Depths of Stewardship

Click here to listen to this 16-minute message.

Stewardship or dedicated giving is an important dimension of the life of most churches and most Christians. It is about pledging to invest our time, our abilities, our resources and our finances into the work of God through the local church. Stewardship, however, runs the risk of becoming an administrative process of ticking off some boxes to settle our dues with our church, without really touching us or the world at a deeper level.

In this message, I draw on two verses from the Gospels – Matthew 21:33-34 – and show how this text points us to a far deeper and broader understanding of the importance of stewardship:

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.”

  • First, this passage echoes the creation narrative in Genesis 1, where we find God creating a world and placing people in it, with the task of taking care of that world, which is an expression of the love and being of God. This suggests that stewardship reaches right back into the very origins of humanity, and is rooted not just in some things we do, but in our identity. Being a steward (or gardener or farmer) is the foundational calling that God makes of all humanity. It means, among other things, that everything we do in life should champion and protect the environment.
  • Second, later in this parable (v43), Jesus reveals that the vineyard is, in fact, the Kingdom of God, which is the world under the loving rule of Christ, who reconciles all things together to himself. We, as his followers, are called to bring out the fruit of the Kingdom of God, or the fruit of the Gospel. This means, among other things, that everything we do should help to bring into being God’s Kingdom values, such as love, justice, mercy, equity, relationships, integrity and grace.

Stewardship, then, is not just about signing up to help make tea or work in a soup kitchen, nor is it just about pledging to donate money to the church on a monthly basis. It is an expression of our identity as people created to take care of creation and as people striving to transform the world into the Kingdom of God, through every breath we take, from rising until sleeping. In so doing, we let God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

Resurrection Church

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On the evening of that first Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to the disciples (excluding Judas and Thomas) in the upper room, where he showed them his wounded hands and feet. John describes this in John 20:19-23. This narrative is followed by the story of Jesus’ engagement with Thomas. And John ends the chapter with a reflection on his version of the Gospel – that he has selected from the numerous stories about Jesus these few, whose purpose it to facilitate our belief in Jesus, so that we may enjoy the fullness of Life.

John’s purpose in the John 20 narrative is to guide the church towards the end of the first century to be a resurrection church – a church that is centred on the risen Christ, empowered by Holy Spirit and focused on Christ’s work of forgiveness and reconciliation. But this is hard when you are 60 or more years away from the living Christ Jesus. Because of this distance in time (most of the eye witnesses had passed on) John’s message is of particular relevance for us who live two thousand years distant.

This is quite a long sermon for me and our parish – sorry about that! But I hope it moves quite briskly and provides some food for thought about a fascinating and rich passage in the Gospel narrative. To assist with the denseness of the message, I provided my congregation with a slip of paper with the nine points (yes, nine!) written down. Here they are:

  1. This is the start of Sunday worship for Christians – resurrection Sunday.
  2. Jesus’ body is still physical, but also transformed – it does not conform to the laws of nature.
  3. Christ stands in the middle of us, and is the centre focus of Christian life and worship.
  4. Jesus’ presence bring peace (Shalom) and is his central message.
  5. Jesus’ transformed body retains the wounds in his hands and side, and are assimilated into the triune Godhead at the ascension, so that there is now woundedness within the being of God.
  6. Jesus commissions his disciples (including us) to be his presence in the world – when people see us, they should see Christ.
  7. Jesus imparts Holy Spirit to us – we have Holy Spirit in us, not as power and gifts, but as the relational presence of God within us.
  8. We are given the ministry of forgiveness, which Paul calls the ministry of reconciliation.
  9. All of this culminates in a statement of faith – a creed – ‘My Lord and my God’.

Seeing from the Cross

Click here to listen to this 18-minute message.

Today is Good Friday – a poorly named day in my view. It should be Dark Friday. The Passion Week is transformed to good on Easter Sunday, but not before. There is nothing good about Friday. But my opinion is unlikely to change centuries of tradition!

