Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, Precentor

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

It’s not about the barns. This morning’s parable from the Gospel according to Saint Luke, is not about the large barns and the grain and the goods. It’s not about that. It bites though, doesn’t it? For those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to make ample provision for our future and the future of our families. This parable bites. But the barns are not quite what this parable is about. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t mind about greed or our being ungenerous to those in need. He minds about that.  He said for us to be on our guard about that. But it would be so easy for us to have our ears closed to this parable because we feel so guilty or so confused about our barns, about the sensible provision we are making for ourselves. No, the barns are not quite what the parable is about. The parable is about hearts.

Jesus is speaking with the crowd and he tells them to be careful about greed. “Your lives do not consist in the abundance of possessions,” he says. Then he tells a story about a man whose life does consist in the abundance of possessions. This statement about how they should live their lives, though, is not enough. The instruction will not transform them. To help the crowd know about God and about human nature, Jesus tells stories. Be on your guard, Jesus says, …the parable gets under our guard. He tells the crowd a story about a Rich Fool. This Rich Fool’s life does consist in an abundance of possessions – he doesn’t just own many things, he identifies with the many things. In the parable the man speaks with himself and in that interior conversation he speaks to himself of “my crops”, “my barns”, “my grain”, “my goods” and then “my soul”. “I will say to my soul”, he says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” His soul and his many possessions seem to be one.

God then enters the conversation. God, who we might expect to resonate with this conversation between a man and his soul, doesn’t call the man “soul”. God calls him “fool”. “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” God brings in the God view that life is gift and that gift on earth is finite. The God view is that this finite life is not identified with finite things. The man had some instinct of the infinite when he named himself “soul.” This man who has named himself “soul”, though, is named by God a fool. Those listening to Jesus’ parable, devout Jews, would have immediately thought of a verse of a psalm which spoke of a fool. The first verse of Psalm 14 says, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” In the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament there are frequent references to the fool who is compared with the wise. Unlike the wise, the fool is someone who “rejects the order of the world articulated by the wise, that is, one who refuses to acknowledge dependence on God.”[1]

The Rich Fool essentially worships idols. He places all his trust in his possessions. There is nothing wrong with possessions. There is nothing wrong with responsible stewardship. There is nothing wrong with barns. What is pronounced by God a sin, the sin that was at the heart of so many of the struggles between God and God’s people Israel in the Old Testament, is the worship of possessions, the reliance on them. “Thou shalt have no other gods but me,” God says to the people through the prophet Moses at Sinai in the first of the Ten Commandments. The essence of our relationship with God, the covenant relationship with God, is that we are made, held and forgiven in God; that every breath is given to us by God. That one day God will say to us, “This very night your life is being demanded of you.”

Jesus told parables to help the crowd know about God and about human nature. The prophets had a similar charge; they spoke with God’s voice.

“The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri,” the first verse of the Book of the Prophet Hosea states and then through the mighty fourteen chapters of this book God rails and cajoles and loves his recalcitrant people Israel, speaking through the prophet Hosea’s voice.

In one of the finest sermons I have ever heard, our Canon Theologian Matthew Anstey, last week, preached on the first chapter of this book. Matthew exhorted us to see in God’s shocking imaging of Israel as a whore in relationship to God – the issue is the failure of the people to worship God here again – to see in this shocking image a passionate statement of how things are and to find, also, the way God wishes things to be. Our reading this morning from the 11th chapter of Hosea gives a different image. God is a parent of a most beloved child.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 The more I
* called them, the more they went from me;*
they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.

3Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my
* arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.
I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
(Hosea 11:1-4)

God is the parent of a beloved child who worships idols, who like the Rich Fool does not know that their safety and meaning is in God. But in this beautiful reading from the prophet Hosea, we see that God does not give up, God does not abandon, God does not destroy. God, instead, has compassion. God says,

for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.

God does not love as mortals do. God looks at his children who look for their meaning in other than him, God looks and loves on.

Be rich towards God, who looks with such love at his children, Jesus seems to be saying in his parable about a Rich Fool. How do we do that? How do we live a life of richness towards God? One spiritual writer put it this way:

Being rich toward God seems to me to be more about consciousness than bustling around the church managing God’s business. Noticing the scent of lavender and earth and early morning and still being grateful for it by the end of the day. Noticing the other: taking risks in love for Love disguised as the unlovable.[2]

Being rich toward God seems to me to be more about consciousness …

The parable is not about barns but about consciousness ….about our hearts. And so I guess we do need to be a little aware of the hearts and the barns, keep an eye on the heart and the barn, and check that whilst many of us are fortunate to make good provision for ourselves, we might be careful that that provision is not the object of our worship, not the focus of our adoration or our security. That God’s desire that is we notice the scent of lavender and earth and early morning and are still grateful for it by the end of the day. That we notice the other: and take risks in love for Love disguised as the unlovable.

[1] Arland J. Hultgren The Parables of Jesus p107.

[2] Edge of Enclosure website for July 31 2016