Sunday 31 July

1ST SERMON

MORNING HOLY COMMUNION            TRINITY 10               Preacher: Rev Lynn McKeon

Luke 12: 13-21

 

We live in a very materialistic culture, we like things! This is a consumer society and whereas not very long ago shops were closed on Sunday and purchases could not be made online, now we can visit the shopping centres every day of the week, and if desired we can shop 24hrs a day and have the stuff delivered to our doors. Huge shopping centres have arrived in the UK where we can shop indoors and each shop encourages us to have their own plastic credit card to enable us to stock up on things we really can't afford. We are bombarded by an advertising industry which is utterly compelling in its creativity and uses the most potent images to bombard us from every angle with messages to entice us to believe that we are what we own. Deep down most people know that searching for satisfaction in man made goods or the accumulation of wealth is futile. Enough will always be just more than we already have. The pop star Jessie J sings 'It's not about the money',.... 'forget about the price tag.' .

Modern consumerism is very high tech but of course human nature has always been the same and Jesus identified it as a problem 2,000 years ago. He cautioned that ownership of things does not produce the security or happiness for which human beings strive. We are encouraged to recognise that we are not just physical beings with material needs, we are spiritual people, created to experience the love of God. If our hearts and minds are set on only things which we can see and touch and buy, then we will be dissatisfied. The key to real fulfilment is to recognise that our true value is not measured in what we possess.

For thousands of years there have been examples of people from all religious faiths who have renounced the world in order to devote themselves to the spiritual life, without the distractions of material possessions. We might think immediately of Saint Francis and many who have entered into religious communities                                                                                                            

This tension between material possessions and spirituality is even more of an issue today, because we live in a society which is incredibly materialistic and enjoys unparalleled material prosperity. It is interesting that there has been a slight shift of late towards a more responsible attitude towards consumption. People are being encouraged to think about whether we are consuming the world’s precious resources too fast and without proper responsibility. But this change has not been brought about by religious people, more by politicians and the green lobby. These people are not so much concerned about the damage which materialism can do to the soul, but rather to the planet. The problem which is faced by us all as we struggle to restrain industrial growth and its effects is that other countries are not so pleased with our new found global conscience. We enjoyed the fruits from the industrial revolution, now other nations are discovering their appetite and consider it unfair that at this time they should be told to cut back.

It is clear from the teaching of Jesus that he did not consider wealth or possessions in themselves as either inherently good or bad. Rather he set out clear choices which make it abundantly clear that we should develop a dependence on the goodness of God, not a dependence on material, created goods. Jesus wanted this not because he wanted to stop us from enjoying ourselves, clearly he was accused of being a party guy. Instead Jesus knew that pursuit of fulfilment through materials, wealth and greed, was utterly self-destructive.

The challenge facing us all is to strike the right balance between using our hard work and God given creativity and becoming consumed by consumerism. There is nothing great about being poor, Christians should work to alleviate all kinds of poverty. However if we are all concerned with our own wealth creativity, and fail to be mindful of the needs of others, then that greedy attitude will inevitably cause others to be poor.

The manner in which we create wealth is important, we should not be mean, cheating or exploit the vulnerable. Just look at what has happened over the past month to those working for British Home Stores - the direct result of capitalism.

The way in which we use wealth is important, we should be considerate of the needs of others and not just spend it on ourselves.

Each one of us needs to examine our attitudes towards wealth and materialism. If we devote ourselves to amassing material things, neglecting moral, spiritual and intellectual well-being, then we will eventually destroy ourselves - and coincidentally also the planet.  

