In the minute and a half it took to read that gospel passage, it is estimated that 2 people died of hunger in the horn of Africa alone; one every 48 seconds.
Fifty million people worldwide are facing emergency levels of hunger. Almost 828 million people go to bed hungry every night. And the number of people experiencing extreme hunger has more than doubled in the last year alone. Parts of Yemen, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Nigeria are already in the grip of famine. And yet, there is enough food on this planet to feed everyone. Or, as I said last week, there is always enough – enough and some to share. So, what is going wrong? The World Food Programme talks of the toxic cocktail of conflict, climate change, disasters, structural poverty and inequality and the addition of a global pandemic as the drivers towards mass hunger but this morning’s gospel passage also has something to say about it too.
‘Take care’, Jesus says, ‘be on your guard against all kinds of greed’ and then he told them a parable.
A rich man produced a whole load of grain; so much that he didn’t know what to do with it. So, he sits and considers his crops, but really all he is considering is himself: what should I do? I have no place to store my crops. I will pull down my barns and store my grain and my goods and say to my soul you have ample. And God calls him a fool. And he is a fool. He’s alright, but he has only served himself. And when he dies, all that he has done will die too. He has set his mind on earthly things only, with no apparent care or concern for anyone else. And that is foolish. God is right. This man really is a fool.
St Augustine, one of the early church fathers, in the first century commented that this rich man was ‘planning to fill his soul with excessive and unnecessary feasting and was proudly disregarding the empty bellies of the poor. He went on to make possibly the greatest comment about this parable when he said ‘[the rich man] did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns’.
This rich man could have made a huge difference with his huge stores of grain. And instead, he was a self-centred fool.
So what about us? In the world’s terms we are among those who are the rich. And we have the privilege and ability of making change for those who are facing famine, hunger, poverty and death. In reality, we have the means to bring life and light to places of death and darkness. We can do that. We really can and we absolutely must. Because, as the parable says our life is being demanded of us today too. Our life is demanded of us every day.
God doesn’t just demand our life of us on the day we die. God demands our life of us every single day. And there must always remain something we are prepared to give our life for. Something we will live for, every day. Something we want to live on, after our days are done. We can change the world, and we must because otherwise all we have done in our time here is take up space and that is not what we were designed and created to do. We are here for so much more.
Yesterday, the church remembered William Wilberforce who is best known for his crusade against slavery. Wilberforce managed to get a law passed in Parliament for the complete abolition of slavery before he died in 1833. And while it is still illegal, today there are more than 40 million slaves in the world, with another human being bought and sold every 15 seconds. For me, I want to see this changed in my lifetime. My life is being demanded of me and I want people to stop being bought and sold.
And I wonder what it is for you.
What makes your heart beat extra hard? What makes you mad enough to write to your local politician about, or give money for? What stirs you into action? What will you give your life for? Our lives are being demanded of us and – as our New Testament reading said – we need to seek the things that are above; we need to invest in those things that will live on.
The wealthy landowner had huge barns; the best anyone could ever hope for; but he filled them with things for him, so that HIS soul could rest and HIS life could be relaxing and HE could eat, drink and be merry. He kept his barns for himself instead of taking the opportunity to store his grain in the bellies of those who were poorest and most hungry. He put himself first, and screw everyone else.
As followers of Jesus, we have given up all rights to do that.
As followers of Jesus, our primary concern can no longer be me.
As followers of Jesus, we must live lives that give out to others.
This very day our life is being demanded of us; your life is being demanded of you. May our lives be those of love, joy and peace. May our lives make the lives of others better. May our choices impact positively on others. May our lives even change the world and bring glory to God’s holy name.
This very day your life is being demanded of you.
And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? Amen.