One small step. – A revolution in being
Do not be afraid. How many times does that phrase occur in the Bible? Well there are some things that the internet just doesn’t tell you, at least accurately. There are claims that it is there or thereabouts for 365 times. A nice idea, but not really upheld by various search methods, but then what is it that we are being advised not to be afraid of, and can we compare advice if the context is totally different? In the end, it probably doesn’t really matter whether it was said 1 time or 10,000 times, what matters is why it was said and to what purpose.
Our two readings today have two totally different contexts and two separate storylines. In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, we are in the midst of his second visit, which to all intents and purposes was a difficult one. There are hints of Paul being accused of fraudulent activity in his collection of money for the church in Jerusalem that was suffering from persecution and was finding itself in a really precarious position. The community in Jerusalem was experiencing or had experienced a famine in the mid 40s AD, there were increasing numbers of widowers, from natural death or persecution, there were an increasing number of pilgrims visiting the community which as having an adverse effect on their ability to survive. Paul therefore was urging the gentile churches to assist the mother church materially, and the church in Corinth was materially well off as compared to other smaller communities such as Macedonia, but had been slow on the uptake. They had promised to donate but somehow hadn’t followed through on this, and then perhaps related to this was a sense that they didn’t trust Paul that all the money was going to the source. Compare that thinking with today; we often draw back from giving our resources to the poor in case they are misused or in case not everything gets there. Will our money be misused or tracked to somewhere else. The problems it seems are not new.
However there is danger to focus too much on the issue of giving material resource, such as money. And in the Gospel of Luke we see a picture of generosity of living. Jesus provided a picture of a rich farmer who is mostly concerned with making sure he has enough to sustain himself. Is that a problem? Surely we all do this. We save for a rainy day. We make sure we have reserves. As usual with Jesus’ stories, there is often an element of hyperbole present, and we need to see beyond the obvious. The picture that is being painted is of a person whose whole and sole focus is to protect stuff for himself. Why? What is he anxious of, which leads into the rest of the reading where Jesus advised us not to worry about what to wear or how we are going to cope. He is drawing a picture to remind us that we are precious to God, and therefore we will be looked after. Does this mean that we should live life in such a way as to be reckless? After all God will provide. No, it is about balance in the end. If we live a purely hedonistic lifestyle, with our resources, with our money, with ourselves then are we not just mimicking the prodical son, are we not testing God? Jesus is arguing and advising us not to have an outlook on life where we are out of balance, where our focus is too much on looking after our own best interests. Because if we follow that path then we end up self centered, and selfish, keeping out riches all to ourselves, and not being willing to share of ourselves with others. This may be money, or material, but it also may refer to being willing to share of what we are. How willing are we to be truly open with the other? If we are afraid of being open and honest with another person, what are we afraid of? Jesus is making the case for not hiding behind a mask in our dealing with the world, of being honest and authentic. Remember the times that Jesus calls people out for being hypocrites. He actually introduced the meaning that we have for that word, which in the first century actually referred to Greek actors, who wore a mask on stage. Jesus was asking his followers not to wear a mask in real life but to be open with their neighbour. If all the world were to do this then just imagine what it would look like, what would it be like, would it be possible that by engaging with this radical way of living we might just be creating in part the new Kingdom that is the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven.
So I have some questions for you to ponder over the next few days.
What stops communities from openly sharing and living with other communities? What type of anxiety underlies the nationalistic fervour that we are seeing increasingly in various nation states, leading to isolationalism. And then is that biblical? To me it flies in the face of the sort of living that Jesus is calling us to live if we are to be true disciples.
Why do churches worry that if they support a smaller church that their money will be wasted within a circuit or a wider connexion?
Why do we get fixated on what is ours?
Can we call anything truly ours?
Are we kidding ourselves in this regard?
This leads us to thinking of our true self, what is that?
Who are we that we can become so insular and anxious and fearful of the other?
These questions, some of them no doubt rather too philosophical for some if we dwell on and reflect on can lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and consequently on how we deal with other people. Revolutions occur in small steps, the Christian revolution started when Jesus arrived in a small home to parents in Bethlehem, it continued with his ministry as a radical itinerant rabbi, an asker of awkward questions to the society around him, it led to his death at the hands of a brutal regime, it continued with the announcement of the Kingdom of heaven on Earth, the first steps on the revolution on that first Easter Sunday. Since then true followers of Jesus’ way have taken further small steps, society continues to take small steps towards equality and diversity, towards a more inclusive model of living, towards real love and respect between partners, between people.
This is our challenge to overcome our innate anxiety in dealing with the world around us, people, events etc, and to embrace rather the outlook of God, to become one with the Trinity as we spend our lives, not just here in a Church but outside as we take small steps to change the world, step by step.