Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Missing Piece

There’s nothing worse than doing one of those big Christmas jigsaws later in the year, only to find that someone has got there before you and there’s now a piece missing!

For many of us the issues surrounding ‘giving’ and ‘generosity’ are a bit like that. Whilst we’ve put together many, maybe most of the pieces of how we give our time, talent and money used by God through His church, there are often some blank spaces, and some of the pieces of information that we have assembled, need putting together.

How we use our time and our talent and our money are expressions of our own personal priorities and ultimately an indication of the place that God has in our hearts and lives.

Because all that we have to give isn’t ours anyway.

At the offertory before the Eucharist, in the Alternative Service Book 1980, we used to say words from 1 Chronicles 29:11 - Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendour, and the majesty; for everything in heaven and on earth is yours. All things come from you, and of your own do we give you.

Christian people believe that everything comes as a gift from God. God gives because He loves - it’s in His nature. He cannot stop Himself.  We only receive what we have because it is given to us by Him - our gifts, our skills, our money, our job etc. which we should in turn offer back to Him joyfully and with thankfulness.

How we give our time or talents and our money changes over time and with changing circumstances - we need to reflect on that openly and honestly at each stage of our life. What remains unchanging is the need - God longs for you to respond to His generosity and grace to us.

What we give gives life. Just as God brings everything in creation to life - so does what we give to the church. It doesn’t just pay the bills, but enables us to play a part in responding to God’s mission in the world, which in turn gets us caught up in His giving and sharing of new and eternal life with the world.

As we enter the season of Lent, many people think we are called to live more austerely, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The fasting and prayer that are hallmarks of this holy season are about reminding us that we rely on God for all that we have and all that we are.

To help us focus, preaching in Lent will be about the call of God on each of us to give and to live generously in response to His love for us, and our study groups (using the excellent ‘Life Balance’ course) will recall us to making time for ourselves, for others and for God.

I will be writing to you, thanking each of you for the ways that you have generously supported the work of God’s church over the last years, but also asking you prayerfully consider what new ways you could see your time, talent and money used for His glory and for the furtherance of His Kingdom amongst the people we live and work and worship.

In the meantime, join me in praying this prayer daily in Lent:

O Lord, giver of life and source of freedom, I know that all I have received is from your hand.
Gracious and loving God, You call us to be stewards of Your abundance, the caretakers of all you have entrusted to us.
Help us to always use Your gifts wisely and teach us to share them generously.
Send the Holy Spirit to work through us, bringing Your message to those we serve.
May our faithful stewardship bear witness to the love of Jesus Christ in our lives. We pray with grateful hearts, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Clock

We have a grandfather clock which stands in our dining room.  I have wondered at and wound that clock over many years.  It belonged to my grandfather and I knew that one day it would belong to me.

It was made in Glasgow in the early to mid 1800s. I often dwell on who has watched the minutes slip by on it’s face and heard the hours fall away to it’s chimes.

At the moment it has stopped and remains unwound, hands caught at 9.15.
The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple which we keep today, is not about the life of Christ stuck at a particular time or point.  The Orthodox know today as The Meeting or The Encounter for it centres on the meeting of Mary and Joseph with Simeon and Anna, but in the drama of what unfolds in those conversations and liturgical rites, the miracle of Christmas, the Incarnation, God amongst us is affirmed in a meeting of Heaven with Earth and Earth with Heaven.

As Christ is presented in the Temple, our humanity is offered to God with Him.  That’s all of our humanity, not just the Sunday bits.  And God takes all of what it means to human seriously. As we formally conclude our Christmas celebrations today we remember that in the Incarnation, God regards the impoverished, mundane, everyday material of humanity with such a generous love that he He is born amongst us, as one of us, as we are. In other words, God loves us, not as who we will be, or who we will become in His sight, but as we are now.  He loves those whom we find it hard to love, those who we are probably too afraid or ashamed to admit we don’t - the homeless, the drug or drink addled, gay, straight or bi. God loves you regardless of which way you vote, or whether you are up to your eyeballs in debt, whether you are tattooed or pierced… And before you start wondering if this is becoming a sort of universalist ‘it’s all about love love love’ sort of a sermon - yes it is - God loves us universally and unconditionally, but…

Neither am I saying that it’s high time that the church moved the hands on the clock and dragged itself into the modern era and green-lighted every lifestyle choice or political ideology…

Traditionally at this service, candles for the year for use in people’s homes and in worship were blessed so that the light of Christ could shine.  We will have a resonance of that ourselves at the end of our worship this morning.

What we remember today, is the hinge that binds crib and the Cross together - a link between what we celebrated at Christmas, with all that is to come at Palm Sunday, Good Friday and on to Easter Sunday. Our focus moves away from the crib beneath the altar to the font - the place where our much-loved humanity is affirmed with the kiss of love that is Christ’s cross, and accepting a commission to live our lives for Him.

Candlemas reminds us of the love of God for each of us, but of a love that transforms us, that heals us, that makes us to be more and more than we are or thought we ever could be. That love redeems us out of old habits, renews our drives and motives and offers us the ridiculous, seemingly unobtainable hope that we can become the people that both we and God long for us to be.  For as Christ is presented to God in the Temple, He offers back to us a hope of the Divine life of God for us and with us and in us, yes even us.

The hands of time have not stopped, but continue to move on and God encounters us in Christ in many unexpected places and on many occasions and in many unlikely people.

At the end of the service of Baptism, a candle is given and a charge to each baptised person is made to ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.’  That charge is not about our light shining, our agenda being heard, our ideologies or preferences being pushed to the fore, but His. Whilst He loves unconditionally and eternally, He calls us to love Him and others that way too - with a love that surprises and transforms.

God’s call to us to love isn’t stuck at some interpretation of social acceptability of a former time or era.

But surely you can’t mean that I am called to love them are you? (Whoever they may be.) As soon as the finger points, as soon as the question forms on our lips - is the light shining? And who did Jesus love - the leper, the tax collector, the prostitute, the unclean, the Samaritan, the socially dubious, the religious outcast - yes them - and His love transformed their lives - the light shone and dispersed the darkness…

As candles were taken from Church today in former times into people’s homes and work places, it was a reminder of the light of the World shining on them and in them even there, dispelling darkness with transforming light and love.

That light still needs to be taken into the impoverished, mundane, everyday material of life, dispelling darkness with transforming light and love; our world still so often seemingly filled with the darkness of hatred and fear towards those made in God’s image and loved by Him; the humanity that we share, that God took on Himself needs His light and hope more than ever and it may only come through you.