The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at
s185g04 Lockleys Sunday 18 1/8/2004
"Be on your guard against all kinds of greed". Luke 12.15
I must admit I hadn't ever thought there was more than one type of greed, but when I think about it, I suppose that there are lots of things for which one can be greedy.
One can traditionally be greedy for money. Probably the man in the story Jesus tells us for our gospel reading this morning is greedy for security. Other people can be greedy for power. Sometimes power can be exercised in the political arena, but it can just as easily be exercised in the religious or spiritual arena.
The common thread for all of this greed is a focus on ourselves; our own comfort. The man who asked Jesus to speak to his brother about the inheritance was concerned that justice towards himself was done, because something that he considered precious was being taken from him.
We consider that other people have no right to disturb our own existence.
Sometimes people say to me that they are not religious, and I am tempted to reply: do they not breathe? J Everyone is religious, though not all people express what is important to them in precisely the same way as we do. But even as I say this, this is to make an assumption that you and I agree, and that is far from likely.
And religion is important. One can no more cease to be religious as one can stop breathing.
People are want to invoke the Almighty when they are about to go to war or when they are involved in a dispute with someone else, for it is usually at these times when we might loose something that is important in our life. So inevitably God is about our precious possessions and about us retaining them. So God is intimately bound up with our greed.
We can consider that our entry into the kingdom is something that is important to us. Our religion must have some sort of reward; or else why would we bother?
But God doesn't distinguish between one form of greed and another. Jesus tells us that we have to be on our guard against all kinds of greed.
As soon as we start to base our actions around our own personal benefit, we implicitly allow others to do the same. We cannot criticise others when they are only doing the same as we do. If we base our actions on some heavenly reward; for all it might sound good and godly, we are still just working for our own benefit. If others choose a less ethereal reward; can we actually blame or criticise them? Is God going to applaud our greed because we attach the correct divine name to it and criticise someone else's greed because God doesn't get a mention? I don't really think that we can expect our society to change an awful lot if we continue down this path. Other people will still be hurt, and this will be OK as long as it is others and not our selves.
It should come as no surprise that our God actually hopes for something more for us and for all. God actually envisages a world where even the animals can co-exist in peace. I take this to mean that the creation is meant to live in ways other than the "law of the jungle" and "the survival of the fittest". However if humanity carries on in this way, we can hardly blame the rest of creation!
And the clue to this existence is that we act, not for ourselves but for others.
The passage from Isaiah about people refusing to hear are those who want to retain their power and authority over others, not the apathetic.
The Cross tells us in no uncertain terms that people who want to retain their power and authority over others inevitably will crucify that Jesus who cares for people other than them.
The resurrection tells us in no uncertain terms that the care that Jesus has for all people, and not just the spiritually rich, will not be thwarted or diluted. If our religion doesn't proclaim the truth that God loves people other than our selves, then I'm not sure that you can actually call it Christianity.
The psalmist says: "who can know their own unwitting sins" and we think that this is about moral purity. Sadly it is far more likely to be about the way we persecute or diminish others in the name of our god; deluding ourselves that God cares for them less than God cares for us. And it is so destructive.
I am at the moment preparing a presentation for my supervision colleagues on this very theme. The day after I sent the paper for them to read; the reading for morning prayer was from John chapter 8: the woman caught in adultery.
So I do want to affirm that "no one comes to the Father" except through Jesus, because it is only Jesus who cares about people other than us. Or to put it another way, religion is no guarantee that we are not motivated by greed. Indeed scripture tells us that the primal sin is the perception that God prefers one offering over another.
My attention has been drawn to the wonderful thriller "The Da Vinci Code", by Dan Brown. I had a real "day off" yesterday while I read it. It is very hard to put down. But I found it interesting how greed for spiritual power is a primary theme in the book, and that greed is found in the "baddies".
There is a truth about Christianity, but it is a fundamental truth about God's care for all people; and not about us being right and others being wrong. It is a sad travesty of the gospel to suggest it is about us being sure that WE ARE BEING SAVED as individuals. We cannot expect that the world will be changed in the slightest if Christianity is continued to be proclaimed in this way. Indeed it would be the greatest success of the devil if this happens.
I rarely quote the psalms, but today's portion ends with the words: "the rich without understanding: are like the beasts that perish" (49.12). We are bidden to have understanding, God made the beast just as surely as God made humanity. Both beasts and humans die. If we live like the beasts, the "law of the jungle" and "the survival of the fittest", then there is little point in complaining or even praying to God if we fail in our attempts to conquer those who would disturb our greed.
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