to take a day off. It is time given to me by God through His church. It is time to rest, to recover and to give & receive love. It harks back to God's own rest after creating & looks forward to a time in the future when our rest, our all, will be with & in God. It is about living that hope.
In my head I have a cover of Joe Jackson's 'Got the Time' by Anthrax from their Persistance of Time album
The time I have to enjoy today is God's gift to creation for there is a 'now-and-not-yet-ness' about it. It is special time. It is Sabbath. It is worth exploring the theology of Sabbath in Heshel's excellent book 'Sabbath.' His writing left a huge impact on me... A good review be found at the Infinite Resources blog...
I am enjoying the sabbath God gives me today. It has given me time with my family, time to cook, time to eat, time to drink & time to give & receive love...
And by way of a PS - the Church Times has arrived. Now where is that cup of coffee...
I blame an American friend of mine (thank you so much Beth!) for my long-term love of Ani Difranco's music. Whilst I have backslidden a little in recent years, after a visit from my sister and her family this week and plans being laid to go to the Cambridge Folk Festival next year and it reminded me of the year I nearly went a few years ago when she was playing...
I dug out some of her cds and have been playing them again and I am in love again... This clip really sums up the sheer beauty of music married with simple and yet powerful and pointed lyrics.
Her life story is a bit of a prodigal one, but one written striving for justice, for freedom, and for recognition. In some ways, whilst she her life and lifestyle have not been exactly in tune with the traditional interpretation of the Christian Gospel, her overall canon is sung metaphorically and spiritually according to those Gospel values.
Sunday's Epistle reading is one of my faves and I am looking forward to preaching it. It's Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16
'...By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them...'
I was at a meeting recently when there was a small but significant disagreement amongst the gathered group of Christians.
That in itself is not worth blogging about. That said, the meeting in question was, in some senses a microcosm of the Church of England, the Anglican Communion, & The Church Universal.
I found this letter on a couple of blogs I read...
Dear Brothers and Sisters, ‘God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you, but I will tell you the good and proper way.’ (1 Samuel 12:23)
These are grave times in the Church of England especially for those of us unable in good conscience to accept that any particular church has the authority to admit women to the episcopate. While we certainly accept the good faith of those who wish to make this change believing it to be God’s will, we cannot rejoice with them, not least because of the disastrous cost to Catholic unity.
Our concerns are not only about sacramental assurance though that is of profound importance. If the legislation now proposed passes, it will not provide room for our tradition to grow and flourish. We will be dependent on a Code of Practice yet to be written, and sadly our experience of the last almost twenty years must make us wonder whether even such an inadequate provision will be honoured in the long term.
Neither the Report of the Revision Committee nor the legislation itself shows a proper understanding of our reservations, however carefully these have been presented through the consultation process and in the College and House of bishops. It remains a deep disappointment to us that the Church at large did not engage with the excellent Rochester Report and paid scant attention to the Consecrated Women report sponsored by Forward in Faith.
We must now accept that a majority of members of the Church of England believe it right to proceed with the ordination of women as bishops, and that a significant percentage of those in authority will not encourage or embrace with enthusiasm the traditional integrity or vocations within it. Nor is it their intention or desire to create a structure which genuinely allows the possibility of a flourishing mission beyond this generation.
However, the closeness of the vote on the Archbishops’ amendment for co ordinate jurisdiction, concerns though there are about its adequacy, suggest at least a measure of disquiet in the majority about proceeding without a provision acceptable to traditionalists. The Catholic group fought valiantly on the floor of synod and we are grateful for that, and while many in the Church and press are speaking as if the legislation is now passed, final Synodical approval is still some way off.
Whatever happens in the Synod, there are some Anglo Catholics, including in our own number, who are already looking at, indeed are resolved to join the Ordinariate as the place where they can find a home in which to live and proclaim their Christian faith, in communion with the Holy Father, yet retaining something of the blessings they have known and experienced in the Anglican tradition. Of course the Ordinariate is a new thing, and not all of us are trailblazers or can imagine what it might be like. Some will undoubtedly want to wait and see how that initiative develops before making a decision.
Yet others will make their individual submission and find their future as Roman Catholics.
Were the present proposals not to be substantially amended or defeated, many more of us will need to consider seriously these options.
