Sunday, 8 April 2018

on living the resurrection #2

Acts 4.32-35; 1 John 1.1-2.1; John 20.19-31

You may have finished the last of your Easter eggs already, and the shelves in the supermarket where they were stacked for sale are now full of barbecue charcoal and picnic wear. But for the Church, Easter continues to be celebrated during the 50 days between Easter Day and Pentecost.

The first believers had such a powerful encounter with Christ after his death that they were changed by it. They discover a new life in him, and their experiences have continued to inspire believers through the centuries. Our readings today offers us insights into what this new life looked like.

We start with St Thomas. Poor Thomas, famous for doubting the resurrection of Jesus, when surely all he did was say what any one of us would in similar circumstances. ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ When he, too, experiences the presence of Jesus alive to his faithful fellow disciples, then he believes. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,’ Jesus says.

What Thomas is not willing to accept is the testimony of other believers about the transformation that Jesus brings to their lives. And they are transformed. This rag-tangle band of rough and unsophisticated folk, who have previously been chastised by Jesus for their lack of faith, their slowness to grasp his teaching and their inability to follow the simplest of instructions (‘Watch and pray’) begins to coalesce into faithful followers who find themselves powerfully changed by all they have experienced.

For us, the experiences of fellow Christians has an important role to play in as they share with us what Jesus means to them and how they have experienced new life, a changed life, in him. Our faith is not simply passed on to us through the Bible, but also two millennia of Jesus’ followers testifying to how a life centred around him has brought them a fuller and deeper life.

One of the lovely things about our Lent course this year, as we’ve read various books of the Bible, has been to discuss our reactions to them as well as to open up and share some of the spiritual experiences we’ve had as followers of Jesus.

So one of the hallmarks of the Church since the earliest of times has been to share the impact of our encounters with Christ, and wrestle together with the challenges of faith and his calling to serve God in our lives.

Secondly, today’s reading from the book of Acts shows us another remarkable effect of the early Christians experiencing the presence of Christ in the their lives:

‘All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own... there was no needy person among them...’
— Acts 4.32,34 (NIV)

The first Christians are so dramatically changed by Jesus that they gave up their individualism and self-interest to share a common life. The impact of experiencing Jesus’ presence was to put themselves and their own desires aside, perhaps because they understood that the body of Christ was most fully experienced in the fellowship and unity of a community of believers who were of one heart and mind.

This is still the model for the Church, that when we encounter Christ in our worship, our scripture readings, our personal prayer lives and in breaking bread together, we become united, single-minded in serving Jesus by loving God and caring for each other and the wider world.

Finally, our other reading today, from the first letter of John, points us to another impact of encountering Christ — cultivating an honesty and humility about who and what we are. It is so easy in life to delude ourselves, in order to impress or be accepted by others. But God requires us to drop the pretences. New life in Jesus can only be experienced when we are willing to be truthful about ourselves. John writes:

‘If we say that we share in life with God and keep on living in the dark, we are lying and not living in the truth. But if we live in the light, as God does, we share in life with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus washes all our sins away. If we say that we have not sinned, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth isn’t in our hearts. But if we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away. If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and his message isn’t in our hearts.’
— 1 John 1.6-10 (CEV)

Spiritual growth and maturity comes from personal examination and self-knowledge. It means facing up to those areas of our life where we’ve been kidding ourselves and others. When we are able to be honest with God about ourselves, it follows that we can be more honest with one another, which in turn builds the kind of unity and fellowship that the early Christians experienced.

When they discovered that Jesus would always be present to them, the early believers were transformed. They shared their stories about how Jesus had changed them for the better, as Christians around the world still do, and bless each other by doing so. They became one body, united in heart and mind, sharing their possessions so that no one need do without. And they cultivated a self-awareness, an honesty and humility about themselves, because they were confident in the grace and forgiveness of God.

