Sermon for Sunday 13th September 2015
‘ . . .as those who will give an account’
Anglicanism has more than its fair share of peculiarities, hardly surprising for a church which had its genesis in the determination of a King to marry whomsoever he wanted at a time of religious upheaval in the 16th Century.
But for the purposes of today, when we are considering Stewardship, I want to think about our Anglican posture of prayer. Not because I want everyone to pray that more money will come in – but because our posture in prayer says something about how we relate to God, and not only in theory. We are embodied, and what we do with our bodies affects our faith as much as our faith affects what we do with our bodies. You may like to spend time praying adopting different positions – pay attention to how it changes the disposition of your heart and mind . . .
So how does being Anglican affect our posture in prayer? Well, the fact is that by and large our way of praying is rather odd – for historically and indeed until recently, pretty uniformly, Anglicans kneel to pray. OK so some more modern types sit – itself unusual historically, after all, only the relatively wealthy could afford to put seats into their churches – or adopt the shampoo position, which is sort of half way between sitting and kneeling whilst massaging your follicles, but as the prayer book repeatedly says – ‘the people all kneeling . . .’.
Whereas the way to pray most commonly observed and practised, and that of our Jewish forebears also, is that we pray Standing up! I’ll come to standing up in a minute, but why are Anglicans different? Well as far as we can tell it was because in the feudal times out of which the Church of England grew – one knelt before one’s lord and master, and so transferring that practise it seemed right and proper to kneel before God – but I suggest that that is not helpful. Not least because it leaves us entirely with a sense that we are supplicants in prayer, which is only a very small part of the story.
Our primary relationship to God is not one of begging. And certainly if we consider what it is to be a Steward, then begging isn’t primarily what we are about. For God in Christ has so dignified his people that he calls them to be Stewards of all that He has created, and in that dignity to Stand before him.
In the book of Job – after Job has poured out all his complaints, the LORD confronts Job with the words – ‘gird up your loins like a man and I will question you, and you shall declare to me.’ For 35 chapters Job has sat in the dust and pondered his plight, and now the LORD appears with the command – get up from the dust – face me like a man! Gird up your loins is a way of saying – get ready for hard labour – get ready for battle! ‘I will question you, and you shall declare to me.’ God invites Job to debate face to face. Astonishingly, God treats the human as in a sense an equal – and expects us not to cower but to Stand before Him. So we learn to speak with God as it were ‘Face to Face’ Standing. If you wish to enter into a deeper apprehension of your life before God, Standing to pray makes a huge difference – After all – is not God Present??!
Now at this point you may be asking – WHAT has this got to do with Stewardship??? Surely you need to be talking about how we need to be giving more etc. etc. etc. Or give us guidelines – or something.
Well I’m not . . . The Christian Life is not one in which we are spoon fed. God in Christ has forgiven us our sins and set us free from Sin. We don’t have to sin. God in Christ through the gift of the Spirit has taken us up from the dust and set us on our feet – he offers his Life to us that we might obey his commandments and do them – to love our neighbour as ourself, to love God with all we have and all we are. God treats us like responsible adults. ‘This is the way, walk in it . . .’
For example, as we have thought about over the last few weeks – when the wealthy young man comes to Jesus, Jesus tells him it like it is – he treats him as a responsible human being. This is the deal – sell your possessions give the money to the poor, then come follow me . . . over and over again Jesus says things that treat us not like infants, but adults. And sadly and too often, we seek to evade Jesus Word to us – the Word that gives Life . . .
So the parable to the talents, the man going on a journey puts all his wealth in the hands of his servants . . . As the Psalmist says ‘The Earth is the LORD’s and everything in it’ Everything belongs to God – he puts it into the hands of the human. Let us make man in our own image, ‘according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’Each of the stewards is held responsible – it is the one who tries to squirm away, who seeks to evade his responsibilities who finds himself in the mire. As Jesus said – when the invitation to the Kingdom came, ‘one after another began to make his excuses . . .’ The call into the Kingdom is a fearful call for it is at once a call to our true dignity and therefore Responsibility as human beings – not by the deceitful standards of the World, but by the Command of the One who created the heavens and the Earth . . . our stewardship is not calculated to win us the admiration of society, but God’s Well Done, Good and faithful steward
When we are baptised into the Life of the Church – the time for excuses is over. Yes we may sin, and for that we confess our sins one to another that we might be healed – but no excuses now. God in Raising Christ from the dead has set us up on our feet – our Life, our very Existence is now Face to Face with the Living God, and thus as the Scriptures continually tell us – we must give an account . . . Baptism is not into some life where we are as it were held in cossetted existence, no it is a passage into Life before God, It is an awakening to the true reality of our lives and our Life Together – in all its Glory and all its Fear of the LORD.
