Reading the Hebrew Scripture assigned for yesterday I was struck by the words “… on that day [that is, on the day of judgement] … the earth will be desolate because of its inhabitants, for the fruits of their doing.”  And I found myself thinking about gardens.  The garden of Eden, the paradise of the creation story.  The song, Woodstock, where “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”  The garden worked by members of this congregation to feed those in need in this community. (more…)

For what it’s worth, in my opinion, our reading from Luke’s gospel this morning is difficult.  It starts with a man asking Jesus for a legal ruling, and it ends with the story about the man who decided to build more storage to house a bumper crop.  Neither, on the face of it, would seem to be a bad thing.  But Jesus seems quite unsympathetic to both.  Why?

It’s not so much the case these days, but rabbis in Jesus’ day functioned, really, like judges.  They interpreted the law of Moses in legal disputes.  They also taught.  We translate the term “rabbi” as “teacher.”  But they not only taught the law, they issued judgements to settle disputes (like Moses did).  Back then, they really didn’t function the way Christian ministers do.  They really weren’t pastors, except in the sense that they settled legal disputes.  They might sort out problems between members of the community that way.

So it is not unreasonable that the man in the crowd asked Jesus, as a rabbi, to settle his legal dispute with his brother.  Presumably his older brother, since that’s where the power would have been.  It was not uncommon for some small portion of an estate to be shared with younger sons – sometimes even during the lifetime of the father (like in the story of the “prodigal” son) – even though the vast majority of the estate would go to the older brother.

Presumably the father had died, and the older brother wasn’t sharing.  The younger brother wanted a piece of the estate.  My first thought was that perhaps Jesus was reading his heart and finding it greedy.  But when I thought about it, he’s rejecting the whole idea that he should sit in judgement over other people – even though that was the accepted role of rabbis.  “… who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

I’m reminded that Jesus was not much of a rule-maker or lawgiver.  No, Jesus told stories to make his point.  And, at least in my mind, the point of his stories was usually about how to be in relationship with others.  And when I say others, I’m not just talking people.  I’m also talking God and creation in general.  That seems to be the case here.

Jesus introduces today’s story by telling his hearers:  “Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

In his story, a rich man’s land produced an abundant crop.  And this rich man seemingly confused this abundance with the life of his soul.  He makes plans to build a bigger barn and store up his goods to provide for many years in which he can simply eat, drink and be merry.  He seems to equate this with the well-being of his soul.

God does not seem to cross his mind.  The well-being of other people does not seem to cross his mind.  The idea that he might have been entrusted with this abundance for some useful purpose does not seem to cross his mind.  For him, the good life seems to mean enjoying life, coasting through life, without having to do any kind of work.  He has ample stuff, now, to make this possible.

I want to be careful here.  Because Jesus’ incarnation, God taking flesh in the person of Jesus, means that for us what happens in this world must be taken seriously.  And also because when people do not have enough, they often suffer and die without ever having an opportunity to become what God meant them to be.  We are not a religion, in spite of God’s care for the birds and flowers of the field, which ignores or minimalises the needs of this world.

But maybe the point of the story is that we can equally fail to become what God means us to be because we have so much “stuff” that we are isolated from need (and end up focused on the “stuff” and not on our relationship with all that surrounds us).  Maybe it’s a question of where our focus is.  Are we focused on earthly stuff or on the things that bring true life?  And I think that’s our relationships.

The rich man in Jesus’ story is going to die that very night, before he can enjoy the stuff he’s making plans to use for years.  Where is his soul then?  What good will what he treasures do him after he’s dead?  It does us no good, Jesus says, to store up treasures for ourselves if we are not rich towards God.

