s186g01 Somerton Park 19/8/01 Sunday 19c
"Do not be afraid, little flock ... Sell your possessions, and give alms." Luke 12:32-33.
It is interesting to me that in this long list of things about faith, everyone mentioned here by the author of the letter to the Hebrews as having faith actually does something.
Let me list them:
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place.
By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised.
By faith he received power of procreation.
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac.
By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau.
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph.
By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites.
By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth.
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh's daughters.
By faith he left Egypt.
By faith he kept the Passover.
So we can be left in no doubt that our faith too moves us.
"Indeed" we are told "by faith our ancestors received approval". And we may well assume that God has faith in us that the faith we receive will move us. And I suspect God is more interested in the movement than in the faith which enables us to move without fear.
It is interesting, as I thought about Jesus' words, about just how many people go hungry and thirsty in Australia today. There are indeed those who are unemployed but generally they receive some level of social security benefits. I sympathise with those who are kept in refugee detention centres, and I could certainly think of more congenial locations to live than Woomera, but I have no doubt that these are fed and watered. The down and outs and street kids have places where they can find a hot meal if they look. I guess there are the mentally ill and the drug addicts who are most likely to slip through the net of care.
But generally there are really only a very small proportion of our population who really actually can say that they don't know where their next meal is coming from. Perhaps we can look at our country of Australia and appreciate the fact that most people, by their own efforts, or with assistance from the government, or with assistance from other agencies like our Anglicare, manage somehow to continue to exist without major hardship. Nothing like the hardship that so many other people suffer around the world.
Yet for all this general level of security, sometimes one would think that disaster is just around the corner, here in Australia among the relatively affluent. I suppose it really hit me when I read things like advise on planning for retirement and saving up enough to continue to enjoy one's present standard of living. Now I will happily say that I have done some planning for my retirement. We will indeed have a roof over our heads and I have superannuation as the Church rightly requires me to have. I am able, and therefore I should put away some of my earnings, so that I am not an undue burden on society or on individuals after I cease paid employment.
But baring accidents like getting run over in a motor car crash or suffering a fatal heart attack, I will eventually become a burden on others, through sheer length of days and increasing inability to do for myself. All I will be able to hope for at that stage of life is that I will be gracious in accepting such assistance from others as they may offer. I may well not like it, but I can still accept help graciously and give someone else the satisfaction of knowing that they can help someone who needs them.
So it really begs the question of what is the standard of living we expect for ourselves, that we have to maintain till the end of our days.
I suppose I might like to be driving a nice car when I'm 65, and have the wherewithal to travel overseas, once or twice. But if I live to be 90, I'll be content to stay at home rather than galavanting interstate or overseas - though it is often difficult to catch some of the retired parishioners in this parish at home, let alone the younger ones - those who work :-)
So if we are afraid of being hungry and thirsty and homeless, it really is very unlikely. If we are afraid that we are going to be dependent on others, then the reality is also that it is very unlikely that we can escape this fate. We can put it off, but it will be more likely a function of our health than our economic circumstances which will bring this on earlier rather than later. Jesus tells us that we need have no fear.
If our existence here and now is entirely concerned with maintaining or bettering our standard of living till the day we die, then I suspect that this is actually fairly futile. It sounds very much like the "bigger barns" of last week's gospel reading.
The other thing that we can try to do is to provide a small legacy to our children and this is quite natural. Yet when one thinks about it, certainly here in Australia, the reality is that on purely rational economic grounds, my children and your children will all earn far more than you or me. They may well appreciate the scrimping and saving that we have done, yet for all our effort, they themselves will be able to afford much more. I mean, my parents never had a new car, a new refrigerator, or an air conditioner in their home ... Even with my modest earnings we have enjoyed all these things, and I am sure that our children will look back and think how primitive a life we lived :-)
As we pack up our belongings and begin to divest ourselves of some of the multitude of "nick-nacks" and clutter that has built up over the last 11 years, prior to our moving, it is an object lesson to us of the things that have been used and appreciated and now not needed. They have served their purpose and we probably would have survived quite well without some of them. Their use is not that they stay in our luggage of life for ever and a day, but that they are used and discarded, sold or given away, so that we can "travel lightly".
I am sure in our heart of hearts we all know that whether we have lots or have little, our chiefest joy is in fact in the relationships we have. In the end when a relationship which we have valued ends, it is this that causes us the most grief. Perhaps we are private people, and most people in the "public eye" like politicians, doctors and clergy are often shy and need space to themselves. Such may not have loads of friends, but are content to keep to themselves and to not annoy the neighbours. This is entirely understandable, for I am much the same.
Jesus commends us to have no fear. Our faith will indeed move us, perhaps not to be wealthy, to achieve great things in life, to be popular - the life of the party or whatever.
Jesus commends us to have no fear even when confronted with people of different faiths or of no faith, people who live their lives in a completely different way to ourselves. We need have no fear, for our own faith is ever that Jesus accepts the other, as unconditionally as God has accepted us.
Jesus bids us have no fear, however life treats us. I can't speak to people who live in other societies where the social services and charity efforts are less able to help, but here in Australia we certainly have little to fear in terms of the basics of life.
And perhaps our lives will be long and disappointing, yet God will remain with us. For even if we are not able to contribute materially to the lives of others, we can still contribute to other people's lives "spiritually" by accepting help when we need it.
Our faith will be with us as we find other things in our lives disappear. Our faith will be with us, as we move, or as things move around us.
And so the most important things of life will always be with us; and so we can sell what we have and give, not to the Church necessarily - but rest assured we will find ways of spending what is given, for the beauty of the building or the relief of those in need. No, give, because the choice is before us all, to live in fear of eventual certainties which cannot be avoided or unlikely eventualities - or to live confident that the important things in life will always be there. And I know which way I would prefer to enjoy my existence :-)
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