Is it only me or when you were little did you ever play shops?
My Grandma lived right next door to us way back when, and my dad knocked a hole in the garden wall, so that I could run through whenever I wanted.
The one exciting thing in Grandma’s house was the cupboard under the stairs where she kept a treasure trove of tinned food that no one was allowed to open. Cans of oxtail soup and jars of Bird’s custard powder.
Tins of Spam and Pease Pudding and a thing called London Grill with beans, sausages, bacon and kidneys all mashed in together for a wonderful feast.
I was permitted to get all those tins out and play with them – but “Why can’t we open some of them Grandma?” I remember constantly asking.
“Because you never know” was all she ever replied.
There is a subtle contrast of themes in our two readings this morning.
In the Epistle to the Galatians – Paul tells us that the only thing we need to be concerned with is glorying in the cross of Christ and then in our Gospel we meet a man whose only concern was to build bigger barns in which to store his goods.
Crosses and barns… the one a symbol of sacrifice and giving away out of love for others… the other a symbol of greed and holding on to out of love for the self.
And in our lives we veer between each sometimes quite alarmingly.
I want to do my best to help others, I really do, but at the same time I hold something back because I have an instinct to look after myself and my household and no one is going to blame me for that are they?
St Francis of Assisi began his life with the emphasis firmly on his barns. He came from wealthy stock and it was assumed that he would continue to build up the family business. But he became more and more unsettled by this way of life and, behind his Father’s back, he gave away the profit of the firm for the repair of a church roof. Francis realised that he had got his priorities wrong. So he turned his back completely on his former ways to give himself in the service of others and when his life drew to its close, he was blessed with the stigmata, the signs of the wounds of Christ inflicted upon the cross, upon his very body.
From a barn to a cross was the actual pilgrimage of his life.
From a life of being safe and protected and comfortable – to one where he was battered and torn to the extent that he began to assume the likeness of Christ.
I have thought about the story Jesus told quite frequently as our Foodbank has moved into unchartered waters. From a couple of cupboards at the back of the church into a huge operation which has required us building bigger barns in which to store our growing stock. Under these brown covers you will find all manner of food and in the parish room, and on the stage, and in a couple of weeks time – the top end of our car park will have a portacabin sited there and even with this, none of us quite know how we will meet the needs of everyone if indeed we are headed for a grim second spike.
Barns and crosses. Storing and sharing. Giving and taking. Thinking of others and thinking of ourselves and our lives swinging like pendulums over it all. How can we know we have the balance right?
I see that whole conundrum as being at the heart of our priorities in these days. How to balance measures to tackle the virus both in the direction of saving jobs and securing the economy on one hand whilst at the same time the need to save lives and secure our well being on the other.
In this the tensions between barns and crosses are again in sharp relief.
In this the competing elements of Francis’s lie come back to challenge us.
But think on this…
If a barn is to stand upright, it needs to be properly secured and one of the features of a barn roof as indeed also the roof of a church – is its cross beam and that seems significant to me.
That if I am to store things, hold on to things, accumulate things, unless those intentions stand under the cross beam – they will come crashing down.
If there is any glory to be had, says Paul, it is in the extent to which the peace and the mercy we find in Christ is mirrored in us and shared with others.
And in this, knowing we are not all called to leave home behind as Francis did, we are not all called to give our lives over to death as many of the saints did – but we are all called to take responsibility for that which we have and if we have our barns, to let them be held together by the cross beam.
Because you never know said my Grandma when I asked her about all that food. Of course she remembered the second world war and she remembered the rationing that followed and she remembered bringing my dad up on her own with very little when her husband died tragically young.
You could say her barn was built on the foundation of bitter experience and a determination to make things better for those generations following. There was in my view a cross beam in that cupboard under those stairs.
Jesus saw through those who said they would take up their cross – beam and follow him and those who in the end wouldn’t.
A rich young ruler went away sadly because he simply couldn’t do it. Judas, I think understood what Jesus was saying maybe more than some of the others, and he wrestled with the tension between his barn and his master’s cross and in the end the thirty pieces of silver tragically tipped the balance.
Jesus tells the story of a rich man – who lived sumptuously and just did not see the poor man languishing at his gate – he just did not see him – his barn was his all.
I sat in this church just last week with a couple who want their banns of marriage read next year “What do you think God is saying to us” asked the bride to be as she gazed wide eyed at the altar and the windows and the shopping bags and the tins of food.
“I think he is opening our eyes” I found myself saying and I left it at that.
And in hindsight – maybe I’d take that thought a little further – as a miracle in touching distance for each of us – for as he sat in his church, that’s precisely what God did in the life of Francis and perhaps does in each of our lives.
Searching for the cross beam in our own barn constructions and making sure that this and this alone is what holds us up.
LUKE 12: 13-21