By Lucy D'Aeth

Luke 12:13-21

This is my father – Wyndham – the photo taken in 1939 as  he went off to World War 2. He returned to England in 1945, having fought through North Africa and Italy and having, as he always explained, ‘spent the last 14 months as the guest of the Germans’.

Earlier this year, I was blessed to spend 10 weeks with my family in England.  I am one of six kids –  5 girls , 1 boy. Our parents are dead so we are the senior generation now, and I was visiting because our eldest sister has a terminal cancer diagnosis. She’s currently doing pretty well, thanks to brilliant drugs. Our parents weren’t hugely wealthy and all the official stuff around the wills was sorted out years ago, with very little drama. Thank God for that.

So now when we hang out together, there is a lot of reminiscing about the other aspects of inheritance – the stories, the DNA, the shared sense of humour. We are particularly intrigued by piecing together the little fragments of stories we grew up with but now realise we can’t get any more context or fact checking for.

Part of our inheritance is fragments of stories from Dad – how he used his terrible handwriting to forge the SS Commandant’s signature which meant many fellow prisoners could have paperwork to escape, how useful a cigarette was for killing lice in his cloths when there was no laundry service, how his telegram letting his commanders know he and his troop had run out of bullets and had to surrender contained the most terrible puns – he loved puns.

These little fragments sound like a pretty hardcore biography when I list them now. But the treasure for us is that may dad hardly ever talked about the war, especially the bad bits. So now my siblings and I try to harvest Dad’s story and piece together what we know, so that we can cherish his memory, and because we loved him, and to make sense of his anger and occasional violence, and to understand how we are like him and how we aren’t, and so we can pass him down to his many grandchildren and great grandchildren who barely or never met him.

Today’s Gospel starts with Jesus being asked to arbitrate on a dispute about a will. Almost always when Jesus is approached to be lawyer, he responds as a storyteller, and the story he tells today is about a rich farmer who grows a bumper crop, and tries to work out how to capitalise on that. The famer decides he’s going to tear down his existing barns and build some massive ones, store up all his harvest and other goods, and live of that for the rest of his life because he never needs to work again. And then God shows up having listened to this plan  and says ‘Fool, tonight you die, and your barnful of goods – who gets it?’.

Last week Matthew led us gently and powerfully through the Lords prayer. The line which intrigues me most at the moment is ‘ Give us this day our daily bread’ or as Jim Cotter translates it ‘ With the bread we need for today, feed us’. The farmer was deluding himself that he’d sorted a bread supply for the rest of his life but in God’s Commonwealth, it doesn’t work like that.

Jesus’ explanation of his story is a one liner – ‘this is what happens when you fill your barn with SELF, not God.’ Self reliance is not something Jesus is big into. Because self-reliance, the idea that we are independent self-managing beings is delusional – all of us rely on others for our continued existence.

I’ve chosen The Message as the translation for us to reflect on today. Eugene Peterson, who translated this version of the Bible, was a Presbyterian Mnister from the US – he died in 2018 aged 85. He wrote many books but he always stressed that he didn’t count The Message as one of them because that was just him reapproaching the original texts to try and unlock something fresh and urgent for his 21st century American congregation. I like using his words because they are unfamiliar to me – I grew up with the King James Version because my father was the church warden and we always went to 8am communion ( though how my mother got 6 kids ready for 8am still baffles me).

You can see the slight difference in the words – and I’ve chosen this last version because it emphasises Jesus’ advice – you can’t kid yourself that you can do this by your self, alone, you are always dependent on God.

I don’t want to be too hard on the rich farmer because I really get it. Having a sense of security and not needing to worry about bread for tomorrow is something we all long for. Having a barnful of food and not having to do all the early mornings and backbreaking toil is understandably tempting. Tempting is probably an important word here – temptation is what leads us off track on the pathway to God’s Commonwealth.

This story is sometimes given the translated title ‘  the parable of the the rich fool’ but The Message entitles it ‘The story of the Greedy Farmer’. There’s a place where our longing for security turns into greed. And greed, for Jesus, is a sign that people are not open enough in their relationship with God. When we are not in good relationship with God other people get hurt, we get hurt, our precious planet home gets hurt. It’s a disastrous spiral of pain and misery. That’s why Jesus prefaces his story with this advice “ Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”

Our world is groaning with the repercussions of greed, and the insecurity and self obsession which lies underneath it. While we’re in the bleak mid winter here, our brothers and sisters in the Northern hemisphere are entering the season of harvest. I’m not sure most of us understood a year ago how Ukraine has been a breadbasket , a sunflower seed harvest for the world but we will know this bitterly now as the war ravages the fields and the farmers. The huge barns of oil and gas and minerals stored under Russia and the middle east and the arctic are the cause of huge international tension as we struggle to heat our homes and our furnaces, while feeling the chaos of climate change.

