Tobit 4, 5-11 & Matthew 6, 19-24

 

May I speak in the name of the Living God……..

 

I have always been intrigued by Saints and the lives of the Saints. The Saints can be a great source of inspiration to us and, of course Christians throughout the ages have developed ways of living based around the example of particular saints: Benedict, Ignatius (founder of the Jesuits), Augustine, Dominic, and Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is today, are some of the most obvious examples. The Rule of Benedict is of particular importance to me – I am a member of the Order of Saint Benedict. I could think of an awful lot to say about some of the saints just mentioned; but St. Laurence, not really. There just isn’t that much information about him. In saintly terms he is a bit of a nobody.

 

But, this is the important point: nobodies can and often do change the world around them. Nobody’s often shape the Church, leaving nothing behind but their good name. The gospels also include many obscure nobodies who had an important part to play in the unfolding of our Christian story, who had names worthy of mention, but whose specific ‘leadership role’ is shrouded in mystery. Think of Joanna and Suzanne who supported Jesus’ ministry or St. Matthew, who is remembered simply because he dared to obey Jesus’ command to ‘follow me.’

 

St. Laurence, like Matthew dared simply to follow Jesus. And, he appears to have taken Jesus’ pronouncements at face value. History records Laurence was a deacon, not an apostle, or a priest. The ministry of the deacon is one of service and didn’t Jesus say that ‘he came to serve and not be served?’ Laurence was above all a servant of the Lord and, the gospel.

 

Jesus’ compassion was universal and, Laurence, like St Francis of Assisi, cared particularly for the poor, the needy and the outcast. Such care cost Laurence his mortal life. History records that Laurence was commanded by his inquisitors to bring before them the treasures of the Church and, he did. He assembled the poor and is reputed to have said: ‘See these are the treasures of the Church.’

 

Laurence had a wonderful ability to get to the core challenge of the gospel, he took to heart Jesus’ teaching that ‘no one can serve to masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’ His acceptance of the gospel as a rule of life cost him his life. But, the irony is that it didn’t because as Tobit reminds us, ‘almsgiving (loving service, righteous living) delivers from death and keeps you going into darkness.’  

 

Even though we know very little about St. Laurence, the little that we do know must surely inspire and challenge us. So here our three challenges that we must accept if we are to honour his memory, in this town, at this point in time:

 

  • Are we prepared to embrace a life of service? And, this is a very personal challenge to me, as well as to you, for I need to remember each and every day, that before I was ordained priest I was ordained deacon.
  • Do we see the poor as the ‘treasure of the church?’ And, if we do what does this mean in terms of mission and evangelism?
  • What is the orientation of our hearts? Is our love directed towards Jesus, who emptied himself of all but love, or towards things and possessions?

 

I would like to suggest that as a community we might like to explore afresh what it means to honour and be inspired by St. Laurence and his spirituality. Will you come with me on that journey? Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown 4th October 2015

 

May I speak in the name of the living God………

 

Harvest festivals are something I remember with fondness from my childhood. I used to enjoy bringing some home produce, normally made by my Nana, into school. In retirement she discovered gardening and greenhouses. My grandfather, always bampa because as a toddler I couldn’t say grandpa, discovered a passion for hot housing tomatoes. Gooseberries and rhubarb were Nana’s thing. I haven’t inherited their ‘green fingers,’ but there is always time!

Now as I consider harvest it invokes a mixture of feelings and I must admit, just like my grandmother’s rhubarb and gooseberry crumbles I find harvest bitter-sweet. Let’s start with the sweet. I have always liked the idea of back to front meals!

Harvest of course reminds us of the beauty of creation and, God’s wonderful provision. It also encourages us to mindful of and thankful towards those who till and farm the land. And, of course in this country that brings to mind images of combine harvesters and slow moving traffic on our country lanes. But not all harvests are like ours. I have spent a lot of time in rural Uganda, and harvest there is very different.

So yes, we need to be grateful for the good provision of the land, but we also need to allow harvest to challenge us, the wealthy. Today’s epistle urges us to be content with ‘enough.’ We are encouraged to avoid the senseless hording of goods: ‘but those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evil.’

Money itself, is not evil, it can’t be, it is inanimate, possessing no character of its own, but the love of money expressed through hording of goods, is the root of not just some, but all evil. It is evil because senseless hording deprives others of their legitimate rights to share in the abundance of the created order. As Christians we must seek to avoid deprivation. We must as the gospel reminds us ‘seek first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’

Harvest challenges us to think again about the kingdom of God and what it means to live righteously. And, this can sometimes produce, not a sweet, but a bitter taste in our mouths as we reflect on the fact that all is not as it should be in the world. Many in Uganda, for instance, have no access to fresh and clean water and, of course countless numbers are fleeing the world’s conflict zones.