I’ll leave you to mediate on the following:- In one of his books Leo Tolstoy tells the story of a young Russian who inherits his father’s small farm. He immediately starts dreaming of how to expand his property when one morning a well-dressed stranger visits him and makes him an offer that is too good to be true - he could have free of charge all the property he could walk around in one day. The only condition was that he returns to the same spot from which he started, the grave of his father, before the sun went down. Seeing the rich fields in the distance, he sets out without taking any provisions or saying goodbye to his family. He figured he could cover six square miles in a day. After a short while he decided to make it nine, then twelve and finally fifteen square miles. By noon he makes it to the halfway point. Though hungry with his legs aching he continues. He was near the point of exhaustion but the obsession to own the land drives him on. With only a few minutes left before the sun went down, he gathers all his strength, stumbles across the line, the new owner of fifteen square miles of land, and then collapses on the ground, dead.                                                      

The stranger smiles and said, "I offered him all the land he could cover. Now you see what that is, six feet long by two feet wide, and I thought he would like to have the land close to his father’s grave, rather than to have it anywhere else." Having said that, the stranger whose name is Death vanishes, saying "I have kept my pledge.

Amen.

 

2ND SERMON

EVENING HOLY COMMUNION      TRINITY 10        Preacher:  Rev Lynn McKeon

Mark 6: 45-52

Isn’t it wonderful to be going into summer weather? We have had some brilliant days just recently Napoleon Bonaparte said “If I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god.”                                                 

If you’re like me you look forward to summer. There are holidays, no school, for pupils or teachers. We are in Ordinary Time in the church year - I love, Ordinary Time, we wear green as the liturgical colour. This is the colour of nothing special happening, no Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, or trinity etc.

I have to tell you that in the summer it is much nicer shaking hands at the door of the church as people go out because when people go out they are nearly always in a better mood when it is warm and sunny than when it is cold and dark and wet. This is a great time of the year and we can be optimistic with so much to look forward to. We must all enjoy it while we can.

We’ve seen the longest day of the year, called the Summer Solstice come and go. For those living in the northern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice is the day on which the earth, spinning on its axis, has its North Pole ‘tipped’ as far as it will go to face the sun. Because of this ‘tipping’ towards the sun, the northern hemisphere receives the longest hours of daylight of the year.

But spare a thought for the opposite part of the world, those poor folks who live in the southern hemisphere because for them this is the darkest and coldest time.  God is not rewarding us, neither is he punishing them. God’s love is constant over the whole earth. In the warmest sunniest day in the northern hemisphere and in the coldest darkest days in the southern hemisphere, God’s love is just the same.                                                                                                                        

This geographical fact is just as true when we think about the contrast between the sunny and warm times of our lives and the cold and dark times of our lives. The fact is that in the depth of winter, in the midst of the darkest, coldest winters of our lives, no matter how hard the world might seem to be punishing us, we are in the company of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is stronger than anything that might be against us.

For the disciples in the story today there was a moment when they clearly felt they were in trouble. This was one of those times when you think that there is no return to safety. For them it was perhaps a fear of drowning, but you will have had, or you will have times which hit your life like a wrecking ball.

It might be a death. It might be a divorce. Serious illness for you or a partner or a disability. Perhaps loss of a job. These are times when life appears to be tumbling down and the moorings which we thought to be secure are tested.

Now here is something a tiny bit unusual you may think for me to say. Our faith may enable us to avoid some of the disasters which might otherwise trouble our lives. By that I don’t mean that God will cause the sun to shine on our little bit of garden in the middle of the winter solstice.  In the same way that I believe it is nothing short of heretical to suggest that God actually finds you a parking place in the car park. I cannot believe that God is so manipulative that he causes cars to move out of parking spaces for our convenience but cannot place a morsel in the mouth of a child dying from hunger.

However, I do see every reason to expect that those who live according to the teachings of Jesus will by virtue of such godly living, avoid many of the pitfalls which trap those who pay no regard to living the kind of life which God calls us to live. Let me give you simple obvious examples.