This is the faith into which little Zac will be baptised today. His baptism is also an initiation into the church, which continues to aspire to the example of Christ and his early followers.

We pray that he, too, will come to know union with God and the presence of Jesus in his life, through prayer, scripture and communion. As a community of faith, we stand together with him, his parents and godparents in affirming that we will do all we can to help him encounter Christ for himself.

Zac hasn’t had the easiest start in life, but as he grows stronger and healthier it is our hope that he grows to know for himself the love of God, the gentle leading of Jesus and the companionship of the Holy Spirit as he grows into his best self.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

on living the resurrection #1

Easter Day 2018

Isaiah 25.6-9; Acts 10.34-43; John 20.1-18.

Alleluia, Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Now what?

No, really. Now what?

We proclaim these words with ease, but what do they mean for us? He is risen indeed. But what now?

After all, Easter is not the commemoration of a long dead saint, but a celebration of our relationship with a living God through the risen Christ; who in his life, death and resurrection completed the work of bridging the gap between God the Father and humanity. Through Jesus, God has become accessible to us without our failings and shortcomings getting in the way. This is why on Easter Day we shout ‘Alleluia.’

The spiritual union with God that Jesus has made possible is, for us, utterly transformational, not just to our personal lives but in firing us up to be agents of change who can transform the world around us. This is what it means to be ‘Church’: we are the bearers of Christ to the world around us, and when we channel our own personal relationship with Jesus into our collective activities as a congregation, we become turbo-charged with the explosive energy with which Christ burst from the tomb.

So the first answer to the ‘Now what?’ question is that we rejoice — re-joice: to feel joy again — at the new life Christ has given us, and to recover that sense of personal and collective transformation that is offered to us by faith.

In the gospel accounts of the death of Jesus, it is the women who move towards the cross, and confront the consequences of Jesus’ death for themselves, while the men retreat. It is the women who first discover the good news of the risen Christ, as they visit the tomb to tend the body of their Lord.

Where, I wonder, do you place yourselves in this narrative? With the cautious male disciples, backing away when things get a bit tricky, needing to debate and discuss what is going on, weighing up this and that before committing to a course of action? Or with the women who stand by Jesus, even when it appears that all is lost. It is those who remain loyal to Christ who first discover the joy of the new life he brings.

When the women go to the grave of Jesus to tend his body it is an act of collective defiance. Robin Meyers writes:

…women went to the gravesite to perform funeral rituals… This would not be unusual or unique [at the time] but they did this for Jesus in defiance of Roman prohibitions against just such rituals, especially for the victims of crucifixion.

Why was this dangerous? Why was it forbidden? Because to give a proper burial to the victims of execution, and then to have public ceremonies of grieving, was to spoil Rome’s intended effect. The empire’s message went far beyond “King of the Jews.” [Crucifixion] was also Rome’s way of making a person and everything he stood for, “disappear.” The real message was: “Behold a nobody who has come to nothing and now is nowhere… You people need to go home now. It’s all over.”

Yes, of course it was.

Except it wasn’t.

It was the women who resisted first, defying Rome through their graveside vigils. It was the women who brought food, broke bread, and raised the spirit of the Beloved — perhaps even giving us a model for the Eucharist… The church was born as an act of collective defiance, and it prospered as a community of resistance. Easter is not just the sound of a solitary bird singing after a thunderstorm… It is the Stone of Hope, covered with nail prints, and rolled away with tears. This is the Easter message: Rome said no. God said yes.

So the second answer to the ‘Now what?’ question is that we as a church must strive to recover this dynamic, radical and subversive faith that stems from the resurrection of Jesus. God did not come among us in human form simply to propagate some anaemic middle-class culture of niceness. Jesus came and immersed himself in the worst problems of the world: suffering, mental illness, disability, poverty, hunger, prostitution and, finally, death.

