Sunday, February 27, 2011

Strive first for the kingdom of God

Matthew 6: 25-34

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Sermon  27 Feb 2011

May my words be in the of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

There's an old Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times … the reason why it is a curse is because interesting times bring with them all kinds of uncertainty and suffering … and looking at the newspaper headlines, we certainly seem to be living in interesting times … an earthquake in New Zealand … revolution and regime change in the Middle East … and in our own small corner of the world a general election that comes hard on the heels of an economic meltdown … all the parties and candidates promised they would sort out our economic problems … well the voting is done … the time for promises is over … and I'm sure the new government as it forms will have the heartfelt prayers of us all that they will be able to live up to the promises made and remove some of the uncertainty and suffering from our lives … indeed, I'm sure there are people praying at the moment who wouldn't usually be praying!

And in the context of what we have been going through over the last while in this country it is hard not to be drawn to some of the verses in today's readings: first there is the one from Romans: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. And then there is our Gospel reading: do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Looking at the Gospel reading first, I think it is worth remembering who it was that Jesus was talking to in this passage. This is part of the sermon on the mount and Jesus' hearers are the apostles and other disciples … and these are people from a dirt poor background … fishermen, sheep and goat herders, labourers … the poorest of the poor in a desert land who had to scratch and struggle for every mouthful of food and sip of water … who had one change of clothes if they were lucky … and whose cloak served as a blanket at night as they slept on a mat on the floor of their one room mud-brick house … people who not only had next to nothing, but were savagely taxed on it by an oppressive regime.

These are the people that Jesus is telling not to worry about what they will eat or drink or wear … God knows they need these things and will provide … but if they make life all about these things, then they miss out on the bigger picture … life is more than these things … and if Jesus says this to those who are so poor … how much more does he say it to us whose current economic difficulties are very small in comparison … for whom the current recession means a reduction in living standards, but only relative to how good we had things a couple of years ago …

That is not to say that it isn't hard … I, like many of you, wince every time I have to fill up the car with petrol, and wonder how on earth I will make ends meet when faced with a combination of higher prices and increased taxes … life isn't easy … it never was … that is what Paul is talking about when he refers to the sufferings of the present time … he wasn't talking about what a tough time that his readers were going through at that time … if we look at what it says before that in the letter to the Romans we realise that what Paul is talking about is this life of sin and suffering and death … sometimes we can hide from the knowledge of what life is really life behind a façade of material goods and the pleasures of instant gratification … but ultimately reality catches up with us … whether through a change in economic circumstances or through the pain of the loss of a loved or by coming face to face with our own fragility and mortality … there is no escaping the sufferings of this present time … and if we have nothing in our lives but the material … the clothes, the food, the good times … then we are ill-equipped when reality comes knocking on our door … all the good things become meaningless … and everything else becomes meaningless also … that is why Paul says that these sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us … because as children of God we have hope … a hope made real to us through the resurrection of Christ … a hope that is ours through our baptisms … a hope that is nourished as we gather round the table of the Lord to share in Holy Communion … we need the material things … but if we have nothing in our lives but the struggle to acquire them, then we have nothing … and so I say to you: may you live in interesting times, not as a curse, but as a blessing … because interesting times remind us that there is more to life than food and drink … interesting times remind us of our need for hope … and of the hope we have in Christ … Amen

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Loving those who hate us

Matthew 5: 38-48

38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Sermon 20 Feb 2011

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of allour hearts be in the name of almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

My wife and I are watching on DVD a Granada Television series called 'Micawber,' based on the Charles Dickens character from David Copperfield. Micawber was the man who's financial life was a bit of disaster because instead of going out and looking for opportunities he daily expected that 'something would turn up.' In the meantime that involved a lot of scraping by and making do, and pawning this and that, and borrowing from others … in one scene from the series we see a money lender going through his books and discovering that Micawber has borrowed a large sum from him, hasn't paid a penny back, and the interest is mounting up. The money-lender becomes apoplectic with rage … 'don't get me wrong,' he roars, 'I'm a good Christian – but charity? No sir!'

The humour of that particular remark, as you'll no doubt appreciate, is that the money-lender is on the one hand declaring himself to be a Christian, while at the same time denying a fundamental tenet of Christianity … part of the humour comes from the fact that we all know people like that … people who would say they are Christians and yet the way they lead their lives gives no indication that they are … and part, at a deeper level, comes from what might be called awkward amusement … a bit of a nervous laugh … because even though we might not be as open about it or as extreme as the money-lender in Micawber, yet to some degree all of our lives are a bit like his … you've all no doubt heard the expression 'a la carte Christian' – the kind of person who picks what he likes from the menu of faith and leaves the rest … an even better expression has become popular in America – 'Cafeteria Christians' … 'a la carte' makes it sound a bit chic and sophisticated, whereas 'cafeteria' knocks all the glamour out of it …

There are a lot of 'hard sayings' in the Bible .. one of the hardest has to be the one we hear from Jesus today: 'But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' For most of us, it's easy enough to go through life not stealing or murdering … at least I hope it is! But then we run into the hard parts … loving those who hate us … forgiving those who have done us wrong … it says in Leviticus that we should love our neighbour as ourself … and that's easy enough when our neighbour is a pleasant person, who is like ourself, and who has done us no wrong and means us no harm … but it's a lot harder to love that person like ourself when they are the one who has struck us on the cheek … or messed up the economy and pushed our taxes up and level of public services down … or put bombs on planes and made the world a scary place for us all to live in … but St Paul tells us that these too are God's temple, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor) … and Jesus reminds us that the very people we would like to hate because of all the wrong that they have done to us and others … well even they have no problems loving those who are nice to them … if we do no more than that, we are no better than those we wish to look down on, to blame, to condemn …

If we are truly Christians, conscious of the fact that we are joined to Christ in our baptisms, called to model our lives on his, always seeking everyday to be better and better with God's help and Grace … then we have no choice … it may not be easy … but Jesus tells us we must be perfect, even as his father in heaven is perfect … Now we may never be perfect … as human beings that is impossible … but for God, nothing is impossible … he will give us the strength and the courage to do this, if we are willing to let him … one of the ways we can do this, is that even when we do not feel love towards someone, we act towards them as if we love them … perhaps be even more alert, more careful to act lovingly towards them, knowing that we can not trust our own natural instincts and inclinations to lead us to behave lovingly towards them … over time this behaviour will become a habit … and who knows, you may surprise yourself and one day actually find that you do love them … to not try to live this way is to become like the money-lender in Micawber, only instead our cry would be: 'I'm a good Christian – but love and forgiveness? No sir!' Something I pray that you and I and all who claim to follow Christ may never do or say ...Amen