A good Christian is less likely to go to prison since they will seek to avoid stealing. A good Christian is more likely to forgive and avoid the destructive cycles of retribution and violence

As Christians we are called to be mindful, thoughtful and caring towards those around us. We should live a life of compassion towards others and seek not to be selfish. Such a life has many blessings. We are not as tempted by the incredibly self-centred, self-absorbed aspects of our materialist and secular culture which causes so many people to be dysfunctional and empty. Hence Christians are less likely to be into drugs or gambling.

Of course Christians will not be immune from depression, physical illness and all of that. However living your life following the teachings of Jesus is good for you, you should be more joyful and more fulfilled.                                                              

Living the Christian life is good for you. However this is not prosperity theology, I am not saying that being a Christian means that God just rewards you with material blessings. Neither does God place the Christian in a bubble. In some cultures, merely being a Christian will get you killed. Being a Christian does not mean that God will prevent harmful things from happening to you.

We Christians will still have car accidents, believe me I know, still get troubled by disease, still get cancer and all of the other things from having a body of frail flesh. We will suffer loss of loved ones, and so many other things.

Being a Christian will do so much to help you keep your life on track, you will be better physically, mentally and spirituality because of your faith. I will argue that all day long, but there will still be stormy seas.

So how do we deal with these stormy seas? The image of a boat in our faith is a familiar one. The boat is a symbol of safety, it keeps alive the people of God. When you enter a church, the main body of the building is called the 'nave' from a medieval Latin term, 'navis' which means ship. The image of a ship providing safety under the hand of God is long established from the days of Noah, when God saved souls from the coming flood.

Of course the image of a boat has been an important symbol to generations of Christians who have felt that as they pass through the stormy seas of life they are carried safely with Christ, in the same way that those in boats cross stormy seas. This theology has been captured in the architecture of the Nave with the roof of many churches and cathedrals looking like an upside down boat and if you look upwards whilst seated in the Nave you will often see the main central rib becomes the keel of a boat, the ribs form the bottom, the pillars the sides and the floor becomes the deck.

The boat in this picture is a reassurance and encouragement to visiting pilgrims to place their faith in God who made all that there is and who in the midst of the stormiest seas beckons us to a place of spiritual safety.

The point is that with Christ alongside us we can weather the storm. With our faith and trust in God we are empowered by the work of God’s Holy Spirit. From the wreckage of a death, the destruction of broken relationships, from the pain of lost jobs or opportunities, from the trauma of illness, from all of these the Christian is empowered by God to rebuild and find renewal.

Christians who go through times of trial will speak of how through the experience of darkness God has made them to be even better people, more able to serve and minister to others.

Sometimes it is as we suffer that we come to realise what is most important in our lives and what is just stuff getting in the way of our faith growing and deepening. The evangelist Billy Graham said ‘comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has’

There is an old story about a farmer who scratched a living on the foothills of the mountains near desert lands. One day he found and captured a beautiful white stallion. All the neighbours gathered together and congratulated him: "You are fortunate, God has blessed you."

The next day his son jumped onto the horse, but he fell off and broke his leg. The neighbours the gathered together again to commiserate with the farmer:
"O dear this is bad news God must be displeased with you."

The next day soldiers came with orders to enter every home and take every able-bodied man into the army. Because the son has a broken leg, the soldiers were forced to leave him behind. The neighbours gathered again to congratulate the farmer: "How fortunate you are. God has blessed you."

We will encounter sunny days, we will encounter rainy days. God loves us equally in whatever weather we face and when we face stormy seas we must recognise that Jesus is with us in the boat.

Walking, or sailing with Jesus does not guarantee smooth waters, no immunity from grief, no assurance of or material comfort, or wealth or any other good fortune. However our Christian trust enables us to persevere so that the challenges which life throws at us do not break us, so that we become better people when life seems against us and not bitter people.

We cannot choose what the future holds, it will come and bring with it sunshine and clouds and into every life some rain must fall. We can affect the future by godly living, but we cannot choose it, we have to face whatever comes. However we can choose to trust. Trust is not a feeling it is a choice, it is a decision that we must take. We choose to trust in Jesus.

Amen