Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 7 2019

David Wilkie, The Reading of the Will, 1820. Wikimedia Commons.

Ecclesiastes 1.2,12-14;2.18-23
Colossians 3.1-11
Luke 12.13-21

As I may have mentioned before, I’m a fan of detective stories. A quiet evening at the Vicarage often concludes with an old episode of Poirot, or Inspector Montalbano. In these fictional stories inheritance is frequently the motive for murder, and the key to unlocking the mystery. Who is the unknown heir to the estate? Or who will lose out if the cantankerous old uncle changes his will? Jealously, desire and violence lurk beneath the surface, waiting to be uncovered.
Today in the Gospel a man asks, “tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me”. But Jesus refuses to have anything to do with it. He sees to the heart of the matter. Jealously, desire, and the potential for violence are all there. No wonder Jesus warns him, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed!”.
Questions about inheritance were not new, even in the time of Jesus. There is a great deal in the Old Testament about inheritance, but it is mostly about Israel inheriting collectively what God wants to give to his people – the land and its blessings. Inheritance in the Old Testament is about the community living in harmony, not about rivalrous individuals. It is about the common good, all the people benefiting together.
This acknowledges that all the good things we receive are not ours to possess, but gifts of God to be received. And ultimately it is God who is the inheritance of his people, “The Lord himself is my inheritance”, says Psalm 16. Earthly inheritances will pass away, they are in the end vanity, as the reading from Ecclesiastes reminded us this morning. But God will never pass away.
The irony of today’s Gospel passage is that a man is asking about inheritance, but he doesn’t realise that his real inheritance is standing in front of him: it is Jesus, God himself come among us in human flesh, who is the inheritance of his people. And there is no need for any dispute about that inheritance, because God gives himself in Jesus without limit and there is enough for everyone. God in Jesus is creating a holy people, a new community, to inherit the fullness of life he has promised.
But that inheritance requires that we leave behind all our rivalries and divisions. God in Christ is creating a whole new humanity in which all divisions are reconciled and all are made one. This is more than the common good that human beings seek. It is the common good raised and transformed by grace into a common sharing in the life of God.
The man who asked Jesus to intervene in his dispute could not have been more wrong. He did not understand that God was his true inheritance standing in front of him in Jesus. And he did not understand that we have to leave behind our rivalrous desires if we are to receive what God wants to give us, which is himself.
Humanity of course still persists in following such rivalries. In our better nature we strive for the common good, and yet on every side we hear versions of the brother’s demand, “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me”. Division, rivalry, desire for possessions that are not God and can never ultimately satisfy.
Jesus’s teaching today challenges us not to cling on to possessions, to be unselfish as individuals in our personal lives and relationships, to put others first and become more aware of our motives, the hidden rivalries and desires that drive our actions.
And in our communities, we live in a plural society of many different races and faiths, and that is a great strength. But it only works where there is common recognition of the common good. We all need each other. Building a good community is something we can only do together, by including everyone. Followers of Jesus have an insight and a role in helping to do that.
In our national life, too, we are going through troubled times. Whatever your view on current political issues, when one faction or another demands the sole ownership of the nation’s identity, the sole right to determine its future direction, then we have division and rivalry, rather than the seeking of the common good. “Give ME the inheritance.” Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed!
At a recent PCC meeting we discussed our response to the Diocese of London’s consultation, asking what we thought the Church in London should prioritise over the next ten years. It was a really insightful discussion and we were able to feed back to the Diocese a number of points. We recognized that, yes, the Church is small, but not without influence, a community of faith and worship that is able to effect change in society, change for the common good.
We spoke, for instance, of the work of the Barnet Multi-Faith Forum in promoting community cohesion, in our local community. We spoke of the urgent need to care for the environment and the lead the Church can take.
We raised concerns about knife crime and gangs, and the dehumanisation of estates. About new developments driving out existing populations, and increasing isolation. We noted intergenerational problems, and the way the Church can help to build connections.
The Church is a forum for people to encounter and talk to each other across social divisions, an agent to enable and inform things we can’t do ourselves. We can help people in need by giving and by offering our estate for the use of the community. The Church has a role in speaking up to policy makers about cutbacks in social services, children’s services, housing, and mental health provision.

In all these different ways, this is about seeking and serving the common good, and seeking to bring reconciliation where there are divisions and rivalries that hinder the common good. As Christians we believe that the Church is the custodian and messenger of an inheritance in Jesus Christ that is not ours exclusively, but in fact belongs to the whole of humanity. And recognizing that is at the heart of what it means to be a community with a mission.