The monks of Taize have a wonderful chant in which they describe the Kingdom of God: ‘the Kingdom of God is justice, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ It is a chant I listen to often at the start of my morning prayer. It is chant that both inspires and haunts me.

So yes, let’s enjoy harvest but let’s also allow it to confront us, discomfort us, and question us.

Are we content with enough or are we always striving for more?

What can we do to assist in the Divine process of bringing about justice and peace?

What resources can we share with those less well off through no fault of their own?

These are, perhaps, our Harvest questions; questions we ought to reflect on and, then answer. Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

6th September, Trinity 14: Proverbs 22,1-2 8-9, 22-23, James 2, 10 14-17 & Mark 7, 24-end.

 

I really enjoy going to the cinema and it is never just about the film itself, for I really enjoy the whole pre viewing experience. Okay, what I really mean is I enjoy buying the pick and mix, or sometimes pop corn.

 

I enjoy filling my tub with a wide variety of confectionary some of which taste sweet and others sour. I enjoy the contrast. I think sweet and sour, and sweet and salty work well together, although I have to admit I recently bought a tub of salted caramel ice cream and wasn’t at all convinced.!

 

And today’s bible readings feel, at least to me, a bit like a bucket of pick and mix. The readings from Proverbs and James are wonderful, full of sweetness and the gospel, at least at first reading, tastes in some ways to me a little sour. Yet, the readings as we shall see really do enhance each other.

 

Lets chew on a few verses from Proverbs, part of the Bible’s wisdom literature: ‘the rich and poor have this in common, the Lord is the maker of them all,’ ‘do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils the life of those who despoil them.’

 

James, in his pastoral epistle continuously stresses that all, yes all, are equal before God, irrespective of rank or position. If you remember from last week, James defines religion that is acceptable before God as ‘caring for the widows and orphans in their distress and keeping oneself undefiled by the world.’ Equality, justice, compassion, being doers of the word are James’ great themes, all of which allow him to finally assert that ‘faith by itself if it has no works is dead.’

 

I suspect that none of us would want to disagree with the sentiments expressed through the wisdom of Proverbs or the pastoral imperatives of James?  But what of the gospel reading, how to you experience it, or even taste it, on first encounter?

 

Well for me, compared to the other two readings, initially it tastes a bit sour. If James’ pastoral pre-occupation is with equality and, the wisdom of Proverbs stresses the commonality of all before God doesn’t Jesus reaction to the outsider, the Gentile, appear at best a little rude and at worst down right racist? I suggest that it does at face value. But our task is to dig a little deeper for that is where we find real meaning.

 

Imagine for a second or two that you are watching this encounter, as if you were at the cinema.

 

Because the story is set in a house capable of receiving guests this means that you are probably male (the women would be out the back) and well educated. You know your Old Testament Scriptures and have no difficulty in accepting that salvation will come from the Jews, and for the Jews.

 

And then a foreign women, with a demon possessed daughter walks into the room, uninvited. This is not part of the script. Then it gets even worse she throws herself on the floor at His feet. What on earth is happening? Then she asks Jesus to heal her daughter; an impossible and, heretical demand. She is not a member of the chosen race, she is not male, and she doesn’t even know her manners.

 

And, he talks to her. What is he doing? Debate, theological debate is an exclusively male and Jewish pastime. At first it seems as though Jesus is set on rebuking her. It feels like Jesus is on your side, or our side, after all. But then it starts to go wrong again. This gentile, it appears, is not too interested in race and gender; she is in fact quite happy with the idea that salvation will come from the Jews and, is for the Jews. She makes absolutely no attempt to persuade Jesus otherwise. But, she does understand this:

 

That God is there for all, that ‘rich (both materially and spiritually) and poor alike have this in common, the Lord is the maker of all.’  She understands that God doesn’t want to see her ‘despoiled.’ She understands that unlike those who regard themselves as supremely worthy in human terms God isn’t that bothered by rank or status. She has a better understanding of the God’s radical equality which has been evident since Genesis 1 than the so called religious elite. She, this Syro-Phoenician woman, knows that real faith is about doing, and specifically about healing and reconciling and she dares to challenge Jesus to agree with her; in front of a Jewish, male and theologically educated audience. It is a scandalous story. And the sting in the tale is this:

 

Jesus agrees with her. He affirms her he gives her what she desires.

 

The challenges from today’s readings are that:

 

We must never be complacent or even self possessive about our faith, or overly protective of our community. We must all the Church must have porous boundaries.. We must constantly seek to welcome the stranger into our community. We must reach out to all, affirm all, feed all and bless all; these I think are the challenges from today’s readings.

 

Are we willing to accept them?

 

Amen.

Rev Andrew Lightbown