Today, at my Anglican community church in Irene, South Africa, we participate in a three-hour service, from 12pm to 3pm – the hours that Jesus hung on the cross. It is a kind of vigil, like the women who kept watch as Jesus hung there. It is one of the best attended services at our church, and most people stay the full time. Today, we used the Seven Last Words of Christ to structure our service. The priest, deacon and lay ministers shared the preaching. I preached on the passage from John 19:25-27, where Jesus says “Woman, behold! Your son. … Behold! Your mother.” (my translation).

The central thing that stands out for me is that Jesus SEES his mother and his friend (thought to be John, the disciple). And seeing them and their need, he invites them to SEE each other (the Greek for ‘behold’, or ‘here’ in other translations, means ‘Look!’ or ‘See!’). So, in this sermon I suggest four layers of meaning:

  1. The passage foregrounds the humanity, dignity and worth of women, as central to the story. We need to stand against patriarchy, violence against women, the silencing and marginalisation of women, the exploitation of girl children.
  2. The passage speaks about Jesus’ commitment to family and to intimate relationships. We need to invest in these relationships, in the domestic, because this is of interest to God.
  3. The passage suggests the great potential of the church to recreate the world. We should examine our own churches, asking if we are really doing what God wants us to, are we being who God wants us to be?
  4. The passage advances God’s concern and love for the whole of humanity. God sees us, knows us, recognises us, loves us, champions us, cries for us. And we should also.

Wishing you a blessed and joyful Easter 2016.
Adrian

P.S. I struggled to find a picture that depicts what Jesus would have seen from the cross. The arts are almost entirely focused on Jesus on the cross – rightly so. But I found this one by James Tissot, a French painter, painted in c. 1890. For those receiving this by email, you won’t see the featured image for each of my sermons. Follow the link to my blog to see them.

When the World goes Mad

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Sometimes, the world seems to be going mad. On the morning of the day I preached this sermon, two terrorist attacks in Brussels left 31 or so people dead. IS claimed responsibility. Attacks like these, like the multiple attacks in Paris in 2015, make us afraid and want to withdraw from the world. Fear sets in. Muslims and Arabs seem dangerous. The world seems a threatening place.

In South Africa, we face increasingly racialised discourse, from all sides of the political and racial spectrum. Some people are calling for doing away with reconciliation and an increasing emphasis on racial identity and distinctiveness. These conversations elicit fear and uncertainty, prompting us to withdraw from each other into our safe comfort zones.

Jesus also experienced a world going mad. As religious leaders becoming increasingly threatened by him, his actions and his popularity, they set up traps to discredit and marginalise him. They plot to kill him. Indeed, they succeed in murdering him.

But through all this madness, Jesus does not withdraw, he is not cowed by fear, he does not avoid. Instead, Jesus continues to engage, to move towards, to step across boundaries. From where does he get this confidence in the face of considerable odds? He gets it from a confidence that his authority comes from heaven, from God. He knows that he is living out God’s will for him – to reconcile all things together within God’s family.

And so he remains steadfast. As we also need to remain steadfast. To not be cowed or afraid or marginalised. But to continue to live out the faith that we have inherited. A faith that hopes and trusts in a powerful God. A faith that engages and connects. A faith that steps across boundaries and embraces. A faith that loves.

Mark 11:27-33

Reconciliation

Click here to listen to this 20-minute message

South Africa, at the moment, has become a pot reaching boiling point, as racial tensions and anger mount. For some, reconciliation has become a dirty word, and for others there is fear that the reconciliation that was built up in the last 90s is under serious threat. Globally, we see similar breakdowns in relationships and rolling often violent fracturing of relationships – among the states of the former USSR, in the Middle East, in parts of Africa. And at a domestic level, we all too often experience broken and pain-filled relationships in our communities, with our neighbours and friends, and even in our families. How is it that we humans are so good at breaking fellowship?

This 20 minute message tackles these difficult issues and questions. Starting at the beginning of Genesis, I trace this origins of broken relationships: between people, with God, with the world and with ourselves. We call this ‘sin’.

Working through the First Testament, I show the many ways in which God, who created relationships and is in the business of reconciliation, worked to restore these fractures, and to build harmony and wholeness in humanity.

