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Possessed by possessions. 10th Sunday after Pentecost

As usual, each of our readings today is worth a sermon in itself. The Prophet Hosea compares his own disastrous family life to the disastrous relations hip between the faithless Israelite and God. In the second reading, St Paul is urging the Colossians to make their behaviour match their faith. It is important that Christians proclaim Christ in their lives and actions as well as their words.

However, I’d like to take the gospel today and explore the story of the rich fool, as it is called.

Jesus has just said, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say.” Then suddenly, out of the blue, someone in the crowd shouts to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

Someone has not been paying attention. Someone’s mind has been somewhere else. Someone in the crowd is very worried – worried about money.

So Jesus answered with a parable. And in all the commentaries I have read and all the sermons I have ever heard people interpret it like this.

The greedy rich man spent all his time making more money and collecting more crops and possessions. However, he died, and all his wealth was given to someone else. It is a lesson to show how pointless it is to be greedy. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,” says Jesus, “because your life is not measured by the possessions you own.”

This is a good message and worth taking to heart. When we come to confess our sins, most of us could confess to wanting too much. We want more money, we want a bigger house, we want to be the boss. We want a perfect body, we want to be young for ever, we want to be attractive to other people. The magazines by the checkout in Woolies or Coles tell us all the things people want more of. Jesus’ story reminds us that our lives in this place will eventually come to an end, and we can’t have everything we want.

The message we hear is, don’t collect earthly treasures, but gather treasures that mean something in the kingdom of God. Jesus himself said, “Don’t gather treasures which can be eaten away by moths or rust; the treasures you gather in heaven will never decay or be eaten.”

And the treasures Jesus is talking about are listed by St Paul in his letter to the Galatians; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the treasures most valuable to Christians.

But there is another way of looking at this passage. Right down near the end, what God said to the rich man, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.” We assume that the rich man died and left all his wealth behind. But in Greek God’s words say, “You fool! This very night your soul they demand of you.”

They demand your soul from you. That’s how the original Greek reads. So who are they, that are demanding the rich man’s soul. Well, the way it reads, the rich man’s grain, goods and barns are demanding the man’s soul. The man becomes possessed by his possessions.

Somewhere deep inside, we all know that Jesus was stating a powerful truth. Everything we own also owns a little bit of us. If we own a house or a car, then we are under an obligation to earn money to pay for the house or car; we have to take time to see to it that our house or car is cared for. We are no longer quite as free as we were before.

The rich farmer made the mistake of believing that he really possessed his great wealth, although Jesus said that the reality was that it possessed him. Movie magnate Sam Goldwyn, on being told that he couldn’t take it with him, replied, “Well then, I just won’t go.” But that is not an option. We can’t take it with us, nor can we refuse to go when it is our time. And neither can we really possess, only hold in trust. Today’s possessions become tomorrow’s garage sale treasures.

So, Jesus concluded his parable of the rich farmer by saying, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” He had stored his wealth in earthly barns, even though he had had the opportunity to store it in heaven.

Wealth is not wrong or sinful, but it is problematic. It is not wrong to want to have a big house or lots of money, but the want can turn into greed and become the focus of our lives.

The spiritual problem of wealth is that it anchors our hearts too firmly in this world, rather than in God’s kingdom.

St Paul warns the Colossians that there are other things which can possess us, he mentions greed and adds fornication, impurity, passion and evil desire. These are things which can control people; alcohol, pornography, gambling, drugs.

St Paul says that we must get rid of all such things. That’s easy to say. It is hard for those who are controlled and owned by some form of behaviour. It is not always easy to see or understand. It is not a matter of just saying, “No.” Nobody wants to be controlled by their behaviour. The solution is not simple. To break the control is as painful and brave as starting a new life. St Paul says, “You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourself with the new self, which is being renewed according to its Creator.” The rich fool may have found salvation that very night when his possessions demanded his soul. This might have been the lowest point of his life. He may have wanted to relax, eat, drink and be merry, but his greed would not let him rest. His only help was to seek help, help from others, and above all, help from God, who gives new life, a new beginning, a new community, a different sort of wealth, a life where the old behaviour is no longer important.

Let us pray for those who are struggling to take control of their live and those who are helping them. Let us pray that we may help those who come to us to find new life, new hope, new freedom in Christ Jesus. Amen

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