s199g01 Lockleys 11/11/01 Sunday 32
"In the resurrection ... whose wife will she be?" Luke 20.33
This is not an inappropriate set of lessons for Remembrance Day, when we remember those who gave their lives in war, because they talk about the life to come. They are also not an inappropriate set of lessons for our second Sunday in our Stewardship program, because it alerts us to the fact that we can consider not just our material possessions as "ours", we can easily consider other people as "ours" too. Both of these are unhealthy ways of living life.
The picture we are given of eternal life is - if nothing else - one where earthly concerns have past away. I am reminded of the famous scene in the television series "Keeping Up Appearances", where Hyacinth and long-suffering Richard have just gone to bed. Hyacinth says to Richard, words to the effect, that she is looking forward to heaven and spending the rest of eternity with him. Richard can only sigh and raise his eyes to heaven, in a silent plea that it might not be so.
We take this opportunity to remember those who have given their lives in the war, that we might be free, and we remember the present Australian and service personnel from other countries as they gather to oppose terrorism. We recall the words of the "ode", "They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them!" The sentiment that they are now beyond the things of this earth is a great comfort.
I wonder if our attention should not also be turned also towards those who "survived" the war, yet the effects of the war are still with them. The people that did return from the wars were most often left to fend for themselves. I am doing a course on Victimology, and it is clear that people do suffer tremendously after traumas such as war and crime. We are only likely to allow the cycle of violence to escalate if we do not do something to help victims.
Some time ago, through a curious set of circumstances, I was helping to bury a person who was forcibly taken from his family at age 11 to work as a translator for the invading forces. He probably had to quickly learn to steal to survive, and no doubt spent his life thinking that he was a collaborator and a traitor. Of what use to this person was the eighth of the ten commandments? I have considerable sympathy when returned service personnel say words to the effect that nothing in the Christian teaching really speaks to their experience in war. Little wonder this man was always secretive and became paranoid and reclusive. He ended his life, dying alone in his rented single squalid room, actually not far out of our parish boundaries - surrounded by hoarded pots and pans, screwdrivers and simple tools, clearly most were never used. I suspect he may never have become an Australian citizen, lest he have to disclose his past. He probably never drew even an aged pension. For him, death was a release from the demons that haunted him all his life. War has many victims and not just those who didn't come back. Most of us have much to be thankful for, and it is appropriate that we do so corporately here in Church today.
Turning to stewardship. The reality is that money by itself, provides no shelter, sustenance or joy. I don' t think it matters one way or another whether money is given away or spent. It really ceases to have any value whatsoever when it sits in a pocket or is hidden under the proverbial mattress. Even if it is in a bank at least it is earning some interest and giving the bank security to lend to other people. As the people at NASA are wont to say, all the billions spent on space exploration, stays firmly on the ground. The people in their employ are those who benefit and all the side industries. Each of these has the ability to feed, cloth and shelter themselves and their families as well as to contribute to others who are less fortunate.
So as soon as money becomes "ours" - it really looses most of it' s real worth. As we spend it or give it away, it helps others, strengthens society and eventually comes back to us in kind.
So too we can look at other people as "ours". In the "olden days", women had a legitimate existence only in relationship with a male person. Firstly it was their father, and then she was "given away" at her wedding to her husband. It is not all that far removed from how women are still treated under the Taliban regime. But it ought to be a source of much chagrin to everyone of us who hold the Bible dear that the 10th of the commandments is in order of importance: " You shall not covet your neighbour' s house, you shall not covet your neighbour' s wife, or male of female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour." (Ex 20.17) There will be no prizes given to those who can tell me who is allowed to work on the Sabbath: in the fourth of the commandments: " You shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns." (Ex 20.10) - someone has to prepare and serve the food! So I believe that it is good that the modern liturgies for marriage omit the dialogue: " Who gives this woman to be married to this man?" and I do not yearn for " the good old days" in this respect at all.
The saying of Jesus that in eternity people are not married or given in marriage, means also that we will not own or be owned. This is a great joy. No person can ever be the possession of someone else - such an outlook kills " love" as dead as a doornail. The old saying is true - if you love someone, let them go. If they return - it is indeed love, if they do not return, it never was love.
It is interesting to me that the term used for psychological illness in the past was demon possession. So God, by contrast, never wants to possess us. We and all people will always be free agents, and I suspect much of many people' s reluctance to believe, is that they think they will be forced to surrender their free-will.
How many young people believe that in marriage they will be expected to relinquish some personal freedom. Healthy living is however always in relationship with others. Others knock the sharp corners off us and so can sometimes make us pleasanter people to be with :-) This is not always a painless process however.
The words at the end of our gospel reading are ones which are a great joy to me. God is the God of the living, not God of the dead. God is not mine, just as I am not God' s. God is the God of everyone who is alive, and God calls us into life, life in all its fullness. God does not call us into a straight and narrow path, every ready to dole out punishment to any who stray from the path.
One of the favourite passages for weddings is 1 Corinthians 13, and the words are, I am sure, familiar to us all. Yet I wonder if we've ever thought about them not so much as a set of ideals in our relationships that we must try to live up to, but as an accurate description of God. God is love, St John tells us, so if St Paul can commend these to us, God must be like that all the time. And the ones which particularly take my fancy are the statements are: " God is not irritable or resentful" , " God does not insist on God' s own way" and " God believes all things" so God believes in us. So often we think that it is so important that we believe in God, when I suspect that it is in fact much more important and empowering that God believes in us.
For the sad reality is that when we are owned we can be taken for granted. And this holds true as we as a parish consider Stewardship too. We do not want people to be ours and as a consequence take them for granted. It is so easy for people to do this quite unintentionally, and we too need to guard against it. In a previous parish the recorder was loath to issue a set of envelopes until he had had some indication from a person or family that they did indeed want a box. He did not want to presume that they would continue to contribute. This had much to commend it in principal, though some just wanted to be given a box and they would increase their giving, often without being asked. We Anglicans are a contrary mob, especially when it comes to money :-)
So this stewardship time, we remember that we have much to be thankful for:
- For the relative peace that we enjoy through the efforts of many who died as well as many who "survived" the wars.
- We enjoy a standard of living many do envy. People pay unscrupulous persons exorbitant amounts of money to transport them across the high seas in unseaworthy vessels to try to get to Australia. It makes one wonder from what they are fleeing.
- We have a church and a congregation of which we are a part, and in which we feel comfortable.
- And it is a great blessing to know that God does not want to control us or anyone else, and that God believes in us and all other people. May we all respond accordingly as we are able.
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