And then I show how Christ’s incarnation, life, death and resurrection are the pinnacle of God’s work to redeem us, to restore us, to reconcile us.

And finally, drawing on Paul’s teachings in 2 Corinthians 5, I show how we are called to be agents of reconciliation, to join with God in bringing about reconciliation. I suggest four main ways that we can and should do this: accepting God’s offer of reconciliation with us, praying for those who have fallen out of fellowship, transforming our hearts of racism and sexism (and all the other -isms), and taking a step towards an estranged loved-one. In so doing, we build the Kingdom of God in our midst.

Being God’s Beloved: Forty Days of Reflections on God’s Love

 

 

 

Dear Friends

I am delighted to tell you that you Being God’s Beloved has been published by Westbow and is available for sale. It pulls together, in printed form and with a lovely cover, the reflections that we shared together during Lent this year, and a set of discussion questions for use in a small group study. Many thanks to everyone who participated in the course during Lent and who shared the reflections with others. Thank you particularly to the parish of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, Irene, for providing the space for me to exercise this ministry.

I do hope that you will purchase copies of the book for yourself and for friends and family. How great it would be to participate in spreading the message of God’s extravagant and generous love during this Christmas.

  • For those living outside of South Africa, I encourage you to purchase the book from Westbow publishers, by following this link. You can purchase the book in printed or digital (Kindle, etc) forms.
  • For those living in South Africa, I will be importing copies of the book over the next week or two and will be selling them directly to you, at significantly reduced cost. I encourage you to hold on until I send out another notification that I have the books in my possession and we can arrange distribution.

Love and blessings
Adrian

http://bookstore.westbowpress.com/Products/SKU-000965432/Being-Gods-Beloved.aspx

My heartfelt thanks to Louise Sparrow for painting the cover art and to Lynda Smith for the author photograph.

 

Being God’s Beloved: Day 40: The Spirit in Action

And so we come to the end of this journey. Or, rather, we come to the end of this stage of the journey. Our daily reflections have run their course and we now continue to journey forward into the world. My hope and prayer is that you have cultivated a greater, deeper and more secure sense of yourself as being God’s beloved. And that this empowers and motivates you to not only be God’s beloved but to live as God’s beloved. Holy Spirit breathes into us the power and love of God, and that breathe stirs our spirits to be the presence of God in the world. Imagine a world in which every Christian consciously and deliberately worked to be the love of God, to be Spirit in action. What a world that would be!

Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Asked what one must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus quotes the Great Commandment (which we discussed on Day 23). The second part of the Great Commandment is to love one’s neighbour as oneself. The man asks, “Who is my neighbour?” and Jesus proceeds to tell him story of the Good Samaritan.

A travelling man is assaulted and mugged by a band of robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and then a Levite, both people you’d think would be aligned with God’s values, pass by on the other side of the road, looking away. Then a Samaritan, who was not esteemed by Jewish people in those days, stops to help him, takes him to an inn on his own donkey and pays for him to stay there until he is well. Jesus implies that the Samaritan leaves before the man recovers, so there is no chance of being thanked.

Jesus asks, “Who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The man of course had to respond, “The one who had mercy on him” – he could not bring himself to say, “It was the Samaritan.” And Jesus says, “God and do likewise.”

Jesus spends much of his ministry, in continuity with God’s self-revelation throughout the Old Testament, demonstrating that humanity is much loved by God. There are no conditions to God’s love – God loves us because God loves us. It is God’s delight and pleasure to love us, because we are God’s creation, because we are created in God’s image.

But God also desires us to be loving. It is part of God’s vision for humanity, part of God’s original design – that we would love and care for each other in community. And so Jesus calls us to love all those whom we meet, even those we’d rather pass by. God wants us to be like the Good Samaritan. God does not want us to be like Jonah, who had no love for the Ninevites. Jonah, in fact, throws God’s loving nature in God’s face, as he says, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:2-3). Jonah correctly understood the nature of God’s heart – that God loved the people of Nineveh and desired their salvation. But Jonah’s heart was not aligned with God’s heart – he could not love them. God does not want us to be like Jonah – God desires for our hearts to be aligned with God’s heart.

