SUNDAY 26th February 2017
8th Ordinal Sunday
Trusting in God
Before I reflect on today’s passages it is important to say something about how we read the Bible. To read the Bible we do not read it like any other book. We must be prepared to require of it. When we expect from it the ultimate answers we will benefit from its divine truth? We need to read it like a personal letter from someone we love so that it’s words may linger in our minds. We need to ponder its words in our hearts as Mary did ponder the words that were said to her by Simian and Anna.
Rather than examine Scripture we need to allow Scripture to examine us.
In terms of preaching, If a preacher is conscientious they will endeavour to search what the Lord is trying to say to us in the readings that are confronting us. Having a lectionary helps as we are not choosing what we want to hear but are confronted by the readings that are before us.
As a conscientious congregation it is your task as you listen to discern what is of God and what is just of the preacher. As I examine our readings today I am endeavouring to offer what I feel God through the Scriptures is saying to us, but I am aware that some of this may be just Mark, my thoughts.
During the past three Sundays the readings have been very challenging as they have challenged the very core of our hearts. We have heard how Jesus gave us a new set of values to live by. Fr Terry pointed out that the intent of our hearts is more important than the letter of the law, it is the intent and spirit of the law that matters. The deep values of the Holy Spirit that need to develop within us. Last week’s readings which Andy reflected on challenged us about our attitudes towards others even our enemies. We must treat all people in the way that Jesus has shown us. This is often very hard and we can often find ourselves falling short of what it means to be truly Christian. This week in the gospel reading Jesus is challenging us about our trust in him. The principle of this reading is that anything in our lives that is more important than God becomes an obstacle to our faith. This can be even seemingly good things like sport or career, hobbies, sexuality, culture, and even family. Does not Jesus say that if we prefer Mother, brother sister to him we cannot have any part in him. If these become more important than our relationship with God they become an evil to us. In today’s reading Jesus draws our focus especially in the area of material needs.
The first reading from Isaiah reminds us that the Lord never abandons us, just as a mother never forgets the baby at the breast, the child of her womb.
We live in a world that centres its trust on the material things of this world even though it is obvious that at death we cannot take anything with us.
You cannot serve both God and Mammon says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He also points us to the example of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Are we then to view money and honest work as idols at odds with true faith?
In the ancient world, most people believed in a universe that had many gods. But even without the help of biblical revelation, Greek philosophers figured something out. There could only be one Supreme Being, only one almighty and omnipotent Ruler of all, only one God.
In the twelfth chapter of Luke, Jesus asks a question. Whom do you serve? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or that god called “mammon.” You can only have one God.
Mammon & Money
We all know mammon has something to do with money. But the word he uses here is not the common word for money. Mammon means unjust gain, greed, or money that is an end in itself, an ultimate value, a controlling force. Some people use money to provide for their family. Others sell out their family, their country, their integrity . . . for money. This is where money becomes mammon, a relentless god that demands that all bow before it and offer sacrifice.
If you review all the Old and New Testament texts that deal with wealth, you find a recurring theme. Woe is the person who trusts in their great wealth. Riches are not a reliable foundation to build on when it comes to present or eternal security. Only the fool puts their trust in their money.
Work vs. Worry
When Jesus points to the lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin, don’t get him wrong. He is not encouraging us to quit toiling and spinning. St. Paul berates those in Thessalonica who used trust in God as an excuse for laziness, idleness and irresponsibility. He says that he offered an example to the faithful by his work day and night to support himself in order not to be a burden on anyone else. Those who do not work should not eat he says (2 Thes. 3:10).
For Paul he did not minister the gospel to use his own words for sordid money he did it for the love of God and the love of God’s people. If we have sufficient to live on we should freely give of our services to God without any expectation of payment. If we do it for payment then our motives our intentions are wrong. Clergy in the Anglican Church are provided with a stipend, which means living. This living is given to set them free to do the work of God. If they can live without the stipend in my view it is wrong to receive a stipend because we do not need this living. The same concept up until the mid-sixties existed also for politicians. They were paid a stipend, a living which was the same as an average wage. And this is why they had allowances to help them meet the costs of being in parliament.
Jesus is not trying to get us to stop working. He is telling us to stop worrying. Worry is a kind of recurring fear. And the most frequent command of Jesus in the four gospels is “Do not be afraid!” more literally translated “Stop fearing!”
God Will Provide
We are more precious to God than the lilies of the field. If He will provide for them, how much more will he provide for us! There are times that he will provide manna. Other times, he will provide work. We should gratefully accept what he provides and work hard. But we must labour in confidence, not in anxiety. For the love of God, not the love of money. And for His glory, not for ours.
There is another important concept in today’s readings. Paul says to us in the second reading.
“People must think of us as Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God, and we should be found worthy of this trust.”
When this site was set aside as a place of worship over 120 years ago it was done so with a hope that the glory of God would be proclaimed. When the earlier wooden building was built and then this magnificent brick sanctuary added it was in the hope that the glory of God would be proclaimed. The consecration stone of every church has the words to the glory of God.
When our predecessors in the early church through the inspiration of God shaped the liturgies that we participate in they did so to give glory to God. When Jesus instituted the blessed sacrament at the last supper he gave it to us to show the glory of God.
These treasures have been passed down to us and we are to be entrusted stewards of them so that the glory of God may be proclaimed to the world around us. And as Paul says to us in the Scripture today we are to be found worthy of this trust.
We are found worthy when it is not about mammon but about trusting in God.
It is not what we have in life. But who we have in our life that matters. And at the top of our lives is to be God.