This is the final part of “The Generous Life” package of sermons which is being run throughout the North Kent Circuit.
We are being encouraged “ to know more of what we are and what we can do to change the world”. Sometimes, these pre-set series and themes can be challenging to a preacher, because you want to be open to what God is saying in the moment, however it is a good discipline to focus on one area and to try and listen for what God might be wanting to share in an area that I might have subconsciously closed off. The first thing I would like to say is that a life of Generosity should not be constrained by impacts by the world; I am thinking here of the financial challenges that we face, the political decisions that can shape our living standards, the ongoing debate of austerity and the need to cut back on the welfare state.
The reading from Isaiah speaks directly into the hypocrisy of reliance on symbol. Does our donating money to the latest Disaster Emergency request really impress God? Whilst at the same time living our lives in such a way that we contribute to the very conditions necessary for the disaster in the first place. Take global warming for an example, we are all happy using our fossil fuel driven appliances and are then shocked by a tsunami or a flood leaves islands or villages decimated. Does it really impress God if we pay £2 per month for clean water in some far flung country if we do nothing about the children in our own neighbourhood who go without a hot meal? We can’t buy ourselves forgiveness or mercy. In any case the fasting that pleases God is a fast that contributes to righteousness and justice for all. A fast that makes a difference for the disenfranchised, the homeless, the naked and the sick. It is interesting to note that Matthew obviously felt that this was really important; hence the story about the sheep and the goats in Chapter 25, with the very attitudes being held up as the difference between eternal life and the opposite. Note Jesus’ reply to those pleading with him: “ I tell you the truth, whatever you did NOT do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”
I have to admit that this is one of those pieces of scripture that always leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Have I not walked away sometimes? And perhaps that is the point of the scripture. We are all reliant on the mercy of God, not one of us can claim to be so self assured that we are comfortable in our achieving salvation by our own actions. We are being challenged to look deep into ourselves. Do we truly reflect the image of God to all or do we too readily hide behind a mask limiting our ability to share the Spirit with others? The point here is not to say that if you fail on one of these parts then you are destined for damnation. Don’t forget that Jesus has already claimed your inheritance for you by his death and resurrection. You have the spirit within you. No, these pieces of scripture invite us to reconnect with the living spirit within us in order that we might know better who we are. And that by recognizing better that we holy and living temples as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians, and that we are his holy priests (1 Peter), we are points of intersection between heaven and earth. That is what Paul would have meant by being a living Temple. This of course is precisely what Jesus was, though in Jesus’ case not in the often diluted version that we experience, dimmed as it is by our predilection to sin.
Knowing what we are, gives us clear direction in what we can do to change the world, but we need to know what we are aiming to change the world into. Are we aiming at something of our own creation; global free markets, Western style democracy, the constant sidelining of faith? Or God’s new creation, a place where heaven and earth will be joined forever, a place of joy, of healing, of righteousness and justice. As a preacher of God’s word, it should be of no surprise that I should be calling for the latter. Not because the former are necessarily evil, but they have all been tried and they have failed. God announced the new creation with the resurrection of Jesus. I see the new creation growing like a mustard seed. As holy and living temples it is our prime role to live lives of witness to the new creation and to act in ways that promote it’s growth. So we live in ways that are pleasing to God, because God has entered us and invited us to experience the relationship of love that exists within the trinity itself. In so doing, we become part of the kingdom of heaven on earth. We need to respect the diversity that exists within the Church, Why? Because the Church is the place where the new creation is. It is one of those key connecting points between heaven and earth.
At the heart of the trinity, at the heart of Paul’s teaching in Roman’s 12 is love. We are told to bless and not curse. We should love those who are against us – for isn’t this the example of Jesus? We should not be conceited or proud, or be deceived by intellectual or academic superiority. Everyone we meet is potentially a child of God, how therefore would God want us to treat them? With disdain? – No. With rejection? – No. With acceptance? – Yes. It is by living according to the rules of love that we help the new creation grow and we therefore meet the demands of being a disciple of Christ, and we make a difference.
This isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for Jesus, it wasn’t easy for the early Christians, it isn’t easy for Christians today in countries where it can be life threatening just to profess Christianity. It isn’t easy in the UK where you can be easily laughed at, be deemed a bit silly and therefore have your career progression threatened. But, do we really have a choice? In the end we can follow a world view that is in opposition to God because it doesn’t want to be replaced or we can embrace God’s extravagant Grace. For change is the only constant. It is happening. A revolution is happening because God’s healing new creation is growing. Do we want to be part of it, or do we risk being excluded, in the words of Matthew, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
So in conclusion, living a generous life is about reflecting on who we are, and then letting the one who is in us live in us. When we do this, we act as true witnesses to God’s word which is and will change the world into the new Jerusalem of John’s revelation.
Be Bold, Be strong for the lord your God is with you.
In Jesus’ name