Treasure - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons

Treasure

Luke 12: 13-21

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13 And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.

14 And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?

15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:

17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?

18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?

21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

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Some of you might remember the 2005 BBC series "Around the world in 80 treasures" presented by Dan Cruickshank.  It was an art and travel documentary series, its title obviously inspired by Jules Verne's adventure novel 'Around the World in Eighty Days' and it was filmed on a five-month tour of 34 countries visiting eighty of the world's greatest man-made treasures to chart the history of civilisation.

Cruickshank's presentational style divides people.  For me, his childlike enthusiasm and eccentric delivery is charming, he's a cross between Harrison Ford in Crusaders of the Lost Ark and a retired eccentric Oxford professor.  Whenever he referred to 'treasures' in the series his voice and the look on his face was somewhat manic, he appeared hypnotised by the objects he sought.  I was reminded of this when reading today's Gospel.  Now you might assume that this would be a connection that perhaps I'd keep to myself in favour of a rather more serious and potentially edifying link but bear with me, the Spirit's promptings are sometimes surprising!

I was particularly reminded of an episode from the series where Dan visited Easter Island off the coast of Chile to see the Moai, large monolithic statues with oversized heads created by the Rapanui people between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries after which the population collapsed.

That collapse was the result of overexploitation of the island's environment, most notably through deforestation of almost all the island's trees which led to loss of biodiversity, the failure of traditional crops, scarcity and conflict.  The driving forces are a matter of speculation but Cruickshank noted the Moai have a part in the story because trees were needed to transport the massive statues that were signals of a chief's status and power.

The story of the Rapanui people is a cautionary tale for humanity as we increasingly recognise that we are set on a similar trajectory of overexploitation of the earth's resources, loss of biodiversity and increasing tension over resources.  It also presents a cautionary tale for each of us spiritually and prompts us to consider our priorities as Christ does in our Gospel reading today.

Jesus is invited to arbitrate over a dispute about inheritance.  He warns "take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions".  He goes on to tell the parable of the rich man whose land produced abundantly and who thereby faces a challenge - "what should I do", he asks, "for I have no place to store my crops?"  He is so satisfied with his solution to build larger barns that he says to himself - "you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry", not realising that his hour has come.  So it is, Jesus says, with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.

Now perhaps at this point you are wondering about the appropriateness of my drawing on the example of the Moai statues for illustrative purposes, because might it not be the case that they were built for spiritual rather than material purposes?  As the environment around them deteriorated the Rapanui may have diverted ever more resources to producing statues in an attempt to appease the gods and in so doing merely accelerated their decline.  The example remains instructive though because Jesus' teaching challenges us to go beyond outward expressions of faith.  We see that again and again in his exchanges with the religious authorities, because faith in God, and the fullness of life to which we are called, is rooted not in any outward show but in wholehearted love of God and neighbour.

Jesus recognised that what underlies excessive accumulation is most often anxiety and fear. He offers an antidote to accumulation of too much empty treasure in the promise that it is the Father's good pleasure to give the kingdom itself to his little flock.  The way to collect treasure of the heart suitable for that kingdom isn't the earthbound, inward-looking way of material accumulation, but the outward facing way of one who lives and loves generously, lavishly, and with joy.

So as we heard in our epistle this morning - '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.  Put to death whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed.  Get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.  The virtues of faith are our treasures - hope and love.'

To close I'd like to share with you a poetic treasure from George Herbert.  I'll read it but you'll probably need to see it written to realise that hidden within, across the successive lines of the poem, is the phrase - 'my life is hid in him, that is my treasure', from Colossians 3:3. It's a poem that explores the tension between the earthly and heavenly forces at play in our lives.  On the one hand, our everyday, earthly lives.  On the other hand, our eternal, heavenly lives.  Our life 'wrapt in flesh' pulls us down to earthly things, but the upward movement winds towards who Christ himself experienced, a double motion because not only did he come down to earth from heaven in his human birth, but he was raised to heaven in his resurrection.

'Colossians 3:3'

My words and thoughts do both express this notion,
That Life  hath with the sun a double motion.
The first Is  straight, and our diurnal friend,
The  other  Hid,  and doth obliquely bend.
One life is wrapped In flesh and tends to earth:
The other winds towards Him, whose happy birth
Taught  me  to  live  here  so, That  still one eye
Should aim and shoot at that which Is on high:
Quitting     with     daily     labour     all    My    pleasure,
To     gain     at      harvest      an      eternal      Treasure.

Amen

Hosea 11:1-11

Col 3:1-11

Luke 12:13-21

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