Readings: Hosea 11:1-11, Luke 12:13-21
We pray: May the words of scripture speak into our lives and may both the words spoken and our understandings be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
When Jonathon was only a child, I loved him. I would look over him, keep him out of trouble, rescued him that time when he got stuck up that tree and got him safely down and home.
But then, as he got older, other people, other things began to call him, take his attention. You could say he worshipped other Gods, like the latest computer games, designer clothes, booze, with his mates picking on the different and the weak. But still I stuck with him, got him out of trouble, made peace with those he had hurt, but he never admitted that he needed or even knew that I was doing this. Sometimes at night when he was deeply asleep I would lean over and kiss him, hold him, tell him that I loved him. No response of course.
And now – he wants to go right away – leave home, back to the dangers of being at the top of a spindly tree without anyone to catch him when he falls, pursuing in all those things he worships. I get angry, of course I get angry – just want to shake some sense into him, sometimes want to cut him off completely and see how he likes it – all alone, no one to pick up the pieces.
But I can’t do it – I just can’t. I can’t bear the thought of him alone, hurting, there is no way I can act out my anger in this way. I love him and, when I remember that, all thought of severing our relationship just dissolves, and compassion, understanding, forgiveness just make my heart want to burst. I love him and I will be there when he is ready to return, when he turns his face to home again – for where I am will always be his home.
Hosea tells of the love of God for Israel and it is a powerful story, a story of love and frustration and heartbreak and of choice – a choice to love not discard. I found re-telling this story in my own words helped me to hear more clearly the deep love of God that transcends all our behaviour, all our turning away and that just will not give up on us, ever. We do need reminding of that don’t we. I suspect that there are still lingering thoughts that, as we might eventually give up on someone who keeps on hurting us, letting us down, so God will eventually have had enough of us.
But it’s not true – never has been, never will be. This story shouts out at us that God is the one in whom we can confidently place our security, that God will ever be there for us. The other gods that we rush off to pursue, whatever they might be, are ephemeral, full of false promise and dubious long term gain.
Jesus, the greatest of storytellers, gives us this same message in the Gospel reading we had today. The parable of the Rich Fool invites us to consider the futility of garnering wealth against a future when the future might end today. It’s pretty blunt isn’t it? You fool – this very night you die – then what use is your great storehouse of treasure. Your real treasure, the one that will not fade or be given away or crumble under you feet is your relationship with God and with your community – and you are totally neglecting that as you concentrate on storing up this, this stuff for a future that is not yours.
And in this day and age how might that story be told – it’s not necessarily a barn with grain but it could be a 80 hour working week to get rid of the humungous mortgage on the flash house, or a parent who hardly ever sees their child because the ‘best school’ is too long a flight away and school fees leave no travel money or the church whose offerings all go to keeping their decaying building afloat – mission and ministry neglected as maintenance devours their time and money --- I am sure you can fill in with some other thoughts here.
Our trouble is, says Jesus, that when we focus on shoring up the future in a way that excludes the now, there are few guarantees and little to recommend it. We think that somehow happiness, peace will be found when we have achieved these things – that things will be better – we just have to work hard and strive for them, that the more effort we put in the better will be the result and that if the here and now has to suffer, then so be it.
Well, breaking news, life is about the here and now and we don’t know what the future holds. Whether we are rich or poor, of faith or no faith, life is good for some of us some/most of the time and bad some/most of the time. Nothing wrong it doing a bit of planning for the future, looking out for some securities in our lives but Jesus tells us that when our focus becomes such that our relationship with each other and God is neglected, storing up against an unpredictable future is just nuts. Whatever takes us completely away from those relationships, whatever other god it is that bemuses us so much that we have no time to live in the richness of life with Christ and each other in the present, that needs to be challenged.
This is something for us all to think about individually – is there anything in our life that has absorbed us so much that we have lost the now?
Today however I want to specifically look at something I think is a really serious issue in the church at the moment – an issue that has completely taken up the energy and focus of much of the church to the extent that present relationships of church, God and people are at extreme risk. It’s all about sex, sexual relationships, sexual orientation, sexual norms. People trawl through the scriptures looking to find supporting evidence for differing viewpoints, almost seeking to tell Jesus what he would have said on this pivotal issue had he been aware it was such a threat to the church of the 21st century. No all you can find is Jesus saying we must love God, each other as ourselves. No help at all.
Every assembly in NZ for over forty years has had this issue debated in some way and it has become all encompassing over the last 20 years. Then came the Marriage Equality Bill which led to huge debate last Assembly and the passing of a majority vote supporting marriage as between men and women – a view that some of you will agree with and some not and some be uncertain. Last week – a glimpse of sanity – a report from the Book of Order Advisory Committee (whose very name brings up that phrase ‘decently and in good order’) confirming that, according to our church polity and reformed and reforming understanding, this is something for individual churches and minister’s to discern.
Then on Friday I read the Affirm response to that paper urging all members to deluge the Moderator , the Committee convenor and the Assembly Secretary with their outrage at this report, praying that among other things God will arise to defend his own honour and glory.
Jesus wept. What are we doing here? Is the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ truly making Jesus Christ known in this place and this time or is it so embroiled in filling up its barns with so called ‘enforced right thinking’ for the day of judgement that it has no time, energy, focus, desire even, to be the body of Christ and care for community.
Is this what it means to have a life rich toward God? I don’t think so. Is this building up relationship with God and each other in community? Not in my book – the church is way too distracted. Is this reaching out in love and care for all people in the security of God’s love that never lets us go? Not being a good example of that are we?
I pray God that we all in this congregation, along with the wider church, here and throughout the world, will continue to live in the riches of a life rooted in God, and in care for community, for each other, and turn away from those things that distract and prevent us from the love and care of all people. Amen