Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘Greed or the Gift?’
Says Jesus: “Avoid greed in all its forms.” He tells the parable of someone who has so much that he has no place to put it and so he pulls down the old barns and builds bigger and bigger ones, planning what he is going to do with all his extra wealth and holdings. But he lives without thought, without sharing (he would have been despised in the Jewish community) and he lives without offering to God, or an attitude of thankfulness. He will die that night. This is the death of joy in life. This is the way it works with people who accumulate riches for themselves, but are not rich in God – by sharing with the poor, by working for justice, by giving thanks to God by giving away one’s excess and then giving with ever greater generosity.
Says Paul: “Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things of earth. After all, you died, and now your life is hidden with Christ in God . . . So put to death everything in you that belongs to your old nature: promiscuity, impurity, guilty passion, evil desires and especially greed, which is the same thing as idolatry ...”. Paul contends that there is a fundamental problem with human desire, and it’s this: that we’d rather possess a whole heap of things, than allow God to possess us. The name given in Scripture for this tendency is “idolatry”.
When Paul told the Colossians to set their minds on heavenly things rather than on earthly things, he wasn’t talking about heaven and earth in the literal way we still, despite all our sophistication, tend to think of them. He was saying this: “That space in your home and heart where God would like to be is not simply vacant. You fill it up with other stuff. Stuff that has nothing to do with God or the practice of love, joy and peace; but is rather about your greed, your status in the world, and your desperate desire to avoid God’s call on your life. That’s idolatry, the desire that keeps you from God.”
Last week, Takbirul shared with me his experience of God’s call on his life. A powerful and undeniable call on his life. The power we know better, perhaps, is, in Paul’s terms, an “earthly” or greedy power over others. It promotes fear, anxiety, superiority. The power revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Christ is an uplifting or “heavenly” power – a Trinitarian, egalitarian power. It enables love, joy, peace. To share with you today, Takbirul, is a thrill.
Our readings present us with a choice, then: greed or God? Greed – for money, for status, security, knowledge, a bigger house, physical or spiritual ecstasy. All this amounts to idolatry (or fetishisation) – the desire of shadows.
Or, God – revealed as One who gives the divine life to us not as something to be possessed or claimed, but rather as a gift which claims or possesses us.
Greed or God? Greed or the Gift? A consuming, accumulating and possessing desire – or love, joy and peace in life?
Now, we might say that liturgical worship is a practice by which we learn to discern greed from God – a discipline by which we learn to become less greedy and more like Christ. At worship, we conform ourselves, week by week, to a Christ-
What we are doing at worship is learning to be less greedy, or, learning not to commit idolatry, or (the same thing), we’re learning to love. We’re learning to regard each and everyone as a gift – to discern the Gift at the heart of each and everyone. It’s hard work, in a way. It’s a discipline.
To receive and to cherish the Word without idolising the Bible. To receive and to cherish the Sacrament without being superstitious toward bread, wine, oil, water. To receive and to cherish the call to a moral and ethical way of life without being moralistic (judgemental and superior). To receive and to cherish ourselves as “children of the living God” without objectifying one another as true believers or perfect saints.
What we are doing at worship is letting go, letting be, or to use a word favoured by Eckhardt, detaching – detaching ourselves from every desire to consume, accumulate or possess, that we might, as Eckhardt says, “be receptive to nothing but God”. What we are doing at worship, is allowing God to be God, allowing God to do something – allowing God to give us love, joy and peace in Word and Sacrament – in the waters of baptism today – ultimately, allowing God to give us the whole world, in all its splendour and pain, all its earthy sensuality.
Last week I recalled a childhood prayer challenged and deepened by the Lord’s Prayer. Today I recall simply the discipline of saying Grace before a meal. In miniature form, such a practice is Christian worship (Jewish worship also). The Grace is a simple form of detachment, a letting go and letting be, a making time and space, that food might not simply be consumed, that friends might not simply be accumulated, that a place at the table might not be taken for granted. The Grace is detachment before real enjoyment – a “giving thanks” that we might experience the Gift.
“Only by allowing God to claim and possess us will life become a passionate and joyous celebration. “The one ‘thing’ we need is not a thing at all. It is God. When we detach from things, God comes to fill or possess us by God’s Spirit. And suddenly the world is full of life once more.”
In silence we detach from all desires to consume, accumulate or possess, that God might fill our thoughts and our words with love, joy and peace. These simple ribbons can symbolise for us, genuine riches – what it means for us to be “rich in God” … What does it mean for you to be “rich in God”?
… May it be so. Amen.