Sunday 19th July 2015
St Marys Hadlow
James 2:14-26, Luke 10:25-37
Part 2 of the Giving for Life sermons
May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am conscious that many of you may not have been here at the 10 am service last week due to the family service and the Summer Fun day. That is unfortunate as this is the second part of a two week series on the way that our faith should influence our generosity to God and to others.
Therefore just to recap very briefly last week we looked at two ‘Cycles of Generosity’ which should flow from our faith. The first cycle is based in the recognition that everything we have in life, our money, our health, our time, our talents and even our life itself comes from God and that we should hold those things lightly and be willing to offer them back to God in his service. So God is generous towards us and we recognise that as his followers by seeking to be open handed in our generosity to him.
The second cycle of generosity is towards our fe I llow human beings, whoever they may be, who are suffering in any way. That was illustrated last week by the parable of the sheep and the goats and is explored further today with the parable of the Good Samaritan. But what is common to both is that when caring for the needs of our fellow people we our not told just to feel sorry for them, or even just to pray for them, but to get stuck in and help them – feeding them, clothing them, visiting them, opening our wallets to them. And the twist in the story of the parable of the sheep and the goats was that when we help those who are most in need we are not just serving our fellow human beings but we are also directly serving the needs of Christ himself. And this wasn’t just a peripheral issue, to be done by the really keen who like that sort of thing, rather this was presented as a salvation issue – Christ either accepts or rejects us not on the basis of what we say we believe but on the basis of what we do.
The fact that this is a salvation issue demonstrates just how importantly we should be taking this. Our faith is not just about our spirituality that we feed by coming here once a week to sing, listen, receive communion and then depart to six and a half days of lives otherwise untransformed. If we are really followers of Jesus Christ then we should not only come here to worship on a Sunday but every area of our lives should be changed to reflect his values.
During the reformation much ink and, sadly, much blood was spilled over the question of faith versus works. The medieval Catholic church was accused by the reformers of promoting salvation by works, i.e. that you could simply earn your way into God’s grace by doing certain things, and in reaction to that the reformers promulgated a theology of salvation by faith alone, i.e. that by having faith in God as a purely interior, spiritual, issue that nothing further was required from us.
Well the parables we have looked at say to me clearly that our faith in a loving, generous, graceful God ought to be leading us to act towards God and towards others in a loving, generous and graceful manner.
And this is not just about the interpretation of parables – the book of James is very clear on this subject. We heard a reading from chapter 2 of that letter but in chapter 1 he is just as explicit:
“22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says….27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
And in our reading this morning James says that faith which is not accompanied by action is dead. Not resting but dead. Pushing up the daisies.
But let’s get something clear – doing good actions alone does not give us faith and nor does it lead us to salvation. We cannot work our way into God’s book of life by simply doing lots of stuff.
Our relationship with God comes first and our faith comes from our response to his freely given grace. That is not something we can earn save through our repentance.
But having received the gift of faith these parables and the book of James tells me that this has to lead somewhere – and that somewhere is a loving response to God and our fellow humans, if our faith is not to be considered dead.
Some of the reformers were said to dislike the Book of James as it so threatened their theology of faith alone but I find too a similar message from St Paul in a reading more commonly heard at weddings, from 1 Corinthians 13:
“13 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
This is challenging stuff, and intentionally so. If our faith does nothing more for us than bring us here week by week but otherwise leaves us unchanged in the way in which we approach God, the world, and other people then we are no more than resounding gongs and our faith has gone to join the choir invisible.
And this is not just an issue of our personal salvation, it is about God’s mission to all the people out there who think that the church is full of hypocrites. As I always say the church is not full of hypocrites there is always room for one more. The way in which we, as the body of Christ, live out our faith and treat our resources is actually a mission issue. What does that mean? Well, at least two things: joking aside if the outside world looks at the people who go to church and sees lives that are untransformed then they may, quite fairly, ask what is the point? Secondly the church itself cannot engage in outreach and mission without both the financial and human resources to do so.
So this is about both our personal faith, our relationship with God, and our call to engage in mission. And, by the way, mission is not the same thing as evangelism or proselytising, which many people are terrified of. Our mission is to serve those around us in need because that is what Christ calls us to do. The Good Samaritan did not try and convert the injured Jew, but simply attended to his needs regardless of the cost. Mission is not something that is done in far off lands by other people but is something to which the whole church is called and Hadlow is our mission field.
But we need to be able to demonstrate to the people of Hadlow firstly that we are not hypocrites do say one thing and do another. And secondly that we are here to serve them in love because that is the mission to which God calls us.
Now there are lots of different ways that each of those should impact on us as individuals and as a church, and I hope to explore many of them in future. But the purpose of these two weeks is to think specifically about the use of our time, talents and finances both as disciples of Christ and to further the mission of his church here.
In relation to our time and God-given talents I want to continue to urge everybody here to think carefully about how you use your time and talents and whether God could be calling you to do more with them. It is all too easy to say that “I don’t have time” to do something new but are we really making the most of the time we have. Missing half an hour of television a day would free up 182 hours a year or five working weeks of 9 to 5. You could accomplish a lot in five working weeks.
Is there something more you would like to do in Church or for Church but were too afraid to ask or to commit yourself? Don’t be afraid. If you feel the slightest call to have a go at something old or something brand new then let me know. And if you try something and it doesn’t work out or you decide its not for you that is absolutely fine. I would rather people tried 10 new things than tried nothing at all.
And, of course, no matter how vulgar it may be to talk about, we do need everyone to consider carefully whether there is anything more you can do to support the church financially. If you give money on the plate then could you gift aid it? If you give by standing order then could you review it? If you are writing a will then could you leave the church a legacy? Before I was ordained I went to a church in Essex and a parishioner there died and left the church her house. That unexpected bequest suddenly meant that the church could house a youth worker and the knock on effects were huge. Now, I am not expecting you to leave your house but to remember the church in your will is a very easy way to help secure the future of the church here, after we have shuffled off this mortal coil.
Finally, as we have been promising, this week we are launching the Challenge of the Talents. As you come up to communion this morning there will be two people by the rail here handing out envelopes. Each envelop contains a crisp £5 note and a form. If you are wondering how come we have so much cash to splash around then you should know that this is the proceeds from the open gardens event. We are taking the seeds from open gardens and want to plant that into you, the congregation, and see it grow over the summer.
We would like as many people as possible to take an envelope – if you are a family then please take one for each child too. The challenge is that over the summer you are to use your talents and ingenuity to make that £5 grow as much as possible and then return the proceeds to church on Harvest Sunday, which is 4th October. Kids might buy a bucket and sponge and clean cars, or buy the ingredients to make home made lemonade, adults might club together and have a coffee morning. We are deliberately not keeping a record of who takes an envelope – this is an exercise of trust and faith. And even if you really have no idea what to do please take an envelop and think about it – even if you simply return it with another £5 then we shall have doubled our money.
So I would really commend this to you but please don’t forget to think and pray carefully about how your time, talents and money are used regularly in church because this is an issue both of how our faith is at work and how the church is able to carry out God’s mission here.