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26th October 2014 - Sunday Morning - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Last Sunday after Trinity

Leviticus 19. 1-2, 15-18
Matthew 22. 34 - end

So this morning we are "Digging Deeper" into what it means to love our neighbour as ourselves.... ( I can tell I am going to enjoy this Stewardship Campaign! And I guarantee that no-one who comes anywhere near this church in the next few months will not hear about "Digging Deeper" one way or another!)

And let me begin by saying that the responsible and serious consideration of how we use all the resources available to us - our money, our time and our talents or abilities is also absolutely at the heart of how we can demonstrate that we are loving our neighbour as ourselves - not to mention also loving God with all our heart, soul and mind.

Greater minds than mine have pointed out that we are really not very good at loving God - and perhaps do not really know what the idea of loving God really means? One way is to turn to those who seem to have cracked this loving God lark and see what they say. Bernard of Clairvaux was one such. According to Bernard there are four 'steps' of love.

The first, said Bernard, was to love ourselves, for ourselves. Then we must learn to love God - which initially (the second step) is for what he gives us... with the season of harvest just behind us, we might feel that yes, we can get our heads round that one! But Bernard says that if we persevere with this one we shall come to love God for himself - that is the third step. Finally, we will love ourselves for God's sake.

And those who are single minded in their search for God, do not find themselves distracted by other people. Far from it. The journey from self-love to the love of God does not bypass my neighbour.

OK, fine words - but they, as granny might have said, 'Butter no parsnips'. Let's dig a little deeper in the light of the current dreadful problem of Ebola in West Africa. There, to ask, but who is my neighbour? Suddenly takes on a new and some would say, sinister tone? People who have lived in traditional societies all their lives are having to get used to a world in which other people become a hidden threat; where human contact is to be avoided and where fear governs most if not all conversations and transactions.

I am immensely proud that when the appeal was issued, many UK health care professionals from our National Health Service with specific experience of treating those with dangerous viruses have come forward to help the Health Services of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, that are all but overwhelmed as the number of cases - of people suffering from Ebola has risen to over 10,000 - mainly in those three countries.

And I feel for the families of the volunteers and of those service personnel who are being sent to build the much needed treatment centres out there. Essential work - work that is sorely needed by our neighbours in West Africa - but which must leave many anxious and fearful for the health of their loved ones. But I am sure that those army, navy or RAF personnel who are waking up to strange new routines and having to work in difficult conditions wearing full protective clothing, are nevertheless pleased to be able to make a difference to people who have so little. For once they are not having to destroy, but to build - albeit they are still involved in a fight against a deadly enemy.

One of the consequences of our modern world is that the revolution in communications has made it effectively shrink. We can now be in touch with friends and strangers from any part of this globe. Email, Facebook, Twitter - anyone who engages with these or other social networks has to accept that we have neighbours suddenly all around the world. And our neighbour is anyone who has a need... anyone who we might be able to help.

Loving our neighbour is not just about sharing warm thoughts or feeling affection. Love - if it is to mean anything - has to have a practical outworking. That was the point of the parable of the good Samaritan. And that means being prepared to put ourselves out - to sacrifice some of our wellbeing and comfort - to improve that of the other.... whether they are in the next room, the next-door house, or street or half a world away.

Love God. Love your neighbour. Jesus was not the first, as is sometimes suggested, to link these two commands together. But the more we read the Gospels, the plainer it becomes that for Jesus the two commandments are virtually one. And these two commands or mandates are the heart of the revealed will of God.... You know, that will which we pray every week or every day, will be 'done on earth as it is in heaven'.

These two loves are to shape the life of the community of his disciples in every age and in every way. We cannot retreat from the world, cut ourselves off, declare ourselves in protective quarantine and hope the danger will recede. In the face of immense human need we cannot remain passive - love is lived in faithfulness and active compassion. Time for us all to dig a bit deeper I think - dig deeper into our resources of money, of time, of compassion -of humanity? And if we do, then maybe we will discover a bit of our divinity too!

26th October 2014 - Sunday Evening- Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Last Sunday after Trinity - evening

Ecclesiastes 11 and 12
2 Timothy 2.1-7

Our first lesson this evening was appropriately from the book of Ecclesiastes. Appropriate, because the Title of the book, means "The Teacher" and it is full of wise and pithy (and occasionally rather cynical) little sayings, many of which are addressed to a younger person. A distillation of knowledge from the world weary and the world wise, you might say.

So the fact that the young are encouraged to "Send out or Cast their bread upon the waters" should give us pause for thought. Especially on this day as we launch our major Stewardship programme - Digging Deeper.

Now this is of course about money - and the church's need of it - and I am not going to pretend otherwise or to apologise for that. We are created to live in community and communities can only function through the economic activity of its members. Money is merely a convenient means of us carrying out that economic activity. One step up from the barter economy - which is fine, but rather time consuming. If I had to bargain in the Co-Op for my daily pint of milk - arguing how many jars of pear jam should be swapped for that and a loaf of bread - I doubt I would have time left to do all the other things I need to. So money is a jolly useful thing. Saves us all a lot of time. Of course we never think we have enough of it and are always looking for ways to avoid spending it - which sometimes also takes up a lot of needless time!

But back to the words of the Teacher. I am interested that we are invited to throw our bread upon the waters. What, I wonder is the point of that? I only normally throw bread upon the water if I am feeding the ducks.... but perhaps that is the hidden message, that is the return on our investment that we can expect! If we cast our bread on the water, then it might attract both fish and fowl which, if we are quick enough to catch them, can provide a tasty alternative to plain bread and will considerably enrich the diet! Speculate to accumulate as someone else would go on to say.

But the thought of water also reminds me of a useful story that I remember from some time ago, and that I will share with you this evening.

For this I want you to travel in your imaginations to the Holy Land, to Israel/Palestine. What is the name of the famous river that flows from north to south in that country? Indeed it forms the border for much of its length! (Jordan)

And what is the name of the big inland sea at its head in the north of Israel?
What do we know about the economy of that part of Israel from the Bible? (Fish)
Yes the Sea of Galilee, Lake Genesaret, the Sea of Tiberias however you call it was teeming with life. And from its southern end the Jordan winds its way down through the wilderness, passing through the territory which in the time of Jesus was known as Samaria, winding down and down until it reaches another great inland lake or sea. What is that called?

The Dead Sea - clue is in the name. Very little grows around that stretch of water and I have never heard of anyone fishing in it - I doubt any fish that could survive such a hostile environment would be worth eating!

But although the water of the Dead Sea is so saline that it cannot support life, there is nothing wrong with the water flowing in at its northern end. Tests have been done on the river Jordan and on the whole it is good, fresh, sweet water that pours in. So what makes the difference? Well partly it is that the climate is much hotter and more dry - the lake is surrounded by desert - but that is not the only thing... The water goes nowhere. All the water entering the Dead Sea is held there until it evaporates away - there is no outlet. So whereas the Sea of Galilee has water coming in and flowing out, the Dead Sea has no outlet. Everything it receives it keeps for itself and the result is a dreadful kind of death.

We can compare this to ourselves. If we keep the things of God for ourselves, the good things with which we are blessed in our life - not only our money, but our time and our skills and abilities, then we too suffer a kind of slow death of the soul. But if we use the things of God to love him and to love our neighbour and to bless the world, then we will grow and flourish too - we will indeed be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, as Paul writes to Timothy.

So yes, let us cast our bread upon the waters, and wait to see what kind of return on our investment that may yield - a yield that is rich in happiness and contentment. Amen.