Tag Archives: trust

Whom Shall I Fear?

Whom Shall I Fear – Psalm 27:1

It always seems strange that we should be told to ‘fear’ God, but there is a real difference between being afraid of and fearing something. This difference is explored in my sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity and can be heard here or read below. The reading is Matthew 10:24-39

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

I wonder, what are the things that frighten you? Some people are afraid of the dark, others of creepy, crawly things, others of seemingly illogical inanimate objects, such as buttons or patterned carpets. Most of the time we can live with these fleeting moments of panic when we encounter these things, because our challenge is to put these ‘fears’ into perspective.

A few years ago, when I was sat 15,000 feet up in the air, with my legs dangling out of the door of a light aircraft, strapped to another human being whom I had only met about half an hour ago, relying on strips of canvas and silk panels to prevent me from plummeting to earth at speeds of up to 300 miles an hour, I was filled with a sense of fear for a brief moment, but logic told me I was in safe hands – this wasn’t my tandem partner’s first jump, everything had been checked and they knew what they were doing. Also, God knew what I was doing

There is a great difference between being afraid of something and fearing something. The former keeps us alert and aware of actual or perceived dangers, the latter works on our mind and conscience to allow us to make choices to mitigate what we might be fearful of. This morning’s gospel, therefore, continues Jesus’ message to his disciples of the challenges they will face in the coming days, weeks and years and reminds us of those same challenges that we face as disciples of Christ.

The passage starts though with a reminder that we don’t always have all the answers out of our own intelligence but need to emulate those considered to have a greater knowledge and understanding. I’m guessing though that the word that hits slap bang into our consciousness when we read the first verse is the word ‘slave’. We need to appreciate why Jesus should be so casual using this as an example. Here we have Jesus talking about slavery, which in this current time can be a divisive point of contention, and whilst not dismissing or condoning the abhorrent practice, we have to accept that slavery was just one circumstance of everyday life in Jesus’ time. Historically we have to acknowledge that this did happen and at the time was conventional, which is why Jesus is using it to highlight a disparity of power.

What Jesus appears to be saying is that until we gain knowledge there will always be those who have a position of power over us, but the good teacher passes on their learning in a way that empowers the student, the good employer seeks to build up their staff do the work to the best of their ability and both will inspire others to grow and even overtake them in knowledge and understanding

However, the ‘head’ of a household in which there is abuse, deceit and sometimes evil will simply wish to subjugate those under their control and deny them a chance to find freedom from fear which stifles their growth. If they choose to condone and uphold this way of thinking that is their choice; and shamefully, we have to acknowledge that it is very difficult for those who do break out of these situations without becoming unjustly tainted with the broad brush of prejudice. Fear is often the thing that holds them in thrall

‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered,
and nothing secret that will not become known.
What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light;
and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops’. 

To understand who ‘them’ refers to, we have to go back to last week’s gospel, when Jesus was warning his disciples about the coming persecutions they were to face, when they would handed over to the authorities, flogged and denigrated, betrayed by those they loved, brother betraying brother. They were to endure all of these things in order to achieve salvation, but it would be a fearful, uncompromising, itinerant life, but one which would eventually reveal the truth.

Nearly all of the original disciples would pay the ultimate price of having their lives cut short as they died at the hands of those who misunderstood the message they shared, who felt their authority was being threatened, who did not have respect for the value of a human life. However, it was their faith and their fear, not of humans but of God, that enabled them to bear this. That leads us though to question why we should ‘fear’ God, who after all is the essence of love.

The Jews, were certainly aware of this need to fear God, but knowing this did not mean that they forgot about love or that it was the greatest thing, but that they were sure that in relation to God there was both fear and love. Listen to what the psalmist says,

‘For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him’. Psalm 103:11-13

But we do not have to fear God in the way that we fear a tyrant or dictator, but it is a fear of awe and reverence and therefore provides us with the security that our souls and bodies will not be destroyed.

Neither the Jews nor Jesus ever attempted to sentimentalise the love of God; God is love, but God is also holiness. This reverent fear also brings reassurance for those who are willing to be disciples. From Proverbs (14:26-27), ‘Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death‘. God’s omnipotent power over life and death is tempered with the amazing revelation of our worth to him. The knowledge that God doesn’t let a sparrow fall without his knowing; who knows every hair on our head, and counts us as of more value than some birds that are sold in the marketplace two a penny, reassures us that God knows the temptations and dangers that we face in our life when we choose to acknowledge and follow God’s call to take his message into the world.

