Saturday, 15 November 2014

Kingdom economics

Sermon for Second Sunday before Advent.

1 Thessalonians 5:2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

Matthew 25:29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 

We have a great scripture sandwich to digest this morning.
The bread, or outer layers, is the overarching fact that Christ is coming back, as we heard in our reading from Thessalonians.
The Anglican Church names the period of time between All Saints and Advent 'Kingdom Season', when we especially reflect on the reign of Christ in earth and in heaven.
Last week at Remembrance we looked at the parable of the ten bridesmaids, waiting for the return of the Bridegroom – five were ready and five weren’t.
And today, our reading reminds us again that the Lord is returning. His kingdom is at once present and ‘not yet’.
So that’s our overarching framework for today’s readings.
The filling of our sandwich, if you like, is the gospel.

Here a Landowner gives talents (coins) to three different slaves.
The first has five talents and he makes it grow – five more accrue.
Well done, good and faithful servant.
The second has two talents but he makes those grow too, to four.
Well done good and faithful servant.
The 3rd (there’s always 3, right? It makes for a great story; and we know it’s going to go badly for the 3rd…)
The 3rd slave had a different approach.
‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid.
What did this servant do? He hid the talent in the ground. He still has it, he can give it back, but it hasn’t grown into anything.
Now this servant hasn’t done anything really wrong, at first sight; he’s not gone and murdered anyone; he’s not committed adultery or slandered his neighbour.
It’s more a sin of omission, than commission.
He was afraid, and he hid his talent.
It doesn’t go down well. He’s described as worthless and meets a sticky end.
And then there’s the haunting verse 29: ‘to all those who have, more will be given (…) but from those who have nothing, even what they do have will be taken away.
It’s not very Christian is it?
Aren’t we more used to saying ‘everyone should have a fair share?’

It may be of interest to ponder the following thought: in the Christian life we often talk in terms of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’; we should give more, we should pray more; we ought to love more, serve more, read the bible more, etc.
How about if we look at things in a different way – how does the kingdom actually work?
Because the kingdom, that is, the rule of God in our lives – is operating under its own principles whether we like it, or notice it, or not.
Whatever we think we ought to do, or others think we ought to do, the kingdom is operating already.
When we read that difficult verse 29, ‘to all those who have, more will be given (…) but from those who have nothing, even what they do have will be taken away’, what we have here is a description of how the kingdom operates.
The kingdom operates under spiritual laws.
Just like temporal law, kingdom law operates whether people realise it or not.
It’s a bit like when people fill out their insurance claims forms and claim the accident was nothing to do with them when clearly they brought it on themselves by their own actions.

These are some of the things people have claimed on their insurance forms:
‘a pedestrian hit me and went under my car’
‘I had been driving for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident’
and my favourite:
‘I was taking my canary to the hospital. It got loose in the car and flew out the window. The next thing I saw was his rear end, and there was a crash.’ 

As in the earthly kingdom, so in God’s rule in our lives: what we sow, we reap.
Because the kingdom is operating right here, right now, in our individual lives and in our life together.
Whenever we give something to God for him to use, whether it’s time, talents, money or our hearts, He makes that thing grow so we have more of it.
But if we hold back from God, we eventually lose the ability to reach him at all.
If you pray, you develop a hunger for prayer.
If you don’t, you lose your appetite for it anyway.
Spiritual blessing has a habit of multiplying.
One blessing leads to another, which leads to gratitude, which leads to you being a blessing, which leads to more blessing, more gratitude, more generosity, and so forth.
Prayerful people are people who over time, have spent time praying. They’re not more holy than anyone else; they’ve simply invested themselves in it.
People who can rightly handle the Word of God and who draw on it for strength and wisdom in life, are not naturally gifted a reading the bible they’re just people who have given time to it.
People who are kind and compassionate are that way because they have set their minds in that direction and grown in kindness and compassion.
What you reap, you sow.
Conversely, if we miss the chance to give of our best to God, we don’t stay the same, we actually become diminished. What little we have is ‘taken away’.
It’s the law of the kingdom.

I don’t know if you’ve ever come across CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce…
It’s one of his classic spiritual writings.

In it he imagines a man going on a bus journey from a place which might be hell, to a place which is probably heaven (or they might be two hypothetical places which people are still able to chose or not chose). 'Hell' is a series of drab, grey streets in which an endless stream of people move in, quarrel with their neighbours, move as far away from them as possible, till the city grows and grows, around a vacuum, with no one having any proper relationships.
In contrast, as the bus journeys to heaven, everything gets real-er and real-er – when they get there, the grass is too hard to walk on a first, and the flowers cannot be picked – they’re as hard a diamonds.
The people on the bus find this real place a bit much, but some stay and decide to make the effort to acclimatise to this harder, but real-er life.
Some are disgusted with it all and return on the bus to the grey place.
In heaven the flimsy grey people who have decided to stay get more and more substantial, if they work at being real and shedding their crutches of self righteous importance.
It’s a fascinating book about the consequences over a long period of time, of our choices regarding God.
Because ultimately that is what our reading is about.
What we sow, that’s what we reap.
The only things that last into the next life are the things that have grown out of the Christ life, with Him as foundation.
As we grow together in the body of Christ, serving and loving one another as best we can, I leave you with this from Stephen Covey:

Sow a thought, reap an action.
Sow an action, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.


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