Sermon given at GH & LH 7.8.16
Readings: OT/Epistle Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16
Gospel Luke 12:32-40
In last week’s gospel we heard Jesus telling the parable of the rich farmer building a huge barn to store his wealth. We’re always being told to save for our retirement, for our needs in old age, or for a rainy day! It seems sensible to be responsible with our money and to provide for ourselves and our family.
But Jesus is trying to warn us that we can’t actually be completely in control of our lives. However carefully we plan things, however hard we work, we can’t prevent random events such as illness, accidents, bad weather, or even sheer bad luck, mucking things up for us.
Today’s readings urge us to put God in control of our lives.
But that’s not easy for any of us. We can’t see God, we can’t always hear his voice, we can’t always understand what he’s up to or what he’s trying to tell us. God is not visible, and God is beyond our imagination and our understanding. If we’re going to let God take control of our lives we’ve got to trust in a reality that we do not see!
Faith is a vital element in this – if we want to know God’s love and care and guidance and blessing, we have to put our faith in him. And sometimes that means actually taking real steps to journey with God into the unknown – SCAREY or WHAT!
Like Abraham we have to be willing to leave things that are known and familiar and valued by us – and journey on. Sometimes we literally have to let go of the old in order to move into the new – and we MUSTN’T LOOK BACK!
Over the years lots of churches have told me things like: we used to have loads of children in Sunday School, there used to be 2x, 3x, the number of people in church, the music or the singing used to be so good in so-and-so’s day/ But we mustn’t let those old memories hold us back from moving into God’s future – whatever that may be! In fact, as I reflected on what you’ve told me about the good things that have happened in this church in the past it made me realise that God IS using that past to move you into a new future – the fun and friendship you shared created good memories that are now drawing young families back to church here – they just need a new format of church for their generation! Family services, Café Main St, Messy Church etc.
Jesus himself tells us that we must be willing to give up our possessions and give our money to charity – whereas I fear what we usually do is give to charity only what’s left in our pocket once we’ve paid for our holidays, the new washing machine, the insurance bill, and our pension fund!
Listen to what a Russian poet called Irina Ratushinskaya has to tell us. She spent many years in a Russian labour camp. Now free and living in the West, she reflected:
A person who is deprived of everything, of family, of contact with friends, who is totally isolated, alone, without any property at all, not even a toothbrush, has nothing left to lose. An enormous, powerful sense of security follows. Instead of panic, one feels God’s hand on one’s shoulder. We all felt that nothing really bad could happen to us: we all thought, ‘If they kill us today, tomorrow we will be in heaven.’
I wish I had the same feeling now, but I don’t. Under such pressure, God feels really close; it’s easier to serve God when in trouble than on holiday. When I came to the West, I thought, ‘Now I’m in a world of holidaymakers.’
When Jesus came, he said, ‘Leave everything you have.’ That was a frightening demand. A person can only develop if he or she is able to let go. It was easier for us to take risks back in the Russian labour camps because we had nothing to lose. Now, after spending 10 years in the West, I do have something to lose.
Letting go of things in order to journey with God is not all bad news – it can lead to new discoveries, new good things that we would never have encountered if we hadn’t taken the risk of stepping out in faith.
Abraham and his family left the familiarity of their own home and land to journey with God into the unknown – and they lived in tents. In the bible living in a tent means living a life that’s fluid, a life that’s free to follow God wherever the wind of the Spirit blows.
It sounds daft – but actually true freedom means the equivalent of living in a tent. Money and possessions can tie us down. God invites us to cut the ties and follow him – because, he says, that’s the way to find the rock-solid security we desire.
Following Jesus and putting our faith in God doesn’t automatically mean selling up our house and all our possessions! What it does mean is the willingness to sit light to these things, even to offer them to God for use in his service. What God will require us to do with them we don’t know – we just have to trust that he knows what’s best for us! One thing I’m sure of – God’s infinitely better at knowing what’s best for us than we are ourselves!!
Perhaps every time we drive the car or load the dishwasher we ought to offer these things to God, and ponder whether we’re following him along the way he wants us to go. Prayer can be a conversation with God that goes on even while we’re doing other things – a bit like watching what’s going on around you while talking to someone at the same time. Prayer doesn’t have to be wordy or formal, it can be just thinking about things in God’s presence.
Life is essentially about relationships – ours with God – and flowing out from that, our relationships with everyone and everything else in creation.
I will never forget a conversation I had once with someone who’d visited heaven briefly. I was asking him the sort of questions we’d all like to ask – and eventually he said: Mary, you’ve got to realise, it’s not like here on earth – in heaven everything is focussed on God, he’s the centre of everything. I guess our lives and our relationships would be a whole lot better if they were centred primarily on God rather than on ourselves!
Prayer, constant prayer, is the only way we’re going to get anywhere near that. But remember – prayer is not a one way thing – God is on the other end of the line, not another frail human being like ourself! And God offers us a lot more wisdom and security than any of our possessions!