Just like Jesus was warning his disciples that they faced opposition and persecution, when we ‘preach’ the gospel either in our words or lives, we shouldn’t be surprised that our reception is not always met with enthusiasm. After all why should we expect a better reception than Jesus himself received? But fear of opposition should not be a reason to give up. We can feel afraid when we hear of fellow Christians suffering in many parts of the world, who are being persecuted for sharing their faith, but we can also uphold them in prayer. We can feel tension when we hear of divisions in families caused by firm stands on religious principles, but we can also pray for better understanding and a respectful peace.

Our fear of God should actually be an encouragement; to those that are faithful there is the ultimate divine reality of life. To those that deny it, there will be retribution. The fact is that our relationship and duty to Christ has to have priority over every other relationship, which sometimes means having to embrace a way of hardship, even of death

As we proclaim in the words from Deuteronomy (10:12) ‘What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul’, being a disciple of Jesus is a challenge, but the weight of your personal cross will never be too heavy for you to bear, even if sometimes it can seem so. With God, our fear should be based on the consequences should we fail to follow the teaching and guidance that he has given us through Jesus, and fail to trust that he has our back when we faced with dilemmas and situations that sometimes seem beyond our control

For what are we to be afraid of? The darkness; when we can’t see a way forward? The unknown, when we don’t understand what’s happening? The loss of love, when we feel rejected? Within our darkness there is light, within our confusion, there is clarity, within our desolation there is comfort. And in all of these we have one thing that we can hold onto with certainty, the love of God.

God is the ultimate person to be revered, God is the ultimate person to hold in awe, God is the ultimate person to trust with our lives. All others will fall short. When we choose to pick up the cross of Jesus, yes, we will be afraid from time to time, but ultimately it will be our fear of God that will secure the final victory over everything else.

Amen

Fear God’s Holiness In Awe And Wonder

Don’t Worry… Be Happy?

Sermon based on Matthew 6:25-34 and Romans 8:18-25

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

I was listening to a radio interview the other day in which it was mentioned that one of the most played songs recorded as background music in shops and pubs and shopping centres was a certain record by Bobby McFerrin. It becomes a kind of earworm and I’m sure you know it, and as we’ve warmed ourselves up with a couple of hymns, so I’ll sing the first couple of lines and you see if you can sing the two lines that come next…. okay, don’t leave me hanging! Also you need to imagine me singing with a slight Jamaican accent!

Here’s a little song I wrote…. you might want to sing it note for note… don’t worry…. be happy! [If you wouldn’t have known the song then here is a version of it on YouTube]

Well done, and that’s one less thing for me to worry about, as to whether any actual notes would come out of my mouth or whether you’d even recognise the song. Because it’s a fact that we worry constantly about so many things.

As children we worry about friendships in the playground and at birthday parties whether there will be enough chocolate fingers to go round. As teenagers our worries increase about how our bodies are changing and the likelihood of passing our exams. Onto young adulthood as to whether we will ever be attractive enough to attract a partner or attract society’s criticism if we choose to stay single.

And the worries don’t stop there, add in mortgages, career advancement, starting a family, financial insecurities and it’s a wonder that any of us make it to our advanced years, when the worries return about our health, bereavement and loneliness.

This morning’s gospel passage is upfront with a command from Jesus to not worry about our lives, our physical and outward appearances and our reliance on ourselves. It comes towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, and is part of a series of four passages that are all to do with earthly treasure, about not storing it up, about the need for generosity, looking to serve God instead of mammon and with not being anxious about material needs’

Matthew is talking about the focus of the heart, especially around service – but in doing so this naturally brings a sense of human insecurity; lots of buts and what ifs. We may have to work to earn money, but we don’t have to worry. How many of us today had to worry whether there was food in the cupboard for breakfast or didn’t have a choice of what they were going to wear. The frantic pursuit of food and drink and clothes is a sign of insecurity. It’s a lifestyle chosen by people who don’t really know God or who even want to.

