(Hosea 11:1-11, Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21)
Jesus had the knack of moving swiftly to the heart of a matter.
Our gospel reading opens with a man seeking justice. It is time for the family inheritance to be distributed. One brother wants his share. The other is holding on.
Or so it would seem. After all, we are introduced to only one brother. Whatever the details may be, even Jesus is refusing to enter this family law minefield.
But he is, however, prepared to address the core of this case: ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’
Jesus wisely moves into a parable. Stories – especially the ones Jesus told – draw us in before we know where they are headed. We hear the twist while our guard is down. There would have been significant resistance if Jesus had simply started with: ‘You fool!’
But this is exactly where Jesus is headed. He leads this disgruntled brother – along the meandering path of story – to these very words. It is a wise and loving act. After all, Jesus, the embodiment of God, is, ultimately, not content to be right. He is more concerned to communicate.
And so we have a story.
It begins with a man who has been blessed. The land God made has produced a bumper crop. Storage has become a pressing issue. His solution – to dismantle his meager barns and build mega grain houses.
But he then goes a step beyond large warehouses. In his abundance he is able to convince his ‘soul’ that all will be well ‘for many years’.
It is time to elevate these abundantly blessed feet.
But God is about to turn this artificial certainty into a real and confronting uncertainty. God’s unused blessings will be handed over. This safe and predictable life will be ‘demanded’.
Jesus concludes: it is something like this among those who ‘store up treasures but are not rich towards God’.
Our New Testament reading has Paul urging the Colossians along a similar vein. Paul begins: ‘So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…’.
It is an invitation to live life with God. Not just the religious parts. Not merely the ethical choices. Not simply when life is rosy.
Paul, the one spending more and more time in prison and recovering from another merciless flogging, believes that all of life can be faithfully lived in the embrace of heaven.
But, as with Jesus’ rich farmer, this relationship between God and this community is in danger. Among the Colossians are people trying to take the body of Christ captive. They appeal to clever philosophy and human tradition – things other than Christ. They, it would seem appeal to mere religion and in the Apostle’s assessment, offer only ‘empty deceit’.
We may be tempted to shake our heads at their foolishness. But perhaps these men and women are not so different from us. Paul has made it clear that they have achieved some maturity in Christ: they have ‘come to fullness in him.’ Like every follower of Jesus they have been buried and raised with Christ through baptism. God has made them alive, forgiving and erasing their sins.
But even these can see the appeal of – and are genuinely tempted by – rules and regulations. Even the Apostle admits that these ‘have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.’
‘Self-indulgence’. It throws our minds back to Jesus’ relaxed farmer. It sits as the last word before the reading we just heard and is the very point at which the options other than God fall short. This is why we see Paul playing off earth and heaven here: ‘…seek the things that are above…’, ‘…set your minds on things that are above…’.
Surely this is not so far from holding our ‘treasure in heaven’ and from Jesus’ call to be ‘…rich towards God’?
So what does all this have to do with worship? I wonder if this passage can be understood as simply asking the Colossians to live their whole lives in the worship of God.
Certainly, there is little here about songs, sermons, and services – things we all too readily associate with the act of worship. These may be good – but only as far they serve to keep us seeking and serving the kingdom of heaven. The essence of worship is ‘…minds set on things above.’
Of course this is a process, not an arrival. Paul speaks of a constant putting ‘to death’ of fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed…’ and a getting rid of ‘…anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language…’. Worship is a stripping off of the ‘old self’.
But it also involves being clothed with the ‘new self’. It is allowing ourselves to be ‘renewed in knowledge according to the image of (our) creator’.
Paul goes on to describe what this ‘renewal’ looks like. It is not quite as tame as we might first expect. This reality – this renewing knowledge – trumps all that divides. Listen for it later in our communion prayer – Christ ‘frees us from all that destroys love and trust’. God’s renewal looks like an overcoming of nationalism (the divide between ‘Greek and Jew’), of religion (the divide between ‘circumcision and uncircumcision’), and of social standing (the divide between ‘barbarian’, ‘Scythian’, ‘slave and free’).
This is no invitation to an individual salvation that has nothing to do with others. It is a big, big perspective – a renewal, or healing, of both mind and universe.
Yes, the heaven Paul asks us to seek makes all things new.
Our reading of Paul ends with the most comprehensive – and mind-blowing – of all realities: ‘Christ is all and in all.’
Aligning ourselves and our world with this truth – this reality – is surely the very essence of worship. It may include our songs, our sermons, our services – but only as far as they urge and encourage us to give all for the kingdom of Heaven.
Make no mistake, ‘Christ is all and in all.’ May your worship settle for nothing less.