The Parish’s month long Stewardship and Giving Campaign was drawn to a close by Rt Revd Andy John, Bishop of Bangor and Chair of the Church in Wales Stewardship Group GENRuS, preaching on Sunday morning at 8am & 11am.
My daughter, my eldest daughter, has begun a year’s back-backing to New Zealand. Although a little nervous we’re really quite pleased for her because I am half Kiwi and so there’s a sense in which she is returning to her roots. But arriving in Christchurch was a bit of a shock because the city is still recovering from that earthquake a couple of years ago. It destroyed the Cathedral and much of the older parts of the city and the after-shocks have made rebuilding difficult.
Getting foundations strong enough that can withstand the tremors is no easy task. For us as Christian people we understand this too. We know that foundations are vital – Jesus told a parable about building on sand for example and St Peter commended the foundation which was Christ himself to the dispersed Christian communities of the Middle East. These things never become more apparent than when we face the earthquakes in our personal lives too and hope that we will not collapse under the weight of whatever calamity befalls us but rather be upheld because what has been built can stand.
Today our focus is all on generosity as a way of life. A good theme and which only flows from the life of Christ himself. His generous love for all people, His commendation of generous time and commitment to others, His generous (even extravagant) attention to others (remember the wine at the wedding?) are all examples. So, as an attitude, generosity sits with the others given to us such as virtue, peace, patience, kindness and goodness and a raft of others commended by St Paul to the Christians at Galatia. The question I want to ask today is how is this attitude grown and formed in us or to use the earlier metaphor, constructed in our lives?
May I suggest in two key ways?
The first takes us to the heart of faith. When we understand the depth of Christ’s love and are captivated again, we are on the right path. Some of our greatest hymns have understood this well: ‘Come down O love Divine’ for example. I like the words:
And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.
You see we cannot manufacture this kind of love and sense of God still less do a ‘VW’ and cheat, imagining the emissions of grace and love can be massaged into a better reading. This is something which grows in us as we understand how great is the immeasurable love of Christ. We take our cue from the cross don’t we? It was here that the Son of God died for our sins and showed there were no lengths to which God would not go to reach out to us and bring us back. It is here that heaven itself is vouched safe to us and a life restored with some of heaven’s goodness and beauty.
I recently saw a news clip in which a child, with others visiting a museum, rested his hand on what he thought was just an innocuous shelf. It turned out to be a valuable painting upside down. A valuable painting now with a great fist hole in it! The truth is that we are all, like that painting, damaged and in need of restoration. The restoring love of Christ does this very thing because God’s love is generous and strong.
The journey begins here and continues each day as we learn what it means to follow Christ and live His love generously in the world. Of course it isn’t easy is it? Perhaps the ‘maturer’ members will remember the vertical and horizontal buttons on the black n white TV’s we owned and what a pain it to fiddle them into an alignment which let us see the picture! And here is the challenge for us all which is to let Christ align our lives and attitudes to His own so that the kind of generous life becomes ever more embedded in us. I suppose in this sense generosity requires an act of the will as well as a response of free choice.
But I think there is something more here too and it is this: generosity is formed when ideas are captivated too. Yes it is about understanding the depth of divine love but it needs something more still. And this is my second point.
The great parable of the NT we know as the Parable of the Good Samaritan makes us ask a simple question: Who is my neighbour? And the extraordinary message, a subversive message is that the whole world needs a different set of lenses with which to view the world and different values if we are to be really human. What we need is a captivation of ideas which is both attractive and utterly counter cultural. And we could hardly do better than turn to the Sermon on the Mount. A Bible scholar described this passage as the most well known in the NT and the least well understood. Here Jesus lays out his agenda, if you like, for the Kingdom people who have tasted and seen that God is good. It’s the topsy-turvy upside down world in which service not self-centredness, is commended. It’s the world where peace making not gun slinging is required. It’s a world in which blessedness is for those who know their everlasting need of God and are poor in their eyes, if rich in God’s.
Last week I heard one of those strange readings from the OT in which the prophet Elisha throws a piece of wood into the river to recover an axe head. You can the point – axe heads don’t float, something is going on here. And the prophets of this period, time and time again, imagined a different kind of world. Not one in which the Kings, who thought they controlled every destiny, were supreme but rather God. They called people to exist in a different way: not the closed and shut down world of lordly power but one in which grace abounded and made for a different way of living. Witness the widow given back her son and the oil which never ran out.
This kind of life is not beyond us. It is, if you like, the ‘normal’ Christian life which is formed by God so our world might see the goodness of Christ and be drawn to Him. Such an invitation invites our response as individuals and churches too. For all the recent talk about AI, what is clear is that mechanical, robotic and ultimately lifeless responses to matters such as this will not do.
For the sake of the world, for ours as disciples and for churches in this time, we need a generosity which is compelling and life changing. Born in a knowing of the love of Christ and fashioned and grown in a following of Him, this is our task and hope. Pray God it might be ours abundantly.