For those who do want to know him better, Jesus says that we must learn to trust God and we are reminded that those who undertake the hard demands of the gospel have a Father in heaven who gives good gifts to his children. What really counts is God’s kingdom – if we put God and the kingdom first then everything will follow – and find its proper priority and place

As Paul recognises in his letter to the Romans, ‘that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay’, read self-destruction, ‘and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ concluding with ‘if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience’ – patience bringing contentment – contentment bringing happiness.

So, the answers simple, right… stop worrying and we’ll all be happy; but as my mother would often remind me, that’s easier said than done. Perhaps then, its more about changing our attitude to worrying that will bring about a change in our state of mind, in which we are more able to understand better how to deal with those worries. Or perhaps true happiness lies in seeing those worries for what they are.

The primary cause of worry or anxiety is fear, whether it is real or perceived. Apparently, Winston Churchill once said, ‘I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he’d had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.’ Therefore, we should be asking ourselves, are they worries or are they concerns? Because it’s okay to be concerned about your work, to buy insurance or to save for a rainy day, as long as you make time to enjoy simply being alive. It’s okay to be concerned about your cholesterol or blood pressure because you can do something about it such as watching your diet and exercising. It’s okay to be concerned about your child who is misbehaving because you can then take prudent action and administer discipline as necessary. There is a big difference between concern and worry… Concern focuses on probable events and takes action, whereas worry focuses on improbable events and doesn’t do anything productive.

In fact, it can be quite destructive.

Firstly, because worry cancels out faith and the message of the gospel. When we are obsessed with our worries, we are telling God that we don’t trust him. Instead, when we only trust ourselves, our hearts will turn away from God and we won’t see the good when it happens. Our choices will cause our hope to dry up; nothing will grow in our lives. The word worry itself comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word that means to choke or strangle, we only have to think about the parable of the sower when Jesus tells us about the seed that fell among the thorns which choked the plants to death. Having faith and trusting in God inevitably produces a positive attitude, when we have confidence in God we become firmly planted, thriving in life.

Secondly, worry itself causes health problems. It’s the kind of worry that makes you ill – physically and emotionally. It can paralyze us. It can cause an intense amount of fear and anxiety. It causes us to be less effective – more hesitant. It can be described as worrying about things we cannot change, about things we are not responsible for, things we are unable to control, things that frighten and torment us and keep us awake when we should be asleep, things that drain the joy out of our lives.

So often, we anticipate the negative so much that it destroys our peace and minimizes our effectiveness in the present. As someone once said, ‘If you’re tempted to worry, remember that a raisin was once a happy grape’… in the same way worry tends to shrivel us up and make us ineffective. Having faith instead gives us a positive outlook, a positive attitude that fills us with hope and allays our fears because it asks how are we to be defeated if we have God in our lives?

The final reason as to why we shouldn’t worry is because it accomplishes nothing. We can’t change a thing by worrying. In fact, Jesus says that it is a waste of our time, ‘Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?‘ He says that worry is futile; it’s pointless, it’s fruitless.

Accordingly, it’s all down to changing our attitude and outlook. Jesus tells us that the reason that we obsessively worry is because we are worldly-minded. We’re more concerned about the things of this world than we are with the things of God. When we change our perspective, the things of this world don’t seem so overwhelming. Why get so entangled and worked up with the things of this earth when they’re not going to last?

He also says that instead of struggling with obsessive worry we are to live one day at a time, ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’ Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, ‘When you follow me, everything will suddenly be wonderful’. It’s a fact that we live in a fallen world. Our actions as humans effect the environment around us. There will still be natural disasters, there will still be diseases like cancer. We may still face financial hardships and people will disappoint you and even be disrespectful to you – even your children. But worrying about tomorrow only takes away from the energy that you need to live today.

We serve a God who spoke the universe into existence, who showed his love for us on the cross at Calvary, who proved his power over sin and death when he rose from the grave. So, I’m pretty certain that he can handle our worries and in doing so help us find the ultimate state of happiness.

Amen

Sermon on the Mount by Jorge Cocco Santangelo

How Far Can We Trust God?

Trust blog

How far can we trust God?

Our readings for Evensong on the second Sunday in Advent bring us the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and his encounter with Gabriel in the Temple sanctuary. It gives us Luke’s introduction of how God’s divine plan is about to unfold…

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11Luke 1:1-25

May I speak and may you hear in the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This evening our gospel reading leads us further into our Advent preparations and on this second Sunday of Advent we are reminded of the work of the prophets, and in particular we remember John the Baptist who stands as a link between the Old and New Testament. However, this evening it is not directly about John, but his parents, especially his father’s pre-conceptual reaction to the news of his divinely ordained fatherhood.

