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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 18, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
July 31, 2016

Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

‘You Can't Take It With You’

You might have a happy family, nice house, fine car
You might be successful in real estate
You could even be a football star
You might have a prime-time TV show seen in every home and bar
But you can’t take it with you …

Paul Kelly’s song (1989) is a faithful rendition of today’s Gospel. On first hearing it, I missed its Gospel meaning, thinking only of the metaphysical – of course, you can’t take anything with you into the next life. Ecclesiastes 5:15: “Naked they come from their mother’s womb, and naked they return. As you come, so you go – and you can’t take it with you!” I hear the song now, however, as addressing ethical concerns – properly Gospel concerns. Jesus says: “Avoid greed in all its forms.” God be with you

Jesus 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, as Jesus says, “rich in God”.

Elizabeth Farrelly writes of two Archibald portraits of local politicians: “‘We,’ they seem to say, ‘are the fossilised relics of the braggart tradition. We stand for commerce, not creativity; patriarchy, not openness; exploitation, not love.’”

Of the first portrait, she writes: “[T]here’s no romance here. No sweetness. The wheat is cut-to-length and stubby and the man, somewhat bizarrely, occupies not the ground but a chair. His right hand holds – literally centre-field – a police hat and crucifix, all of it bespeaking unrivalled dominance over a landscape that is anyway monocultured and chemicaled into submission, not a tree in sight. Then there’s the gaze. Even sitting, the man manages to look down upon us, as if to prove that we, people and nature both, are just a tad below his natural field of vision.”

You might own a great big factory, oil wells on sacred land
You might be in line for promotion, with a foolproof retirement plan
You might have your money in copper, textiles or imports from Japan
But you can’t take it with you …

Of the second portrait, entitled “Polymath”, Farrelly describes a “‘Mr Coal’, grinning affably, suited and sated – looking like a banker after a fancy lunch. Around his balding head is a soft white halo of ‘outstanding achievements’. True, the word polymath usually implies scholarship broad and deep – a Barry Jones, a Raymond Tallis, a Plato. But I’m more interested in how the picture’s materials – copper, wood, charcoal – are said by the artist to represent [the politician’s] position as (then) Minister for Resources. It’s what we do. Extract, use, exploit.”

To be “rich in God” has an ethical and moral meaning. It means sharing, working for justice, giving thanks to God by giving away one’s excess and then giving with ever greater generosity. Farrelly paints a bigger picture. “It’s a big state, NSW, with a lot of coal and a very small amount of fertile, rain-fed soil. Where these conflict, soil should win,” she writes. Then adds: “The ‘moral case for coal’ is always argued as a cure for poverty. But even the World Bank contradicts this, pointing out the ‘huge social cost to coal ... if you want to breathe clean air’. Poverty is not cured by disease.”

You can’t take it with you though you might pile it up high
It’s so much easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye …

When the land provides the rich man of the parable with a windfall, he cannot imagine anyone with whom he might share his goods and his grain. God calls the rich man a fool, not so much because he had received an abundance of possessions, but because he lacked relationships among whom good things could be shared. Says one commentator: “When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence” (Chris Udy).

Says the Apostle Paul: “Let your thoughts be on heavenly things … 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 …”

Our readings present us with an ethical choice, then: greed or God? Greed – for money, for status, security, knowledge, a bigger house, physical or spiritual ecstasy. All this amounts to idolatry – the desire of shadows.

You might have a body of fine proportion and a hungry mind
A handsome face and a flashing wit, lips that kiss and eyes that shine
There might be a queue all around the block
Long before your starting time
But you can’t take it with you …

The 14th-century theologian Meister Eckhart, writes: “Only by allowing God to claim and possess us will life become a passionate and joyous celebration. The one “thing” we need is no-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.” Not the life we put there ourselves, through complex processes of greed and wish-fulfilment, but the very life of God as the Gift within our hearts and our world.

Greed or God? Greed or the Gift? A consuming, accumulating and possessing desire – or love, joy and peace in life?

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, 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 (Eucharist) that we might experience the Gift.

You might have a great reputation so carefully made
And a set of high ideals, polished up and so well displayed
You might have a burning love inside, so refined, such a special grade
But you can’t take it with you.

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. What does it mean for you to be rich in God? … May it be so. Amen.