Thursday, September 25, 2008

Walking the Talk

Matt 21:23-32. Preached on Sunday 28th September - at the Harvest Festival at St Mark's Church

Sometimes, you just have to say “Thank you!” Because we have got so much to be thankful for haven’t we? Come Ye Thankful people come! Thank you Lord for this new day! God is just SO very good to us...isn’t he?

I mean - think about it. God is the all powerful source of all being and life. He did not have to create the Universe like this. He could have created a Universe any way that he wanted to. He could have made one that was entirely black and white - devoid of any colour. He could have made one in which food had no taste - or in which his people had no taste buds. He could have made a world that didn’t have sunlight, and mountains, and rivers, and oceans. He could have just made one which was all flat desert.

But he didn’t. God created a world which is teeming with life, and variety, and colour and sound. He gave us delicious food. He gave us every kind of resource that we could need. He gave us families and friends - and communities in which we can live together.

And so, we come together on a Harvest Sunday to thank Him for all his amazing gifts to us. We come to say, “thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love!”

But...but...but...we would be blind beyond belief if we didn't acknowledge that there are some people, in some parts of the world, who won't be so joyful in their celebrations today. There are places where crops have failed. There are places where floods have washed crops away. There are places where people won't have been able to enjoy a 'bring and share' harvest supper - like we did last night. What are we to make of such a topsy-turvey situation?

But you know, it doesn't have to be like this. It should be possible for people who have had their entire fields washed away to still be able to praise God this morning...just as we are doing. It should still be possible for those whose crops have dried up because of a lack of rain to celebrate the gathering in of another year's harvest. What am I talking about? How could such a thing be possible?

It would be possible if just one simple, world-changing command of Jesus was actually followed by the people of the world. It’s a simple command. But a radical one. A command which, if we only took it seriously, would entirely change the world as we know it. What is that command? You know. You know it only too well...Love your neighbour as you love yourself.

It doesn't come much more simply than that does it? After all, if we love our neighbours as we love ourselves, we have to ask ourselves some tough questions. Questions like..."under what circumstances would I willingly starve myself?". And the answer to that question is uncomfortable. The only people who willingly starve themselves are those who are suffering from an sickness... perhaps a mental, or nervous illness like anorexia. So, I think we can conclude that when a society - or a planet - willingly allows its own people to starve...especially when there is plenty of food to go round...the only conclusion we can draw is that it is a sick society.

The people in India who have recently lost all their crops because of flood waters...and the people in sub-Saharan Africa whose crops have failed...should be still singing God's praises this morning. They should be singing his praise because the rest of the world, the brothers and sisters...the neighbours...of those Indians and Africans should have reached out, and shared the Harvest.

Loving my neighbour as I love myself surely means wishing for my neighbour all the good things I enjoy?

Loving my neighbour as I love myself surely means reaching out and giving my neighbour exactly what I would hope he would give me...if he were in my shoes?

Today's Gospel reading was yet another of Jesus' agricultural parables: two sons have two different reactions to their father's request that they should go to work in the vineyard. One of them says "I will not"...but then later changes his mind and goes to work. The other says "Yes sir, I will" but actually doesn't go at all.

Like all of Jesus stories, this one has many layers of meaning. It was spoken originally to a bunch of religious leaders...and was designed to show them that what they confessed with their lips, they failed to do with their lives. They taught the principle of loving your neighbour...after all it was a principle that was utterly enshrined in Jewish law. But, Jesus accused them of saying the words, without living the action. They talked the talk. But they didn't walk the walk.

And like all Jesus' stories, there's a challenge for us too in these words.

Don't get me wrong. It is not my intention to pile the guilt on...especially on you who have chosen not to do the 100 things you could have chosen to do instead of praising God this morning. Many of you give extremely generously, in time and money, both to the church, and to the wider work of the Kingdom through charities like Christian Aid. You are people who are walking the walk, as well as talking the talk. You are showing the power of the whole idea of loving our neighbour as we love ourselves.

But a challenge remains.

It's up to each of us to listen to God's still small voice in our own hearts...prompting us...pushing us onwards...discovering even more of the joy that comes from living the way he calls us to live.

Let me tell you a secret. God doesn't need your money! God is not interested in your money. God doesn't ask us to open our wallets...he asks us to open our hearts. God doesn't want us to give more, of our time or our money, because he somehow needs it! He's the Lord of the Universe! He can do anything he wants. He doesn't need that £1 coin I found on the dresser this morning and thought would do for the collection.

No...God wants nothing more from us than our love. And he wants to give us nothing less than his Love. Love which might (and indeed should) be expressed through our money – and our time, and our prayer, and our practical help for our neighbours.

But at the root of it all - He only calls us to love, and to be caught up by love, and to experience love.

There are two ways - and two ways only - that love can be experienced. It is either received, or it is given. "As you sow, so shall you reap" says Jesus. He shows us that by giving love, we learn to receive it as well.

Sowing with generosity, means reaping the rewards of knowing, deep down, in our very souls, that we are living in the heart of God.

Sowing with generosity means being part of the cure for a society which is so sick that it lets its own members starve.

Sowing with generosity means opening the doors of our hearts (and perhaps the zips of our wallets too) and letting the love, the generosity, the overflowing abundance of God flow through us...touching the lives of our neighbours with the good things we would want for ourselves.

Sowing with generosity means learning, day by day, to walk the talk.

Amen.

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