It is with this story that Luke begins his gospel and being the historian he is he is at pains to include in his dedication the care he is taking to make sure that we have an orderly and accurate account. He doesn’t set out Jesus’ ancestral claims like Matthew does; or the symbolic prose of John, or even start with John, the adult baptiser, appearing in the wilderness to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy as in Mark’s gospel. No, Luke wants to start with a story of how people reacted to God’s preparations for the gift of his Son to the world. So, what does it tell us and how might we learn about our reactions from it?

We are introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth, chosen by God to play an important role in Jesus’ story. I think we can safely say that neither of them were lukewarm nominal believers. Their credentials meant that they were righteous in the sight of God. Zechariah serving as a priest in the order of Abijah, which can be translated as ‘my Father is Yahweh’, and Elizabeth claiming descendancy from Aaron, God’s original high priest at the time of the Exodus. They walked blamelessly and observed all the commandments. In other words, they were obedient servants of God. Yet, for Zechariah there was an area in his life that resulted in some trust issues.

We can imagine that for a long time they had tried hard to conceive a child and had prayed to God about it, but no doubt as they grew older they had given up hope that it was likely to happen. So it is fairly reasonable that when Zechariah, alone in the sanctuary and terrified at the sudden appearance of an angel, is told that not only is he going to be a father, but that his child will play a pivotal role in proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah, that his first response is, ‘Are you sure? What proof can you offer for this?’

‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’
Luke 1:18

He was confronted with a situation that required faith and trust. The faith bit he had in abundance but the trust was not so easy. Very often we too can face a lack of trust where God is concerned. It seems that we are happy to accept that love underpins our motivation to seek God and to follow his example but trust is harder to pin down. Often this difficulty has to do with our past experiences and our present situations. As humans our fall-back position is to initiate our self-reliance mode. It’s a primitive response to protect ourselves from perceived harm, thinking that we only have ourselves to rely on to get out of trouble

It can also be difficult to imagine stepping out of our comfort zones, but we have to remember that nothing is impossible with God, not even in areas where we have experienced nothing but failure, disappointments and frustration. We have to trust he is there to catch us when we fall and to uphold us as we move forward. It may be that we are holding back that trust because we are happy and comfortable to stay exactly where we are; but this can lead to stagnation; our faith never gets an opportunity to mature, or for our relationship with God to grow stronger as we grow closer to him.

God knows all things; he knows our hearts, our desire to be committed to him and sometimes our desire to be rebellious. But we have to be prepared to take the first necessary step to trust him in each area of our life. Take that step, then another and then the next one. This is the way to grow our faith in God, one step at a time… and how much easier is it as well to take those steps in the company of others, to be encouraged and to encourage each other. Because the more we hand over our lives to God and trust in him the more we can be freer to become the people that God is calling us to be.

With regard to Zechariah’s enforced silence following his lack of trust, I would not see this as a punishment for a lack of faith rather an opportunity for Zechariah to have space for reflection. If we fast forward to his son’s birth, we know that he had become reconciled to leaving things in God’s hands, for his first actions on having his speech restored to him was to speak in praise of God and to leave people amazed at just what his son was to become

We know he was to be ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ but we also know that we too can be responsible to make this happen in our own lives. From Proverbs 3 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.’

So, this Advent let us all be prepared to step away from self-reliance and instead step forward in faith and trust.

Amen

zechariah window

Zechariah and Gabriel at the incense altar in the Temple

Righteous Anger – A Necessary Emotion

The righteous anger of Jesus, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC

Mosaic of Christ in Majesty, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC. Often known as ‘The Angry Jesus’

The third Sunday of Lent sees Jesus clearing the temple in Jerusalem. It is one of the few times that we see him displaying such raw emotion as he angrily removes the ‘thieves‘ from his Father’s ‘house of prayerMatthew 21:13. Often we consider anger as a negative emotion but there are undoubtedly times when it is right to be angry. It is how we use that feeling and who we direct that anger to that can be important.

