Hosea 11:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

A Sermon by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

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

We are not made to be alone.

The book of the Prophet Hosea tells the poignant story of a people who have rebelled against God. God speaks passionately to God’s people through the prophet Hosea, longing for their relationship to be restored:

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

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
   I took them up in my arms;
   but they did not know that I healed them.
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)

The prophet’s poetry is that of a parent. God is to God’s people like those who lift infants to their cheeks, like a loving parent, longing for the recalcitrant children, those who worship idols not God, to come back. We are made for relationship with God.

Jesus is speaking to a crowd about such things and has just exhorted the people to follow him, to be loyal to him. The concerns of the family inheritance are weighing on one member of this crowd. If he is to pledge allegiance to this Jesus perhaps Jesus can be of use.

‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ He says. (Luke 12:13) The Jewish rabbis were often called upon to settle such disputes. But Jesus does not see his role in this way. Rather than simply suggesting they find another arbiter, Jesus goes to the heart of the man’s request – his desire for security and wealth – and offers a stern critique. He hammers the point home with a parable.

Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool and we might well wonder a little at the harshness of it. Parables are designed to puzzle us, remember, and living as we do in our time and place, a time and place when we are encouraged to put great effort into making responsible provision for our futures, we might find ourselves puzzled, indeed. This rich man has worked hard and, finding himself with an abundant crop, addresses the issue carefully of how it is to be stored responsibly. What better way than to build a bigger barn?

Jesus allows us to eavesdrop on the man’s thoughts. He is speaking to himself, naming himself “Soul”. He is speaking to his whole self, the “Soul” is the whole self, and, as we listen in, we see who he is.

 “I will do this: [says the rich man], I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (12:18-19)

This man is alone. Alone planning his future. He says ‘I’ six times in this short soliloquy. And he speaks of “my crops, …my barns, …my grain, …my goods, …my soul”. There is no “we”, no “our”. The man is alone. And his identity is found in his possessions. His worth is found in those possessions. And his future rest and nourishment and joy are found there, too. “Relax, eat, drink and be merry,” didn’t he say? Only aren’t we made that the source of our rest is in the Sabbath – and the source of our nourishment in is bread, in wine, given by God – aren’t we made that our true home, our joy, are found beyond our own souls?

Suddenly this rich man finds that he is not alone, for the true source of all that is good for us speaks. God addresses him as “Fool.” For the one thing a very large barn full of grain cannot guarantee is life.

“You fool!” [God says] “This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (12:20)

Those listening would have remembered a psalm, Psalm 14, whose opening words speaks about fools.

“Fools say in their heart there is no God.” The crowd would have often said at prayer.

You are acting as if there is no God. You are placing your identity in your possessions and you are forgetting that only God can give life. You are placing your rest and your nourishment and your joy in those possessions and in fact all of these come from God, too.

Jesus comments on his parable, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” (12:21)

What does he mean about being rich towards God? We might wonder, those of us with pretty full barns, what this richness looks like. God has created us and God calls us, each one unique and dearly loved, and so for each of us the answer to this question will be different. What has God placed on our hearts? What would God have us offer to him?

Perhaps we might work from the ground up, if you like. Perhaps our richness towards God might begin with caring for the earth on which we walk. On Monday 29 July, our Cathedral bells joined churches all around Australia to ring from 11:48am for the 12 minutes until midday. Monday July 29 was Earth Overshoot Day – the day in the year when we have used up the entire year’s resources. The twelve minutes of ringing marked the 12 years that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued warnings that we must act to avoid catastrophic climate change. We stand on this earth; we need its resources to sustain us. One aspect of our richness towards God might be our care for the earth.

What of other ways? Jesus, in the words that follow our Gospel reading this morning, teaches the crowd about life trusting in God. We are not made to be alone and knowing that, trusting that … perhaps that is a life of richness towards God.

I tell you, [Jesus says] do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! … Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  (12:22-17)

Jessu is exhorting us to live a life of trust. Trust in God. Consider the ravens …The ravens have neither storehouse nor barn, Jesus says, clearly linking to the parable he has just told. And yet God feeds them. Why are you focussing on storehouses and barns? Consider the lilies …Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. Is it richness towards God to walk in nature, treasuring it, noticing God’s care of it?

Consider the lilies of the field.

These words were spoken at a wedding sixty years ago to a woman Susanna who to this day knows what it is to love the lilies of the fields and to a man Richard who to this day has loved that woman. We are, indeed, not made to be alone. And Susanna and Richard have lived that so well. The flowers before us, arranged for the couple who celebrate their diamond wedding by Lorna and the gathering we will have with company and cake in the Cynthia Poulton Hall after this service shine a light on what such a marriage is. I always say the same thing at weddings for they are so beautiful. A wedding day is a sacrament and a sacrament is a window into the beauty that is a marriage. It is not that every day of living in a committed loving relationship feels beautiful. We all know it is not like that at all. Living with someone is hard work. But the love and the commitment and the hope that the vows that Susanna and Richard made to one another sixty years ago are more beautiful and more blessed than even the flowers before us. Weddings are not placing rose-coloured glasses on the life lived by two people. Weddings shine a light into the profound reality that such a commitment is, all the blessing and struggle of it.

What are the vows they spoke all those years ago?…What did Susanna and Richard promise …

to have and to hold from this day forward,

                     for better, for worse,

                     for richer, for poorer,

                     in sickness and in health,

                     to love and to cherish,

                     So long as we both shall live.

No. We are not made to be alone.

I wonder …when Jesus tells us not to worry, not to put all our energy into building barns, tells us to consider the lilies of the field, when Jesus says these things might he also be hinting that in the background God is whispering to us

I will have and hold you, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, I will love and cherish you in this life and … beyond.