Feeding of the Five Thousand. Who is really in charge?

Today’s Gospel reading is a story I’m sure you will have heard many, many times. It’s an old favourite of school assemblies and primary school RE lessons.  The Feeding of the Five Thousand is a wonderful story of God’s generosity and of how He uses our offerings to make something much bigger.  This is all so true.  We have a God of unfailing abundance.  He gives us so much.  He puts us, as St Paul in his letter to the Hebrews says, a little lower than angels.  He values us unconditionally and loves us more than we can imagine.  Now, that in itself is a wonderful lesson to take from a Gospel reading.  But this one comes with a word of caution too.  You might well have mentally switched off after the part where the baskets of food were collected.  Maybe you registered the bit about Jesus walking on water.  It’s understandable that those would have seemed like the main parts of the story.

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Initially I thought they were the most important parts of the story.  It took me a couple of readings to realise the significance of what happens next. After Jesus had fed everyone, they wanted to make him a King.  The crowd recognised his authority and power came from God, connected him with the old prophesies of the Messiah coming to save them, and wanted to claim that earthly authority for him.  This wasn’t what Jesus wanted.  His ministry was never to be based on what the earth recognises as power and authority. He wasn’t going to be claiming salvation by fighting wars between nations, by overthrowing occupying armies by force … Jesus wanted to free from oppression and restore society to correct relationships of love and respect.   That doesn’t happen from a throne where wealth holds power and the already powerful are the only ones whose voice is ever allowed to be heard. Jesus as an earthly king was never in the plan.  So he refused.  He withdrew. He went off to the mountain alone.

I can imagine confusion from the crowd.  Why would he not want to be made into King?  Surely that would show him how much they valued him and would fight with him? They could raise up a great army. Why would he not want that?  Did his ministry really just consist of a few pieces of bread and fish?  This is not how they were expecting him to behave.  This is not the way they wanted it.

Then we see the disciples going off in the boat.  I find myself wondering what conversations were going on … How the disciples had felt when Jesus left them to deal with the crowd.  I wonder if they understood what had made him disappear and whether they tried to explain that his leadership wasn’t going to fit in with their limited ideas of what power should look like.

If they did get it, I’m not sure they completely got it.  Because whilst they are in the boat, they run into a bit of bad weather and see Jesus walking on the water to them.  He tells them not to be afraid.  Their first reaction is to try to take him into the boat with them. That is how they imagine he will save them.  But it doesn’t work out like that.  Jesus doesn’t get in and get them to safety.  Instead, suddenly the boat gets to land.  Jesus has got them to safety, but not in the way they expected.

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That holds so much resonance for me.  I have spent so long telling God what I expect Him to do.  My prayers can often be a list of instructions.  I expect God to comply with my wishes and I’m more than a little disappointed if my instructions are not carried out in a timely manner to my complete satisfaction.  I expect God to agree with my point of view on everything.  You know, if I had any interest in football, I think I’d probably expect God to support the same team as me.

If God did work in the world exactly as I wanted Him to, what would that mean that God is?  What would that mean that I am?  God is not my puppet.  And I am not the puppet master.  We are so tempted to create an image of God that works for us.  We make Him in our own image and when that falls down and God insists on being God, we can feel frustrated and let down.

What would happen if we trusted God to be God?  What if we trusted that God would get us home safely and would provide for us? Would it make us more prepared to offer our small gifts to Him to use, like the boy with the loaves and the fish?

When we come to God recognising His authority and power and not insisting on our own, He does amazing things.

S will be baptised in a few moments.  She comes without any expectations of what God will do for her.  She doesn’t come with a shopping list of miracles she needs Him to perform, and to perform NOW!  She comes in complete innocence ready to accept His grace without conditions. When we come to the table to receive Communion, we do so because we want to receive God into ourselves.  That’s it.  We don’t have a list of conditions in that moment.  We, like S, come in innocence, ready to accept His grace. That sounds so freeing!  We don’t have to always be in charge.  It reminds me of the phrase “let go and let God”. Just ‘be’ in the knowledge that we are loved.