The sermon I delivered this morning reflect some of the nuances that I had heard in an Oxcept Lecture by Diocesan Canon Angela Tilby entitled ‘Fragile Selves: Shame and Healing in an Age of Envy‘ and an informal talk given by Reverend Joseph John from St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, Pakistan

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Let’s imagine I am driving down one of the side streets in Hedge End. There is a long row of parked cars on my side of the road, so glancing ahead, as it’s all clear, I pull over onto the other side of the road and start to overtake them. About fifty yards down the road another driver suddenly decides to pull out of their driveway and turn towards me. I can see they are determined to have their right of way. They gesticulate repeatedly that I should reverse back down the road, the whole fifty yards. I in turn glare and gesticulate that it would be easier for them to simply reverse back up their drive, but they are having none of it and start to shout something, which luckily is unheard through the windscreen; and which is also lucky because they can’t hear the words coming from my car either! Eventually, after what seems like several minutes of stalemate, I decide it is easier to simply reverse, and do so rather slowly and erratically as I can feel my heart beating rapidly and tears pricking at the corner of my eyes. The final hand gesture as the other car whooshes past, its driver’s eyes fixed straight ahead, was I feel unnecessary and I have to sit there for a few minutes to regain my composure and let the angry feelings subside.

I knew I’d ‘lost it’, rather like a toddler, kicking and screaming on a supermarket floor, and the whole incident served no real purpose other than to raise my blood pressure and make me feel slightly ashamed. The trouble is that when we ‘lose it’ then our anger, as an emotion, is selfish, destructive, and amoral… However, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians ‘Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger’, which tells us that anger in itself is not an emotion we should avoid altogether

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger
Ephesians 4:26

This morning we heard of Jesus’ very vivid and public display of anger and it comes as something of a shock… although not as much of a shock as it must have been for the animal traders and money changers. We much prefer to think of Jesus as meek and mild, gentle and loving, but as with all of his actions, his anger had a purpose.

And it wasn’t the first time he had displayed this emotion. In Capernaum, with the Pharisees waiting to accuse him of breaking the Sabbath by healing the man with a withered hand, ‘He looked around at them with anger; deeply grieved at their hardness of hearts’. Even his own disciples came in for a tongue-lashing occasionally. When Peter rebukes him for foretelling his death and resurrection, Jesus then rebukes Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’; hardly said with a mild sigh of, ‘Oh Peter, Peter, Peter. Let me explain it one more time’

Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things
Matthew 16:23

When Jesus gets angry he is angry for the right reasons. It is not a selfish anger but focussed on the behaviour and injustice involved. He is not angry about the ‘weaknesses’ of others, but arises out of his concern for their spiritual well-being; they are defiling God’s holiness and in the case of the temple, God’s worship. It does not involve hatred or ill will. He is also fully in control and knew that when he had achieved the desired result of accomplishing God’s will that there was no need to become bitter or to hold grudges

Sometimes we need to become angry about things that are happening around us and in the wider world, at the injustices we see being inflicted on innocent victims, the abuse of children and violence against those who are defenceless, but we need to do so for the same reasons and in the same manner that Jesus has demonstrated. We need to make our voices heard in certain situations where no other voices are speaking up, in other words we need to raise awareness of situations. People are very quick to complain about the church and Christians in general when they ‘poke their noses’ into social situations, but at least it shows we care enough to state an opinion that might upset someone! And we shouldn’t underestimate the effect that holding regular prayer vigils, such the monthly ecumenical world-wide prayers for the Middle East or the annual Women’s World of Prayer can have on bringing issues to a wider audience.

However, should we not be in a position to interact with the public sphere then taking our concerns to God in private can create a safe space in which to express our anger about a situation. As the psalmist points out, ‘With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him’. So there are occasions when we are justified in being angry and there are some things we are justified in being angry about. But what about when we are angry with God? What should we do then?

With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him
Psalm 142:1-2

Maybe we have to ask ourselves why we are angry with God. We often live our lives believing that life is supposed to be easy and that God should prevent tragedies from happening. When he doesn’t, we get angry with him. Sometimes we forget human involvement, with all its flaws and weaknesses and instead think that God has lost control of his creation and consequently our lives, so we blame God. It’s then that we realise our inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that in fact we are not always in control and that when things happen, it is then we have to trust that God understands the reason and that he will give us his peace and strength to get through any difficult situation. Trusting him in this way is an incredibly hard thing to do… but God is a God of compassion and hope, as well as being full of grace and love.

