Monday, 29 July 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 4 August 2019,
Seventh Sunday after Trinity

‘I will pull down my barns and build larger ones’ (Luke 12: 18) … a large barn at Comberford Manor Farm in Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 4 August 2019, is the Seventh Sunday after Trinity.

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, are in two groups.

The readings are:

Continuous readings: Hosea 11: 1-11; Psalm 107: 1-9, 43; Colossians 3: 1-11; Luke 12: 13-21. There is a link to the readings HERE.

Paired readings: Ecclesiastes 1: 2, 12-14, 2: 18-23; Psalm 49: 1-12; Colossians 3: 1–11; Luke 12: 13–21. There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves’ (Luke 12: 21) … inside an antique shop in Blackrock, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Introducing the continuous readings:

Next Sunday’s continuous readings offer opportunities to reflect on the dangers of turning our backs on God’s ways, and to recall the blessings we have received from God.

The Prophet Hosea warns of the looming consequences for an unfaithful people, including violence and exile. Yet God will be compassionate and tender-hearted, there is hope for the future, and the people will return from exile to their homes.

Psalm 107 is a collective thanksgiving, reminding the people of their past slavery an exile, and urging them:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his goodness
and the wonders he does for his children

In the Epistle reading, we are reminded how in Baptism we caste aside old ways and put on a new life in Christ.

The Gospel reading tells the well-known ‘Parable of the Rich Fool’ who thinks his abundant crops as an opportunity to ‘relax, eat, drink, be merry’ rather than a time to give thanks to God for his blessings.

‘They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion’ (Hosea 11: 10) … a roaring lion in a deserted factory in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Hosea 11: 1-11:

Last week, we read part of the introduction to Book of Hosea (1: 2-10). In the first three chapters of this book, the Prophet Hosea graphically describes how the people of the northern kingdom (Israel) have fallen away God’s ways, abandoning God and the covenant with him, and have worshipped pagan gods or the Baals and idols. He then warns of the consequences.

Now, however, God speaks through Hosea, recalling the Exodus from Egypt (verses 1-4). Hosea visualises God’s loving care of the people, personalised as Ephraim, is like a parent’s care for a child.

But Hosea warns of the looming consequences (verses 5-7). Because they have not returned to God, they will be exiled to Assyria, and they will be in bondage, as they once did in Egypt. There will be violence in the streets, (verse 6), their priests will be killed. And even though they will call to God for help, he will not hear them (verse 7).

Nevertheless, God’s anger – unlike our human anger – does not last (verses 8-9). Once again, God will be compassionate and tender-hearted. He will not allow the complete destruction of the cities and their inhabitants in the way that Admah and Zeboiim were destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah.

There is hope for the future, and the people will return from exile to the land, to their homes (verse 11).

‘Some went astray in desert wastes and found no path’ but ‘he set their feet on the right way’ (Psalm 107: 4-7) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

Psalm 107: 1-9, 43:

Psalm 107 is a collective thanksgiving, sung by a group of pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem to celebrate a festival. The incipit says they are thanking God for delivering them for many dangers.

Verses 2-3 may have been written after the Exile, and added, along with verses 33-43, to change the original psalm from an individual thanksgiving to one suited to communal use.

This psalm is punctuated with a refrain based on verse 6:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his goodness
and the wonders he does for his children
(verses 8, 15, 21 and 31).

The portion of this psalm appointed for next Sunday opens with a call to praise. It recalls the people returning from exile at all points of the compass (verse 3) and tells of the people wandering in the desert during the Exodus (verses 4-9). When they were ‘hungry and thirsty,’ in body and soul, God came to their aid (verses 5-6).

God helped them in their troubled times, and the pilgrims now thank God for his deliverance, guidance and love, satisfying the thirsty and feeding the hungry.

The concluding portion of the psalm (verses 33-43) is part of a hymn praising God for his bounty, and reminds us to continue to thank God for his steadfast love (verse 43).

‘In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew’ (Colossians 3: 11) … in a Greek synagogue in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Colossians 3: 1-11:

We are at the end of a series of four readings from the Letter to the Colossians that began on Sunday 14 July.

The author has described baptism as being raised with Christ and giving us a share in his suffering and death. In the early Church, candidates for Baptism removed their old clothes before being baptised and donned new ones afterwards, symbolising casting aside old ways and putting on a new life in Christ.

