s200g01 Lockleys Sunday 33 18/11/01
"When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."" (Luke 21:5-6).
I must admit that when I hear St Paul talking about "busybodies" people, who mind other people's business, I wonder about Mr Bin Ladin. Was there nothing useful he could do for the people in his own adopted country of Afghanistan that he had time to worry about what people in America do? Similarly I wonder about Archbishop Kolini, Anglican Archbishop in Rwanda. Has he got nothing useful he can do for the people in his own country of Rwanda that he has got time to be consecrating traditional bishops to minister in America?
My text concerning the destruction of the Temple may seem a particularly infelicitous quotation to preach on, particularly today, the culmination of our Stewardship program, our thanksgiving Sunday. Indeed at the end of the gospel reading, we really wouldn't think that Jesus' hearers would have thought his words were good news, and if Jesus included his comments to refer to St Richard's, we too wouldn't say that they were good news either. We look to the church to provide a sense of permanency and stability in our lives. But the reality is that in one hundred years or two, St Richard's, if it is still here at all, will be totally different from what it is today - most often despite our best efforts.
Much of our efforts as parents is to try to give to our children a little more than our own parents were able to give us. So much of our efforts in building this church building has no doubt been that our children might have a safe place to worship.
We also look at our work to provide some small sense of immortality - even when we've long since departed this life, there will be a brick or a book here at St Richard's with "my" name on it. It is not good news that, for all our efforts, such may in fact not be the case for all eternity.
But the reality is that the joy is in the giving, not in the remaining. If we give so that our children may not have to give so much, are we not in fact denying them the joy we have experienced in providing the legacy? And this can very soon be completely turned around so that no one is allowed to tamper with my and our legacy. Is the only ministry every succeeding generation allowed to have - to admire "my" memorial, and to maintain it lest it pass away?
Now, the reality of life is that people do want to make their own mark - merely keeping someone else's mark visible is indeed a poor substitute.
And one of the chief hindrances of our Anglican Church in particular has, is our buildings which have to be maintained ... Now I love buildings, and I honour the valiant efforts the pioneers and foundation members made to provide this place of worship. I do not subscribe totally to the statement that the Church is people not buildings - for in the end people stand behind every building.
There is one particular church in this Diocese where the original structure was not finished and the front wall, facing the main street was a vertical sheet of galvanised iron. The congregation has long since diminished and any possibility of finishing the Church is well and truly dead. If I was a lay person and went into that building, contemplating whether I would make it my parish church, I would just leave. I could see all the expectations of the current worshippers - how they would welcome me! - to keep the church open, to encourage others, but really just to maintain their monument, and if possible, to finish the building. Mercifully I think that the diocese is going to put them out of their misery, sell the building and develop the site for aged accommodation ... And I would want to say that the first of these is in fact the most important, to put people out of their misery ...
In the Old Testament book of Judges, you find that there is a pattern. Israel worships other gods rather than the Lord, and disaster strikes and they find themselves sold into the hands of their enemies. They cry to God and God raises up a champion who delivers them. The end of the cycle is marked by the words: "So the land had rest for (a period of) years." (Judges 3:7-11) So: Jos 11:23, Jos 14:15, Jud 3:30, Jud 5:31, Jud 8:28, 2 Ch 14:1, 2 Ch 14:6. And one can look at this negatively and say that God demanded faithfulness from each generation. But looked at another way, God also invited every generation to make their contribution.
And so we find another example of why Jesus sat down and ate with sinners - he was inviting their contributions too. God is a God who invites everyone to contribute.
The story of Jesus asking Zacchaeus the tax collector for food and lodgings, in the gospel story of a couple of weeks ago, is the paradigm for all time.
So the reason that "nothing is forever" is precisely so that the unique contributions of individuals in succeeding generations can be made. If our giving is so that others don't need to give, we have failed to appreciate the joy we experience and fail to share that joy with others.
Actually, when one thinks about it, the real proportion of true atheists in the world is miniscule, and I suspect that many of these have seen a darker side of life to our own experiences. Others have been turned off by doctrinaire statements of the Church. All the religious expressions of humanity revolve around the offerings people bring to their god. Even though others bring different sorts of offerings and call their god by a different name to mine, this essential desire that God and other people accept offerings, seems to be universal. It seems the God of the whole universe moves all sorts of people to give each in their different ways. And this is the God I worship.
And yet our teachings do not give quite universal acceptance of each and every offering - and the examples of this are instructive.
So Jesus says: "So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:22-24). Even then the offering is not rejected, but it is not brought in the correct spirit. I often think that it would have been helpful for Jesus to have added the word "legitimate" to his words: "if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you." Clearly Jesus is not interested in forever placating a manipulative sibling.
And I suppose it is appropriate to jump from there to the words before the service of Holy Communion which also specify that our relationship with our brothers and sisters is important as we come to the service of Holy Communion: "The same order shall the Curate use with those betwixt whom he perceiveth malice and hatred to reign; not suffering them to be partakers of the Lord's Table, until he know them to be reconciled."
So often we want God to accept our offering, but to not accept someone else's offering. I alluded to the fact in my sermon a couple of weeks ago that the first murder was committed because one brother somehow thought that his brother's offering was more acceptable than his own. Cain killed Abel and this is not a historical fact which we might "tutt-tutt" over; it still happens all the time, as we think that our way of celebrating the Holy Communion is more "valid" or "biblical" or whatever, than others.
One of the other Anglican statements of faith comes in the 10th of the 39 articles, which, in part doth say: "Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will." (BCP p615) While this is dressed up in the language of the Church, it basically means that everyone who comes into Church has been called by God, and every contribution people want to offer is because God has moved them to make that contribution.
Now this fact has some very practical consequences for us today. It means that no person's attendance or contribution is more acceptable or less acceptable, more important or less important, because it is God who has inspired each and every person to come and bring their gift.
And if God has inspired people to come and offer their gift it is important that we let people offer the gift that they bring, and not expect them to give what we expect of them. If someone has a gift of music, we should not expect them to "man" the office, or vice versa. We who are here should be on the look out to encourage people to offer what God has inspired them to, to acknowledge that offering, and rejoice, even if it eclipses our own.
Everyone who comes into this church, ourselves as well as everyone else, is here because God has called them - God has moved them. This should be a cause of great rejoicing, not just an opportunity to think how others can contribute to maintain the "status quo".
God is a God who accepts contributions from people - from all people, and this is the true basis of permanence and stability. So we rejoice that God moves us to give and that God moves others to give. If someone else's contribution eclipses our own, we still rejoice because it is evidence that God is still moving people to give in their own manner, and that is indeed good news.
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