And God does understand when we get angry through frustration and disappointment. He knows our hearts and he knows how difficult and painful life can be in this world. Perhaps instead of being angry with God, we should pour out our hearts in prayer, and trust that he really is in control and that he already knows how these things fit into his ultimate plan for the world

Recently it was brought home to me how this trusting was more powerful than any acts of anger or retaliation could ever be. The Reverend Joseph John is currently on sabbatical at Cuddesdon College. He is a cathedral vicar at St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, Pakistan. When Pakistan achieved independence in 1947 a lot of its schools and hospitals were Christian institutions and even after 1956 when it was declared an Islamic Republic, the Christian communities, which now make up only 3% of the population, were successfully integrated as freedom of religion and equal citizenship was guaranteed to all citizens.

However, on the 22nd September 2013 two Taliban suicide bombers killed over 147 of the congregation at All Saints Church, Peshawar; among several of Joseph John’s close relatives. There was a lot to be angry about

Nearly two years later, whilst still seeking justice from the government, the Christians there have a wish is to be recognised and supported as the church that God called them to be. They know that they cannot simply expect God to produce peace, but must pray and work for it. This means listening deeply and trying to understand people who are different and also seeking to resolve differences without conflict and violence. The work that the church undertakes is not exclusively with Christians, in fact 95 percent of those benefitting from their education, development work and health care are Muslims.

They know that it requires courage and humility, and that it often requires sacrifice; but they continue to serve their neighbours, as Joseph John puts it, ‘by washing their wounds’. Their anger has been channelled into seeking justice and continuing to act faithfully because they trust that God is with them in this work and has a plan for all the people of Pakistan, even if they don’t know exactly what it is at this moment in time.

When Jesus speaks of the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days, those with him are also unable to see the connections to the bigger picture until it is revealed through Christ’s resurrection; then the pieces fell into place. Their knowledge and wisdom is limited to what the human mind tells them is logical. So are we foolish to proclaim Christ crucified, in order to save all who would believe its message? Human wisdom appears weak because it requires proof and concrete knowledge, but God’s wisdom and power dwarfs our understanding and therefore we just have to hand over ourselves to him and trust that eventually that wider vision will be revealed in all its glory. Amen

Concrete things as against those only glimpsed dimly

Concrete things as against those only glimpsed dimly

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
don’t rely on your own intelligence.
Proverbs 3:5

Let’s Talk About Money

Generous Giving

Generous Giving

I was recently asked to preach a sermon on giving. Not that our giving isn’t already generous in so many ways, but from time to time it’s useful to be reminded not only why we need to give as a response to a generous God, but also how we need to respond to requests to review our level of giving. This topic can be quite a tricky one for lots of churches and so I thought it would be good to share a slightly adapted version. The readings that informed these ideas were Deuteronomy 15:1-11; 2 Corinthians 8:1-3, 9:6-12 and Matthew 6:19-34.

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Today, on Bible Sunday, as on any day really, we are asked to think carefully about how important the bible is in helping to bring us closer to and to know God better; about his plans for us and for his world and just what our part in those plans might be, as followers of Christ… and it’s important to remember that ALL of us have a part to play.

The passages above all have a common theme running through them – they speak of the generosity of a God who knows no limit to his blessings for us, and they help us see the response that is expected on our part… to be equally generous in our giving, both of ourselves physically and our prosperity materially. So, I could say that I’m not going to ask you to give serious thought as to what and how you give – but quite honestly that would be as blatant a lie as those telephone calls you get from time to time….

‘Hello madam. How are you today…. now don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell you anything…..’

Now perhaps, like me, you occasionally want to slam the phone down immediately, because you know that that’s exactly what they do want to do, and it’s annoying that they don’t just say straight out what they want from you; so perhaps you will choose to stop reading at this point and click off of the page. But what I am asking you to do… in fact what I’d rather you did, is to carry on and discover some of the reasons, all revealed and supported within the bible, as to how and why each of us needs to be as generous as we are able, and afterwards to spend some time reflecting and praying about your levels of giving and what you might do about that.