Sacraments like communion and baptism were described by St Augustine as an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.  I want to give you something to think about:  Could we truly become a living sacrament, ready to receive God’s will and trust in his love?  What would it look like to be an outward sign in the world of Christ’s inward grace in our lives?   What difference would it make if we could be a sign of God’s presence in the world, working towards His peace, trusting that He is in charge and allowing ourselves not to be?

 

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Feeling Unprepared?

This is my first sermon preached at St Mark’s Hamilton Terrace during the parish communion and baptism of N.

(Mark 6: 1-13  The sending out of the 12)

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I don’t know if you’ve heard of ‘Imposter Syndrome’.  I imagine most of us are familiar with the sensation when we start a new job, pick up a new responsibility, or even when we become parents for the first time, that we worry we might not be up to the task, however much confident and successful we might appear on the outside, almost like we are impostors. Nathaniel, I wonder if your parents felt like that when you first arrived?  Well if they did, they’re in very good company, as I think this is a feeling at least some of the 12 may have experienced in today’s Gospel reading.

Jesus sent them out to take on a very new role.  Instead of just following him around and learning from him, they were to teach others and take their part in his work.  He obviously had complete faith in their ability. The truth is, if you looked at them, who they were, where they had come from, you would be forgiven for saying that they weren’t up to the task and that Jesus had made a bad call sending them.  How could they be up to it?  At a very basic level; they hadn’t got any provisions with them or any money.  They must have felt rather vulnerable.  It sounds like absolute madness to go out like this.  And beside the physical concerns, remember, this was before they had been equipped at Pentecost with the Holy Spirit.  They hadn’t even experienced the Last Supper, never mind the Crucifixion or Resurrection. None of them had, by this point, declared Jesus to be Lord.  It seems they were as badly prepared spiritually as they were physically.  In a culture where spiritual leadership was given to people who were highly respected and powerful, this rabble, drawn from the fishing boats, the tax collectors and the political revolutionaries, must have looked completely unconvincing.

And yet Jesus told them to go.

Now, the Gospel writer doesn’t tell us what discussions were had, but I would like to imagine that some of the 12 were less happy to follow this command than others.  I have this picture of them sighing between themselves and a few rolling their eyes.  I guess at least one was actually frightened.  I wonder if any of them objected or even wondered to themselves if they should maybe try to find a way out of it.  Did any of them tell Jesus or the others that they simply weren’t up to the task, that no one was likely to listen to people like them?  We simply don’t know.  But what we do know is that, whatever dialogue was going on … whatever doubts they had about their own abilities … they went.  The 12, these imposters, followed the instructions they had been given and, unprepared and inadequate as they were, they went out into the villages to try to carry out the task that had been set them.

But that’s not the end of the story … not only did they go, they made a good job of it.  The Gospel says, they went out and preached the Good News and they healed people.  Not just one or two people … but many!  I suppose, like Jesus himself experienced at the beginning of that passage, there were people who would not accept what they had to say … who would not accept that they spoke with any authority … people whose houses they would leave, shaking the dust from their feet as they went … but it’s interesting to note that those encounters are not mentioned.  All we hear are the successes … the fruits of their work – the healings and the anointings. However inadequate they felt, however many other people would not believe that they were good enough, all that is measured is the success.  ‘Many people’!  You see, they didn’t need years at theological college and a collar to go out there and make the world a better place through Christ’s power.  All they needed was the instruction and the momentum to do it along with Christ’s confidence that they were the right people for the job.

That is Good News for us with ‘imposter syndrome’ here today.  We know that we should be spreading the word of God and being His hands in our world, but we don’t always feel that we have the skills.  But today’s Gospel tells us that not a single one of us who wants to follow Christ is an imposter.  We can be God’s hands.  We can go out and heal many people.  You know, the biggest healing our world needs is love.  We see so much hatred, intolerance and indifference.  We are separated from each other … nation from nation … and even neighbour from neighbour.  Love can heal and bring us back into the relationships that matter, where we are all one.  And we, by being baptised Christians are commissioned to go out into the world with love and to heal.  We are the ones sent out, without a bag or provisions, to show Christ’s presence. It’s not surprising we feel imposter syndrome.  And yet, all we need is the instruction and the momentum along with Christ’s confidence that we are the right people for the job.  And that’s what we have; Because, by being loved by God, we hold all the supplies we need.