This reading begins with the author summarising this concept (Colossians 1: 1-4). On at least 25 occasions, the New Testament speaks of Christ being seated at God’s right hand (see Psalm 110: 1, ‘Sit at my right hand …’).

The author tells us that we already have close fellowship with Christ, but this is not yet fully revealed. Our lives are still ‘hidden with Christ in God.’ When Christ’s glory is ‘revealed,’ at the end of time, our complete union with him will be visible.

Being baptised, we are expected to conduct ourselves ethically, casting aside both sins of the body (verse 5) and of the mind (verses 5-17).

The word πορνεία (porneía) in verse 5, which is translated as ‘fornication’ in the NRSV, means all forms of sexual immorality, and gives us the word pornography in English. It can refer to illicit sexual intercourse, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, sexual intercourse with close relatives (see Leviticus 18), and sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman (Mark 10: 11,12). But its metaphorical use, which may be intended here, refers to the worship of idols, and the defilement of idolatry, incurred by eating sacrifices offered to idols or taking part in cult prostitution.

Impurity is sexual; passion is lust; evil desire is self-centred covetousness; greed motivates a person to set up a god besides God.

Because people still commit these sins wilfully and without seeking forgiveness, ‘the wrath of God is coming’ on them at the end of time (verse 6; see Romans 1: 18, 5: 9, I Thessalonians 1: 10, 2: 16, 5: 9).

The reference to the new self which is in the image (εἰκών, icon) of the creator (verse 10), recalls that God makes humans in God’s own image.

In the baptised community, ethnic, language and social barriers have been broken down to the point that they no longer exist, for ‘Christ is all and in all’ (verse 11).

‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly’ (Luke 12: 16) … fields at summertime in Bunratty, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 12: 13-21:

A large crowd, totalling thousands of people, has gathered to hear Jesus, trampling on one another so that they can hear him (Luke 12: 1). He is speaking to the disciples when one person in the crowd comes forward and asks Jesus to tell this man’s brother to share their family inheritance (verses 13-14).

Jesus has just told the disciples not to fret when they are being questioned and scrutinised, but to expect to be taught by the Holy Spirit what to say (verses 11-12).

However, in response to this question from a man in the crowd, Jesus simply asks another question: ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ The Mishnah guided rabbis on how to handle questions of inheritance. The Mosaic law prescribed that an elder son should receive twice the inheritance of a younger son (see Deuteronomy 21: 17). However, by rabbinical times, the Mishnah indicates, this seems to have been largely ignore (see Bava Batra 8: 4-5).

However, Christ avoids being drawn into an argument about the merits of Mosaic law and rabbinical practice, and asks whether the man wants to place him in role akin to that of Moses.

The word ἄνθρωπος (anthropos), translated ‘friend’ in the NRSV (verse 14), literally means human, and may have been heard as a stern rather affectionate form of address. Jesus explains: ‘all kinds of greed’ (verse 15) have no place in anyone’s life; true being (real and meaningful ‘life’) is more than ‘possessions.’

Having asked a rhetorical question, Christ does not wait for an answer. Instead, he warns the disciples against greed and possessions (verse 15), and he moves on telling the ‘Parable of the Rich Fool’ (verses 16-21), a parable that is unusual because God is a character in the story.

The rich farmer’s land has ‘produced abundantly’ (verse 16). His frequent use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ (verses 17-19) shows how he thinks only of himself and his of his own material well-being. He fools himself into thinking material possessions can satisfy the needs of both his body and his soul (verse 19).

To ‘relax, eat, drink, be merry’ (verse 19) can be a proper response to God’s gifts and generosity (see Ecclesiastes 8: 15; Tobit 7: 10; I Enoch 97: 8-9). Indeed, this parable does not attack wealth as such. But it criticises amassing wealth solely for one’s own enjoyment. It is the purely selfish accumulation of wealth that is incompatible with discipleship.

God says to the farmer ‘You fool!’ (verse 20) for ignoring his relationship with God. In the Old Testament, foolishness often implies immorality and deviating from God’s ways. Materialism can get in the way of godliness. Earthly riches do not last, but a time is coming when we will be judged by God.

