A lot of our Gospel readings this year come from Luke. Come the end of the year, when Advent starts, we go back to Year A, when the emphasis is on Mark, but for now, we are still in Year C and working with Luke. Throughout the Gospel, Luke has a lot to say about attitudes to wealth and poverty, money and riches, possessions and priorities. Last week, we were talking about the rich farmer, whose crops were so good, that he was planning on building bigger and better barns, so that he could hang on to his riches. Today’s reading follows on from that.
The way Luke shows Jesus to us, he doesn’t have a lot of time for people whose priority is their possessions and nice lifestyle. Even Jesus’ mother Mary sings her wonderful song when she is expecting Jesus and talks about how the wealthy will be sent away with nothing. In the Beatitudes Jesus says it is the poor who are blessed, who are happy, but the rich have had their reward already – there is nothing left for them. And over the next few weeks, we will be looking at more of the stories that talk about attitudes to money and possessions.
It is not easy teaching for us who are used to the wealth of the first world. We may not think we’re wealthy, but compared to two-thirds of the world, we have riches beyond imagination – a safe and secure roof over our heads, more food than we need, good reliable transport, access to all kinds of entertainments and communication technologies, luxuries of all sorts that we don’t even recognise as luxuries any more. People often tell me what it was like growing up in Bensham 50, 60, 70 years ago, when people didn’t have much and life was hard. But they always tell me how happy they were, and how there was a real sense of community. Now, there is a certain amount of looking at the past with rose-tinted glasses, but people never tell me about how they lost out because they didn’t have all the things they have now. We are rich. We have so much more than we need.
But looking back to the story we had last week, we saw then that having wealth doesn’t make people generous in spirit. In fact, it often makes them meaner. When you have wealth and possessions, you have to spend more time looking after them and protecting them and watching out for your investments. It turns your attention away from other things.
I was aware of this recently because I had an ISA that was maturing and I had to fill in forms and make arrangements for the money to be transferred into another ISA. And in some ways, I felt quite guilty about having that money in the first place. Which is a right and proper attitude if you follow what Jesus says in this passage!
My husband, Sheridan, is a collector. He loves old and beautiful things, and has spent his retirement going every fortnight to the auction sale in Darlington. He already had 10,000 books. Now he collects parian ware, Victorian ink wells and little boxes. It gives him such pleasure! And I would rather he spent his money on these things that give him joy than other more destructive things. Jesus says: sell your possessions.
I’m not sure I’m any better! I buy a lot of books, more than I can ever read. And I buy CDs, and I buy resources for ministry – because that gives me pleasure. But do I really need all of them? Probably not.
Jesus says: sell your possessions.
Everyone has different priorities for spending their money, the things that give them pleasure and comfort, whether it is meals out, fine wines, amazing holidays, clothes and jewellery, home improvements, the latest technologies – we have so much available to us.
Jesus says: sell your possessions.
Now there are dangers in taking statements out of context in the bible and taking them too literally. Sometimes Jesus says things to shock us. But the shock is to make us thing about our priorities. God the Father wants to give us the kingdom of heaven. But when all our effort and energy is going into the kingdom of this life, we are missing out. We can’t see the wood for the trees. We can’t see God’s kingdom, because our attention is focussed on money and goods. We make them our treasure, not God’s kingdom.
God has given us so much! So much! So much more than we need. It all still belongs to God. He makes us his stewards and asks us to be responsible for it. He asks us to have a generous spirit and to look out for those who are struggling. He asks us to be generous with funding God’s work on earth.
A friend of mine, working in another church, told me how his church has an attitude of scarcity. They act like they don’t have enough, and there’s never going to be enough, so they have to scrimp and save and not pay out more than they have to. In reality, it’s quite a wealthy church, but they act poor and mean rather than generous. He is trying to encourage them to trust in God, who has already given them so much, and will gladly give them more, if and when they start to behave generously.
Where is your treasure? Your own treasure? What are your priorities for making use of all that God has given you? Do you trust in God to give you what you need?
And where is our treasure as a church? How do we make the kingdom of heaven our priority here at St Chad’s, when it comes to what we have and our financial responsibilities?
If we start to think about these things and talk about these things, it will make us uncomfortable. I heard someone on Radio 4 yesterday saying that money is one of the great taboos. We don’t like to talk about it. But Jesus talked about it, and he wants us to think seriously about it.
Where our treasure is, there we will find our heart.