The risen Christ challenges us to look at our world and tend the places of desolation that need to experience some kind of resurrection for themselves. Where can we help to restore life to situations that appear to be dying? Where in our world, our community, workplace, public life, business or political world is in need of God’s touch to renew and restore it?

Where are the situations of hate, injustice, or intolerance in which powerful people use their position to manipulate or coerce others? The places of abuse against children, women, young men? Where are the hard, cracked places that yearn for an outpouring of God’s love to bring new life out of the dry soil of despair?

They are everywhere.

Read the newspapers, watch the news, look at what is happening in your neighbourhood. The challenge is that there seem to be so many problems, so much depressing news, its hard for us to know where to begin.

And its easy to feel detached from being able to understand or take meaningful action on the problems of our community or the wider world, especially when so much care and compassion has been outsourced to professionals, leaving us bewildered about what the right thing to do is, or how to engage appropriately with such situations.

But do not believe for a moment that you are powerless.

We have a voice, we can make a contribution. However small our individual actions, they gather and accumulate with the small actions of others to gain momentum and create a force for change. This is one of the ways that congregations can use their collective power, and when added to that of other churches and agencies, can make a profound impact.

I want to mention just one situation where it is easy for us to feel helpless but where, in fact, there is much we can do.


There has been civil war in Syria now for seven years. Hospitals are bombed, neighbourhoods destroyed, children massacred. 400,000 people have died. 4 out of every 5 Syrians now live below the poverty line.

11 million people have fled their homes, 5 million of whom have gone abroad to find safety. 1 million of those have requested asylum in Europe.

And we look on, appalled. What is happening in Syria is nothing short of a holocaust that is annihilating innocent people who are shouting for the world to listen and take action — people who are yearning for a resurrection amidst the death that unfolds around them daily.

God hears their calls and knows their suffering. What is God doing to help Syria? Many Syrians are Christians — why does God not intervene and bring about peace?

What if it is the people of God, the ones who already know about the power of a resurrection that brings new life to barren places, upon whom God is waiting to act?

St Teresa of Avila famously wrote:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.

What can we do for Syria? Pray. Agitate for political action. Sign the petitions. Join the protests. Become informed by choosing your news sources carefully. Talk about it with family and friends. Donate money. Raise money.

One of the charities we support at St Anne’s is Christian Aid, which is actively involved in supporting Syrian refugees. Through their partnership with organisations in Lebanon they are ensuring that child refugees from Syria can not only continue their education but can access psychological support to come to terms with their traumatic experiences. They have been supporting refugee women from Syria, some of whom have been terribly exploited. In northern Iraq, Christian Aid is supporting Syrian refugees with vocational training so that they can find ways to make a living. And in Syria itself, Christian Aid is supporting partners providing hot meals to people who have been displaced from their homes following bombing.

That’s why we are participating in the Circle the City event next month, to help raise £500 to support Christian Aid in all its work, not just in Syria but in 36 other poverty hotspots around the globe. (There will be further information about how you can sponsor us online on St Anne’s Facebook page shortly).

The question, ‘Now what?’ is one we must keep at the forefront of our minds. Our new life in Christ is not a gift that we are given to keep for ourselves. It is for sharing. Inspired by the example of Jesus, we are called to reach out and bring healing, restoration and peace to the desolate places that need an outpouring of God’s love.

Christ is risen indeed. Now what?

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Confidence in Christ #3: Living under grace as if God really means it

We are loved utterly and completely by God. No strings attached. God loves us not because we are naturally adorable but because it is the nature of God to love. ‘God is love...’ (1 John 4.8)

Grace is the means by which this love is made available. Unlike human love, which so often has to be earned or deemed deserving in some way, grace means that the God of the Bible is simply and utterly besotted with you.

That’s a mind-blowing concept because it is so far removed from the way that humans relate to one another. And that is rather the point. God’s love stands for something that is in stark contrast to the way love is often transacted in human relationships.

