Benediction Online

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Take Courage and Work to bring God's Kindom on earth

As you may remember, there were several different Jewish sects at the time of Jesus. The two who most often feature in Gospel stories are the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were particularly concerned with the temple and all things connected to ritual worship whereas the Pharisees were more concerned about the law and its correct interpretation in contemporary society. The two groups had different ideas about the afterlife. It’s easy to remember which is which. The Sadducees were sad-you-see because they did not believe in immortality but the Pharisees said ‘Far-I-see’ because they did believe in life after death.

Jesus was probably a Pharisee, despite the negative things he sometimes said about them. In today’s Gospel reading, the Sadducees are really taunting him – suppose, they said, a man died. Since it was customary for a man to marry his brother’s widow if she had not borne children the first brother married her, but alas he died very soon. The second brother married her, but he too died childless and then the third brother… and so through seven brothers. Whose wife would she be in this so-called resurrection??

Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He doesn’t get hooked into an argument which is really not that important. He simply says that the rules of this world no longer apply in the resurrection and that even Moses believed that the dead lived on. And that’s it. Jesus really tells us very little about life after death, so it’s surprising that so many people think that Christianity is about what happens to you when you’re dead. They equate eternal life with life after this one and imagine that it’s all about making sure that you’ll live in paradise in the hereafter.

Of course it’s comforting to think that our loved ones who have died are happy, and as we age I think it’s only natural to wonder what happens next. But that’s not what Christianity is about. Christianity is about the here and now. It’s about how we live today. It’s about the quality of our lives on every level, spiritual, emotional, relational, physical. Eternal life is living everyday as if it truly matters. Many people who are told that they have a limited life expectancy find that they discover a heightened awareness of everyday life- every moment becomes more precious. That is eternal life. Living in the eternal now, living as if every moment counts.

One of the dangers of focusing on the hereafter is that we fail to live in the present. If I’m busy looking forward to tomorrow then I’m likely not to enjoy today. If I think that this life is just a stepping stone, a staging point before the real action starts, then I’m not going to take care of what is here and now. There’s no point in thinking about the environment because it’s only temporary; there’s no point in looking after my health, because we’re all going to die anyway, and the sooner the better.

In other words, focusing on what’s going to happen when we die leads to very poor stewardship.

God incarnated. God became flesh and blood, molecules and atoms. That means that God cared about the physical world enough to be part of it. Creation is not something that God did in God’s spare time on some long forgotten vacation and now checks in on from time to time. Creation is where God lives.

It’s also where we live. Stewardship is living as though we take that seriously.

All that we have is a gift from God. I know you’ve heard me say that before. I want you to put your hands into your pockets or into your purses and take out what you find there… whatever it is, take it out and look at it. What are you holding? …Kleenex, keys, candy wrappers…? All these things and the things they symbolize are gifts from God. Our cars, our homes, our tears, our food, our activities – all gifts from God.
Before you put them away and before I go on, please take a moment silently to thank God for the things you have in your hand and all that they symbolize.

All that we have is a gift from God to be used wisely to continue creation. We are co-creators with God – we have been given the power to create beauty or destruction. The decisions we make about how we use our resources lead to life or lead to death. As a people we are realizing that we have made choices that lead to death for many species and threaten to radically change our planet and the lives of all beings on it. Over-consumption has led not only to needless hunger and illness but now to global warming.

Is it too late to do anything about it?

The first reading today from the prophet Haggai is very encouraging, ‘take courage all you people of the land, work, for I am with you says the Lord of hosts… My spirit abides among you, do not fear.’

Take courage and work. Not take courage and do nothing different. Not take courage and wait for the government to do something or the vestry to find a solution. No, take courage and work.

We seem to be seeing an accelerator effect, that as global warming really starts to get underway, various natural processes are set in motion that make it happen faster. I suspect that if we really take seriously the work of restoring the earth, we will find the same thing happening in reverse. When we cooperate with God we truly find that God’s spirit abides among us and we need not fear. But it takes both courage and work. Hoping that somehow it’ll go away is not going to make the difference we need. A failure to act is as much an act of creation as a decision to work for change.

The same is true here at St Benedict’s. As we come to the end of this year, the first year when we have paid our mortgage out of our operating income, the figures are a little discouraging. Our income for last month was very low. I hope that we will end this year with just about as much cash reserve as we had at the beginning of the year.

I had hoped that by now the building would have been finished enough to get our permanent occupancy permit, but we continue to wait on the latest ideas from PG&E for our electricity supply. I am very grateful to Bill and Don who have been putting our baseboard in this week – doesn’t it look great! Our acoustical consultant was here two weeks ago and has a recommendation for a sound system which will enable people to really hear what’s going on. Little by little this building is being built.

Little by little we are understanding God’s purpose for us. I believe that God’s purpose for St Benedict’s is to witness to God’s love for us and all beings and to express that in a way that can be heard and received by people who have been turned off or rejected by other expressions of faith which are limiting and judgmental. I believe that God wants to use us to bring hundreds and thousands of people into a life giving relationship with Spirit. Some of them may become church members, many will not.

We are not all called to relate to God in the same way and we are not all called to minister in the same ways. This week you will all be receiving a letter from me asking you prayerfully to consider the promise you make for financially supporting God’s work in this church during the coming year. Next Sunday we will be collecting the pledges, the promises you make so that we can use them as we consider our financial goals for the coming year.

I ask you to consider seriously this week not only how much money God is asking you to give to St Benedicts but also how God is calling you to minister. Not all of us are called to build up the body of Christ. Many of us are primarily called to minister in our jobs, in our families, through our artistic gifts or through friendships and community activities. For many years I felt that I was not really accepted as a full member of this church because I had a demanding, busy job and could not give time and energy to the things that are necessary for our common life. There are those who have much time and energy to give to the church and others who only have a little because this is not where their primary ministry lies.

We sometimes feel stretched both financially and practically, but true stewardship calls us to do that which is joyful to us and to give our first fruits back to God with joy and thanksgiving. The renowned preacher, Frederick Bruechner, once said that our ministry is found where the world’s greatest need and our deepest joy meet. I urge you to look at where your deepest joy is found and to offer that in service to God.

Together we can take courage and work to fully realize the continuing creation of God in the beauty not only of our physical building but of our community together. Thus we shall bring to pass the prophecy of Haggai, “The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.”


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