In a few moments, Nathaniel will be baptised.  He will join the church as our newest family member.  Do you think he has been trained in healing?  How many books do you think he has read?  How many papers has he had published?  How many people talk about him as a great theologian or leader?  And yet, as you look at him, you will see love. You will see how he makes the world a better place simply by being who he is.  Children trust in love and they are a great example to us.

We are all commissioned to make this world better by trusting in love.  We have our callings and, in baptism we are sent out to live them … And because we are loved we can never be imposters.

 

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The world did not know him …

Windsor Parish Church – John 1: 1-14

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It seems strange to be hearing this Gospel reading this morning.  It’s normally one that we hear at Christmas.  Last week, anyone who was here might remember that the reading was about when Mary and Joseph went to the temple and Simeon recognised the baby Jesus as the Messiah.  That story described a time when Jesus would have been about 40 days old, so it’s quite peculiar to be going back now to this text which is John’s mystical-style telling of the birth story of Jesus.  But actually, it’s not that odd.  This reading, although it describes how Jesus came into being as one living on earth, it actually links the birth narrative with what is to come … Lent and the telling of Jesus’ death.

“The world did not know him”.  Such sad words.  How often have we asked God for a sign?  How often do you think people have asked God for a sign throughout the whole history of creation?  It’s the unending song of humanity, isn’t it?  “God, Give us a sign”.  “God, step in and fix x”.  “you know, I’d believe in God if y didn’t happen in the world”.  We ask God to prove Himself.  We ask Him to be evident.  But it has to be on our terms.  God made Himself evident.  By sending His Son, He couldn’t have made Himself more evident!  And yet the world did not know him.

Right from the earliest days of Christ’s life on earth, the world did not know him.  Think back to last week’s sermon if you were here.  If not, try to remember if you’ve ever heard anyone talk about that particular reading – Simeon and Anna recognising Jesus as the Messiah.  Have any of you ever heard anyone preaching about Mary’s purification as a major part of that story?  No?  Me neither.  And I’m not pointing fingers at those you’ve heard preaching.  I didn’t preach on Mary last week either.  But this week, I think I have to.  Do you notice that Mary and Joseph went to the temple in Jerusalem for two reasons.  The first was for Mary’s purification rite.  Through childbirth and bleeding she was unclean.  Think about that for a minute.  She had given birth to the Son of God … and that made her unclean.  Does that sound as odd to you as it does to me?  Mary and Joseph knew who they held in their arms.  But they also knew that they had to follow customs of ritual cleansing.  Despite what they knew about this child’s birth, to most people it was simply a child.  Jesus would have been assumed to be born of the usual methods, from the usual reasons.  And his mother would have been under the usual constraints of Jewish law.  And then think of the other thing they were doing.  They were dedicating their first born male child to God.  let that one sink in for a second.  This was The Son!  They were dedicating God … to God …  Whose benefit was that for?  Again, it seems difficult to accept that Mary and Joseph had thought this through and felt it was necessary.  It was just what was expected by the culture and by others.  A baby had to be dedicated to God.  Within His own people, He was not known.

And this state of not being known led, without any hope being stopped, to rejection and hatred of the Son of God.

The world did not know him.  This is the bridge between Christmas and Easter.  The bridge between the appearance of God on Earth and the rejection of God on Earth.  The world did not know him.  How visible do we need God to be before we know Him and recognise his actions in the world?  It seems as if he can never be enough for us.

God took human flesh.  Not just human form, but human flesh.  Jesus got down in the dirt with us and became one of us.  He suffered alongside us.  And we didn’t recognise him.

How visible do we need God to be?  “To all who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”.  God is still at work.  But the world does not know Him.  How often when we ask God for a sign, on our terms, do we miss the signs on his terms?  How often do we miss the child of God comforting the grieving mother?  How often do we miss the child of God campaigning for a fairer world?  How often do we miss the child of God praying quietly for the healing of a sick child?  How often do we fail to recognise the child of God in ourselves?   We have the power to make God’s presence visible in the world.  And we have the power to notice God’s presence in the world.  As we journey from Christmas and towards Lent let’s commit to make a difference. Let’s make God becoming flesh a reality that makes a difference.  Let’s be the ones who know him and encourage others to see him!

