Set your minds on things that are above
Yesterday evening, Julia led the service, and Pete gave us our homily, sermon, thought for the day...call it what you will...reminding us of where our thoughts and goals should be focussed.
Ecclesiastes 1, 2: Luke 12
We do our best to base the sermon or homily on the readings laid down by the lectionary calendar, so it feels a little like being dealt a hand of cards and seeing what we can make of them! Quite often I struggle to see much connection between the four readings. This week the connection is obvious.
“...it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1)
“The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods, and boast of their great riches? “ (Psalm 49)
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col 3)
“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12)
A cheerful set of readings for a summer’s evening!
What do you want to be your legacy? What would you like on your gravestone? ‘He who dies with the most toys wins’, or something more? In the late stage of our working days (or sometimes the early ones!) we may wish for nothing more than to eat drink and be merry. Careful what you wish for.
At the height of Israel’s wealth, power and influence king Solomon writes – but it’s all vanity, vexation and meaningless! Along with the pithy proverbs later in Ecclesiastes I strangely find this a breath of fresh air in the middle of the Old Testament, which can be quite heavy going.
Later, in chapter 8, we read...
“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” Which I guess might be summed up as try not to worry too much!
It’s instructive with a short gospel story to see what comes before and after it. The gospel writers seldom chose to put things in chronological order, but would often lump incidents together to make a wider point. Here, with this short parable of the foolish man, what comes before is ‘Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies, yet not one of them are forgotten by God.’ After this story come the verses telling us not to worry about life, food and clothes ‘Consider the lilies of the field, they do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you Solomon (a link with Ecclesiastes) in all his glory was not dressed like one of these’. With this is in mind, we shouldn’t be surprised at Jesus’ response
In effect, the man was heckling ‘Jesus, I want to be richer!’ Maybe his brother was refusing to give him his share, or maybe he was complaining at the Jewish law which said the eldest son is to receive the largest share. We just don’t know. But He shouldn’t have been surprised at the response. “Friend, who set me to be a judge and arbitrator over you? Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
The parable that follows is a tricky one. At face value, it seems very sensible, if you have more than enough harvest, build bigger barns to store it for a time when stocks are running low. The barns will outlive the rich man and it will have been a useful investment for those who follow him. Surely if we all took to heart the idea of only investing in our own lives, viewing our efforts as simply vane and vexatious, then where is the community, progress ... the noble cause?
I think the clue in the parable comes in the word soul, ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and relax.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.’
Soul is an interesting word, in the Christian sense; it is the enduring part of us which continues beyond death. But even without any sort of religious belief, people will talk of the essence of their being, mind, character, thoughts and feelings, things they will put their heart and soul into. For this rich fool in the parable, the essence of his being, his soul, was being focussed on being rich for himself but not rich toward God.
Other texts come to mind; Mark 8:36 ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ Sometimes translated life but soul I think is the better one. What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses the essence of what is worthy, what is noble and eternal?
1 Tim 6:10 ‘The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.’ Often mis-quoted as ‘money is the root of all evil’, not least by Pink Floyd on their album Dark Side of the Moon! It’s not money, it’s the love of money. We may be penniless and still guilty of having a love of money. And even then it’s not the root of all bad things, it’s a root!
Trust me, this is not a plea from the husband of the church treasurer for you to give more Euros to Christchurch! But we are stewards of our resources, the things we can do, things we’re good at, we are custodians of what we own. We should hold on to them lightly because, ultimately, they will all return to the ground or be passed on to someone else Our lives have to be more than seeking to relax, something I would call a noble cause, something worthwhile that is independent of how valuable a task (job) is viewed. I sometimes think those emptying the trash cans are engaged in a more noble cause than some jobs paid ten times as much. Raising a family and teaching children values, honesty and integrity has to be one of the most noble causes of all? As the saying goes and speaking as someone whose children left home some time ago, ‘The days are long but the years are short’.
We are stewards of our resources, we are custodians of what we own. Whatever your noble causes are – take heart, God’s speed, do them well.