A number will remain, perhaps even reluctantly because of personal circumstances, family loyalties, even financial necessity, but with a deep sense of unease about the long term future, an unease that is surely well founded. There are faithful Catholic clergy and lay people, though deeply opposed to the likely Synodical decision who cannot currently imagine themselves being anywhere else but within the Church of England. They wonder how they can stay, yet cannot imagine leaving their much loved church and parish. They do not want to be forced out of the Church they love and will persevere where they are, whatever the theological or ecclesiological ambiguities, and seek God’s blessing on all they do.
Those who are not actively seeking a home elsewhere must work to defeat the currently proposed legislation. It is essential that traditionalists engage in the debate and discussion in their diocese and are active in the election process for the next quinquennium of the General Synod when the two thirds majority in each House will be required if the legislation is to pass. Whatever our individual futures, and however disheartened we might feel, the Church of England needs strong catholic hearts and voices.
The text quoted at the beginning of this letter was the one used by John Keble in his famous Assize sermon, often regarded as the starting point of the Oxford Movement. It seems remarkably apposite, and gives a clue to an appropriate attitude of heart for this process: prayerful and gracious, but clear.
We are all bishops united in our belief that the Church of England is mistaken in its actions. However, we must be honest and say we are not united as to how we should respond to these developments.
Nevertheless we are clear that each of the possibilities we have outlined has its own integrity and is to be honoured. We are resolved to respect the decisions made by laity, bishops, priests and deacons of our integrity, and call on you to do the same. It would be a sad and destructive thing indeed if we allowed our unhappiness and wondering to drift into unguarded or uncharitable criticism of those who in good conscience take a different path from our own. We must assume the best motives in one another, and where there are partings let them be with tears and the best wishes of Godspeed.
You will we hope know of the clergy meetings in both provinces to take place in late September when there will be opportunities for discussion and an exchange of views about the future. Be assured of our prayers as you reflect about how best to respond to the challenges which face us, and we ask your prayers for us too as we seek to be faithful to the Lord, and to the Faith once delivered.
Please share the contents of this letter with your people, and indeed with any who might be interested to know of it.
The Rt Revd John Hind, Bishop of Chichester The Rt Revd Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Europe The Rt Revd Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn The Rt Revd Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough The Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett, Bishop of Beverley The Rt Revd John Broadhurst, Bishop of Fulham The Rt Revd Peter Wheatley, Bishop of Edmonton The Rt Revd John Goddard, Bishop of Burnley The Rt Revd Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet The Rt Revd Tony Robinson , Bishop of Pontefract The Rt Revd John Ford, Bishop of Plymouth The Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, Bishop of Horsham The Rt Revd Martin Warner, Bishop of Whitby The Rt Revd Robert Ladds The Rt Revd Lindsay Urwin OGS
I am sorry chaps in purple...
I disagree. I quote '...We must now accept that a majority of members of the Church of England believe it right to proceed with the ordination of women as bishops...'
Shaun Attwood moved to America in 1991, initially visiting family just after finishing a business degree at Liverpool University. He came from small town Cheshire, and everything felt so big in comparison: the houses with swimming pools, the roads, the cars. He started working long hours as a commission-only stockbroker, earning nothing for the first few months. Over five years, his gross commission rose to more than $500,000 a year. He was the top broker in the office and had his own staff. Then he retired to trade his own capital online and earned even more. He moved to a million-dollar mountainside home complete with swimming pool and whirlpool bath. But he wanted more.
When he moved Shaun also took his love of the rave scene and drugs with him. His goal was to make enough money to bring Manchester's rave culture to Arizona. He threw raves across the desert region. He invested in club drugs. He went from being a normal lad from a working-class Cheshire town to living a Pulp Fiction lifestyle. The police knew about him and started a wire tap and eventually arrested him five months later. He was sentenced to nine and a half years in jail, of which He served almost six. In the 26 months while He was waiting to be sentenced, He went to the notoriously tough Maricopa County jail in Arizona. The gangs there had more control than the guards, and inmates were murdered. He says that this sequence of events over almost six years changed him as a person. He tells his story in schools and prison. He says of himself, as a stockbroker who threw raves and invested in club drugs, he landed himself in jail and deserved punishment. As horrendous as it was, I'm glad I went through the experience. Even though I'll always regret the effect it had on my family, how my world came crashing down, I don't resent what happened to me – if anything, I'm grateful for the new direction it has given me.