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The Certainty of Simeon

Preached at St Stephen & St Agnes, Windsor for Candlemas with a baptism.

I wonder how many times Simeon had told people that he would see the Messiah before he died.  I wonder how many people had thought he was a wittering old fool.  He was a man full of hope and optimism.  But I’m sure that sort of thing went down as well then as it can seem to today.  If we put Simeon’s claims that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah into context, we can see why people may have doubted him.  The history of the Jews was long and hard.  The had suffered oppression for so long under this promise that never seemed to come.  There must have been times when every Jew who heard the scriptures looked to the heavens and sighed.  And now, living as they were in Jerusalem under Roman rule, it must have seemed as if they were very far from any salvation.  And yet Simeon was adamant.  I wonder how many children he had looked at, wondering.

But this particular day, something was different.  This day Simeon took a child in his arms and knew that this was he – the Saviour.

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Of all the things I imagine Simeon to have said over the years concerning the Messiah, I’m guessing this would have sounded the most bizarre.  Mary and Joseph, a poor couple from Nazareth, come into the temple for Mary’s ritual purification and to dedicate their first born son to God.  They would have seemed unremarkable to most of us.  Offering the most basic of sacrifices, pigeons instead of a lamb, I don’t think anyone would have made a fuss of them.  They were one couple out of so many going to the temple each year.  So what was it that Simeon saw in the child?

It’s the same thing that a group of fisherman saw many years later which led them to leave their nets, their families and their livelihoods.  The same thing which led Mary of Bethany to break with all convention and to sit at his feet.  The same thing which made Pilate wash his hands of the decision to crucify him …

We often talk of ‘potential’ and it would be easy to say that this is what Simeon saw.  Maybe he saw the potential that this child had.  But potential talks of something that is in the future, not yet realised, and might not even happen for many reasons.   These aren’t the words that Simeon uses.  He talks about destiny.  His words of those of certainty.  As certain as he was that he would see the Messiah before death, he now is certain that this tiny child, just over a month old, is the one who will bring salvation.  It’s a certainty he is willing to die for.  And this certainty is echoed by Anna, the prophet, who declares to anyone who is looking for certainty and hope, that it has been found.

This child is a light to the gentiles … to all nations … all people.  This is the light which can never be extinguished, the light which shines into every dark corner and which drives out darkness and fear.  Isn’t that a wonderful statement?  The most amazing, joy filled, hope filled statement you could ever hear?  And yet how often do we, like those Jews Simeon gave his message of joy to, look to the heavens and sigh?  We live in dark times – times of oppression for so many people.  The news is full of it.  We walk down the street and we see injustice and inequality.  Where is our certainty?  The light cannot be extinguished.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.  And yet we don’t see it.  Like so many others from the day of Christ’s birth, we fail to see Christ in our midst.

On Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation,  we remember our baptism and reaffirm our faith.  And it is an amazing day to welcome xx into our family of baptised Christians.  We remember our baptism today because in our baptism we were handed the light of Christ.  We were given that hope … no!  … We were given that certainty that Christ is here.  We say it every week: “the Lord is here”.  And God is not sitting around idly watching what His people are going through.  Through the light that Simeon proclaimed we are tasked with joining in with God’s mission.  We are the ones who bring Christ’s light to the world around us.  This is not our potential.  This is our destiny.  It’s who we are called to be and who God will support us in being.  Bishop Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church tweeted this on Friday; “Real followers of Jesus don’t leave the world the way they found it. Real followers of Jesus change the world.”  This is not the hope of a wittering old fool.  This is certainty.  It is what we are called to do through baptism and what we can do through Grace.

So let’s go to the font, xx and her family will lead us, where she will make her promises for the first time as she is baptised and the rest of us will renew ours.

