Ashgrove West Uniting Church
9.30am Sunday 1 August 2010
Year C, Pentecost 10, Green.
Call to Worship
God calls us and welcomes us into this place
Here there are no strangers, because God has made us a family
Let us worship God!
Hymn Together in Song 156 Morning has broken
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
You have given us so much
You have given us this world, and each other, and even your own presence with us
You give us grain and fruit and vegetables
Meat and wool and milk
Coal and ore and oil
Sun and rain and soil
You give us all that we need
All that this world of yours needs.
We thank you for your many gifts,
and ask that you will guide us in their use.
We confess that we do not always use the gifts you give us
as you would have us use them.
We are tempted to be greedy, to want for ourselves what you
intended to help others
We are tempted to have poor priorities, to spend resources on
what is not important, and miss what is important
We are tempted to not care, simply neglect to ask why you have
given us what we have, and what you intend us to do with it.
We are tempted to be ignorant, to choose not to notice the needs
of those around us
Forgive us the times we have given in to temptation
and strengthen us to deal with it in future.
In Jesus ' name.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Hymn Together in Song 175 Did you ever see a kookaburra laugh?
A very rich man died and appeared before St Peter at the Pearly Gates. He begged Peter to let him go back to earth for an hour, because he had to collect something he just couldn't survive eternity without.
Intrigued by what the man could possibly think he needed in Heaven, Peter let him go.
An hour later, the man returned, dragging a very heavy suitcase.
Peter asked what was in the case, and the man opened it proudly, showing it was full of gold bars. He'd spent a lifetime collecting them for just this moment.
Peter scratched his head and said, “Why did you want to bring paving stones?”
There's a saying that whoever dies with the most toys wins. It's a silly saying, because the person who dies with the most toys is just as dead as the person who dies with no material possessions whatsoever.
While some cultures have tried to take material wealth with them into the next life (for example the ancient Egyptians and all of the treasures they buried with their royalty), the sad truth is that whatever objects you build up in this life are left behind when you die.
Given that this life is a very small fragment of eternity, there are far more important things than collecting wealth.
Jesus questioned the priorities of the two brothers who wanted him to sort out their inheritance. He wasn't going to encourage greed. What was more important, anyway? The money, or that they were brothers? Did they have something bigger than an inheritance to value here? Was there something they were putting at risk with the dispute?
Jesus told the story of the man who was suddenly overwhelmed with wealth. His crop was so unexpectedly large it was more than his barns could hold.
We're told what the man thought. It was pure greed. Without asking why God might have given him so much, he began to plan his future. The bumper crop was his superannuation, his insurance policy, his guarantee of permanent wealth. It was his security. It was his storage problem!He was so rich he didn't have anywhere to store it all.
Apart from Disney's Scrooge McDuck, having too much wealth doesn't create a storage problem for most people. So this man was literally overwhelmed with wealth. In a culture where workers were paid daily because they were only paid enough to survive the day – this man was incredibly rich.
Now, his only concern was for himself, securing his future. Which makes little sense, because as it turned out, he had no future to secure at all. What God knew, and the man didn't, was that he'd build his bigger barns and store up his grain, for someone else to inherit it all.
So what would have been a more appropriate way to deal with such wealth? That's not a question of whether silos are better than barns.
The bigger barns might have been a good idea if, instead of simply securing his own future, he was, as Joseph had done, planning to protect his whole community from the risk of future drought or famine.
Normally, anything left behind from the harvest stayed in the fields, so poor people could gather it for food – once the barns were full, the rest could have just been left and it would have gone to good use.
In an era of history where workers were given pretty much exactly what they needed to survive and no extra, giving some of the excess to the workers would have made sense.
Checking whether his neighbours had also had good crops, or if any were in need would have been a good idea.
Any of those options would have put the needs of the community as a higher priority than his own personal wealth.
Giving extra in his sacrifice to God could have been a good idea. That would have been putting his devotion to God as a higher priority than his own personal wealth.
And in any of those options, he still would have had everything he needed, probably more than he needed.
The one thing that wasn't a good idea was keeping it all to himself, hoarding it strictly for his own benefit.
Where the man failed, was that he didn't take into account where this sudden wealth had come from and what it was for.
Had his first thought been, “God must have given this to me for a reason, I should work out what that reason is,” his actions following that might have been very different.
This doesn't hold true just for huge amounts of money. It holds true for every resource we have. What God gives, God gives for a reason. That reason is bigger than just making one person or a small group of people more comfortable.
It holds true not only for the resources we have as individuals, but also for the resources we have as, groups of people, as nations, as part of a whole planet.
You may have noticed there's an election brewing. If you live in a cave and have no access to tv, radio, newspapers, magazines, or internet, maybe you don't know. Three different people have sent me forms to apply for a postal vote - I am actually able to vote in person, and wonder how many trees have died for everyone who is voting in person to have at least three forms to apply for postal votes. Some sort of strange insanity has descended on Australia, and won't go away until after the election. And somewhere in this insanity where we're bombarded with papers we didn't need and electronic messages that are hopelessly biased, and leaks and threats and promises given and promises broken, we have to find our way to vote forsomeone.
I'm not going to tell you who to vote for. I don't yet know who I actually want to vote for.
I am going to ask you to pay close attention to what the politicians say – not what they say about each other – but what they say about their own actual policies and plans. As each thing is announced, ask yourself: what is the resource under discussion – who will benefit, and who will it cost? Then ask the question that the farmer in the story failed to ask: “How would God have intended this resource to be used?”
We may not like the way Julia gained the job from Kevin, or that she's a confirmed atheist. We may object to Tony's sexist comments and be totally grossed out by his constantly appearing in public in his skimpy speedos. (If Tony becomes PM, we should take up a nationwide collection and buy him some actual clothes.) Much as political campaigns like to capitalise on our personal feelings about politicians; they really aren't important in an election.
For Christians, the question in an election must be: who is most likely to use the nation's resources in a way that God would have us use them? Who are we going to trust, not in the general sense that they appear to be trustworthy people; but trust specifically to do God's will? (And in that, let's not get distracted by who is and is not Christian – we're not talking a matter of faith here, but a matter of action. Wittingly or unwittingly, and atheist could do God's will, just as a Christian could. In the same way, both could be motivated by factors such as greed, popularity, or the desire to gain influence with rich and powerful people.) If asking such questions means we all change our minds ten times during the campaign, that's OK. The important thing is that we ask the right questions, we work from the right motivation, and we trust God to guide us in our choice.
Whatever God gives us, we are given for a reason. Our challenge is to discern what that reason is.
Hymn Together in Song 130 We plough the fields, and scatter
Prayers of the People
As Australia prepares for another election
we pray for all of our leaders, and our potential leaders
we pray for wisdom
that you will help them to know what is right
we pray for courage
that you will help them do what is right
we pray for perseverance
that you will help them to continue to do what is right
And we pray for ourselves, and all the other people
preparing to have our say in who will lead us over the next couple of years.
Guide us, as we listen to all of the political arguments, to know what your will is.
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 609 May the mind of Christ my saviour