Sermon: September 25 2016

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-end

The Bible is sometimes difficult to interpret, difficult to apply to our 21st century lives; it is a complicated thing, not to mention culturally foreign to us, written centuries ago in faraway places. Times change, and context matters. Sometimes, it is difficult to work out, from what the Bible says, how we ought to live now.

This is not one of those times.

In their wisdom, the putters-together of the lectionary have made the moral effect of today’s readings about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the head.

“The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”. Much misquoted, but the original is not without its force.
“As for those who in the present age are rich […] be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share”.
“During your lifetime, you received good things…[now] you are in agony”.

Now, it is tempting to think that these passages aren’t directed at us. We are not rich, certainly not like the rich man was in the the morning’s reading from Luke’s gospel. We are solidly middle class, after all.

But of course the median income in the UK is roughly £22,000. This puts the average Brit in the top 1.46% in the world, in terms of income. In global terms, we are obscenely rich. The average house price in Old Marston is £490,000. This is 22 times the UK’s median income; if the average Brit spent every single penny to buy a house here, it would take a little less than half of her entire career to do so. Most of us here today—even if we do not live in this idyllic neighbourhood—are in that top 1% that people keep going on about, when they are complaining about oligarchs.

And, of course, here in Oxford, though perhaps less so here in the suburbs: there are myriads of homeless and other people panhandling on the streets. Lazaruses abound. However, all to often, like the rich man, we just walk on by, comforting ourselves with the knowledge that the City Council discourages us from giving people cash. We don’t stop to remember that the City Council says nothing about having a chat or sharing a hot drink on a cold day.

“If they did not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will be they convinced even if someone rises from the dead”.

Ain’t that the truth? We have gotten very good at minimising the ethical import of transparent passages like these, explaining away clear commands to us. We spiritualise the message of Jesus: we insist that our call is to be poor in spirit, so that we can maintain our comfortable middle-class lifestyles. We forget that when Jesus read from Isaiah, he said that he came to “bring good news to the poor”, full stop. “To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”. And to be sure, we are spiritually poor, morally blind, oppressed by systems of power that manipulate consumers and voters and exploit workers, especially if they don’t look like us, and preferably if they live far, far away. And therefore the good news is for us too. But our spiritual enrichment, our restored sight, our freedom from oppressive desires, these are not simply for us to enjoy, patting ourselves on our backs. We have been healed and set free to heal and set free.

“As for those who in the present age are rich […] be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share”.

How shall we live? It could not possibly be more obvious.


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