Sermon: 8th Sunday after Epiphany, 26 February 2017, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 26th February 2017

Rev. Paul Weaver

“TRUST, GENEROSITY AND PRIORITIES”

(Isaiah 49:8-16; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:5; Matthew 6:22-34)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Familiar words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, we will hear them again in a few days in our Gospel for Ash Wednesday. But they actually form the introduction for today’s Gospel reading, and give us a clearer sense of what Jesus was saying.

In this passage, Jesus is talking about priorities: about what really matters to us. Wealth and possessions may have their place in our approach to life, but they must always take a secondary place, according to Jesus. They can too easily usurp God’s place in our lives. They can get in the way of us doing what we know we should do. We have been hearing of footballers and sportspeople who allow the attraction of wealth to take priority, and get caught up with dishonest gambling or performance-enhancing drugs, when they should focus on playing as well as they can. We hear of politicians who seek donations dishonestly, to given them a better chance of winning the election. Doing what is right, and ultimately putting God first, must take first place over the pursuit of wealth. God’s priorities must take first place over the priorities of materialism.

Jesus talks about having healthy eyes: they enable us to see the world clearly, and show us the way ahead. He also refers to the unhealthy eye: literally this is the “evil eye”. Now the term “evil eye” to some people is about deep destructive power: perhaps it belongs in horror movies or exotic countires. But in those days, the “evil eye” described the outlook of someone who was mean and stingy, the person who was concerned with their own needs and wants, and did not care about the needs of anyone else. To be self-centred is to be spiritually blind, Jesus is saying: blind to the real way to live, blind to the call of the God of love. We are really not the centre of the world. It is really not all about us!

And so Jesus challenges us all. Whom do we really serve? Do we serve God or mammon?

Mammon is wealth and possessions regarded as if they were a god. Money can be a useful tool, but it is a dangerous and ultimately destructive master. An employee can have two jobs and two bosses, but slavery doesn’t work that way. Nor does true Christian faith. We are God’s slaves, God’s servants through Christ. We are full-time Christians.

The purpose of life is not to see how much money or how many possessions you can gather before you die. We will all still die, and all those possessions will ultimately mean nothing. And we see reminders so often that wealth does not necessarily make people happy, or give them a meaningful and satisfying life. Life is not a competition but a journey, with opportunities to learn and grow, to love and serve. God is our loving and wise Master through Jesus Christ. Money and possessions must always take second place: they too must be used in his service.

And a healthy attitude will help us to see the relevance of Jesus’ words about worry. Life provides plenty of opportunities for worry, and many of us are pretty good at taking those opportunities. We worry about our finances, our health, our family, our work, about the state of the world and the state of the nation. We worry about the state of the church. And of course we worry about all those different problems which come up from time to time. Worry is natural: our problems are clear enough, but we can’t see the future and we can only see part of the picture. And so we worry.

But Jesus challenges us about our worrying. Worry is unrealistic, because it fails to take into account the God who made us and cares for all creation. Worry is unhelpful because it achieves nothing: it won’t make us taller – or slimmer! It will shorten our life rather than keep us healthy for longer. Worry is unbelieving, because God already knows our needs and hears our cries for help.

Of course it is easy for me to tell us not to worry. We are all frail humans. But let’s remember that the one who said these words 2000 years ago had plenty of things to get him worried, and to give him the proverbial ulcer. The people around him really couldn’t understand what he was on about; even his closest disciples didn’t get it. And he had powerful opposition, opposition which would in time have him arrested and executed.

Jesus had plenty to worry about. And although he went through times of great pressure and at times said some very heavy things, he was also a man who clearly loved life and loved people, who enjoyed humour and loved a party!

So he gives this advice: get on with today’s problems, and don’t worry about tomorrow. In a sense, we might almost say to ourselves when we start to worry about things, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow!” That’s one bit of procrastination that is worth practising. Worry about it tomorrow, or the day after! Let’s get on with life today!

And of course, when Jesus tells us not to worry, he is not telling us to do nothing. Often when we worry, it gets in the way of the things we should be doing. When you start to worry about an examination, the best thing is to get down to study. If you are worried about a family member, pray for them, and consider whether there is something else positive you can do for them: a phone call, a visit, a quiet word of encouragement, or a bit of practical help.

Faith does not mean doing nothing. Jesus would be well aware that those birds of the air have very active lives: finding food, building nests, looking after their young. And when we pray “Give us today our daily bread”, we don’t just lounge back, waiting for the food to drop in our mouth. Trusting God to care for us means being alert to the ways we are to work with him.

Which leads me to a subject which I have felt is an important one to raise at this time. There are concerns about our Parish finances. Our income is not going in the direction it needs to be going, if we are continue on and even move forward.

I don’t want you to worry about that. But I do want you to pray, and to think, and perhaps to take action. In particular, we really need to increase our regular offertories. And a question that occurs to me is one especially for those who are regular parishioners. When did each of us last review our giving to the parish?

I’m not one of those clergymen who believes in telling people how much they must give to the church. And I am conscious that we all are in very differing financial circumstances. I suspect that many of us are very generous in our giving, as many of us are generous in our service to the parish and beyond. Remember how Jesus pointed out the extreme generosity of the poor widow with her two small coins.

But every now and again we all need to review our giving: how much, and what we support. Now that I have retired from full-time ministry, Sarah and I are moving into a new stage of our lives financially speaking, and we are at the stage when we need to review our giving to the church and its mission. We are thankful to be well provided for, but we are at the point where we need to look again at our approach to giving, and how we give.

Some of us will find it practical to use our parish’s bank transfer system, but regardless of that, let’s review how much we give – both to our church and beyond. We might support particular missions and worthwhile causes. There might be other ways we support people in need, and the mission of the church. But it needs to be reviewed from time to time.

The important thing is that we think and pray about our giving. And that we seek to be generous in our giving and our service. Pray for our parish, not only its spiritual needs but also its financial needs. We don’t need to worry, but it is good to take action when the appropriate time comes.

We are a community of people who are generally well provided for. God has been good to us. Jesus calls us to be faithful by being generous. Generosity flows out of our trust in the God who loves us, and our recognition of the love of God. First things first, says Jesus to us.

Let’s leave our worries till tomorrow, and focus on what is important to be doing today. Let’s remember that God is our generous provider who knows our needs and cares for us. Let’s keep in mind what a privilege it is to be partners with God in his wonderful plans for the church and the world.

Jesus calls us to be people who pray in faith. And as we pray, let’s be open to what God would have us do in playing our generous part in the answer to those prayers. Amen.

Paul Weaver