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Bible Sunday

As always, this sermon was written to be spoken.  Re-reading it, I know it seems clunky in some places.  It’s at times like this I wish I could pop over to see you and read it to you in person.

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Does anyone listen to Desert Island Discs?  I wonder; do they still give you the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible in addition to your book choice?  It used to make absolute sense to me that they would do that.  I mean, who wouldn’t ask for those two books when given the choice of texts to take with you if you were stranded?  But now, I’m not sure that many people would have them at the top of their list.  I did a bit of googling to find what the nation’s favourite books were and of those lists where the choices were ranked, the Bible made it way down into the 40s.  In one list it was beaten by Bridget Jones’ Diary.  Gallup, the pollsters have done lots of work over the decades on Biblical importance in the UK.  Their results are quite shocking. Bear with me – there are a few statistics coming up but I think they’re worth hearing. In the 1940s Gallup said that 90% of British homes possessed a Bible.  In 2010, that figure had fallen to 52%.  The amount of times that book is picked up has also fallen dramatically with fewer than 9% of people saying they read it at least once a week.  21% of people say the Bible has an effect on shaping their lives.  But in 1980, only 29% said it didn’t!  That’s a huge difference.  So, it’s clear that we are living in a time when fewer and fewer people are encountering the primary text of our faith.

Now, I guess we might say that’s not a problem.  For us within these walls, even if we don’t pick up our bibles or engage with the scriptures any other time of the week, we know that when we come here and settle into our pews we will hear the word of God.  We are still getting a balanced diet of scripture and still learning those important messages that God reveals through engaging with His word.  But our own growth, important as it is, isn’t our only task as Christians.  We have a duty and a calling to show Christ to others.  How can we do that if no one except us in our road owns a bible?

I don’t know if you’ve heard the saying “You may be the only Bible someone ever reads”.  It seems to me that in this time and place, that could not be more true.  We are not going to encourage people to read the Bible in any easy way.  We’re a long way from the times when books were hard to come by or reading was the major pass-time.  Most of these lists of books that I talked about earlier are compiled with one aim in mind – to encourage people to read.  They are often entitled “the 100 books you must read before you die” or something equally threatening and apocalyptic.  They acknowledge the fact that people are reading less and printed text is not our main way of gaining information.  Now, we get our information, build our moral and ethical code, from other people.  We read opinions in 140 characters on Twitter, hear soundbites on the radio and, since social media has become so popular, we demand that our soundbite views are heard and respected, even if we haven’t thought them out terribly well.  The place of traditional, handed down wisdom and truth, such as that we as Christians believe we find in the bible, is disappearing.

The books making up the bible were written thousands of years ago.  Those books were selected and put together finally about 1500 years ago.  But God’s revelation did not stop then.  We heard in today’s Gospel reading that Jesus’s words will never pass away.  the Bible will always be a guide, relevant and living.  But today’s text says that there are other signs and revelations.  God’s Word became flesh in Jesus.  He remains with us as a constant revelation.  The Holy Spirit guides us in our lives, proclaiming love as shown through Christ and illuminated in the words of our sacred texts.

Without the texts to point to people where God is active in the world, to give them the story of His saving grace and His desire to bring the whole of creation into reconciled relationship with Him and each other, how can we talk of the Kingdom?

We are the only Bible some people will ever read.  It is through our lives, our example, our connectedness, our joy and our sadness that people will see the story of salvation.  It has to be through our daily interactions that the work of the Holy Spirit, the inclusive radical love of Jesus and the overwhelming grace of the Father can be read.  We are the Bible for so many who will never encounter it another way.  What Gospel are you preaching today?

 

Shall we pray:

Let’s start with a moment to think about the encounters we’ve had in the last week.  Where were the times when we showed God’s love and acted as a living Gospel?   Where were those times when we fell short and presented a picture far from you and lacking in love?
Let’s commit ourselves to being the front cover of the bible for our friends and neighbours, inviting them to take a closer look at the love only God can offer.

Heavenly Father

You give us your word, recorded by faithful people over generations, to teach us.  You gave us your Son, to fulfil your word and bring your Kingdom to earth.  And you give us your Holy Spirit to guide us and to enable us to see your will revealed afresh for each generation.  Help us to take our place in the story of salvation, giving more people a glimpse of you and of your Kingdom where all are loved by their Creator, and all have a place by your side.