The love of God costs nothing, doesn’t have to be earned, you don’t have to compete with anyone to receive it, you are not in a league table of people who are more or less deserving. God simply could not be any more in love with you than is already the case.

Try and sit with that for a moment and allow it to sink in.

All those ways we beat ourselves up for being inadequate in this or that regard; or the way that we can sometimes be secretly quite pleased with ourselves or think we’re better than others. God doesn’t give a hoot about any of that. That’s what grace is.

It is through Jesus that this amazing gift has been shown to us, and all we have to do is take it.

In the Vicarage kitchen is a fruit bowl which is always stocked with good things to eat; apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, all bursting with vitamins, minerals, fibre and natural sweetness. It sits there on the counter inviting me to partake of it, rather than the toaster or the biscuit tin. Whether or not I choose to reach out for an apple, the apples are always there.

Having a well stocked fruit bowl doesn’t make my diet healthy. The vitamins don’t magically find their way into my bloodstreams, simply because I’m in the same room as a tangerine. The availability of healthy nourishment that fruit contains still requires action on my part in order to enjoy the full benefits.

This is what God’s love for us is like, constantly available, inviting us not only to be present to it but to actively partake in it, through prayer, Bible study and Christian service.

St Paul wrote, ‘[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12.9, NIV). If we lived as if we believed God really means it - that grace really is enough - what, I wonder, might that look like?

We would, I imagine, be dipping into that bowl of grace every day, enjoying all the delights of knowing that God is alongside us and within us, drawing us closer, and enabling us to be transformed by all the goodness God has to offer.

All the ways we behave towards others to needlessly quell our fears and anxieties, to compete and prove ourselves as deserving, would simply fall away. As the old hymn puts it:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.
— Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961)

To live under God’s grace means means putting God at the heart of our consciousness each and every day. When we do this the human desire to feel we’re better than others, or the drive to be more successful than them, the hunger to manipulate and control, or acquire more possessions, and all the rest of it, simply begins to look dull. We are drawn to the light that does not fade, the grace of God that never wants to belittle or put us down but simply offers to welcome us home.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Confidence in Christ #2: Living in Uncertain Times

We live in uncertain times. People mostly have. It’s not difficult to look back on history and see events of greater turbulence than in our own time. Yet even periods of relative calm and stability can contain uncertainty: economic downturns, industrial unrest, health scares, terrorism, rumblings abroad. Someone, somewhere, is always threatening a war which may have consequences for us.

In the midst of this it is natural to feel fearful and anxious.

Whatever has been going on around me in the world, my life — like yours — has had its share of challenges: bereavements, ill-health, struggles with work or challenging relationships. The person of Jesus Christ has been a constant presence throughout my life, but never more so than in difficult times. I have found in him not only a role-model and wisdom teacher, but someone who has rescued me from living down to the worst of myself.

In the film As Good As It Gets, an unlikely romance develops between a bad-tempered and anti-social Jack Nicholson and attractive single mother, Helen Hunt. He lacks the social skills to woo her effectively, and whenever he seems to be making progress he commits a terrible faux pas, and sets back their relationship. Confused by his behaviour, Helen Hunt’s character at one point demands to know why he keeps bothering her. He replies, ‘You make me want to be a better person.’

That’s how I feel about following Jesus. He makes me want to be a better person, to dispense with the patterns of behaviour that spring out of fear and anxiety, to see myself not as the centre of the world but as part of a much bigger story which rests on God.

The beginning of that story is told in the Bible, where the people of God definitely lived in fragile and uncertain times. The 66 books of the Bible cover a period of hundreds and hundreds of years, where we see folk wrestling with the eternal human struggle of whether to live life simply to please themselves, or be shaped as a community centred on God.

When they do well at living as the people of God, they discover stability and security. When they all choose to please themselves and pull in different directions, society breaks down and they become vulnerable to invasion or defeat by the threats around them.

