Saturday, 30 June 2012

Sharing the Good News?

Peter Lockhart

Coming to wait upon the Lord can be quite a confronting thing for when we hear the word of the Lord it can turn us upside down; it can call us to action and make demands on our lives.

If “waiting” is the underlying theme of today’s service the more overt theme that comes to us from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians and story of Jesus’ healings is that of sharing our faith.

I want briefly to look at the implications of both of these passages for us on this day as we wait upon the Lord.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Paul is addressing a very specific issue associated with a commitment in giving to the Christians in the church at Jerusalem.

Now the Christians in Corinth would not have known the Christians in Jerusalem personally but it is clear that Paul was collecting offerings for the church in Jerusalem not only from Corinth but from other churches as well.

There is a clear relationship between the experience of faith and the bond of Christian community which transcends the boundaries of personal relationships.

Core to his argument that the Corinthians should act is the conviction of God’s generosity in Jesus Christ. “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

Now the generosity of which he speaks and the riches are not worldly wealth yet in entering into the conversation concerning their giving Paul is specifically speaking about money.

There is pragmatism about Paul’s approach. He says, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.”

Of course, Paul was speaking about a very specific issue, which was supporting the Christians in Jerusalem. Despite this, it is not difficult to extrapolate that decisions about what we do with our wealth and our own generosity towards others may involve those both within and beyond the community of faith.

Living out our faith means that every financial decision we make is a faith decision whether it is buying a cup of coffee or a car, whether it is giving to the church or giving to a charity. Often we are unprepared to speak openly about our personal giving and budgeting but this passage challenges us to how we think about our own prosperity and the needs of those around us.

One of the things which stands out for me in this passage is that decisions that how we use our wealth reflect what we believe about God’s grace and generosity: our daily financial decisions becomes a witness.

We tell the story of God‘s grace as we live wisely and act generously.

During the week when I first began thinking about this passage I made a very quick link between the final saying we read today and two campaigns which I have had some involvement with.

Paul writes, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

Many of you may be aware of the “Make poverty history” campaign yet alongside this campaign is one which I find far more personally challenging and that is the “Make wealth history” campaign.

During the week I watched the new Martin Scorsese documentary “Surviving Progress” which echoed what I have been encountering in other places like Paul Gilding’s “The Great disruption” and Clive Hamilton’s “Requiem for a Species”.

Put simply those of us who live in such high standards of living in the West will ultimately make it impossible to make poverty history because in this finite world there is not enough for everyone to live like we do.

If as Christians we are to live from the grace and generosity of God we have experienced then we are also called to consider the confrontation with one of the most pressing issues of our time and maybe listen for the wisdom emanating from the Scriptures: “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

Living our faith affects what we spend our money on and when our personal budgeting is guided by our faith then it also becomes witness.

This brings me to speak about the second narrative that we heard today from the Bible which is about Jesus healing a woman and also at least seemingly raising a girl from the dead.

It somewhat ironic on a day that I am talking about sharing our faith that words that conclude the passage are an instruction not to tell anyone about the healings.

This is more to do with the appropriate timing of telling the stories as opposed to any other covert agendas.

So, what is it that we might gain from this story today? I was particularly struck by the notion that Jesus was seen to e raising the girl from the dead.

Now whilst she may or may not actually have been dead we can only speculate but what strikes me is that in Jesus mind our lives now matter – raising the girl, healing the woman are about giving life and the opportunity to live fully.

Often I encounter people some Christians, some of other faiths, who seem obsessed with the idea of what is going to happen to them after they die. Life is about being in the waiting room for heaven.

Now whilst I do not doubt that in Jesus resurrection there is a promise of a life with God beyond this one, during his life Jesus’ actions and his very presence in the world affirm our earthly existence.

When he taught the disciples to pray he taught them to say “on earth as it is in heaven”. This indicates to me that Jesus heartfelt desire was that we would experience the presence and purposes of our creator whilst we lived.

Jesus healing of the woman, even inadvertently, and of the girl are about affirming life and community. And returning to where I began the service today the Psalmist who is waiting for the Lord is not waiting to die but waiting for the Lord to intervene in his earthly existence.

This raises questions as to how we perceive and live the good news. It asks of us what it is we are to share when it comes to good news.

Telling people the good news involves helping them to know that God loves them now and desires them and us to live knowing a loving and generous God and caring for each other as fellow creatures of this Creator now. It is about life, healing and wholeness. Yes we may also tell them that when they die God has more in store for them but there is a now to our salvation.

We share this not simply by telling the stories off Jesus but once again by how we participate in God’s desire for healing and wholeness and community in all people’s lives.

We share the good news by how we live with one another in community and how we care for one another and what kinds of decisions we make.

The good news of Jesus Christ is the good news of God’s generous love for us whom we created to live. It is the promise of what is to come but it is the celebration of our present reality as well: our very createdness.

As we wait upon the Lord and encounter God’s generous love and mercy let us in silence contemplate God’s will for us this day.

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