The teaching of Jesus in this morning’s Gospel doesn’t in some senses get more contemporary does it? For it is Shaun Attwood’s story, Nick Leeson’s story, but in many ways it is also my story as I long for a new Amazon Kindle e-reader or iPad or car or house or whatever it is.
This morning’s Gospel sits in a section where Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem and has been teaching about what it means to be a disciple. Jesus has just given us teaching about being faithful to God even in the face of persecution and then from the crowd is called out this facile question centred not on faith, but a family inheritance dispute.
Seeing the deeper issue (and Luke’s Jesus constantly warns against having too much and also God favouring the poor), Jesus warns then against all kinds of greed, and I start to feel uncomfortable. My problem is money. It's not that I don't have enough. It's just that I often think, and believe, and act like I don't have enough – enough money, enough time, enough stuff. More than that, I live in a culture that regularly tells me that I don't have enough. Television advertising and the internet all not only tell me that I'm insufficient, incomplete, and not quite right on my own, but they also promise me that if I only buy the product they're pushing – be it a tube of toothpaste, new laptop, or better car – then I'll be complete. Our culture unequivocally equates consumption with satisfaction, possessions with happiness, and material wealth with the good life. And here's my problem: all too often I believe it. Don't get me wrong, I know it's not true. More than that, I know it's a downright lie. And I take as evidence not only the multiple biblical prescriptions warning about greed, but also all the studies that measure national happiness where the UK, one of the wealthiest countires in the world, ranks towards the bottom ten percent with regard to reported happiness. Further, in my own life I know that I have a lot more money and stuff now than I did ten years ago and yet in some ways I am no more happy than I was then. So I know that as a rule happiness doesn't make a person happy, and yet deep down I still secretly believe that I'll be the exception to that rule.
And then Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool and I feel scared. I identify with the rich guy. After all, he's not a cheat, or a thief, or even particularly greedy. He's just worked hard and made a lot of money, like most of us dream about. His mistake, in the end, doesn't have to do with the wealth; rather, he goes astray by believing that his wealth can secure his future, can make him independent – from others, from need, from God. And I catch myself dreaming that, too: "If I just had a little more in the bank, or if the this were paid off, or if the cash for the kids' university education was already saved,...everything would be okay." The allure of money is that it creates the illusion of independence. It promises us that we can transcend the everyday vulnerabilities and needs that remind us that we're mortal, created beings ultimately and always dependent on others and, most especially, on God.
The lip-smacking self-preoccupation of the rich man is what Jesus is ultimately warning against. He refers to himself eight times in two verses! 'What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: "My soul, you...".' God has provided him with land that produces so much, and yet God is not forgotten, he doesn’t even feature on this guys horizon.
Friends this is not, as Luke’s Jesus would like it to be, a ‘give all of your money and possessions away and especially to the church, and then you will find God’ sort of sermon but it’s not. Having possessions is fine says Jesus as long as they don’t get in the way of discovering true riches in God.
We have pretty much bought into the cultural assumption that equates money with personal worth and yet Jesus says our to riches should be found in God. Instead of filling our lives with stuff that has no intrinsic value other than the value that we give it, God challenges us to fill our lives with things that have eternal value. It’s not the wealth that Jesus has a problem with, it’s the fact that accumulating it outwardly reduces inwardly the God shaped space within us and if that space is filled already - when we need to show or receive love, when we long for a sense of inner peace - it passes us by and does not even feature on our landscapes. How do we earn the richness of God? You can’t. We cannot earn his favour or presence or love. Thank God we can’t because he longs to give it free of charge to us. The richness he longs for us to have costs us nothing but cost Him everything. To receive those riches, to know that we are loved eternally, to know that we can be forgiven for the car crash that we so often make of our inner as well as outer lives - we just need to sincerely ask Him to give it to us. This isn’t God and possessions fighting it out in capitalist democracy because God might be out of a job, no, it’s the story of a God waits and who will gladly put us together again when the beautiful palace we make our lives to be all too often comes crashing down. Friends we need to be people who are rich in God. So don’t buy an iPad, buy some I-God time - in prayer and in hearing of his love in the stories in the scriptures and rediscovering His eternal love for each of us.