‘So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves’ (Luke 12: 21) … inside an antique shop in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A reflection on the Gospel reading

I am not fond of television quiz programmes, or programmes that ask silly questions of people.

You have the programme presenter sitting there, looking smug with both the questions and answers, researched by a paid researcher, and the poor member of the public sitting there, anxious about obscure questions about the crew members of the Moon Landing in 1969, or the No 1 hits in 2009, or celebrity weddings in 2019.

I could not, for the life of me, answer any one of those questions. But some poor people, for the sake of €100 or €1,000 – never, it seems, on the way to being a millionaire – are made to look silly or ridiculous.

Quite frankly, I find it demeaning. And I have never wanted to hoard up all the answers for a television quiz, or, for that matter, for a parish table quiz. As I get older, I know this is anxiety that I do not need, and it is probably knowledge I am better off not storing up.

Recently, watching one of those programmes as we were idly flicking through television channels, I was told: ‘I could never go on a programme like that with you!’

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Because I could never answer: “What is his favourite piece of music.” Or: “If money was no barrier, what would he buy?”’

Well there is a lot of good music to listen to.

But if money was no barrier, what would I buy?

Would it make me happy?

Would it make anyone else happy?

Would it tell anyone that they are loved, loving, worth loving, that I love them, that I really enjoy their love?

But I understand why the man in this Gospel reading does many of the things he does.

He has a bumper crop one year, and not enough room to store it in. Was he to leave what he could not store to rot in the fields?

It is a foundational principle of all economics, whatever your political values – from Marx and Malthus to Milton Freedman – that the production of surplus food is the beginning of the creation of wealth and the beginning of economic prosperity.

Even if you are a complete ‘townie,’ it should bring joy to your heart the see the fields of green and gold these weeks, for the abundance of the earth is truly a blessing from God.

And it would have been wrong for this man to leave the surplus food to rot in the fields because he failed to have the foresight to build larger barns to store the surplus grain.

It provides income, creates wealth, allows us to export and so to import. Surplus food is the foundation of economics … and makes possible generosity, charity and care for the impoverished.

For the people who first heard this story, just image those people who first heard this parable – they would have imagined so many images in the Old Testament of the benefits of producing surplus food.

Joseph told Pharaoh to store surplus food in Egypt and to prepare and plan ahead for years of famine (see Genesis 41: 1-36). In the long run, this provides too for the survival of the very brothers who had sold him into slavery (see Genesis 42), and, eventually, for the salvation of the people of God.

The production of extra grain in the fields at the time of the harvest allows Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi to glean in the corners of the field behind the reapers (Ruth 2: 1-4). In the long run, this provides too for the survival of Boaz and his family line, and, eventually, for the salvation of the people of God.

When the people of God go hungry, the provision of surplus food is seen as a sign of God’s love and God’s protection … whether it is:

● the hungry people in the wilderness who are fed with manna (see Exodus 16), which is alluded to in the appointed Psalm (Psalm 107: 1-9, 43);

● or the way the Prophet Hosea reminds the people, in the Old Testament reading (Hosea 11: 1-11), that God is the God who can say throughout their history: ‘I bent down to them and fed them’ (Hosea 11: 4);

● or the hungry people who are fed with the abundant distribution of five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14: 13-21; Mark 6: 30-44; Luke 9: 10-17; John 6: 1-14; see Mark 8: 1-9);

● or the Disciples who find the Risen Christ has provided for their needs with breakfast (John 21: 9-14).

Surplus food, wealth, providing for the future, building bigger and better barns … it is never an excuse to ‘relax, eat, drink, [and] be merry’ (Luke 12: 19).

This Gospel reading offers the abundance and generosity of God’s provision as a sign of God’s love, for us as individuals and for all around us.

The rich man is not faulted for being an innovative farmer who manages to grow an abundant crop.

The rich man is not faulted for storing up those crops.

The rich man is not condemned for tearing down his barns and building larger ones to store not only his grain but his goods too.

The rich man is not even condemned for being rich.

The man condemns himself, he makes himself look foolish, for thinking that all that matters in life is our own pleasure and personal satisfaction.

We are human because we are made to relate to other humans. There is no shared humanity without relationship. We are made in the image and likeness of God, but that image and likeness is only truly found in relationship … for God is already relational, God is already revealed as community, in God’s existence as Trinity.

