Building Bigger Barns?

Colossians 3.1-11

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Luke 12.13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.’

A couple of weeks ago we had in the gospel Jesus’s friend Mary, who he praised for her other-worldliness, for focusing on his teaching and by implication living a life of contemplation, contrasted with her practical sister Martha who was rushing around doing good works.

The parable of Jesus that St Luke tells us today, is paralleled by his saying in St Matthew: ‘store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

It’s easy to interpret this as saying, we Christians shouldn’t be concerned with practicalities, we should be focussing all our energies on prayer and looking beyond this world. Or even, as many people have said for years and are saying now, ‘the church shouldn’t be interfering with politics and practical things, it should be concerned with religion and helping people to pray.’ 

Ever since Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, in the year 313, it has been difficult for us. I mean, difficult to proclaim the Gospel without compromise. We’ve allowed the Beast to rule the world without resistance. Read the Book of Revelation if you want to know who and what the Beast is.

Meanwhile the church has been seduced by the lie that the Christian life, that our prayer and worship, is all about cultivating our individual piety. About purifying our souls so that we might gain our reward in heaven. The world that we live in has been ignored.

Bit of a caricature perhaps but like all caricatures there is some truth in it. Ask most people and they will tell you that ‘religion is a private matter’. Some of the high profile campaigners for a low-tax low-wage economy (that is, low taxes for the rich and low wages, and poor services, for the poor); some of those investing squilllions in hedge funds and such like, profess to be Christians. They don’t seem bothered by the contradiction.

So what is St Paul really saying when he talks about ‘seeking the things that are above’? And why does Jesus call the rich man, in his story, a fool?

Paul says, ‘if you have been raised with Christ’. That’s not ‘if’ as in, ‘if you like Marmite, put up your hand.’ He’s not expecting any of those Colossian Christians to say, ‘actually, we haven’t been raised with Christ.’ It’s more ‘since’ than ‘if’. As Christians, in our baptism, we have been raised with Christ to new life, we have been made citizens of a new kingdom. We don’t owe our loyalty to the powers of this world any more.

We are no longer slaves to the ‘elemental spirits’ of this world. If you read the letters of Paul you find this theme popping up again and again. And the idea that God is renewing the world in his image and likeness. ‘The whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now.’

And that new world that we are being born to is not some insubstantial ‘spiritual’ existence in the future: it is human life here and now, human life as it is lived in families and neighbours and political systems. A world that is within our grasp when we throw off oppression. Oppression of racism and sexism and homophobia and narrow nationalism, all of which breeds more hate and violence. Above all, the oppression of greed which is idolatry.

It’s greed that is at the heart of the rich man’s sin in the parable. We are surrounded – indeed our world is formed by – greedy people. Individuals and corporations who possess incredible amounts of wealth. Far more than any of them could spend in a lifetime. So they don’t spend it; like the man in the parable they build larger and larger barns, or bigger and bigger hedge funds: they stash their wealth away even though they have no use for it; it’s only there to make yet more money. Not to do any good or help anybody who needs it.

They cling onto it for all they are worth. They employ armies and security forces to protect it, and pay journalists and advertisers and media influencers to persuade us there is no alternative.

But there is an alternative. It’s the Kingdom of God where the defenceless infant born to poor parents is King. The Kingdom which is the total opposite of other kingdoms and empires where might is right and power takes all. It’s the Kingdom in which we all have citizenship because of our baptism – indeed, because of our humanity. We are baptised in order to proclaim that Kingdom and to show the world that there is another way. But no-one is denied entry to that kingdom because of their religion or race or sexuality or any reason except that they can refuse it themselves and prefer to put their trust in armies and money.

The Kingdom of God is real; much more real than the kingdom of the Beast. We need to laugh in the face of the Beast and have faith that God’s kingdom prevails.

David Emmott, Visiting Priest

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