August 9, 2022

God’s Faithfulness 31-08-2022


Luke 12: 13-21 by Geoff Serpell; 31 July 2022

Today’s lectionary gospel reading is about a man who is already wealthy and who, because of a bumper crop, found himself with more wealth than he could point a stick at. The harvest was coming out of his ears. He said to himself, “I will store it all away, take early retirement and eat, drink and be merry. “He assumed he was covered for the years to come, only that he didn’t have years. That very night he died. He assumed that his future was secure, but he had no future to secure. The truth is that no amount of planning and no amount of wealth can ensure a secure future.

In recent times we have heard about ambulances waiting to discharge their patients into overfull hospital wards. Years of running our health system like a business has come back to bite us. A certain cancer doctor resigned his position after 23 years working in Victoria’s public health system. This doctor was the sort of doctor the system needs. He cares for his patients, which means sitting at the side of a dying patient for 20 minutes, not talking, not doing, just being a presence. 

This was a doctor who still wanted to listen to patients and understand their needs rather than just shove them through. Budgets are now framed on throughput, squeezing more and more patients through for less and less funding which erodes the quality of care. The system has no place for a doctor who sits at a beside for 20 minutes without doing anything you could bulk bill for. So, he quit like many others. No place for a person who values people over profits.

The context is entirely different, but the same values are under examination in today’s gospel reading. Someone in the crowd comes to Jesus and says, “Rabbi, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me”.  Family disputes today over breaking up an estate are never pretty where usually the lawyers are the only big winners. 

In Israel at the time of our story, the selling up option was not on. The family inheritance was mostly the family farm. The Hebrew’s sense of connection to their land was like our Aboriginal people, you can’t just sell it off. Even today how would you divide land where one half has a creek running through it and the other half is near desert.

Jan and I in the market for a buyer of our land, in the family since 1958. We want to stay in Highett hence we have signed with Ryman who are building a Retirement Village at Graham Road Highett. We want to stay in our home till the unit is available maybe until October next year. Meanwhile we are decluttering!! Fortunately, the family is very much on side, and we keep them posted with a ball by ball description of events. I may end up writing another book.

Back in Israel, the procedure to get a ruling on such matters was to find a friendly Rabbi to agree on your proposition. This of course allowed some Rabbis to make a quick quid and help pay off the mortgage on the beach house down at Joppa. Jesus came at this problem from a different angle not wanting to arbitrate because there would be no reconciliation with the brother arising from an adverse ruling. A no win situation.

It would have been a bit like a woman and her son where, after putting in $20 a week each to buy lottery tickets and actually won $4.2 million dollars. But the son immediately claimed that he’d bought that ticket with his own money. The mother who said that their relationship had previously been “loving and close” sued him for her half. You can just hear the mother asking the lawyer: “tell my son to divide the family winnings with me.” Once you bring in the lawyers to resolve a family dispute, you might win the dispute but you’re unlikely to still have a family. 

Now the bloke in Jesus’ story has about eight times the harvest he expected, and it will not all fit in the barns, so he must decide what to do. What most jews would have done in the circumstances were to give thanks to God for this great blessing and then celebrate with friends by throwing a party. The usual thing done in those days also was to walk down to the town gates and discuss it with the elders who were good at solving problems of the universe. 

Our man does not do anything he should have. He gives thanks to no one, and he celebrates on his own. When he wants advice, he talks to himself. That’s what it says. His answer to himself is to tear down the barns and build bigger ones. You can imagine why this bloke has no one else to talk to. He’s the sort of character who would sell his own grandmother if there was a buck in it. The sort that no one wants as a friend.

Jesus prefaced his story by saying that your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions and now he has set up this pathetic creature who’s lived as though life was just a case of “He who dies with the most toys wins”. Jesus was saying to this man “How much is it worth to win this one? Will your life really be better if you destroy your family to get your hands on the inheritance?”

We are bombarded with images that tell us over and over that our life consists in driving that car, having such a piece of furniture, a certain fragrance, or the upmarket glass of wine. Not only can we have it but, the inference is, we deserve to have it all. Buy up and the economy will be better off, with or without Afterpay. 

An individual’s life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. A societies’ life does not consist in the profit dividends of its essential services. Jesus points us back to what our lives do consist of: our inter-connectedness with God, with one another, with our world. The web of connections which you can and do take with you. 

Jesus came to reconnect us with the sources of life, with love, with care, with joy, with the very God of life.

At this communion table, God places the bread of life and the life blood of the universe in our hands and says, “Eat, Drink. This is my body given for you, that you might have life. At this table, Jesus invites you into a relationship with God and with everyone who gathers at this table. The choice is yours. At which table will you find the life you want? 

If your busy having a conversation with yourself about where you will store all the things, you really want for the rest of your life then you will probably find nothing of value at this table and you will walk on by.  But if you’re sick of living like an island, working like a robot, and being treated like a ledger entry, then at this table you will find the way out. Ordinary things of no monetary worth, but priceless if you are looking for the way back into connection with the Spirit of the Universe and with those who are travelling into fullness of life.