Sunday, April 06, 2014

Giving Life

This draws to an end a series that we have been preaching about giving: our time, talent and money.  We’ve thought about how our giving needs to be done in thankfulness, in gratitude to God for all that He gives us.  We’ve thought about how our giving may develop over time as our understanding of need grows as does our likeness and love of Christ.  We’ve remembered that what we give offers life - it offers us as church an opportunity, not just to pay the bills but to allow us to follow God and participate fully in what He is doing amongst us.  We have remembered the importance of giving proportionately from our disposable income whether 5% directly to our local church and 5% elsewhere charitably or 10% to the local church, either way we have remembered the importance of giving generously back to God through His church.

This Passion Sunday we get a foretaste of the Easter story, as we hear of the raising to life of Jesus’ friend Lazarus.

Jesus does not accept Lazarus’ death is the final word. We could have an interesting discussion about why Jesus seems to willingly allow Lazarus’ death and how we might feel about that, but it’s clear from what we hear this morning, that He, and Martha and Mary, know that resurrection is on the cards and death is not the end.

The thing is, it seems that both Martha and Mary, whilst both seeming to accept that Jesus is the Messiah, are bound in the understanding that resurrection is something that will happen at some point in God’s future. Jesus seeks to set them, and us free.

Jesus offers Resurrection and life.  Resurrection is not bringing back to life what was dead - that resuscitation and leads to death again. Neither is it about re-creation - having another go like a potter fashioning a pot on the wheel.  Resurrection is about something totally new - and as we look ahead to Easter, the fact that the Risen Jesus is not recognised by His closest friends and is not bound by norms and expectations points to that, but it is something for later.

The fact that Jesus also offers life though is surely something for now.  The life that Jesus offers is surely one therefore orientated by the love of God and His priorities.  As we grow in faith and trust of Jesus, His priorities become our priorities.

One of the things I am sure many of us do is, when the monthly bank statement arrives is open it, and then go back through it, just to make sure that there is nothing untoward on it.  But go back and have another look at yours.  Nothing, I believe, shows in black and white, what our priorities in life actually are. It clearly records where and on what our disposable income goes, and therefore (essentials like heating, lighting, insurance, food and clothing aside) where our priorities as people lie.  As Christian people, our first priority in life for all of our life needs to be God - and if what we spend our disposable income on is not reflected in those terms on that piece of paper, we perhaps need to ask ourselves some hard questions. As Jesus said - the greatest commandment, the values that should be at our heart, that should run through us like a stick of rock, are that we should love God with all that we are first and for most, and our neighbours as ourselves.

This morning’s Gospel contains one of my favourite pieces of scripture and one of, if not the shortest verses - Jesus began to weep. He was so fond of Lazarus; so moved by what he found at the tomb; so distressed by the prospect of his death, that He is moved to tears.  We talk often of how much we are loved by Christ still, and for me, this ably demonstrates that enormous compassion and love.

Our Churches are called to be places full of love and life and there are many ways in which that can be measured - numbers, age profile, activity outside of Sunday worship, opportunities learn about faith and to live it out and so on.  I often wonder though, what does a dead or dying Church look like?  What causes Jesus to weep at the loss of those whom He passionately loves?  I believe how we give our time, our talent and our money can show our spiritual pulse rate and whether we have flat-lined or not.

Jesus calls Lazarus to resurrection and life and His dead friend comes out of the tomb, but it is Lazarus’ friends, the wider community, that unbind him and let him go.  Jesus still calls His world to resurrection and life, but as the wider community of faith, we are called by Jesus to unbind others, and set them free. In other words, the church plays a key part in enabling the resurrection to happen.  How much time we give to the Church outside of worship in community initiatives and activities, how we see our talent used to that end, and how much we give financially are all key to us playing a crucial part of making what Jesus wills for all people a reality in our own local communities.

Winston Churchill once said ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’  Death grieves the heart of God and Jesus weeps. We are called to play a part in making the resurrection and life that Jesus calls us all to, a reality by what say, by what we do, by what we give of ourselves.

Over Lent we have heard again hat we give is important to God.  Any response that we make is an inadequate response but we need to respond.  We need to give thanks for all that God has done, and since God’s giving is renewed each day, so should our thanksgiving.

We are encouraged to give regularly, and generously, with money, of our time, with love and with compassion as we engage in mission and are caught up in ministry and seek to enable others to the Resurrection and life that Jesus calls and wills still.

We need to give of ourselves. Our giving cannot just be a cold, financial transaction, but as God’s giving intrinsically involves the giving of himself, so must we.

Isaac Watts puts it so beautifully and powerfully:  ’Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’

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