And then Jesus arrives on the scene, showing us that security isn’t only about our outer lives and whether we feel safe, but that in even the most difficult of times, we can feel secure in God within our inner life.

In the years since the stories of Jesus were collected and shared in the gospels, they have inspired and enabled Christians living in the darkest of times to cultivate an inner life centred on God, and find in that the most amazing source of peace and love.

As St Paul wrote, ‘Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God’ (2 Corinthians 3:4, NIV).

Confidence in Christ #1: The Inner Life

There is a part of each of us that is hidden from those around us, and is made up of our thoughts, feelings, memories, hopes, values and beliefs. All these are things that help to make you, you. Let’s call it the ‘inner life.’

Much of life is spent on outward appearances, and the things that other people can easily observe about us. How we look. The way we dress. The work we do. The house we live in. The way our kids turn out. It is easy to become focussed on trying to make everything look good, so that others will think well of us and accept us.

Such outward appearances, however, are not who we are. It is our inner life that determines our real qualities and characteristics. And while it may be hidden, the inner life can make itself known to others by the way we behave and the things we say.

The inner life is complex. Sometimes there is conflict and confusion. We might have thoughts or feelings that we struggle to control. What we think about ourselves may be very different to how others see us.

Yet our inner life is also the place where God resides. Deep within us there is a core of goodness that comes from God, a divine imprint that reminds us that we are a chip off the heavenly block.

Spirituality is the word we use to describe the process of making sense of our inner life and, in particular, how we get in touch with the God who is ‘the ground of our being.’

Some religious people understand this, but others do not. Instead of helping people on their journey to the heart of God, they try to control others, or make themselves look superior, or impose lots of rules and regulations to force others to become someone other than who they truly are.

Jesus understood this problem well, and came to help us find our way back to God. He cuts through the clutter of religious life and teaches us simple truths about God, about his desire for us to enjoy God’s love, and to take delight in passing it on to others. It is a journey that takes us deeper into what it means to be human in the best possible way, discovering the core of goodness within ourselves, not through the force of others or a strict regime of rules, but in the joy of prayerful union with God.

The Christian life is not about outward appearances, nor about clever theological thinking (although I’m very glad we have theologians who help us develop our understanding of God). The Christian life is simply an invitation to follow Jesus who is longing to show us the way to a full and rich inner life, to discover that spiritual wholeness that the Bible calls ‘holy’.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

on seeing God at work in surprising ways

Year A | Trinity 19 | Isaiah 45.1-7

During October we have been thinking about gratitude and generosity — grateful for all that God has given us, and the generosity that springs from such gratitude, mindful that all we have is not ours but comes from God. We simply have stewardship of it.

This outlook is woven deep in the Christian tradition and can have, when we incorporate it into our own way of living, a profound impact on how we choose to use our time, talents and money.

The idea that everything is ultimately in God’s hands is a theme that not only runs through scripture but also in Christian Spirituality during the two millennia since the time of Christ. And it is present in today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah.

The book of Isaiah was not, in fact, written by a single author. Rather it is a collection of writings that are set over quite a wide time period. In our reading today, the author is writing about a period of Biblical history known as the exile, which we’ve explored before. The nation of Judah, having been invaded by the Babylonians, has lost many of its leaders and elite to captivity in Babylon — perhaps as many as 10,000 people.

I had initially thought that I might inject a bit of congregational participation into today’s sermon by asking you to cheer when the Judeans are mentioned, boo for the Babylonians and hiss for their king, Cyrus the Great. I changed my mind about that after getting my hair cut this week...

While the barber was at work he asked me where I came from. I told him, ‘Scotland,’ and asked about him. ‘Iraq,’ he said, ‘from the city of Basra.’ And then he launched into an extraordinary diatribe about Iraq’s long and noble history, its rich culture and ancient mathematical and scientific achievements. ‘For you people, history means the Second World War. You have a very tiny history, it is nothing!’