This week, James Lovelock, the scientist who conceptualised the Gaia thesis died on his 103rd birthday. Lovelock named our planet earth Gaia after an ancient goddess, saying – the ancient goddesses could be nurturing and generous but if you hurt them they punished you. The Gaia theory reminds us that our planet is our mother and all the life she holds is interdendent and fragle – when we disrupt the ecological balances, there is a price to pay in terms of climate change, inequity, famine, war. We have to find ways to live together less greedily with the whole of creation. – Life is not defined by what we have, even , especially when we have a lot.

There will be lots of reasons which bring us here this morning, or on a regular basis. Being church together will mean a whole heap of different things, according to who we are, where we’ve come from, what’s we’ve inherited through our DNA, our family stories, our culture – collectively we bring a huge harvest of feelings, experiences, wisdom and foolishness. Collectively, as a community and individuals, we are trying to make sense of it all. In each reading today there’s a direct piece of advice. Paul writes to the Colossians, and to us – ‘if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, ACT like it’. In today’s psalm, 107, which we read together, it ends @ If you are really wise, you’ll think this over – it’s time you appreciated God’s deep love”. I’ve been watching some interviews with Eugene Peterson, the translator of these words, and while I had imagined he was an academic because he speaks fluent ancient Greek, he actually mostly worked as a pastor in a parish. His agenda was to make these ancient texts urgent and relevant for his community. He said he was often asked by other church leaders ‘ What should I do to grow my congregation?’ and his answer was ‘ forget about that – just be yourself.’

For him, authenticity – learning to be content with yourself – was the key to faith. He kept reminding people that never in the whole of creation has the mixture of DNA and culture and history and circumstance come up with anyone else uniquely like you – like Pauline, like Ben, like Heemi, like Wallace, like me. It’s therefore apparent that God is expecting us to show up fully ourselves, works in progress, learning how to fulfil the divine promise planted in us.

One of the reasons I want to belong here is because it helps me readjust my perspective on the world. When we tear apart these ancient stories together, we can see how humans have wrestled with the same challenges from time immemorial – how can I find security in an uncertain world? Am I loveable? Who do I have to be to be loveable? How can I be sure I have enough to survive? Do I matter? In all this horror, can I make any difference? And , as Mary Oliver puts it, ‘What will you do with your one wild, precious life?’  Spoiler alert : the preacher doesn’t have a definitive answer to any of these questions.

But I’m not required to – answering these questions, and others which press on your heart, is a work we can do, week by week, year by year, as a community of people who come and go, bringin new experiences and views, wrestling with the texts, working out together what it means to act like the resurrected Christ is at the centre of our world. Eugene Peterson said ‘ Faith is between you, me and God – between is a powerful concept.’ Mary Daly, and many feminist theologian have reminded us that God is a verb, an action liberated by love between us.

I find this a very useful model – it was created by Ayanna Elizabeth Johnson, whose a marine biologist and climate activist – it’s her guide around how each of us can contribute in the struggle to address climate change. She’s really echoing the need for us to give from our authentic set of gifts.

AS you know, we are engaged in a congregational exploration of what our strategy should be for the next 5 years – what do we hope this community will be in 5 years time? It’s an exciting, messy, tiring process to build that hopeful vision.  It requires each of us to engage with this diagram – what can we offer joyfully?  You can rest assured our community will find a use for it.

There are no guarantees that we’ll get there or who will be in these seats to write the next strategy for the 2030s. That’s one of the most comforting aspects of church for me – it’s a place, a gathering where I can feel myself connected to a communion of saints who trod this path centuries before me, where I can feel connected to communities across the globe, sheltering in cellars in Kyiv or dancing round the altars in Tanzania – these are our brothers and sisters now, and I feel the connection to the Ben and Abby’s, and Vassila and Sofia’s great grandchildren – not yet even imagined but held in the love of the creator. And that brings me joy. It is crucial that we make space to hear the tiny tiptoes or crashing drums of joy when they enter our lives. God’s Commonwealth is a work in progress – to build a justice seeking, aroha filled community requires us to come as we are, to bring our whole selves – what we’ve been, what we are now, what we might yet be. We have inherited all the freedom, love and hunger for justice which Jesus lived. Together we are a great harvest – and we are no use to the world if we are in a barn – each of us is part of the bread which can daily feed our city and our world.

Amen – let it be so.

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