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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's sermon


26th September 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity XVI

If you look closely at today's readings you'll see that they contain a kind of Biblical rich list of people who today would attract a lot of media attention.
Let's pick some of them out.

Amos has a word of warning for the 'loungers'. My computer spell-check knows no such word but it does convey a powerful picture of the super-rich lounging about on luxury couches, eating good food, enjoying fine wine, making music and using all those essential oils. Their life of ease and apparent security was not the problem however; it was their lack of concern, of grief, for the ruin of Joseph. Similar catastrophe and exile would overtake them as a consequence said Amos.

Paul in his first letter to Timothy identifies the curious psychology of the wealthy with its 'many senseless and harmful desires that plunges people into ruin and destruction.' Far from bringing contentment 'the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil', says St. Paul, something that is destructive of Christian faith.

In the Gospel Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man 'who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day', divided in eternity by an even greater chasm than they had been in life. While Lazarus enjoys the luxury of heaven the rich man suffers the torment so often portrayed in mediaeval dooms. At the root of his experience of damnation is the realisation is that it is too late to do anything about it, not just for himself but also for his living relatives. Not even the Resurrection would lead them to repent.

So we can see that at worst there is a strong scriptural antipathy and at best ambivalence towards money. We might sum it up with Paul's words to Timothy, 'but as you, man of God, shun all this.'

Where does that leave us? We may not personally be very rich but we live in a wealthy country. There is no doubt a link between personal comfort and the practice of religion. People who have nothing instinctively turn to religion, finding that in God they have everything. This may be a reason for the apparent decline in Church attendance in England. People no longer feel the need for God

Despite the current fashion in some church circles, I'm not convinced that we are given an economic blue print in the Bible that can be simplistically applied to say the global economy. That said we can discover some basic principles that we can seek to apply in our economic affairs. There is in the Biblical tradition a tension between the creation ordinances that wealth creation is good and therefore of the commonwealth and the prophetic insight that the God has a particular concern for the poor that raises questions of wealth distribution.

We can pick out from today's readings a number of pointers that can help shape our personal attitude to money.

    1.
  1. Grieving over the ruined. We will differ over the political solutions to the problems of say third world debt or inner city poverty but our Christian concern will be driven by a sense of grief that many human beings do not share in the good things that God wishes for his people. This we learn from Amos. 2.
  2. Our Godliness will be combined with contentment. Most of us will know that discontentment with our lot in life can eat away at us. Paradoxically the more we have the more we want. St. Paul describes the covetousness that is so destructive of our relationships with God and with others. The love of Money can be a root of all evil, leading to crime, dishonesty and exploitation. 3.
  3. Our money is to be used in a certain way. We are not to be haughty nor place our hope in money, says St. Paul. Rather we are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, building up spiritual treasure so that we receive 'the life that really is life.' The Christian in seeing his wealth as God given will seek to use it in a way that is responsive to God's generous love. 4.
  4. 'We brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.' The true Christian perspective is that of eternity. In Christ God has bridged the chasm that divides humanity from him. He has given us the way through, through the cross. We will wish to ensure that we don't allow an excessive materialism to open up the chasm once again.

So today's readings have much to challenge us, much to get us thinking both at a personal level and a societal one. They also contain much to inspire us and to comfort us. They penetrate our petty concerns and our mean mindedness and point us to God who wishes to give us life in all its fullness.

Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power,
the glory, the splendour, and the majesty;
for everything in heaven and on earth is yours.
All things come from you,
and of your own do we give you.

Amen

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