Those who are called by the church to teach should know this accountability well, for we are called on me to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and no other gospel. Not to as it were to try and find easy ways around the words of Jesus, but to face up to them for ourselves and to declare them to God’s people. As St Paul says ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!’ It’s of course tempting to say – God help me if I don’t, but it is to God that the preacher is responsible!!! There is no other defence!!! As James puts it in his epistle we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. Yet it is not only the ordained who are given the capacity for speech. Perhaps in no greater way does God give over Stewardship to man than in conferring upon him the terrifying power of speech?? As Paul says, Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And what terrifying responsibility – for as James tells us, the ongue is like the rudder of a ship – small but guiding and directing its course – our Speech creates worlds for Good or Ill – and it forms us also. As Jesus puts it I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’
It is no wonder that James exhorts us – ‘be slow to speak’ – for we will have to give an account of our stewardship of the Divine Gift of speech. And Peter is reminded of that in the most forceful of terms. Responding to the words of Jesus hastily he says the first thing that comes out of his mouth. And Jesus treats his words with full seriousness – ‘Get behind me Satan!!’ As I have said before, our Life in Christ is a matter of LIfe and Death, to dare to call oneself Christian is to take the responsibility for our Life that he places into our hands
Jesus summons to Life could not be more serious “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” To follow Christ – to die to oneself is to be set free in Radical Responsibility. It is to live with the Command of God as our only guide. No rules no regulations, certainly no careful calculations. One of the insights I had about myself on Sabbatical was a tendency to try and be calculating in my Life before God. The only response to the Life of God is Yes, or No. There are no %ages. It is all or nothing. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Simply all we have comes from God – and we are to use it for HIs Glory – the Glory of the One we Love – according to our unique abilities – to Love God with all we have and all we are, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
That is our Life – it is the meaning of our Existence. To be a steward of that which God has given us is to live with this Life giving Command before our eyes, day in and day out. It is to live knowing that we shall all have to give an account – it is to understand that nothing we have is ours, even our very lives, but everything belongs to our Father, as we ourselves are his Precious possession.
We are HIs precious possession – it is because we belong to Him in Jesus, that we have life; because we belong to Him in Jesus that we are set free to live in true Responsibility for our LIves. It is our sense of the reality or otherwise of our relationship before God in Jesus Christ which marks out how we respond to that. Whether, knowing Him and Loving Him we dare stand before Him, Rejoicing in Him and boldly stepping out in Life in His Name. Or, not knowing him, hearing words about giving an account with terror and fear
It’s not my place to tell anyone how much to give – or to what – but an obligation is placed on me to remind us that God in Jesus Christ has radically saved us and brought us into the kingdom of his Son, He has given us his life, breathing the Holy Spirit into each one of us, lifting us from the dust of death and setting us on our feet – facing Him moment by moment and day by day. Our Life is before God, and we will have to give an account to God of how we have used all he has put into our hands – so let us respond not with fear and excuses, with self serving calculation, but – with cheerfulness – indeed as St Paul puts it in the Greek with Hilaritos – as Children of our Father bestowing gifts upon the righteous and the unrighteous – with Joy and Gladness in all of our Stewarding of the Good Gifts he has bestowed upon us.
For in truth all of us are accountable before God for what we have done with that which is his . . . Not taking responsibility before God for all he has placed into our hands is to deny the very Life he has given us – but let us not hide in the shadows of excuses and fear, but walk fully in the Light of the Life of Christ, so that on the last day when he shall come to judge the Earth, we may rejoice at his coming and Stand before Him, as we have learned to do. Rejoicing Always, Praying without Ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances – for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.