“Being rich in God” – sermon given by Rev Christopher Hancock at St Martin’s Epsom (31st July, 2016)

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Gospel: Luke 12:13-21

 

Well, what a week it has been:

–         The murder of priest, Jacques Hamel in France

–         A murder in quiet Headley of all places, now the crime capital of Surrey

For me it has been a week of spending as much time here at St Martin’s as possible in advance of today – getting to know the Parish and some of its people

And now having to contend with the idiosyncrasies of this extraordinary building and its peculiar acoustic – well here goes …

So what do we think about this passage, the Gospel which we have just heard?

Personally, I think it is a little confusing – it sets you off down false trails

The opening calls to mind the prodigal son with brothers arguing about an inheritance – which suggests that it is a story about relationships – but then Jesus tells a story about a man who builds new barns in which to store a bumper harvest – but calls him a fool – which makes you think it is about the evil vanity of money.  (‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity …’[1])

Confusingly, the barn-building parable appears to recall the story in Genesis when Joseph advises the building of stores of grain to provide against a famine and wins the respect of Pharaoh[2] – surely a good thing – being prudent- taking the long term view…

But Jesus seems to be encouraging a short-term view – for you may die at any time and, as we know, we cannot take it with you.  So you should concentrate not on storing up treasures for yourselves on earth but by being ‘rich towards God’ or even ‘rich in God’[3]

So how to make sense of this?

Luke’s Gospel has an extended metaphor of money as the currency of the kingdom of heaven (think of the parables of the talents or minas as it is in Luke[4], the shrewd manager who forgives debts, even the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s prayer is equated to the forgiveness of debts).

So can we extend the metaphor from money?  How might one make oneself rich in God?

Well as an accountant and corporate financier by day, I feel as though I should be able to provide some insight here.

I know quite a bit from my clients’ experience about what it takes to become wealthy and more importantly to stay wealthy and I think there are indeed some practices and disciplines which one can read across to one’s spiritual life.

First, it is best to approach financial matters with humility and gratitude.  Those who realise how much of their wealth is a result of good fortune are likely to remain wealthy far longer than those who ascribe it to their own brilliance.

This fundamental attitude of humility and thanksgiving is the essential first step on the road to holiness – as it is written, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’[5].

Secondly, having recognised one’s good fortune, the most important thing you can do with money is to keep an eye on it – to regularly review it – to keep accounts (as an accountant I would say that wouldn’t I – but it’s true).  This has its analogue in the regular – ideally daily – spiritual practice of self-reflection and criticism which has it paradigm in the Ignatian examen – a daily keeping account of what is Godly and pleasing in one’s life on one hand and on the other what feels ungodly and causes pain.  The idea is that by taking note of these things one can look to accentuate the former and eliminate the latter.

Another important thing to do with money is to use your brain and make a study of it – stay up to date with tax and changes in the world, do an MBA or become a chartered accountant (I am beginning to sound like a brochure from the Institute).

For those who would be holy this means studying the Bible – the history in our culture of man’s experience of the divine – perhaps joining a Bible study group and sharing the learning process with others.

Finally, and most importantly in my experience, those who have achieved most are those who have worked together rather than going it alone.  The smart entrepreneur is the one who shares the risks and rewards with a team – the largest companies in the world are those owned by many public shareholders not single individuals.

Moreover, those who are truly rich in their lives are those who share their wealth for philanthropic purposes and thereby lead a life which enrichens others.

It is this last point which I think provides the key to the short parable in our reading.

It is not the receipt of the great harvest which makes the rich man a fool – nor even the building of new barns.

It is the failure of the barn-builder to share what he has – to be isolated and selfish in his enjoyment of his good fortune that marks him out for contempt and indeed folly.

‘I will relax, eat, drink and be merry’ he says in a self-satisfied way that reminds me of what we might call the Barbecue Society which is so prevalent amongst the home counties middle class.  We can easily fall into being content in our small circle of friends to eat, drink and be merry without engaging in wider society or even with the neighbours beyond the garden fence.

But the reality is as we have seen in Headley and St Etienne de Rouvray and just as John Donne taught us, ‘no man is an island entire of itself’ for we are all involved in mankind – it is our relationships which matter and the true currency of the Kingdom of God is love.

This is what angered Jesus about the brothers wanting him to help them divide their inheritance with which we began.  They wanted him to enter a dispute – but Jesus is the opposite of a judge or arbiter who divides.  He is a unifer – something which we shall recognise in our Eucharist this morning as we form the body of Christ to remember Jesus.  Jesus, who taught us to love one another and to work together.  To form relationships and to honour them in his name.

Now if I were to do an examen of my week then without doubt the highlight would not be the time that I have spent in saying the offices of morning and evening prayer here (though I have indeed enjoyed that) – nor even in the couple of pints that I have sampled in Ye Olde King’s Head opposite (though I have indeed enjoyed that).

By far the highlight of my week was the pastoral visit that I paid with Canon Adrian to visit a long-term faithful parishioner, Peggy Hanley, as she approached death in Leyton House nursing home around the corner on Burgh Heath Road.

This once strong and vigorous lady was now very frail and the end was clearly near.  After praying with her for a while, giving thanks for her service to this community and saying the words of Commendation, Adrian lent over her bed and kissed her gently on the forehead.  In a week which has seen continuing death and division in the world, that seemed to me to be the very epitome of love – and that my friends is what it I believe it means to be rich in God.  Amen

Sermon given by Rev Christopher Hancock at St Martin’s Epsom, 31st July, 2016

 

[1] Ecclesiastes 1:2

[2] Genesis 41

[3] William Tyndale translation

[4] Luke 19:12-28, Luke 16:1-8; Luke 11:2-4

[5] In fact it is written twice: Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10

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