It’s hard to argue with a man when he’s holding a pair of scissors to your head while simultaneously raging and laughing manically.

The site of the ancient kingdom of Babylon is in modern day Iraq. And my barber (probably now my ex-barber...) does have a point. At a time when the British Isles was still pretty primitive and feudal, the Babylonian empire was far more developed and cultured.

So I’ve gone off the idea of booing for the Babylonians. But if you were Jewish 500-600 years before Christ you would have been all too quick to join in. The invasion of Judah and the city of Jerusalem was a catastrophe for people who understood themselves to be specially blessed by God.

Isaiah 45.1-7 is an extract from a poem hailing Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who was also ruler of the Babylonian empire, as God’s anointed. Bit of pub quiz trivia for you here: Cyrus is the only non-Jewish person in scripture to be described as ‘God’s anointed’, and it would have been scandalous to those Jews being held captive to hear him described in such terms.

Bear with me for a bit more history. In these days every nation had its own set of gods. Wars between countries were seen as a reflection of the battles between deities in the heavens. When you conquered another country, your gods were believed to have defeated the gods of the losing side. After all, what use is a god if it lets your enemy triumph over you?

And that’s certainly a question some of the captured Jews in Babylon would have been asking. In response, the writer of this poem asserts three things:

Firstly, there are not multiple gods battling it out with each other. There is only one God, and that God is the God of everybody, regardless of race, creed or nationality. For anyone other than the Jews that was a mind-blowing idea, because ancient near eastern mythology made their gods in the image of humanity. The trials and tribulations that people experienced on earth were seen to be a reflection of the struggles of their deities.

What sets the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob apart was the assertion that there is just one God. ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God’ (v5). We are made in the image of that God (not vice versa), called to grow into holiness by becoming more godly, reflecting the divine characteristics of love, justice, peace, mercy and grace.

Secondly, the poem tells us that not only does this one God hold the world in the palm of his hand but is able to work through other people, regardless of their race, creed or nationality. When the poet says that Cyrus is anointed by God and will be an agent for good in the world, it turns upside down the expectation of every Jew that Cyrus the Great would somehow be destroyed. In actual fact, his reign was to become stronger and even more powerful, as he enlarged his kingdom to become the biggest empire ever seen in history up to that time.

And then he does the most amazing thing of all: he lets the captured Jews go home.

This is the moment of surprise, where God works through a pagan king to save his people. The message is clear: God does not abandon us. Whatever challenging situations we find ourselves in we are reminded to look for signs that God is at work. And not just to look for the obvious, but to be vigilant and prepared to be surprised by God working in ways we could never imagine.

How do we do this? The question ‘Where is God at work?’ can be a bit overwhelming to think about. But if you replace the word God with ‘goodness’, or ‘love’, it may be easier to find clues. Where is goodness at work in your life today? What are the signs that love is present to you in this moment? When you find the answer to such questions such, there you will find God.

Thirdly, there is another message in this extract of poetry. The writer is effectively saying to Cyrus, ‘God says I will give you many things (subduing kings, opening doors and gates, treasure and riches) so that you may know who I am.’

How much, I wonder, do we seek to know who God really is? In what ways do we give credit to God for all the ways our lives are blessed? You may not be a conquering king, but look at what you do have.

There is no evidence that Cyrus the Great ever acknowledged or understood his success was a gift from God. And that may be the point: if we’re not looking for God then no matter how much is given to us — even the kingdoms, power, and wealth of an emperor — the human ego still easily fails to see God at work. Even sending his son to die at the hands of humanity is not enough to convince many of the love and grace of God.

What additional wonders should we reasonably expect to see from God if we take for granted all that has already been given to us, which we perhaps too easily put down to luck, circumstance, or our own hard work or cleverness?

Julian of Norwich was a 14th century English mystic, who left a much loved written account of her spiritual insights. In one of her writings she reflects on a spiritual experience while contemplating a hazelnut in her hand.

