Hebrew 11.1-3,8-16; Luke 12.32-40
Last Sunday I got home in time to see the last part of the Euros final and the winning goal. Now most of those who know me are aware that in normal circumstances I’m not a great follower of football. But somehow this was different. What struck me afterwards were comments from some of the women who played years ago, who didn’t have the training opportunities the Lionesses have had; who recall times when clubs were unwilling to allow them to play on their pitches; when there was no financial support available. Nevertheless, they persevered, always hoping that things would improve in the future. Thanks to their faith and courage these dreams have come true. They kept their goal in sight (sorry!) and were full of joy at the success of this team.
We might say that their faith in the future is ‘the assurance of things hoped for’ as the unknown writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it. Faith is the theme of our first reading this morning. It is the conviction of things not seen. It’s not hope if we say ‘I hope it will be fine for our picnic later today’ when the sun’s shining out of a cloudless sky and there’s not a drop of rain showing up on the weather radar.
Here the writer reminds us how Abraham responded obediently and in faith to God’s call to set out on a journey, not knowing where he was going, to a place where he would receive the inheritance promised by God, including numerous descendants. All this seemed impossible, yet he kept faith, even when he was far too old to father a child with his barren wife Sarah. They did not receive God’s promises in full; that came much later with the arrival of the Messiah, of Christ. They continued to seek a homeland, a heavenly city, the new Jerusalem we hear about in Revelation which is symbolic of a time when God’s kingdom has finally come.
In our gospel reading, Jesus is telling his disciples to have faith. It appears that the disciples are anxious and afraid. Jesus reassures them of God’s intention to give them the kingdom – the kingdom that he has come to bring into being, not at some unknown date in the future, but here and now. He taught them to pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.’ He tells them to get their priorities right and not to focus on accumulating material possessions.
Then he tells them to be dressed and ready for action. Those hearing this at the time would most probably have been reminded of the exodus, of the time when the Israelites were told to be ready to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice to escape from Pharaoh.
Jesus compares this with the master of the house returning late from a wedding celebration and finding his slaves wideawake and ready to do whatever was required at whatever time he got back, whether it was the middle of the night or even near to dawn.
In a surprising twist, he then tells the master will fasten his belt, meaning he’ll hitch up his robe, ready for action – think of it as putting on an apron. He will tell the slaves to be seated and he will serve them. With the benefit of hindsight, this may remind us of the last supper when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. They found his action shocking. In their minds this was a task for the servants, not something that the host would do.
The good news is that in this topsy turvy kingdom of God, Christ has come as one who serves us. We tend to think solely in terms of us serving God. This is what happens when we centre our lives on God. This is the good news of the gospel. It is truly shocking. God, who loves us and desires only good for us, has given us so many gifts, We have no reason to be afraid. Surely our response is that we should be ready to serve others. How we do this will depend on our circumstances.
What does ‘being dressed for action and having our lamps lit’ mean for us today?
It’s a call to be alert, to be attentive to what God is saying to us now, today.
It’s a call to notice what God is already doing in our town and in this place.
It’s a call to seize every opportunity for joining in what God is already doing.
It’s a call to think creatively about what new things we might undertake.
Restrictions during the pandemic meant that much of what we were doing had to stop, and rightly so. Over the months most of us got used to these limitations. But now is the time to take stock. Some things may need to be done in a different way. Some may not need to be done at all. It’s a good time for all of us to review what we are able to do now, which may be very different from what we were doing pre-pandemic.
The vacancy has just begun. Yes, in one way this is a time of waiting . But it’s also a time for review. Equally it is not a time to sit back. It’s a time for trusting God, for praying , listening and then getting on with whatever needs to be done.
Generous and loving God,
in this time of vacancy we thank you for our blessings,
and for all who build up this community
and work with others for the common good.
By your Holy Spirit inspire our vision,
and give us patience and courage
as we await the new priest you are calling to High Wycombe.
Though Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate Priest
Luke 12 v 13-21
People sometimes say of a rich person, “I wonder how much he is worth?” How much is a person worth? The doctor who gives lifesaving treatment, is worth millions to you, but his salary is nothing like that! How much are you worth? The Good Shepherd, Jesus, came to seek and to save the lost, and that makes each one of us of very great worth! Each year newspapers publish a Rich List, which shows the wealth of the richest people in the world. It is the people who have billions of pounds who count. But what are they really worth?
Our Gospel is the story the parable of the Rich Fool. The man, a farmer, was already rich, but he could see that the coming harvest would be the best and biggest ever. His barns could not hold it all. He decided to pull them down and build new, huge barns. If you read the Bible passage, you can see what a totally selfish man he was, because he was thinking only about himself, saying “My barns, my crops, and all my goods. Then I will eat, drink and be merry.” Then he has a heart attack, and dies, and all those things he has prepared, who will they belong to now?
But, is it wrong to work hard and do well? Is it wrong to enjoy the good things of life, a nice house, warm clothing, holidays, and a good pension at the end? Certainly, we need entrepreneurs, good businesspeople who often work extremely hard. It is not having a lot of money that is the problem, it is how it is used. It’s a bit like food. Food is good for us; it is often delicious. But people in Africa face famine now, while here in England 25% of children aged 10-11 are obese. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone. There is a problem in sharing food. And in many countries, a problem in choosing the right food for healthy living.
I expect you have all heard of shipwrecked sailors, in a small boat in the middle of the ocean. The water runs out and some of them are so thirsty they are tempted to drink sea water. The salty water makes them more thirsty, so they drink more and more sea water, until their bodies are overloaded with salt – and they die. So with money. Most people on the ‘get rich’ path always want more money, bigger homes, a boat. No - a yacht. And so it goes on.
You might be thinking, “Well, I’m not rich! And every week I find prices have gone up in the shops.” Well…most of us have salary or pensions coming in regularly, we all have free health care, we all have a bed to sleep in and a spare pair of shoes. Millions of people around the world would think themselves rich if they had that much.
It is not that God doesn’t want people to save for retirement or future needs. It is not that God doesn’t want us to “eat, drink, and be merry” and enjoy what he has given us. We know from the Gospels that Jesus spent time eating and drinking with people and enjoying life. But our true security lies in trusting God and loving our neighbours as much as ourselves. Of course, we do need entrepreneurs to start and build up businesses, and probably create wealth for themselves.
In 1894 two young men ran a market stall in Leeds, selling cheap goods. One was a Jewish refugee from Russia, named Michael Marks and the other was Tom Spencer. Eventually they opened shops and became rich. Where would we be now without Marks and Spencer shops on every high street? The first cars were built for rich people. Thomas Ford saw a gap in the market and started mass producing relatively cheap cars. People called these Ford cars ‘Tin Lizzies’. He began a revolution in transport, and became one of the wealthiest men in American history. Almost everyone in the world now would like a car, whether for work or pleasure.
Jesus ended the story, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” I got a bit stuck with those words. We should be rich towards God! What can we possibly give which is of value to God? In Paul’s letter to Timothy, we read. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share”. That is being rich towards God. Or, as the hymn writer Christina Rossetti put it: “What can I give him, poor as I am. If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise man I would do my part. But what I can I give him, give my heart.”
Maureen Lampard, Licensed Lay Minister