We hate talking openly about money, it makes us feel uncomfortable, sometimes we feel a sense of indignation or even guilt but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be talked about. As church members it can seem that the Church is always asking for more… more of our time, more of our money… so that we’re never left in peace. There’s always some job that needs paying for; the parish share to be met, the books to be balanced. So why then should we give?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also – Matthew 6:21

If we drive a car we know that we have to pay out to maintain it, if we don’t then eventually the car will stop working and it will be very expensive to repair or replace. If we have a hobby we have to invest a bit of money setting ourselves up with materials and equipment and as we get more proficient at it we may have to spent a bit more on different tools. The buildings in which we sit for church, have been dedicated and sanctified as a place where Christians can gather. If they fell down around our ears we could still gather there, because they’re not just buildings. They also aren’t buildings that should be preserved as pristine museums, so that people can drop in and visit it and say how wonderful it must have been to worship there; so it seems sensible that we try and ensure that we and future generations at least have a roof over our heads.

Therefore, our giving enables worship – whether we are giving of our time on Sunday to be with God, sing his praise, hear his word, share his sacraments, which is the first part of our giving. Or the second part, that our giving of money helps maintain the holy place where we worship, a place of history, a place of beauty, a place of peace and challenge, a place to glorify God.

Our giving of money also helps provide wages and resources for those who minister to us, who lead us in worship, for our music and others who enrich our worship. We need people leading us who are trained and knowledgeable and dedicated to helping us grow in our knowledge of Christ both in word and deed. If we are to sustain and enable that leadership we have to understand that it costs. The early church often paid its leaders in kind – in Matthew’s gospel for example:

Go and preach, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is near!’ … Do not carry any gold, silver, or copper money in your pockets; do not carry a beggar’s bag for the trip or an extra shirt or shoes or a walking stick. Workers should be given what they need – Matthew 10:7, 9-10

Likewise, the medieval church, who asked for donations of bread, wheat, mead and vegetables; although we’ve moved on from that now and use money instead, which is much better because quite frankly I don’t think our ministers or anyone else we have to support could cope with vast quantities of eggs and butter and pots of jam landing on their doorsteps and I’m pretty certain the gas board or the petrol station or the local council wouldn’t understand either when they tried a bit of bartering for their bills.

Our giving enables discipleship – Our giving of time and talent can help children and young people grow in the Christian faith and help those who study together to understand the gospel more fully, so that all can learn how to live faithfully. But it is our giving of money that can help provide resources for this learning, both in our own congregation and throughout our dioceses.

I wonder though how many of us use our own money to provide resources for the church? We think we are being generous… and we are, but we’re actually hiding the true cost of discipleship. We should be coming to the church and our treasurer and saying in order to do this it’s going to cost this, please can you reimburse me. Of course it may be that after having received the money you decide to offer it back as a donation, and you can say that that’s a load of faff, but it’s more valuable that we do realise the true cost. However, we don’t have a bottomless pit of money, but if we all become more aware then we can make sure that we can all contribute to that.

Our giving enables service – our giving of time and talent can assist our congregation in its service to the community, caring for some of those who are most vulnerable in our society. Every single church member can say that they give to the church, in so many different and diverse ways, you serve at his altar, you sing in the choir, you make cups of tea, you comfort the sick, the lonely and the bereaved, you clean, you organise, you lead, you turn up each week; and that’s absolutely wonderful and very sacrificial, but that can’t be treated wholly as a substitute for financial giving

One of the hardest passages in the bible to read is that of the young man who wants to follow Jesus, he knows exactly how he should behave and treat others, he does all those things that we can all do it without dipping our hands into our pockets, but Jesus says it’s not enough, you have to shed your reluctance and reliance on making sure that your nest egg is large enough and instead trust God that he will provide for you.

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear … your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well – Matthew 6:31-33

I can almost hear you thinking, ‘Yes, but it would be super if we actually got to use the money that we give, on things that we want to happen and support,’ and it’s true that over the last few years I’ve got tired of thinking that every penny we give is often not quite sufficient to meet the demands of the diocesan Parish Share and has to be topped up by such hard work by the fundraising and social committees.

However, giving to an overarching hierarchy is nothing new either – the early churches were doing it when collecting for the church in Jerusalem, and they appears to do it with a spirit of generosity like the churches in Macedonia; but I believe things will change, particularly in the Winchester Diocese over the next few years, and that hopefully we might be in the more joyful position of deciding exactly what we want to spend our money on with the Parish Share review; which doesn’t mean that we have less to raise but it does mean that we can really get stuck into thinking of way in which the Good news can be brought to more people.

