The Reverend Canon Robert Wright Canon of Westminster
Sunday, 30th September 2007
"Your life is shaped by the end you live for, you are made in the image of what you desire." Merton.
That is a very neat summary of today’s readings.
Of all four Gospel’s, St Luke, from whom we have today’s Gospel reading, makes it clear that the good news of God’s kingdom originates among the marginal and humble people who are open to God – the anawim of the Hebrew scriptures – Zechariah, Mary, the shepherds, Anna and Simeon
In our first reading Amos, writing 750 years B.C., warns that nothing short of a radical change of life-style will save Israel from destruction. This is the very antithesis of the “Day of the Lord “ the Jews are expecting. His description of the wealthy lying on their ivory beds, eating lamb and stall-fed veal, playing music, drinking wine and festooning themselves with garlands sounds all too familiar! Amos condemns them for their total lack of concern for the poor, arising from their complete misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God.
God’s future breaking into the present is what the parable in the Gospel reading is all about. Indeed, this whole section of St Luke’s Gospel tackles this theme in various ways with different parables. Here there is a warning about God’s immanent and this-worldly judgement on Israel for its failure to heed God’s call to justice and mercy within Israel and its failure to be the light of the world. There are sharp warnings for us here!
The second reading, from Paul’s first letter to Timothy, is a post-Easter reflection on the true meaning of the “life” we receive at our baptism. The life of the coming age, already given in Jesus and promised to those who are “in Christ”, contains the real riches. The riches of this world can be used to God’s glory as Paul makes clear, but they can all too easy lead to greed, selfishness and idolatry as we hear in that famous phrase, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” There is a sharp and pertinent warning for us here!
But it is important to remind ourselves that the biblical “poor”, the anawim are not so much the destitute as the lowly who enter a new and freeing relationship with God which is expressed in dependence, obedience – the root of the word means to listen carefully – and praise. And today’s readings all remind us that there are things, such as riches, which can get in the way of such a relationship with God. I wonder what that might be in your life – riches, a desire for prestige and recognition, neurotic busyness? Who knows? All sorts of things can stop us being open to God’s will for us. And so it is helpful to remind ourselves regularly of that saying by Thomas Merton with which I started this morning: “Your life is shaped by the end you live for, you are made in the image of what you desire.’ Let’s put it into the first person singular: my life is shaped by the end I live for, I am made in the image of what I desire. The readings have all been full of a sense of urgency. It is all too easy to put off asking ourselves such questions, but it is important to do so.
Although for some, perhaps even some of us, it undoubtedly will be, I don’t actually think that wealth as such is the significant issue, providing we use it generously and for the good of others, but the danger is that wealth can and does take our eye off the goal and our lives become shaped not by the desire to participate in the life of God but by a desire to protect what is ours against all those who threaten it – and already we are becoming defensive and can think of images to represent that such as gated communities, hardened hearts, immigration policies lacking in compassion, CCTV cameras,…the list is endless.
Remembering that today’s Gospel reading is one of a series of parables that St Luke records, all making the same point, let me offer you a modern translation of part of last week’s Gospel: “You are always making yourselves look good, but God sees what is in your heart. The things that most people think are important are worthless as far as God is concerned.” It couldn’t be much plainer than that, could it?
coming. In the previous chapter of Luke’s Gospel “the Pharisees” have become so concerned about keeping what they see as their master’s regulations that they cannot accept that Jesus’ generosity, his welcoming of the outcaste and the poor, actually reflects God’s real intention. Faced with imminent judgement, last week we heard Jesus warning his listeners to make what arrangements they can with the wider world, with the outcastes and the gentiles, forgetting the minutiae of the law in favour of openness and generosity. This week we hear Jesus using a traditional 1st century folk tale to remind his hearers that they actually do know they are out of order: they are not open to God. So the rich man, Dives, like the elder brother in the previous chapter and the steward in the present chapter, all stand for the Israel that is under judgement for its failure to recognize God’s call and that this is the moment of judgement.
“Your life is shaped by the end you live for, you are made in the image of what you desire.” And the God whom we long for, who knows us so much better than we know ourselves, calls us gently, insistently, to metanoia, repentance, a wholehearted, generous turning to Him.