Amen.

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The Wedding Banquet

Matthew 22:1-14

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Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time there was a great leader who lived in a great white house on a great hill.  This man had so much power that he could decide whether the world would be destroyed.  He was always right.  Always right.  And anyone who dared suggest that he wasn’t was a liar and a spreader of fake news.  He loved people to come to his house and to admire him, his beautiful family and to bow down in awe at his power.  But not everyone recognised how wonderful this humble man was.  Some people even said they didn’t want to come to his wonderful parties.  But this just showed that these people were unworthy and so their invitation was withdrawn …

I’ve never been known for my subtlety. Now, I know some of you have probably heard this morning’s Gospel reading and sermons about it once or twice before.  And you will probably have heard the banquet described as heaven and the king as God.  But doesn’t the king in today’s parable sound much more like some of our megalomaniac world leaders than he does like God as revealed through Jesus?  Today I have a challenge for you.  I want you to look at it a different way.

The parable is delivered to the Pharisees who are questioning Jesus’ authority.  Directly before this point in Matthew’s Gospel we have had the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.  When the Pharisees are asked in that parable how the landowner should have dealt with the tenants, they say that he “should put them to a miserable death”.  And this is what we see in this parable.  The king is merciless.  This sounds like a big showy occasion.  When people aren’t prepared to come and celebrate with him (or is it to celebrate him?) he gets the hump.  He calls them unworthy.  he sounds like a petulant child.  And then he goes and sends his troops out to kill them and burn the city down.  This is the way the Pharisees would have had the landowner act.  This is not the way Jesus tells us that God acts.  The clue comes in the translation of some of the first words of the parable.  We heard them this morning as “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to  …”   But there is an alternative translation.  In technical terms, the Greek used here is a passive tense, so it’s actually more accurately “the kingdom of heaven has been compared to …”  So, what if Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “you have believed that this is what the kingdom is like: a kingdom where worthiness is tested and there is retribution, where outside appearances are more important than whether you are good or bad.  But I’m here to tell you that it’s different.  What would that mean to our relationship with God?

The very next chapter of Matthew sees Jesus completely tearing apart the Pharisees.  He calls them out for demanding honour, being concerned with the outward appearance of their religious activities and for being hypocritical in not following what they teach.   This is where that behaviour leads.  If the Kingdom of Heaven was one the Pharisees would recognise it would be full of people who care more about outward appearances rather than a heart that was ready to worship.  The people in the banqueting hall today may be dressed in fine clothes ready to enjoy the party, but they don’t even know the king.

What happens to the one who is not dressed properly, who refuses to play the political game?  He is turned out – rejected.

You see, God doesn’t care about what we do for show.  He cares about our hearts.  He cares that we know Him.  Our love for God comes from a knowledge of Him, not because He has offered us the finest things.  Yes, the benefits of the heavenly banquet are more wonderful than we can imagine, but if we are only showing up for the party, we have it wrong.   We love God because He loves us and because not loving Him leaves a gap in our lives which can’t be filled with earthly finery and showiness.   God calls us to the banquet because he loves us.  His love doesn’t depend on whether we are ‘worthy’, because, believe me, if it did, we’d all be thrown out to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  No.  We don’t have to earn his love by being the best at praying or by giving the most.  We have His love and, unlike the Pharisees, our response is to love in return.  It is a great honour to be invited to the wedding banquet.  Because our King is a King who invites us because He loves us, rather than because he needs to be adored, we are truly honoured.  And adoration and loving service is our natural response.

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Consider the Lillies (Luke 12:16-30)

Today’s sermon seems to have ended up being a rather different style form my usual.  I have no idea why that happened, but it went well with the Parish Church congregation which seemed to have more visitors than usual this morning.  I guess sometimes, you just have to go with it and trust. 

