Stewardship Sunday October 2014
The Christian life is rather like being in training for a marathon. Those who take part have to exercise regularly and train rigorously to have any hope of completing the 26 miles. The race will be arduous and will make all sorts of physical demands upon the body. The pain barrier to be gone through, every muscle aching and still the finish line is not in sight. Sacrifices have to be made in order to get through the blisters and sore feet to hear the roar of the crowd as you pass the staging posts and the final spurt as you run through the tape at the end, at which point the effort, the hours of preparing, the mental pushing on when the legs were like jelly all become worth it. The sacrifices made make the end the more worthwhile.
Our Sacrifice for God means that the we are called to respond to God totally, with our time, our gifts, our treasures, with our lives - God asks no less. The Christian life will put demands upon us. The church, God’s instrument, needs our full support as we need the church’s full support. If we are to fulfill all that God asks of us we must remain as focused in our faith and life as we would be if we were about to set out in preparation to run the 26 miles of a amarathon.
Our giving to God, our financial contribution to the work and mission of God's Church, must be a part of this journey, it is in fact a telling part of our spiritual journey. If you join any organization, a golf club, a book club, a wine club, a flower club there will always be a financial commitment to be made.
The God who created this material world and who came into it and lived as man asks us that we also give back to him in the same spirit of generosity that he has given to us in creating us and coming to live among us, and saving us by his death and mighty resurrection.
I have a responsibility to preach about every aspect of our faith committment and usually on Stewardship Sunday I will hear; 'at least he didn’t tell the one this time about there being no pockets in shrouds’ and for the less humorous the grumble ‘the pulpit is not meant to be a begging bowl’. But the truth of the matter is, the church has to preach about money for two reasons
- because the giving of money is part of our expression of love for God and is therefore part of the Christian gospel,
- and because we all have a responsibility to find the funds not only to run and staff this church, which costs, Paul Cuerden our Treasurer, told the PCC a week or so ago, in the order of £2,000 each week this year. Of course that will only get us somewhere about breakeven point as things stand today, if we really want the mission of the church to move forward then we really could do with a lot more: who wouldn't want to see someone dedicated to children and youth work, or the development of bereavement care, or care for the elderley, or...I could go on - but our priorities in mission and evangelism will be being thought about on Wednesday evening.
Even the apostles realized how important money was to the ongoing life of the Church and as the gospel spread money would be sent back to Jerusalem.
‘Well Rector’ some may say ‘ the apostles didn’t have the church commissioners and Queen Anne's bounty to pay them - surely the church commissioners pay the clergy, we don’t need to!’ Well that just isn’t the case any longer, the grants that they used to be given to the dioceses have gone - the diocese of Chichester has to be self supporting and that means every parish within it must be self supporting.
I don’t want to give you lots of facts and figures which you could easily look up in the commissioners statements of accounts, there is only one figure that we need to keep in our minds and that is that we need to raise our overall income this year - realistically we need to find another £10-12,000. If we are to truly break even.
As we are all only to aware times are very hard. I know that each of us is affected in different ways with regards to our income. Growing families, fixed incomes, changes in the tax laws, but I do ask you to remember that the church is also affected by the economic climate, and that when it comes to our giving no Christian can put God and His Church at the bottom of their list of priorities.
I want us, as we’ve always done here, to think positively and I believe that all will be well, if we all remember the responsibility for finding the finances isn’t just mine or the churchwardens or our treasurers or our Parochial church councils, but it is ours as a Church family, and that as that Church family, we respond to God in the spirit of the Gospel.
I am not here to tell you how much you should give to the church, but to challenge you in Christ’s name about this - to ask you to think seriously about how realistic your giving to God is.
I believe that every member of the church should be a part of the planned giving scheme preferably using a bankers order or there are the weekly or monthly envelopes.
I believe that everyone who pays income tax should make a gift aid declaration whereby we can reclaim the income tax paid, which means that at the moment for every £1 we pay we can claim 25p back. This year this means an income of approximately £11,700 which hasn’t cost us one penny.
There is a named letter for everyone on the church electoral roll and spares for those not on the roll at the back of church ready to be collected, in it I ask each of you to think prayerfully with me about future giving to Holy Cross and I ask for responses, by Sunday November 16th when we shall offer to God our renewed pledges.
I do ask you to see your giving as a prayerful venture. All we have comes from God - He loves us so much he is prepared even to die for us. What is our response to such love and generosity? One thing I know is, that it must include my giving to God.
My understanding of the church is that I as your priest do not ask you to do anything that I am not prepared to do myself. And so I do ask you as your parish priest to join me in responding to God’s love by looking prayerfully at our giving, and I am confident that if we do it in that spirit we will not only find the increase necessary to break even, but that we will go further and be able to extend our work and mission which is what we all want to see and what we each believe that God is asking of us.
St. Matthew 2014 21st September
“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13).
What does Christ mean by this saying? The Hebrew root for the word sin means “to miss”. So when we commit a sin, we don’t necessarily deliberately do something wrong, but, rather, miss the mark. Sin is a deviation. What we need to try to do is be alert and mindful of the Gospel teaching.
When former South African President Nelson Mandela died in December 2013, tributes from world leaders and celebrities filled the airwaves and column inches: the global media mourned “one of the most revered human rights leaders of our time”. However, Lee Jenkins wrote, in an online post for Backbencher, a political commentary website, that the “hero” of the anti-apartheid struggle was not the saint we want him to be, “The image of Nelson Mandela as a selfless, humble, freedom fighter turned cheerful, kindly old man, is well-established in the West. If there is any international leader on whom we can universally heap praise it is surely he. But get past the halo we’ve placed on him without his permission, and Nelson Mandela had more than a few flaws which deserve attention.”