What do our practices with regard to things (which we usually think we own, but which ultimately we may just be stewards for) say about our relationship with God and God’s plans?  God calls us to live lives oriented towards building up our relationships with God and our neighbor (and I would add the things of God’s creation).  Does the way we use the stuff of our lives contribute towards living this kind of a life.  Or is our stuff our treasure and our focus in living?  Where your treasure is, Jesus tells us only a few verses later, is where your heart will be.  Where is your heart?  With God?  Or with stuff?

And, of course, this doesn’t mean that Jesus has laid down the law and said that we must live in poverty or that we cannot be wealthy if we want to follow God.  But it does mean that Jesus is challenging us to think about what it means to follow God and how our relationship with our stuff effects how well we follow God.

Jesus doesn’t say you can’t have stuff.

Jesus invites you to think about how your relationship with your stuff effects your relationship with God.

And he quite clearly warns us that our relationship with stuff can seriously undermine our relationship with our God.

Our lives, our true lives in God, do not consist in the abundance of our possessions …

I’m attracted to money and the things that money can bring into my life.  I think most of us are.  Most of my life I was paid for my work.  It may not have been my main motivation.  I had another career started, once upon a time, that promised to be more lucrative.  Money has not been my primary motivator in discerning a call.  But I don’t think I would have done the work that I did most of my life if I had not been paid a living wage.

There was a time when my furniture consisted of a fold up mattress, a lamp for reading and some crates to hold books, and my clothing was limited and pretty much all hand me down or thrift shop (except athletic shoes) and I was perfectly happy.  Today I want (possibly even need) a comfortable bed to sleep in and a comfortable chair to read in, and my stuff (which once fit into a VW bug) easily fills a home.  That is a problem in retirement:  how do I move my old office into my home?

I found myself thinking about this after reading (in Celtic Daily Prayer):  “It is no sin to have wealth, but it is sinful to be attracted to wealth. (more…)

In our calendar today, we remember William Temple (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1881-1944).  Other sources I use also commemorate Leonard (a 6th century hermit).  Very little is actually known about Leonard.  He seems to have been a Frankish noble, converted by Remigius, who chose to become a monk instead when offered a bishopric by Clovis. (more…)

Our diocese is trying to do something new with what we used to call stewardship.  We’re trying to focus on what we have to be grateful for — all of which comes, of course, from G0d.

I have to admit that I have a real tendency to notice what I do not have, particularly if I used to have it, and often do not pay nearly so much attention to what I do have.  Which is a lot.  And I find this to be true whether I’m looking at money or youth or health or things.  I know I have a lot (a whole lot compared to the rest of the world as a whole).  And I still often notice more what I do not have.  I suspect there are some other people like me out there.  I think our culture trains us this way. (more…)

We heard God’s covenant with Noah and all living flesh today in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures.  And at first I was contrasting, as I read about how Noah was given all flesh to eat (excepting the blood, the life, which belongs to God), I was contrasting this in my mind with the garden, where Adam was given all the plants to eat.  It was only after the fall that people were no longer vegetarians.  Eating meat was not part of God’s original plan for us.

And even here, the blood, the life, belongs to God.  Human life blood, if taken, is singled out for special retribution.  But all life blood is God’s.  It is all talked about together in the same context.  And God’s covenant is made with all flesh, Noah and his descendants and all living creaatures.

So, we can eat animals.  But their lives always belong to God.  They are in this sense sacred.  And their welbeing is part of our care as God’s stewards of creation.  They are not just for our use (and abuse) as we see fit.  They have their own place with us in our covenant with God.

I’m going to have to stop quoting Sam Portaro’s “Brightest and Best.”  But I can’t resist quoting from the last two days readings.  Yesterday was the day we commemorate Lawrence, a deacon martyred in Rome in 258 CE.  The emperor Valerian had him arrested and held for intensive questioning.  He wanted to plunder the riches of the church.

Laurence assembled the sick and poor among whom he had spent the church’s funds and presented them to the emperor saying, “These are the treasures of the church.”  For his impertinence he was roasted alive on a gridiron (and became the patron saint of cooks!). (more…)