18th Per Annum 2019 SMC
Are you a hoarder or someone who likes to throw things away? I’m often accused of throwing things away from church when something goes missing, and this is often true; I have thrown it away - not always, but often. I can’t stand clutter in churches, which so easily seem to accumulate things. But, even I am guilty of hoarding things. I have a jacket, for example, that I bought nearly twenty years ago and it has always been too big for me but I have kept it all this time, just in case I will fit into it one day. What do you hoard and what do you throw away?
The question arises, of course, from the Gospel with the Parable of the Rich Man and his barns. He wants to hoard his crops: he’s got them so he needs to keep them and accumulate them. So he builds barns. And then he dies.
Possessing things is an ultimately good thing. It is part of God’s gift to us of having dominion over creation, that we possess bits of it. God gives His people of old the promise to possess a land (Genesis 12) and this promise is fulfilled. The absence of needful things is seen within Christian theology as regrettable, such as the straw with which the Hebrews needed to make bricks, which Pharaoh wickedly removes in Exodus 5. The Lord gives us all we need (Matthew 6:25-34) and we pray that He will “give success to the work of our hands” in the words of the Psalmist, as we heard earlier.
But if we are blessed to possess things, we are even more blessed to give them away. “Blessed are the poor,” the Lord tells us (Luke 6:20). Jesus himself was not wealthy as we see in the offering given by His parents when they come to present Him in the Temple, when they gave two turtle doves, the offering made by the poor folk (Luke 2:22-40). Jesus‘ teachings assume we will be giving alms and we must make sure we don’t have it trumpeted before us to win the praise of others (Matthew 6:2). The call to the person who keeps the law and wants to inherit eternal life in Matthew 19:21 is, “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor.”
The Church has never taught that riches and wealth don’t matter: see Paul in II Corinthians 8 and 9 extolling the virtue of those in Macedonia who have made a collection for the poor followers of Christ in Jerusalem and he uses their generosity to exhort the Christians in Corinth to the same generosity in supporting generously the ministry in Jerusalem. And today, the Church no less needs money so as to continue. One of the regrettable things about being a vicar, an incumbent of a parish, is the need to be have an eye on the money. We spent a couple of weeks ago over £2,000 on the horizontal gutter that covers the south aisle and in September we need to spend £10,000 on scaffolding and the work of replacing the grouting at the top of the lower roof. This will hopefully prevent the water coming in which you can see on that sloped roof. The money we all give the parish is well spent and not spent on unnecessaries, fear not!
But even if the parish didn’t need the money for such works, you and I would still be obliged to give our money away because it’s part of our giving. The tithe we see hallowed by what Abraham offers the priest Melchizedek in Genesis 14:20 is then made law for the people of God in the Old Testament in, with commands to give a tenth of seed produced (Deuteronomy 14:22) and every third and sixth year a further ten percent to be given to the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28). This giving away of a ten percent of our pre-tax income is still encouraged upon us to recognise that it is God who has given it to us. I Chronicles records a glorious prayer of King David as he makes an offering: “But who am I that we should be able to make this free-willing offering? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.”
I must confess, my friends, there are times when I don’t give in the best way possible. Most of my giving is done by Standing Order and so goes straight out of my bank account otherwise I just know it wouldn’t happen. But I do sometimes look at those I know who have no faith and wonder how much wealthier I would be if I hadn’t these past years of life given money to the Church. It’s not a good thing for me to think at all and falls far short of the reminder of St Paul: “God loves a cheerful giver” (I Corinthians 9:7). This cheerful giving is the remedy to the greed of which we were warned in the second reading. Yes, we are to kill these earthly passions, nailing them to the Cross on which the Saviour hung, and, as St Paul wrote, “especially greed which is the same thing as worshipping a false god.”
There are different ways to give your money to St Mary’s. There are Standing Order forms at the back of Church or you can simply set up a BACs payment when you bank online next time. You can make sure your giving is tax efficient by using the blue envelopes if you pay Income Tax and so we can claim money back from the Government. You can use the new card reader machine available for use in the shop, though we do lose 2% of everything you give that way to bank charges. And it’s not just money, of course: your time, your practical skills, your singing voices, your kindnesses, whatever you produce from what God has given can all be offered in the service of God.
Underpinning our Bible readings is the firm belief that it is ridiculous for us simply to be concerned with storing up treasure for ourselves on earth. It’s not a bad idea for us to shop around for good interest rates if we’re lucky enough to be able to put some money away for a rainy day and do ensure you have a pension if you can, but there is something quite ridiculous spending all our life building up wealth on earth because it won’t help us a single bit when we die. In Ecclesiastes 1 we heard: “What of all his laborious days, his cares of office, his restless nights? This, too, is vanity.” Hence the Psalmist prays, “Make us know the shortness of our life!” All material things will pass away, my friends, and there’s not a single thing we can do about it. How ridiculous for the rich man in the parable to realise his wealth is going to pass away so builds something to make it more secure, which is itself going to pass away. All he has now are two things which will pass away! Far better, surely, to build up something that will not pass away: his eternal soul, the kingdom of God, the faith of another.
We see this flawed logic in so much of our world today where we can see things will pass away but conclude therefore that we must look after them more. Two examples: first our body. Yes, we can see things creak a bit more and bits beginning to fail and you think we might then take the hint that this body isn’t going to last for ever. Now, we must look after our bodies and exercising, eating healthily and taking our medication is all good stuff but one day we’re going to have to live without the body and so maybe it is worth prioritising that which will endure beyond this life. Similarly, the planet. People can see the world is changing, the climate is changing, so much so that people are outbidding each other with the word that is to be used to described what’s happening: is it a catastrophe, is it an emergency? We know the world is going to end and we know we have to look after the world, as stewards of God’s creation. We should start ushering in a little more of the world to come where there’ll be worship and unity and peace and Christ will be the centre.
My friends, the response of the rich fool in the parable Jesus tells when he sees the fragility of his riches is to protect them so he can enjoy himself. And he then ignores the soul which is all he will be left with quicker than he’d imagined. He was not ready for eternity when the things of this world were taken from him: are you ready? Amen.