Sunday 11 August 2019

Holy simplicity

Address given in St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan churches on Sunday 11 August 2019, the 8th after Trinity Year C

Are you a hoarder? I know I am – as Marty will confirm if you ask her!
I am surrounded by ‘stuff’ – the attic is full of it, so is the garage. Some has sentimental value, such as things I’ve inherited which I remember from childhood. Some I don’t need right now, but a nagging voice tells me they might just be useful sometime. And then there is some old stuff which I tell myself I might be able to sell, if I ever find myself down on my uppers – little enough, for in truth most of it is just junk.

And it doesn’t stop there either. There is something inside me which covets more stuff than I have already, and the security that money and wealth brings. There is that urge to accuumulate in most if not all of us, I think.

It is this covetous human nature that advertisers constantly play on. Their siren voices tempt us to buy that new car, the latest smartphone, cosmetics to make us young again, exotic foreign holidays. If we cannot have it all we feel cheated.

The capitalist market economy we live in has created great wealth for many.
Most of us in rich societies like Ireland have enjoyed a high and growing standard of living for many years. We have all come to expect that we will have more than our parents did. But this kind of economy depends on growing production driven by growing consumption, bringing ever-growing waste and pollution, which the finite resources of our beautiful planet cannot sustain.

As you may have seen in the news, July 29th this year was declared to be ‘Earth Overshoot Day’, the day after New Year’s Day when humans have consumed more resources than Earth can regenerate in a full year. Put another way, this year humanity is using the sustainable resources of 1.7 Earths – only 50 years ago we were more or less in balance, using about 1 Earth.

As a species we are faced with a perfect storm. Growth continues, even as greenhouse gases change our climate, causing heatwaves, droughts, floods, and rising sea levels which threaten coastal cities. Other pollutants such as microplastics and industrialised, unsustainable agriculture reduce the biodiversity on which all life on earth depends. When growth inevitably falters - as it must - those with the least will suffer the most - but it will affect us all.

So we fear for the future. We worry that our jobs and pensions are precarious, we suspect that the lives of our children and grandchildren will be harder than our own, we are anxious about the damage being done to the natural world about us, and we dread the prospect of runaway climate change.

Today’s Gospel reading (Luke 12: 32-40) has a lot to say to us in present circumstances.
Jesus understands that people are often selfish and greedy because they are anxious and afraid for the future. So he tells the disciples – and through them, us – that we should put aside such anxiety. God knows what we need, and God will give us all we need when we work for his kingdom – in other words, when we try to be the people God wants us to be, loving God and his wonderful creation, and loving our neighbours as ourselves. ‘Do not be afraid, little flock’, he says, ‘for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’.

God has given us all that we have so that we may be generous with it, not hoard it. What we give away, to those who need it more than we do, is ‘an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys’. But it is not just about giving away what we have. It is also about using what we have to stand up for the weak and the marginalised against the forces that oppress them, as Isaiah saw in his vision in today’s 1st reading (Isaiah 1:1,10-20). God calls us to ‘seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’. If we want to be good Christians we must focus on these kinds of spiritual wealth, rather than accumulating material wealth, ‘for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.

And we must be alert at all times for opportunities to respond generously, as and when God prompts us to do so. As Jesus puts it, ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit’. We should not put off calls on our generosity, waiting perhaps for a better time or a more pressing need to come along. We are mortal – we do not know when God will knock on the door to call us out of this life. ‘You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’, says Jesus. And it would be shameful, when he does come knocking - as we know he will - to admit that we wasted the opportunities he gave us to act like the good people he created us to be.

Jesus calls his disciples to live lives of holy simplicity and generosity.
In the passage from Luke immediately preceding the one we heard (Luke 12:22-31), Jesus talks of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
‘Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither store-house nor barn, and yet God feeds them … Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Soloman in his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field … how much more will he clothe you.’

As Christians we need to live like the birds and the lilies. That doesn’t mean that we should not work and plan for the future. Unlike the birds and lilies we must sow and reap, build store-houses and barns, toil and spin, and we must do so as a community, because that is what it means to be human. That is how we have evolved to make our living, how God has made us to be - just as the birds and the lilies have evolved to make their different livings. But we must also recover a sense of what it is to have enough. We must resist the temptation always to seek more than we need, more than God has already given us. And we must cultivate a generous spirit.

As I see it, our globalised world is like an over-wound clockwork toy, in which the spring that drives it is ready to snap. Our example of holy simplicity can show others how together we can release the tension, how we can return to a way of living which will enable everyone to continue to flourish in the wonderful world God has given us, alongside the birds and the lilies.

Holy simplicity is liberating, and our world needs liberating now as much as it has ever done. Let us live simply, so that others can simply live!

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