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I used to love going for walks in the park this time of year when we lived in London.   The park we were closest to had lots of squirrels.  I mean, it seemed like absolutely hundreds.  I love the way squirrels move.  They scuttle and stop, scuttle and stop.  They seem to have a purpose and they keep stopping to check that they are on track.  They are determined and conscientious.  But they always seem a little bit anxious, a little bit on edge.  Now, of course, this time of year their major purpose is finding food to store up for the long winter.  And they are very good at it.  So good that they tend to store more than they need and some of the nuts and acorns they collect will end up growing into new trees.  I wonder what Jesus would have made of squirrels.  It sounds like he wouldn’t have been quite as enamoured by them as I am!  Unlike the ravens they do store up food by burying it.  You could even say that they sow.

I wonder if the squirrels would simply say that the ravens are lazy?  I imagine them sitting around in their drays chatting about the other animals and talking about how “those ravens, never do a stroke of work, and yet they expect it all to be handed to them on a plate … or a bin lid, at least.  We work blooming hard for what we have.  And what do they do?  They just take.  You never see a hungry raven, do you?”.  You see, Jesus’ message here sounds pretty odd.  I think we’re much more like squirrels.  We have this purpose in life.  To provide for ourselves, and then not even to stop then.  We keep going.  Not actually recognising that we already have more than enough.  We squirrel wealth away.  We worry that if we don’t, we won’t have enough to get us through.  We keep an eye on what we have.  We try not to get into debt, and if we do, we try to get out of it as soon as possible.

And all of that is entirely sensible.  Surely, Jesus can’t be saying that we shouldn’t take responsibility for ourselves?  If we read this one way, it can sound very restrictive.  It can sound like we are being told to empty our bank accounts, give it all to the poor and to rely totally on God for our everyday needs.  You know, I believe that if we did do that and if we were faithful enough to completely and utterly trust God so that we could dedicate our lives to nothing but serving Him, He would provide.  There are enough stories about people doing exactly that.  But could you?  As much as I love God, as much as I trust Him, could I?

Are we being called to a life of poverty?  Or are we being called to a life of simplicity?  Let’s look at the Gospel again.  The rich fool.  He gains more and more wealth and he finds himself with a problem.  How does he store it?  This overly abundant harvest causes him concern.  He has to find a solution.  But the solution he finds does him no good.

Then we have the ravens.  The ravens don’t accumulate wealth, but they are not starving. Remember, the squirrels told us that earlier!  They have enough.  They are not, in any way, poor.  They are provided for and just get on with doing what they have to do to be ravens.  The flowers are not dressed in rags.  They have everything they need.  In fact, they have more than they need.  The difference between them, the rich fool and the squirrels is that they are not worried about it.

We fall too easily into the trap of becoming squirrels.  We work harder and harder.  We focus on our goal, and so often, our goal has nothing to do with living a life of sufficiency … but of living a life of more.  We are not satisfied with enough.  But having more than enough traps us.  We need to work out where to store our acorns.  We worry what will happen if interest rates go down or property values fall.  I used to work in estate agency in the mid 90s.  I sold houses during the property crash.  Yes, people lost lots of money.  But the number of people who were moving from one house to another who were hugely upset if we had to drop their price was astounding.  So often, I just couldn’t get people to understand that if their house price had gone down, so had the price of the house they would buy.  All they could see was the number, not the value.  In simplistic terms, they were just swapping one home for another.   But, when it comes to our investments, our stored up wealth, all we seem to able to do is worry.

Anxiety is so prevalent in our societies.  But being anxious about things doesn’t change them.  So let’s just switch the anxiety off!  Oh, I wish it was so easy.  But this is the thing.  We worry about how we will provide.  We give ourselves deadlines and demands.  We tell ourselves that if we do x we will get y.  Our life becomes based on all sorts of conditions, if x then y.  Then we worry that we can’t manage x and so y will fail.  But God isn’t a God of if … then.  I heard someone say recently that God is the God of because … because God made us, He loves us completely.  Because God loves us completely, He knows us better than we know ourselves.  Because He knows us better than we know ourselves, He knows exactly what we need.  Because He knows what we need, He will provide that … Because He made us and He loves us.  Because He is a God of grace, not a God of conditions.  We don’t need to be squirrels.  We just need to be His precious children.

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