Sunday, 21 September 2008

Moaning... a sermon for Proper 20 Year A!

Year A Proper 20 (2008) RCL Principal

Moan Moan Moan

We are all very good at moaning. Lets be honest. There’s nothing most of us like better than a good moan. We might not naturally be inclined to moan, we may be quite happy with our lot, we might be the type of personal who is settled with what she or he has, but if we get the chance, nearly all of us like to really let rip at a good moaning session.

PCCs have a reputation for being such events. In your average stereotypical PCC meeting, the Vicar moans about wanting to change lots of things and not being able to, then the people moan that the Vicar wants to change everything and in the end very little happens. Then the Vicar and the PCC go home and moan about being on the PCC and wondering why it all happens, and I suspect the Lord groans too.

Not that this is the case in our PCCs here, actually I have to say, and I am being sincere, that most of our PCC meetings are productive and, though sometimes tiring and often containing what we might call ‘a full and frank airing of opinions’ we usually find we have much to be thankful for and over the past few years in these villages our PCCs have accomplished a huge amount, for which I am thankful.

But, to get back on track, we often moan about what we do or don’t have – in the Church that may be a congregation! It may be a shortage of finance. It may be a lack of volunteers to do this or that event. Sometimes having a moan can be very therapeutic, and as we realise that others share our views we might even get on and get something done about it!

Of course, the most common complaint I hear is that ‘things aren’t like they used to be’. For every generation this has been the cry of those of us who remember the past with a certain nostalgia and a feeling that, even when we don’t’ remember it, things must have been better once, because (whether the facts actually agree) it feels as though things must have been better once.

And that feeling is common to the human condition, I remember once reading a psychology paper that said that we have a built in feeling of things having once been better – a sort of existential angst. This, of course, can be found at almost the beginning of our Scriptures – with the story of the Garden of Eden, and the idyll of Adam and Eve, lost through disobedience and the entrance of sin into the world. The Bible tells us that this is the foundation of our feelings of disaffection, our certainty that things were once better – they were.

But as for moaning, it seems that no-one equals the children of Israel on their journey which we call ‘The Exodus’. Only last week I was talking of the joy and power of the crossing of the Red Sea, and that this is a defining moment in the Jewish faith, a place of liberation and celebration as God freed them from slavery and a life of oppression and abuse and set them on a journey to the Promised land.

Yet here they are, just a little later, moaning. Well, we may have been beaten, abused, had our children murdered and been worked to death – but at least we had decent grub. Slavery was acceptable when we didn’t have to worry about food, and now here we are in the wilderness and we’re starving.

It seems that despite what they had seen, despite what God had done for them, they didn’t really grasp the idea that God provides. Just before this episode they had found themselves at a spring of brackish water, which was bitter, and God had ‘sweetened the water’ by telling Moses to throw a piece of wood into it. It’s not like they were short of provision from God – and yet they complained.

And God’s response to this? It’s to keep giving, giving to the undeserving, giving to those who complained, because he had promised to care for the Israelites, and to lead them to a new land, a new life, a new hope.

It seems to me that many Christians think they deserve something more than they have from God. ‘I have faith’, or more commonly ‘I’m a good person’ they say so why doesn’t God reward me? It’s almost as if by being a Christian, by trying to follow Jesus, we consider that we are doing God a favour. Somehow our walk of faith is good news for God!

Well, I think God is overjoyed every time we turn to him, when we seek his face, when we show our love for him in praise and in serving him and serving others. When we live lives of love, when we give our time to God to use as he wishes, when we open ourselves up to God. Yes, I’ve no doubt that this delights our heavenly Father’s heart.

But we are doing God no favours.

The very fact that we can turn to God, that we can come before him in prayer, that we can serve and worship him is a privilege, not a right. Our Christian life is only possible because of what God has done for us, not because of anything we have done! ‘We love’ says the first letter of St John ‘because he first loved us’. God was the prime mover, it is God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s undeserved and unlimited love towards us that makes our Christian lives even a vague possibility. We shy away from hardship, we demand that Church, or our Christian lives, or time for prayer, or fasting, or our giving is done on our terms, and these often done begrudgingly, but God has given us everything, and our service to him and to others is a trifling amount compared to the Grace he has shown us.

And more, when we complain, when we hark back to ‘how things were’ or when we turn our noses up at those who we consider less worthy than us (as in our parable for today) or worse, do not show friendship or reject from our fellowship those who we don’t’ consider to be proper Christians, or who haven’t ‘put in the hours’ that we have to the Church, then we are mocking God’s grace and questioning God’s mercy.

I pray that we will all have a sense of how unworthy we are of God’s great love and grace. not because I think that God wants us to feel small or insignificant, because that certainly isn’t how God feels about us. God loves us completely, enough that he would give his only Son to take our sins and the death that sin brings upon himself on the cross. No, I would hope that we would know the love of God, as St Paul says ‘the height and depth and breadth’ of it in order that we might be inspired again to serve God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. In order that we would see sharing our faith not as a trial, but as an advernture, as something we just have to do because of all that has been done for us. I pray that in seeing all that God has done for us we will stop worrying about the way that things are done at Church, or begrudging time spent at services, or not wanting to be a part of another meeting or another group but that we will long to seek God with everything we are, and serve him in every part of our lives.

God is, to paraphrase one advertisement, the giver that keeps on giving. It is with his grace, his love, his Spirit, his strength that we can change this world, when we have such a sense of God’s grace that we long to spend time with God and with telling others about God.

May we know God’s grace, and have such a sense of his mercies, that our lives are filled to bursting with the love of Christ. Amen.


Dr.John said...

Another great sermon.

Melli said...

Ohhhhhhh I think I might have HUGGED you for this sermon! It's funny that the first comment you got was about the sermon being too long! I made my PASTOR moan when after hearing that the church in Russia has Vespers that sometimes last 7 or 8 hours - I suggested that WE start having Vespers at OUR church! Booooooy did Pastor moan! LOL! Personally, I think spending 7 or 8 hours in worship is a GRAND idea!!!

It's good to see you - now that we are both back!