Sermon Trinity 15: Exodus 16, 2-15, Philippians 1, 21-end & Matthew 20, 1-16
As some of you may know last week my daughter went away to university. I was tempted, before she left, to take her into my study to give her some advice, but I thought better of it; probably wisely! However, if I had given her some life coaching what better words could I have used than those offered by St. Paul to the Philippians: ‘only live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’ I wonder if I had said this how she might have reacted?
But, for us as Christians surely this advice should be our Rule of Life: ‘only live your life in a manner worthy of Christ.’ What, does this mean? What does it mean to live an active life worthy of Christ? Obviously it means lots of things but let me this morning focus on just two virtues: grace, simplicity.
In God’s economy grace is the currency. In the parable from the gospel we heard that the workers who arrived on the scene at the very end of the day were paid the same as those who had worked all day. This in many ways seems unfair and unjust. But, is it? Grace, I think, is an absolute currency given in totality and, incapable of division. The workers who arrive at the end of the story, who by the way are only not working because they haven’t been spotted as available for hire, under God’s economic scheme are entitled to the same treatment, or the same receipts, as those who have worked all day. This is how it works in God’s economy. And, if God – as represented by the landlord in the parable – can be seen to be acting gracefully, so must we be.
Yes, we too need to consider whether we are prone to falling into very this worldly modes of thinking; modes of thinking where what we receive is more important than what others receive; modes of thinking where notions such as the ‘last shall be first,’ are best left in the bible rather than taken out from the bible and used as a guide to how we live a truly Christian life in the here and now, as evangelical witnesses to lives lived in ‘a manner worthy of the gospel.’
Our only real concern if we are to live a life ‘worthy of the gospel of Christ’ should be that we have enough for our own daily bread; not that we have more than others. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ what we are really saying is, ‘help me to live simply and without jealously of others,’ or perhaps, ‘help me to be content with enough so others can have more.’ This is what it means to live a life of simplicity.
I would like to suggest that recapturing the essence of simplicity is one of, perhaps the most important, economic and theological tasks of our day. As a people who desire to live our lives ‘in manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,’ we need to re-learn to trust in God’s covenant promise of ‘enoughness,’ just as the Israelites had to learn that all they needed was meat in the morning and bread at night. We need to ponder on that one stanza from the Lord’s Prayer ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ and its real-world implications. In some ways it is an horrific line. What if God granted our prayer and all we were left with was enough for our needs for the next twenty four hours?
Let me finish by telling you about a lady called Chiara Lubich, who wrote a wonderful little book called The Art of Loving. Chiara Lubich was a young woman in the heavily bombed Italian city of Trent during the second world war. With a few other young women of faith she decided to test God out. She decided that they would seek to live according to the economics of the gospel. This meant trusting God and making a conscious decision to live a life of utter simplicity so that there was always something left for the most vulnerable – least productive - people in the city. Lubich believed with every fibre of her being that all are one, all are equal, in the Kingdom of God. She took to heart the notion of ‘giving so that it would be given unto you.’ In her own words: ‘if we had only one egg in the house for all of us we offered it to the poor. And, what do you know, in the morning a bag of eggs arrived.’ Lubich who fed literally thousands of people during the second world war and who went on to establish an international ecumenical movement believed that accepting God’s grace combined with a human willingness to live a life of joyful and loving simplicity was to live life ‘in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’
One last thought: living a life worthy of the gospel is, when all is said and done, our only real evangelical witness to the vibrancy and truth of our faith. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
Evensong 10th September – The Environment – Deuteronomy 8, 7-18 & Matthew 7, 24-27
When I sat down and planned the service schedule for this autumn and decided that this themed evensong would be about the environment I had no idea that the Caribbean would have inflicted upon it some of the most violent storms ever experienced; our prayers must go out to those who have lost life, home and livelihood and also to all involved in seeking to bringing relief.
The environment has been very much in the news for other reasons such as President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement and, our own governments decision to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Now I don’t want to get overly political but I do want to say that I am glad that the environment is very much on the political agenda.
As Christians we need to make sure the environment stays very much on the theological agenda.
The reading we have heard from the book of Deuteronomy paints a wonderful picture of the created order: ‘a land lowing with streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig tress and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey,’ a land of good things in other words. And, the writer is correct to direct us to the essential goodness of the created order, after all the creation narrative in Genesis stresses time and again that God looked at his handiwork and saw that it was good. When God looked at human kind he saw the potential that we might become ‘very good.’
God, if you remember the creation stories makes three important moves: first he creates, then he lets go (let it be is God’s constant refrain) and, then he appoints human kind as stewards. So the question arises as to how our we to respond to the environment, what virtues should guide our environmental decision making if we truly want to be ‘very good.’ Let me suggest four:
First, awe and wonder. The created order is God’s artistry. We are should enjoy it and seek God through it. Secondly, gratitude. If the Psalmist is correct to thank God for the fact that he is ‘wonderfully made,’ then it follows that we should be grateful for all that God has made. Thirdly, we should approach the environment with humility remembering that it is the Lord our God who ‘gives the power to get wealth,’ we are the created and not the Creator,- ‘do not say to yourself my power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth - and fourthly sufficiency or even simplicity.
Just because we can take more from the environment does not, cannot, mean that we should, Perhaps, we all need to learn to live within our limits, to take less, to leave more for others? After all the environment is given by God to all of humanity. As Christians we are called on to love both God and our neighbour. I would like to suggest that the natural environment, the created order, is the proving ground for love of God and love of neighbour. Our love for God is in part evidenced by the awe and wonder through which we regard the created order, our love of neighbour is evidenced by our ability to exercise restraint and our willingness to share that which God deemed good with our neighbour and particularly our neighbour in distress.
So let me end in offering you the opportunity, in the silence of your hearts, to thank God for the environment and for his guidance in how we might act as God’s environmental stewards. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
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