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"Rich toward God", St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, June 6, 2010

06 June 2010

Luke 12 : 13-21
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, June 6, 2010

Sermon by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC)

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ!

Are you rich? Are you “rich toward God”?

“The things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

To be rich toward God is to share. Today in this eucharist service, we are sharing together the gifts of God, in this liturgy of thanksgiving to the triune God that reminds us always that the highest wisdom in life is to share.

This is indeed a day for thanksgiving. It is 100 years since the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference and I'm here to participate in the Edinburgh 2010 anniversary event. I greet you all in the name of the World Council of Churches a true child of what began here in Edinburgh. It is a real honour and joy for me to be invited to share the Gospel and preach at this eucharist service here in St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. We have been thanking God for how the ecumenical movement was sparked and inspired by the common commitment to share the Gospel of Christ in the whole world, and how God again gathers disciples of Christ from the whole world in this place, under the theme: “Witnessing to Christ Today”. I want to express our gratitude particularly to the local churches of Edinburgh, for what you contributed to make this happen then - and now.

We are indeed harvesting significant fruits of the movement that started here, and doing so in many ways. Let me mention just one.

When I was a pastor of four islands off the western coast of Norway, across the waters from here, I remember one fisherman telling me that he had been more often to Edinburgh than to Oslo, the capital of Norway. The communication between our countries has been significant. This man told me that he quite often visited the cathedrals and churches of Edinburgh, but did not dare to receive communion. If I had been here 100 years ago, I am not sure either whether as a Norwegian Lutheran pastor, I would have been invited to communion or to preach in the Episcopal Church. Now, the ecumenical dialogues have led to full communion between Nordic and Baltic Lutheran churches and the Anglican churches in Britain and Ireland. This is based on the document called the Porvoo agreement, but the full title of it is: “Together in Mission and Ministry.” This is a much more appropriate description of why we are all here today.

There is a saying in my country that you do not know your family until you have to divide the family inheritance with them. The sharp analysis in this saying corresponds very well to the parable of Jesus, told to people who were not able to divide their inheritance fairly. The deep need and desire to accumulate, to make the barns bigger, to acquire more and more, much more than you need, is in the end so very - human. We see it everywhere, in all places in the world. You  have a good word for this in english: Greed.  In Norwegian we have another word: “Havesyke”  – literally: the sickness of having ever more. And we see more and more ugly examples of this, the more money and riches that we see.

Being together in a global conference, we know that the enormous economic exploitation of the global south from the time of colonialization has continued, and the gap of economic unjustice is increasing still. In addition, we have an increasing gap between the richest and poorest within all countries of the world. This is to a large extent something that could and should be addressed as a concern of the mission of the church.

The ingenuity that leads to the accumulating of goods and riches is not an expression of wisdom. As the text says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you.” This is also so very – human. Life is short, life is unpredictable, life is vulnerable.

The wisdom of riches is in sharing. The goodness of possessions can only really increase if they are shared. The richness of life can only increase if it becomes life that is shared. This is what it means to be rich towards God.

What has this to do with mission?  Or unity?

Well, everything! This is what it is all about. The most valuable things in our lives are those we have received as gifts. Life itself, the good creation in which we live, our friendships, the love of the other who promised to share life with me, the smile of my child, the wisdom of our parents, faith in God, the fellowship we have with other believers, the church, the Gospel, the call to serve and share: all these are gifts. The mission movement is something I have been part of since my childhood and one that has given me some of the strongest impulses to learn the meaning of sharing - also our material resources. Mission means sharing the gifts that we have received. To “be one” is to share the gifts we receive from one another.

In the ecumenical movement I have learned about the liturgy after the liturgy; the sharing of our resources with those who need them is an immediate consequence of celebrating the sacrament of thanksgiving and sharing.

We are called not only to share material goods, but also to share our prayers and our compassion. At this time and in this place we think of those in Cumbria who need our prayers and compassion. We think of those who have lost their most precious gifts, those who were most precious to them - a child, a parent, a partner …  just as we share our resources, our prayers and our compassion with others who are in need at this time in all place in the world.

Therefore, it is not possible to share the Gospel without sharing  what we have.

To witness to Christ is to preach the Gospel of forgiveness of sins, even of greed, and, therefore also to address greed as an obstacle to  justice, to peace and therefore an obstacle to being one

There are differences in this world that God does not want. There are more and bigger barns – literally speaking – than are needed, and can ever be needed.

More than ever, the world needs real Christian values, spiritual values, to have the courage to share – before it is too late. This week we said and prayed together:

“We treasure within us
Not our wealth
But the riches of heaven
Given to renew us at this time and on this earth.”

Dear sisters and brothers! In Christ, let us be wise and share our inheritance, to the glory of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!