Todays readings for 20th Sunday After Pentecost 1 Chronicles 29:10-18 Acts 4:32-37 Luke 18:18-27, 19:1-10
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
Todays, specially chosen, passages are all about stewardship and what that means for us as Christians, here in this church of St Dunstan.
At St Dunstan’s we hold certain things very dearly, as was reflected in our “dreaming” on last week. Hospitality and generosity in our response to others was clearly an important theme, and most of us want to continue walking in the footsteps of Jesus, here in this place. The question we asked ourselves, and will continue to ask is how do we do this?
The passage from 1 Chronicles, brings us to a recognition of who we are at the most essential level. The great King David, rich and powerful, and of course, human and sinful and frail, recognises that everything that he has, and everything that each of us has, comes from God. Now this is much easier to acknowledge when you live in a simple agrarian society- when everything is dependant on agriculture and therefore on the weather, and other related things like an absence of pests and diseases, and of course, an absence of war. In this kind of society it is easy to acknowledge God as the giver. In our complex type of society where children don’t realise that milk comes from cows, and we are dependant on the returns from investments, it becomes much more difficult for us to see the causal link. However, the principle is still true. If we believe in a creator God, who gives us not just the earth to grow things but the brains to exploit them we are still dependant on God. And of course, as farmers are fond of pointing out at the most basic level we are still completely dependant on agriculture, you can’t eat coal, or oil, or stocks and shares, or bank notes.
David is of course talking holistically- everything we have comes from God- that is our time, our talents and our treasure, as well as power, as David so rightly understands. The other thing that David here offers God is uprightness of heart. This when you reflect a little on David’s moral failures, might seem hypocritical. However, we all have our moral failures which need not stop us from offering the good that we also are capable of, to God. So we are talking about every aspect of our lives.
And this is difficult for us as Twenty-first Century people, I think. We have a very individualised view of the world, I am me, I am autonomous, and what I have is mine to do as I please with. I think this is because we are either wealthy or aspiring to wealth. Do you all remember Kim saying to Kath, “I want to be effluent” Mum, and Kath replying, “you are effluent, Kimi”? We are like the rich ruler that came to Jesus. We talked about him a few weeks ago- he wants to be part of the eternal life that he sees being with God after he dies. “Pie, in the sky, when you die”, but Jesus’ response to him is deeply disappointing. Jesus tells him that he has to act now, to give away his wealth, to share it with the poor and then he will be part of the Kingdom of God, right now, already an inheritor. But it’s hard for him, just as hard as it is for us today and he goes away sad.
On the other hand we have Zacchaeus, who is in a different position. He for some reason wants to be on the team with Jesus. I could speculate that he has found life, as a very wealthy outcast, lonely and difficult, because, of course as we all know the really important things in life are not able to be bought. Anyway, his response to Jesus is to give away half of what he has, and to repay those he has cheated fourfold, and this is the recipe for deep joy.
The apostles were trying to work out how this looked for us at the very beginning of the formation of the church. In the very beginning they worshipped in the temple and met with each other in houses but very quickly they began to be persecuted by the Jewish hierarchy and they realised that the Church, the followers of the way needed to become a distinct entity. So the first model they chose was one of communal living and worship, though it is hard to be sure quite what that looked like. In the passage we had from Acts we have the simple words, ‘Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” This interdependence made them both vulnerable and strong. They were expecting Jesus to return very quickly, I think, so Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, “sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostle’s feet.” This is in line with the instruction from Jesus to the rich ruler, to sell what he had a give it to the poor. This sounds somewhat utopian but unfortunately, human nature being what it is quite quickly we have the story of Ananias and Sapphira to strike fear into our hearts. The problem with these two can be read in several different ways. It was not, however that they held back part of the money that was a problem, but that they weren’t straight with the group. And often it is fear that makes us give, and equally fear that makes us hold back from giving. We all face the tension between our desire to make good financial decisions for our own well-being and the desire to be generous. The things that operates and conditions our responses in our current climate is a fear of scarcity, of not having enough. We have been bombarded for a hundred years by the advertising industry who constantly tell us what we must desire and that what we have is not enough. There is no profit in sufficiency. And there are many industries dependant on us feeling that we need more than we actually do. Part of what we can offer each other in the church is a knowledge that spiritual sufficiency is much more important than material wealth.
Of course the church went on establishing communities that looked after each other and cared for the poor. And that is really our core business here at St Dunstan’s.
Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement is a very good model for us. As the Acts of the Apostles goes on we see him furthering the work of the kingdom through different kind of means. He encourages others so that they are enabled to do the things that he cannot do, and provides for them so that the work of the Kingdom goes ahead.
Here in this place we all need to be Barnabas. We may not either have property to sell, nor be in a position to do that, but we need to give generously, like Barnabas. We need to encourage by working beside one another in whatever way we are able, and give of our different gifts. Barnabas soon realised that he wasn’t Paul, and that he needed to support Paul so that Paul could do what Paul was uniquely gifted for. We all have gifts, but we need to recognise that we have them, and in that we can help each other, and as I get to know you I will be able to help you too. Our gifts are given by God, just like our money, and just like our time, to be used by God, in this work of the Kingdom.
Friends, we have agreed that what we have and do here at St Dunstan’s is important. If we want the work of St Dunstan’s to go on, not just for ourselves but also for our society, and if we want the work of giving to help those in need, here and overseas to go on, we need to give financially and we need to give our time and talents. You have called me to head this work, and you need to give enough money to sustain that. We have a building that we use and we have to give enough to sustain that. I cannot possibly do everything, and if I did it would deprive you of your opportunity to serve God. Now, there is opportunity for you, here in this place, to use your gifts, your talents and your time that God has given you. We need to give generously of all of these things, “for all things come from you, O God, and of your own have we given you.”