THE TRUE RICHES

Sermon delivered on the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity the 25th September 2016 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban’s Church of England, George Town in the service of the Holy Eucharist.

Scriptures: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7     1 Timothy 6:6-19     S. Luke 16:19-31

1 Tim 6: 9 "Those determined to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful lusts that plunge men into ruin and destruction."

Several years ago, as perhaps a number here will remember, a great deal of time was spent on trying to prevent certain proposed quarrying activities on bluff land near the Rectory, which when they were occurring before caused great distress to the residents and property owners of the estate. The driving force for such activities, as it is so often for activities like cutting canals into an already occupied coastal area, causing problems for others or even for the state as a whole, is the prospect and realisation of monetary gain. If that driving force is involved, the dynamic is immediately set up that for particular individuals overrides the interests of others upon whom the activity impinges. The same dynamic, in addition, may set in train a whole series of legal shenanigans. All the sorts of legal devices known to man are brought into the service of not doing the right thing and avoiding the consequences of disregarding the reasonable regulations and decisions of due authority. This can go on for many years, and people who are not persistent can get disheartened and bow out of the situation, leaving it for others to try to address, or to ignore, or in their turn to walk away.

One of the hidden costs of all such activity both for the perpetrators i.e. those who appear to benefit by it, and for those who are hurt by it - and I suppose from the Christian point of view it is the chief cost - is what it does to one's own life and soul. Involvement can cause people to become more selfish, and to neglect the responsibilities displaced by the time spent with the situation. No doubt it causes people to be in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong things, being a liar, in effect, about what is important and right. In addition, in times when the Cayman Islands are pressured to try to demonstrate accountability, it seems to me that operations of this character, which can be seen to breach the rights of homeowners and residents, seriously damages the Islands from an image point of view, not to mention from the perspective of environmental considerations. There are many other hidden costs, and while you might be able to quantify income, these are costs that it is impossible to quantify. No balance can be struck, therefore, between income and these kinds of costs. As Christians we can look to the very clear guidance of 1 Timothy 6 in our second lesson today in making our choices about pursuing income. On the one hand in verse 6 we are advised that there is great gain in godliness with contentment. On the other in verse 10 we are advised that the love of money is a root of all sorts of evils. In our world money is a necessary feature, as no doubt is everything that makes it work, but at the same time the Christian ignores these simple precepts to his peril. We will find that an investment of our time in some act of witness to the Lordship of Christ or in some act of unselfish love will cost little compared to the gain, whereas activities that are primarily or exclusively driven by hope of material gain will cost us more than their real benefit. Timothy is advised therefore as a church leader to keep his sights on righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness, fighting the good fight of the faith. I do not consider it would be a good thing for me or for the church if I were to invest the time spent in what is called here "the good fight of the faith" in some scheme of getting rich materially, even though some would say, quite plausibly, Think how much more benefit you could be to the church if you were financially independent. To those who do have material wealth, the counsel here is that our hope should not be set on it or on the further wealth that it can generate, but in God who provides us with all our needs. The apostolic counsel is, Let us employ our circumstances in being rich in good deeds, doing good and being liberal and generous. Then we will be secure in the life which is life indeed.

THE INSENSITIVITY OF FALSE SECURITY
Both the Old Testament lesson today and the Gospel recounting the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, remind us of the fact that when a person's mind is seduced by the security of riches, either in his enjoyment of them or in his desire to gain them, he can become oblivious to the needs around him, or to his own responsibility for addressing them. Through the prophet Amos the Lord says, "Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria." While they enjoy their luxury and excessive feasting their capacity to be grieved over the social decay of their community has left them! Their capacity to be concerned about its moral and social health is eroded! The Lord warns that their revelry will be concluded in short order. Everybody should be able to read the signs of the times, but those who have false security have become insensitive. From other parts of the book of Amos we understand that the social decay involved widespread dishonesty and oppression of the vulnerable. We can of course read these circumstances into our own social and environmental condition today, and then make the appropriate responses.

FOLLOW THE DIVINE GUIDANCE
The same condition is recounted in the parable of Dives (as he is often named) and Lazarus, in which in this life the rich man was utterly insensitive to the presence of the poor man at his gate, and made no attempt to address his very real needs. Using the parable, Jesus teaches that those who neglect the divine guidance they have been given, in this case the precepts of the Old Testament, because of their fixation with material goods, will never be induced even by a miracle to change their mindset. Part of this warning is very clear to us. Today we talk about fairness and justice and rights, and if we truly mean to be fair and just to our neighbours, especially those who are vulnerable, because God has instructed us so and placed it in our hearts, that is good and right. But if we use such talk to take our families, our neighbours and even our countries to court primarily to gain advantage for ourselves, then our mindset will be confirmed in a trajectory of selfishness. The hope of the poor and vulnerable is in God Himself, our sources reveal to us, and He will not be slow to bring redress. This is a precept sincerely to be believed and acted upon. Therefore we ought to follow the apostolic counsel given to Timothy to seek for a gain that is opposed to the love of money, in whatever circumstances we are in. Neither individually nor as a country will we find that sort of gain in being insensitive to the vulnerable. We are to lay up a good foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

QUESTIONS
1. Give some examples in your own life of making choices for & against "investing" in some get-rich-quick idea, and identify any effects these choices had on you.

2. If you have had the experience of changing some intended course in relation to gain specifically through the action of the Word of God, describe what happened.