Wembley Downs Uniting Church
There goes my everything! (Jim Malcolm) 29.6.2008
Readings: Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42.
Two weeks ago Sandy and I attended the Anglican Church in Dongara and listened to a sermon from our son, Matt, the local Anglican rector, about giving. It was special for us in a number of ways, but one thing that impressed me was the generosity of God. Matt and I had spent the Friday sinking a couple of soak wells to deal with a flooding problem at his back door and by Sunday I was keen to see if they would work. During the service Matt made mention of the needs of the local farming community and prayed for rain, and right after the service, as we were having our morning tea, down it came Ė not just a sprinkle, but a generous soaking downpour! And, yes! The soak wells worked perfectly! Of course, things donít always happen like that, but it does remind me of the verse that is printed on our giving envelopes. A verse from the story of the prodigal son. `All that I have is thine` or as my more modern translation puts it `all that is mine is yours`. It is obviously intended to be an inspiration to generous giving, but I wonder if you know who, in the story, says those words, and to whom? I wonít keep you in suspense. You recall that the younger son asks the father for his share of the family inheritance, takes it and blows the lot on the wild life before coming to his senses and returning, with his tail between his legs, only to be met by his dad running to greet him and welcome him home. Dad throws a party, but the elder brother, who stayed home and helped run the farm chucks a wobbly Ė `You never threw a party for me!` Of course the party isnít for the younger son Ė it is for the Dad, who wants to celebrate Ė just like the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin that preceded it where the one who finds what is lost throws a party Ė those parties were never for the sheep or the coin but to celebrate the finderís joy. But the elder brother canít see this. Dad reminds the elder brother `all that is mine is yours` Ė Iíve given you everything, how can you be so mean-spirited in response? So in the context of the giving envelope those words are a reminder of how generously God has given to us as we make our giving response to God. Holding that thought, letís have a look at the weird, uncomfortable reading about Abraham and Isaac. At first, I must admit, I was tempted to leave it out and preach on something else. But then I thought `Hang on. That story has been passed on by word of mouth for hundreds of years and eventually written down. Letís look at why it was told. At first sight it looks crazy. What is Abraham thinking?? How could he imagine that God wants him to kill his only son, the one on whom the nation of Israel is to be built? Remember that back in those days the sacrifice of children to the gods was not too uncommon. But the Israelites rejected child sacrifice despite the practices of the surrounding countries. And this is the story for future generations to explain in a rather dramatic way why the Israelites rejected that practice. But for our ears the quest for drama takes away from the message. It misses the whole point. Surely `sacrifice` means to give something up, something precious. The only thing that gave something up in this story was the ram! It apparently wasnít Abrahamís ram. The story said God provided it. So Abraham was just giving back what God had provided Ė no sacrifice. The message of the story is `God doesnít need burnt offering sacrifices to make God look favourably on you.` The prophet Micah puts it much more clearly for todayís ears. Chapter 6 verses 7 and 8 say `Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?` He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. So, says Micah, the sacrifice God wants is a changed life, not a slaughtered ram. In todayís reading from Romans it is Paul who is overdramatising the message. Weíve moved from `walking humbly with our God` to being `enslaved to God`. Itís another image that we donít relate to very well Ė in Paulís day slavery was an everyday fact of life for many but for us, at least, it is history. Nevertheless, it puts a new perspective on the idea of giving. How can a slave, who owns nothing, give anything meaningful to the master, other than obedience? But a slave obeys because he is forced to. Our relationship to God is different. God loves us anyway and we are free to respond or not. If, in response to Godís love for us we give up our freedom to live selfishly and live a life of love, I suppose itís a bit like being a slave to love, but the thinking is very different, and as we heard earlier, itís the thought that counts! That slavery image is not too attractive in todayís world of individual freedom and `whatís in it for me` and that is perhaps why the makers of the lectionary have included that apparently unrelated snippet from the Gospel of Matthew. Iíve left out reference to the Gospel reading for today because I thought it confusing. It is a passage where Jesus is sending out the disciples to preach the good news and tells them they will receive a prophetís reward. In the context of the theme of sacrificial giving a reward is irrelevant. Our sacrificial giving is not in expectation of a reward. We have received Godís free gift of love and sacrificial giving is our response. Later in Romans, Paul takes up the theme of sacrifice. He starts off chapter 12 with these well known words Ė I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Writing to the Hebrews Paul goes on quite a bit about sacrifices, because the burning of animals on the altar as sacrifices to God was part of the Jewish religion. But in Chapter 13 he says Verse 5 Ė Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said `I will never fail you or forsake you.` And Verses 15 and 16 Ė Through him then let us continually offer up 1 a sacrifice Ė of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect 2 to do good, and 3 to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. So there it is Ė Paulís three keys to sacrificial living. We donít have to give up our first-born Ė they arenít really ours anyway. As Kahlil Ghibran says `your children are not your own`. We donít have to kill some lamb or bird to placate an angry God. God isnít angry. God doesnít need placating. God is love, God loves you, and the loving response to Godís love is for you to sacrifice selfishness, pride, jealousy and so on, and live a love-filled life, 1 praising God (who is love); 2 doing good to everyone, to the limit of your ability; and 3 sharing what you have Ė it was never yours to begin with Ė remember the message on the envelopes Ė `all that I have is yours`. Thatís how God has treated us and that is how we need to respond. Sharing what we have. What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882
Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands, Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands