25th September 2022 (readings below)
‘Take hold of the life that really is life’. That is an interesting thought! Are there some forms or maybe approaches to life that are not real? That perhaps are fake? Or shallow or incomplete?
We are often encouraged to live in the moment, to enjoy the now and not worry about the future. Jeremiah takes a different tack. He and his companions are within the besieged city of Jerusalem, the opposing armies are at their gates. Maybe there isn’t anything to enjoy in the present moment. But Jeremiah can envisage a brighter future, one in which their way of life will be restored in Jerusalem- and his certainty about this comes from his trust in, and knowledge of, God. And he demonstrates his certainty by buying a piece of land – a piece of land that is about to be overrun by the invading forces – confident that he (or his descendants) will be able to occupy it in future time of peace. Jeremiah’s actions enact and confirm his faith that his life is lived in God’s hands.
The Psalmist is equally confident that real life is life lived with God. It is a life he lives in the confidence that God will be both a refuge and a protector. It is a life lived in the certainty that we are in relationship with God that is bound together by love.
The author of the Letter to Timothy offers straight forward advice that we should live lives of godliness and contentment, spurning the temptations of riches, wealth and pointless desires. A good life is one lived with God, pursuing the virtues of godliness – following the path laid out before us by Christ Jesus. Finding joy and being contented with what we have, is the message of Joy in Enough – a Christian campaign developed by Green Christian that works through churches to advocate for a fair and green economy. Joy in Enough calls for an economy that prioritises wellbeing and the common good, in which all have enough, and that respects the boundaries of nature.’ As well as proving a wealth of resources, Joy in Enough also has a group study programme called Plenty! For enough can be plenty!
But what if people don’t have enough? Today’s gospel highlights the vast divide that can exist between those who have more than enough and those who do not have anything like enough. The parable illustrates how easily those of with more than enough can be blind to the lack faced by others. Currently charities and NGOs are pressing for the establishment of a Loss and Damage Fund that would pay reparations to communities who suffering loss through the effects of the climate change and with a particular awareness that often those who are suffering most have contributed least to the climate crisis. The call is for the United Nations to set up such a fund that would be financed by donations from wealthy countries, by taxes in fossil fuel companies, by taxes on air travel etc.
‘Take hold of the life that really is life’. Is the life we live at present really the life God wishes? Is life where there is such poverty faced by people in the Horn of Africa, in Afghanistan and in the Indian subcontinent, really life? Is life where the rich have multiple homes and multiple cars, and can earn more in an hour that the poor do in a year, really life? Is life where the rich can buy influence in politics whilst protestors are being silenced, really life?
Should we not be like Jeremiah and living out in the present the future life we know to be real, the future life we know God desires? Do we not as Christians have a vision of a better world where life is real for all? Real life where there is no poverty but a fair sharing of resources and opportunities. Real life where power is not abused. Real life where all have a voice that is heard. Real life where creation is cared for. Real life where God is known by all and all know they are loved. We do not need to be conformed to the ways of the world but rather to the ways of the kingdom of God – that which we pray for every time we say the Lord’s Prayer.
Jeremiah bought a field. What actions could we take to demonstrate our confidence in life that is real? There will be a multiplicity of responses, some will be our one individual responses and others those of the church as a corporate body, whether at the parish or diocesan level. An increasing number of churches are reshaping their lives to become Eco Churches. There are currently 896 Bronze, 294 Silver, and 18 Gold churches and that is just in the Church of England. In view of the acute necessity of drastically reducing carbon emissions some dioceses have sold off all their shares in fossil fuel companies, and many churches have pledged to avoid any such investments. Faced with accounts of poverty here in the UK and abroad, many churches support food banks and night shelters, promote fair trade goods, and raise funds for Christian Aid etc. At the recent Lambeth Conference the bishops agreed to undertake to plant a Communion Forest with individuals, churches and dioceses being encouraged to plant tree to help safeguard the environment.
The first Christians, according to Acts, sold what they had in order to share their wealth more equitably – “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[a] and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47) Others who encountered them were amazed!
I’m not sure we are in a position to be so radical but could we not live closer to that ideal? Can we take joy in enough? Can we be contented with less and thus willing to share more? Can we do more to campaign for the rights of others – for social justice, for climate justice, for racial justice, for tax justice?
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.
Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.
And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 He shall say to the Lord,
“You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
my God in whom I put my trust.”
3 He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter *
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with his pinions,
and you shall find refuge under his wings; *
his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.
5 You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, *
nor of the arrow that flies by day;
6 Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, *
nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.
14 Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honour.
16 With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.
1 Timothy 6:6-19
There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time– he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”