This man thinks not of his needs, but of his own pleasures. He has a spiritual life … we are told he speaks to his Soul. But he speaks only to his own soul. His spiritual life extends only to his own spiritual needs, to his own Soul, it never reaches out to God who has blessed him so abundantly, the God who in the Psalm reminds us that he ‘fills the hungry soul with good’ (Psalm 107: 9).

His spiritual persona never reaches out to or acknowledges God who has blessed him so abundantly, or to the people around him who have needs and who could benefit from his charitable generosity or from his business acumen.

In failing to take account of the needs of others, he fails to realise his own true needs: for a true and loving relationship with God, and a true and loving relationship with others.

He has no concern for the needs of others, physical or spiritual. He is spiritually dead. No wonder Saint Paul says in the epistle reading that greed is idolatry (Colossians 3: 5).

But if he has stopped speaking to God, God has not stopped speaking to him. And God tells him that night in a dream that this man is spiritually dead.

God says to him in that dream that his life is being demanded of him (Luke 12: 20).

But did you notice how we never hear how he responds, how we never hear whether he dies?

The story ends just there.

The Gospel reading on the last Sunday in September [29 September 2019, the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity] is the story of the rich man who kept Lazarus at the gate, and then died (see Luke 16: 19-31). But unlike that rich man, we are never told what happened to the rich man in this Sunday’s Gospel reading.

Did he die of fright?

Did he die after drinking too much?

Did he wake up and carry on regardless?

Or, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, did he wake up and realise his folly, and embrace the joys of the Incarnation?

I am challenged not to pass judgment on the Rich Man. Instead, Christ challenges me, in the first part of this reading (Luke 12: 13-15), to put myself in the place of this man.

If we are to take the earlier part of this Gospel reading to heart, perhaps we might reserve judgment on this foolish rich man.

Perhaps, instead of judging this young man with the benefit of hearing this story over and over again, perhaps in the light of the first part of this Gospel reading, we might reflect on this Gospel reading by asking ourselves two questions:

‘If money was no barrier, what would I buy?’


‘Would that choice reflect the priorities Christ sets us of loving God and loving one another?’

‘I will pull down my barns and build larger ones’ (Luke 12: 18) … an empty barn on my grandmother's former farm near Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 12: 13-21:

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14 But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15 And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16 Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18 Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

‘And I will say to my soul … relax, eat, drink, be merry’ (Luke 12: 19) … a summer lunch in Skerries, Co Dublin (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
Graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

O Lord,
grant us wisdom to recognise the treasures
you have stored up for us in heaven,
that we may never despair
but always rejoice and be thankful for the riches of your grace;
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
May we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.

‘And I will say to my soul … relax, eat, drink, be merry’ (Luke 12: 19) … waiting for dinner in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

Hosea 11: 1-11:

518, Bind us together, Lord
3, God is love: let heaven adore him
569, Hark, my soul, it is the Lord
211, Immortal love for ever full
7, My God, how wonderful thou art
231, My song is love unknown

Psalm 107: 1-9, 43:

683, All people that on earth do dwell
353, Give to our God immortal praise
30, Let us, with a gladsome mind
484, Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
361, Now thank we all our God
45, Praise, O praise our God and King
372, Through all the changing scenes of life
374, When all thy mercies, O my God

Ecclesiastes 1: 2, 12-14; 2: 18-23:

563, Commit your ways to God

Psalm 49: 1-12:

10, All my hope on God is founded
319, Father, of heaven, whose love profound
533, God of grace and God of glory

Colossians 3: 1-11:

260, Christ is alive! Let Christians sing
501, Christ is the world’s true light
566, Fight the good fight with all thy might
496, For the healing of the nations
268, Hail thou once–despisèd Jesus
522, In Christ there is no east or west
272, Jesus lives! thy terrors now
427, Let all mortal flesh keep silence
392, Now is eternal life
287, The whole bright world rejoices now

Luke 12: 13-21:

10, All my hope on God is founded
647, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
533, God of grace and God of glory
95, Jesu, priceless treasure
196, O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness

‘I will pull down my barns and build larger ones’ (Luke 12: 18) … an empty barn at harvest time by the banks of the River Slaney, between Bunclody and Enniscorthy, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)

‘I will pull down my barns and build larger ones’ (Luke 12: 18) … a barn on Cross in Hand Lane, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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