When we are filled with the Spirit of Christ, filled with the Love of God, how can that love not overflow to those around us? In the same way that God’s superabundance of love spills out into the creation of the cosmos, the abundance of God’s love in us, as we are filled with Spirit, should pour into our relationships, our work, our play, our church, our world.

Jesus speaks about this in John 7:37-38, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Knowing that people might ask, “What is this water?” John explains in the next verse, “By this he meant the Spirit.” When we drink up God’s love, we are filled with Holy Spirit, and Spirit then flows out from within us like a stream of living water.

In this way, we are called to be God’s presence in the world. Holy Spirit dwells within us, so wherever we are, God is also. Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is no longer with us in the flesh, as he was some two thousand years ago. But wherever we are, God is, and God is there in our flesh. In effect, we are the body of Christ in that place. St Teresa of Avila, some 500 years ago, wrote about this in a beautiful prayer: [1]

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

On Day 16 we talked about what Christian love meant. Let me quote what I wrote then:

Christian love – that is, our love for others – is modelled on God’s love. Linda Woodhead has defined it as “an active desire for the well-being of the neighbour, and for communion with him or her, based on a recognition of the neighbour’s unique worth”.[2] Her definition is helpful, if challenging. Christian love is initiated by ourselves, and in this way unconditional – we choose to love because we choose to love, not because the person is love-worthy. We love because of the inherent worth of the other as one of God’s creatures, but we do not whitewash all people with the same inherent worth – a bland, faceless love for everyone. Rather, Christian love emphasises recognition of unique worth; that is, I extend myself to seek out particular aspects of that individual that are loveable and even likable. And it is two-way, seeking not only to express love at arm’s length, but also to establish relationship, communion, fellowship. And all of this is just the way God loves me and you and the other person.

This kind of love is transformative. It not the anaemic “I love everyone” that we sometimes say. This is a love, targeted not at the whole world, but at those in our immediate environment, which seeks to bring about authentic experience of human relationship. When we invest this kind of love in the way we do our work, the way we engage with those we encounter in our daily living, the way we relate to our families, and the way we relate to people at church then we will begin to see the Kingdom of God come. This is because the Kingdom of God is rooted in God’s most deeply cherished value, and that is Love.

We often pray the Lord’s Prayer, “May your Kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What is God’s will? The centre of God’s will is that we love God, love each other, love the world and love ourselves. This is what relationship is all about and this is what God created us for – to be in loving relationship with God (spirituality), others (sociology), the world (ecology) and ourselves (psychology). As we begin to invest our love in these four sets of relationships we begin to answer the Lord’s Prayer – God’s Kingdom does indeed come, because God’s Will is indeed done!

This sounds rather idyllic. You and I know that this does not happen easily. Love in the abstract is simple and clear. But love in the real world, in real relationships, in real workplaces and families and communities is not so simple. If love were simple and easy, we’d all be doing it! But in fact, there is a dearth of love in the world.

We cannot love like God in our own strength. We have to rely on the Spirit of God, the Love of God, to enable us to love. It is as we allow Spirit to fill us with God’s love that we something to offer. And it is as we hear Spirit’s call, recognise Spirit’s equipping, respond to Spirit’s prompting that we actually begin to not only be God’s beloved, but to actually live as God’s beloved. And this is God’s ultimate goal. This is the good life.

Meditation for the Day

Reflect back over the past 40 days. Perhaps scan through the table of contents. Identify those points that have most struck you, that you hope to take forward with you beyond today. Make a commitment to continue to journey in the love of God, to be God’s beloved and live as God’s beloved.

Prayer for the Day

Spirit of Love, Son of God, Heavenly Father. Fill me today with an abundance of your divine love. Create opportunities for me to express your great love as I live my life today.

Being_Gods_Beloved_square_3

[1] This is widely available on the internet. I got this from http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/Teresa_Of_Avila_Christ_Has_No_Body.shtml. There is also a wonderful sung version of this prayer by John Michael Talbot, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH8R0mmuH9U

[2] Woodhead, p. 56.