I’m going to finish by reading to you from her great work Revelations of Divine Love. You should have been given a hazelnut when you arrived at church today. I invite to pick it up now and place it in the palm of your hand. Study it for a moment: it’s shape, texture, colour and weight. Does it feel cool or warm, heavy or light?

I saw that [our Lord] is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. And so in this sight I saw that he is everything which is good, as I understand.

And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand….

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it. But what did I see in it? It is that God is the creator and protector and the lover. For until I am substantially united to him, I can never have perfect rest or true happiness, until, that is, I am so attached to him that there can be no created thing between my God and me.

Mother Julian recognised that cultivating an ability to see God at work in our lives need not come from great success or wealth, nor even an absence of problems. It is when we open up our souls to the divine, that even the smallest and simplest of things, such as a tiny nut, can be a gateway to the eternal, to the truth that God holds us in the palm of his hand.

Such are the treasures of spiritual insight, not found by seeing in the way that the world looks, but by putting our attention in a different place so that we, like Mother Julian, can understand that perfect rest and true happiness comes from prayerful union with God.

Acknowledgement: Revd Dr Callie Plunket-Brewton,, for commentary on Isaiah 45.1-7

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Harvest Thanksgiving
The Parable of the Rich Fool | Luke 12.16-30

John and I were in Kent yesterday and took the dog for a walk along the chalk cliff tops which are a distinctive feature of the coastline in the Dover area. Turning inland we quickly found ourselves on farmland, and took a path between two fields. In the field to our right, little remained of the recent harvest except the straw stubble where the combine harvester had cropped the stems three or four inches above the ground. To the left was a beautifully tilled field already showing the green shoots of the next crop, just peeping above the surface of the earth.

In that moment, between these two fields, the whole cycle of the farmer’s work was visible.

It is easy to take the work of our farmers for granted. City life insulates us from the sights and occasional smells of agriculture. But if you had toast or cereal for breakfast this morning, you have a man or woman with a tractor to thank for it.

We live in a society that too easily takes it blessings for granted, where a sense of entitlement can seem more prevalent than a spirit of gratitude. It is, instead, in the generation who lived through rationing in the 1940s and 50s that I most often find real appreciation for the abundance that many in this country enjoy, while those of us who have never known what it means to go short, let alone hungry, assume it is the norm and have less awareness of how blessed we are.

When we live without gratitude we can quickly lose perspective. Feeling entitled simply feeds a delusion that we somehow always deserve more.

The land of the rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, What should I do for I have no place to store my crops?
— Luke 12.16-17 (NRSV)

Well, perhaps he could have given his surplus to people who really needed it? But as is so often the case with those who have much, the emphasis is instead on how to protect it and prevent others from getting their hands on it.

Jesus poses striking questions with this parable. Do we remember that everything we have comes from God? Do we share from our own abundance rather than storing it up for ourselves — a bulwark, perhaps, against anxiety about our own future needs?

Jesus goes on to say:

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.
— Luke 12.22-23 (NRSV)

His invitation not to worry contrasts with the rich fool’s fear of future scarcity, his hoarding of food for himself. The more he had, the more afraid was he of losing it.

It is hard not to worry. We live in troubling times. Our country’s economy is struggling, meaning many have less than they used to. And some in our community get caught in a trap where it is hard to feed themselves or their family properly. This is where our local Foodbank makes a real difference, and the contribution our congregation has made over the last four years, together with our harvest gifts today, has provided meals for hundreds of people in crisis.

Jesus’ injunction not to worry suggests it is easier to do so when we hold a bigger picture in mind. The birds in the air, the flowers in the park, the turning of the seasons. Allow the beauty and calm of creation to pour balm on troubled souls. Remember that not everything in this world is the consequence of human activity. God’s faithfulness and creative power is present in the works of nature, and from that we can draw strength. And for that, let us give thanks with gratitude for all the blessings we enjoy.