Mandela was imprisoned in 1962 for carrying out acts of violence; at his trial he said, “I do not deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by the whites.” In his memoir, The Long Walk to Freedom, published in 1995 (following his release from prison), Mandela admitted that he had “signed off” on a number of murderous acts of terrorism.
But as Jenkins also writes, “The apartheid regime was a crime against humanity; as illogical as it was cruel. It is tempting, therefore, to simplify the subject by declaring that all who opposed it were wholly and unswervingly good. It’s important to remember, however, that Mandela has been the first to hold his hands up to his shortcomings and mistakes. In books and speeches, he goes to great length to admit his errors. The real tragedy is that too many in the West can’t bring themselves to see what the great man himself has said all along; that he’s just as flawed as the rest of us, and should not be put on a pedestal.”
In our Gospel reading Jesus calls Matthew to follow him. Matthew was, like Nelson Mandela, not without a past in which he had made mistakes and perhaps missed the mark. What this Gospel reading makes clear is that Christ is not interested in our past, nor is he interested in those who consider themselves to lead blameless lives. Christ is interested in those who have deviated, and in their futures.
Look at Caravaggio’s painting Callingof SaintMatthew.Matthew sees the light of Christ, is ready to listen, and is inspired to follow Christ. Matthew turns his back on his old life; he realises what is truly important. There are two others at the table in this painting too focused on counting money even to look up; they are not alert and do not notice Christ’s presence. They are not ready to listen.
Nelson Mandela’s time in prison made him ready and willing to listen, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained in an article he wrote for the Guardian in December 2013, “Even though many in the white community in SouthAfricawere still dismissing him [Mandela] as a terrorist, he tried to understand their position. His gestures communicated more eloquently than words. For example, he invited his white jailer as a VIP guest to his inauguration as president, and he invited the prosecutor in the Rivonia trial to lunch. What incredible acts of generosity these were.” Mandela the statesman demonstrated wisdom and understanding.
None of us is worthy; we are all flawed, just like St Matthew and Nelson Mandela. Perhaps the most pertinent statement made by Lee Jenkins is that Mandela himself did not give his permission for the global media to place a halo on him. He was aware of his own shortcomings. Just as we are all flawed, so too are we all loved. Christ seeks us out and calls us by name. Will we be like St Matthew and hear that call, or are we at risk of being like the money counters in Caravaggio’s famous painting; too engrossed in our own concerns to look up?
Evensong. 14th September 2014
One hundred years ago today, the First Battle of the Aisne marked the beginning of the trench warfare that characterised the First World War. The surrounding landscape offered no protection to either side in the battle. Unequipped to dig trenches, both the Allied forces and the Germans sent soldiers to neighbouring farms to requisition spades, shovels, pickaxes and any other implements that might help construct what became a four-year nightmare for hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Neither side would give way to the other. The conflict seemed to increase in violence and bloodshed with each passing day. Two years later, almost to the very day, the first tanks supplemented the weapons – and so the death toll rose, so that, by the end of the war, there were more than thirty-seven million military and civilian casualties.
Yet others in the field of battle, non-combatants, daily risked their lives, serving as nurses and ambulance drivers. Many of these were women. Were they afraid? Of course they were! Courage does not mean that someone feels no fear. Rather, the brave person is one who does what is right in spite of personal fear, perhaps in spite of sheer terror, to help others. We hear of those who crawled beyond the trenches into no-man’s-land to retrieve the wounded, bringing them to safety in the height of battle. In makeshift field hospitals, medical staff faced previously unimagined injuries and did their best to repair broken bodies and to comfort their deeply traumatised patients. To an extent, they followed orders, but their goodness went above and beyond the call of duty.
Was Jesus afraid? Of course he was. Had he not dreaded the torture and death that he knew awaited him, he would not have been human. Facing increasing opposition from the Jewish authorities, Jesus had a choice: either he could abandon his efforts to tell people of his Father and of the kingdom of God, or he could fulfil his mission even though it would cost him his life. Luke’s Gospel tells us that, in Gethsemane, Jesus sweated blood, a phenomenon that scientists say only happens under conditions of extreme stress.
Yes, Jesus was terrified, but, in a real sense, he had no choice: in his battle against evil, there was no surrender. Humanly speaking, Jesus was weak and undefended, surrounded by friends and supporters who fled when the going became tough. In the eyes of those who captured him, Jesus was the inevitable loser and a dangerously outspoken fool who deserved to face the bloody consequences of his words and actions.
Yet the full story went beyond the physical aspects of Calvary. Broken humanity needed Jesus to save it from the evil that threatened to engulf the world. Jesus, on the cross, would be, for all time, a sign of the resurrection to come.
The feast of the Holy Cross recalls the day when in AD 326, according to tradition, St Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, discovered the True Cross and subsequently built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The cross, however, is more than a holy relic; it has a meaning that underpins the whole of Christianity. It proclaims that Jesus, as human as we are, overcame his fears and faced suffering and death in a supreme act of self-sacrifice. It declares that there is no Easter Sunday unless it is preceded by Good Friday.
The unsung heroes and heroines of the First World War gave themselves unstintingly as they tried to protect and defend those around them. That is why, in spite of the horrors of war, we remember them with honour and pride. None of us can escape the experience of suffering. It is part and parcel of our human lives. We do not need to be overwhelmed by our circumstances. Looking towards the crucified Jesus, we can see for ourselves someone who knew rejection and pain from personal experience. The cross is the symbol of the resurrection, it is our symbol of hope, it is the symbol that we bring to our still broken world today. The cross is the sign to all people that God was prepared to do anything, everything , even to the point of giving himself fully into human hands, our hands, that the ultimate victory may be won and all may be able to claim eternal life with him.
With Jesus raised before our eyes we can face anything, we can do anything for we can see our salvation in him.