And there’s the nub… Our giving reflects our faith. We could say ‘why can’t the church do less, cut its cloth according to its means, and be content with what we already do, with what we already give’. Well, I suppose that’s one way to go – we could become more inclusive, look after our church; our people, but that would be like ‘storing up for ourselves, ‘treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal -Matthew 6:20

Surely, we have to realised what the real treasure is – that God has given us life and love, that he has shown us the extent of this love in the life and death of Jesus and that he has promised us new life through Jesus’ resurrection. Right now we can hear the good news of the gospel… and it certainly is good news for ourselves; it’s good news to know that we have personal salvation, it’s such good news that we almost what to hug it and keep it close to us. Yet, if it’s such good news for us why aren’t we bursting to share it with other – the gospel that we proclaim by word and example is a gospel for the world, a gospel for everyone. As Jesus said to his first disciples:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age – Matthew 28:19-20

I think sometimes we forget that each us of is individually called to proclaim the Gospel, not just a special few, but everyone. So our giving enables mission – our giving of time and talents assists in providing outreach to the community, providing a Christian presence in every part of life, while our giving of money helps to fund projects to bring the gospel to those who have yet to be challenged by it, and enabling the wider Church to comment on the social, moral and political issues of our time.

How more effective it is, when the world takes notice because it sees a group of people who are willing to make generous investment of their time, energy, gifts and money to share and spread the gospel…

The Widow's Mite by James C. Christensen

The Widow’s Mite by James C. Christensen

God calls us to be infinitely generous, like the widow and her mite in Luke’s gospel:

For the others offered their gifts from what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, gave all she had to live on – Luke 21:4

That’s a really hard message to hear and live out, but what about making a start by at least considering what we have to spare…maybe we’re still reluctant sometimes to increase our giving because we honestly don’t think we have any money to spare

A Hotey Money Box

A Hotey Money Box

I actually surprised myself the other day when I looked at my ‘hotey’ money box. ‘Hotey’ – as in Don Quixote? Yes, I know he’s lost an ear, but it steadfastly refuses to stick back on… We made these at the beginning of Lent. So every time I come back from the shops and have those small coins that make your purse or wallet bulge I pop them in the box, and I also help my husband David prevent himself from wearing holes in his trouser pockets by relieving him of his pocket shrapnel as well…

As you can see it’s pretty full now, and looking at it I think there’s at least £50 in there – just made up of the small amounts of money that was spare and that we haven’t really missed – on average £3 a week … and it doesn’t have to be saved up to be given as a one off gift. Those are great for specific purposes, but it’s much more valuable knowing as a church that you are receiving a regular income, so that you can plan and budget for all the things you want to do and support. That’s not to say that we all have a lot to spare, all of our circumstances are different, but it was interesting to realise that perhaps if we do have some spare capacity to consider what we could do with it. Just imagine if everyone only had a spare 50p a week to increase their regular giving – an average congregation of 70 people could be equally sharing an increase of £1820 per year – a £1 would double that to £3640.

At the beginning, I said that I wanted this to be an opportunity to hear how and why each of us needs to be as generous as we are able, using the bible as our guide. It was not my aim to make anyone feel angry or guilty, but for you to go away prepared to review and reflect, and to then come to a decision, so that the next time you are approached to consider increasing your giving you know what your answer will be. At the end of the day, as Paul said to the Corinthians:

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver – 2 Corinthians 9:7

Our giving of time, talent and money is a giving for the Gospel… for the Good News, and this fact was brought home to me the other day when I was privileged to be able to look through and choose some books that Sheila and Gordon Rose’s family had passed on to the church; among them were several bibles, and in many of them were personal greetings. One that stood out for me was this one in the front of  a Good News bible.

Gordon had written ‘To Sheila, hoping that it will always be “Good News”’

However on this Bible Sunday, I’m going to let Sheila have the last word, with a prayer that she had written and that was tucked into the front of her bible

A Prayer on Opening My Bible
As I settle for this time of quiet, O God, hush my heart and quicken my understanding.
I bless you for scribes, scholars and translators who have served your holy will.
I bless you for the great Bible Societies that have made this book available in my language.
I pray for a living expectancy, as I wait to learn what you will say to me as I read.
I pray for courage to face new challenges and to embrace new truth
For Christ’s son
Amen

Sermon delivered on Bible Sunday, 26th October 2014