St John the Baptist Parish Church

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Sunday Sermons

Sunday 24th September 2017

OT Deut. 8.7-18, NT 2 Cor 9.6-15, Gospel Luke 12.16-30

The readings set for today centre on two subjects which are separate,  but which fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They are first: God’s gift to us, his provision for our needs, and, second, our giving to him for the extension of his Kingdom. In today’s Gospel, after telling his parable, the parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus speaks of those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.

For those who were his immediate hearers what would being rich towards God mean? I think it would mean giving assistance, whether in food or clothing, cash or opportunity  for employment to any who were in need. Also hospitality to those whom he sent out to teach and heal. Alternatively it could mean giving up gainful employment to become one of his wandering band of disciples. James and John “left all and followed him.” 

Those to whom Paul was writing in our second lesson were predominantly town dwellers, slaves or merchants or the occasional local administrator; so although he uses an agricultural analogy, his hearers would not be working on the land; so they are very much like us in Crowthorne. The giving he is referring to in the whole middle section of this letter is to the fund he is raising to supply the needs of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem plunged into poverty by the famine which had struck the land at this time. Those who received the proceeds of this fund would have seen it as God’s provision for their needs; so this leads us towards the second theme in this collection of readings, but before going on to that, I want to look briefly at what our giving should be directed towards.

Returning for a moment to Paul’s time; as the number of Christians grew it became desirable that they should be able to rent or acquire their own buildings in which to meet, and that there should be regular salaries paid to their ministers, So there has from then onwards been a need for balance between giving to institutional funds and to the humanitarian needs both of some in the Christian community and the particularly acute needs of those outside it. We need both individually and as a congregation to be alert to the need to keep this right balance. 

In the Gospel Reading Jesus tells his disciples:

Therefore I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For the life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

Worrying is a useless activity, it takes up our energy, while at the same time it diverts us from perceiving what God is providing. Jesus concludes:

Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 

What was God’s provision? The ready baked bread and ready prepared fish provided for the 5000 and 4000 were the exception. In our first lesson, what God was providing for his chosen people was a good land, a land with flowing streams and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills. A land yielding a variety of crops, and one whose stones are iron, and from whose hills you may mine copper. God’s provision requires our co-operation, farming and, yes! mineing, guided by an intelligent observation of the effects of what we do. I am going to look at two examples of how this guidance can work.

In the seas round Europe it is no longer possible to catch the large number of fish that once were easily caught. Badly designed regulations intended to give fair shares to the countries concerned have resulted in death of more fish that are caught than those landed for distribution for eating, but experiments elsewhere have shown that where fishing is temproarily stopped in carefully designated areas, depleted stocks can recover, and catches in adjoining waters begin to increase. What is needed is agreement between nations as to where and for how long this stoppage should be set in place.

Something similar applies to the atmosphere shared by the people of the whole world. There is overwhelming evidence that the world’s oceans are warming up, glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising; so that many low lying towns will become submerged in the sea. There are also very good reasons for believing that this warming is due to the observed rise in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from below 300, when I was studying Chemistry at school, to the present 400 parts per million, due to the burning of fossil fuels, coal and oil. If the nations had continued to use and increase the use of fossil fuels at the rate they were in the year 2000 the results could have been very serious indeed. You will accuse me of worrying, but I deny that, because I hold out the hope of remedy. If the nations of the World continue to move away from fossil fuels towards complete reliance on renewables, wind and solar photovolteic, hydroelectric and tidal, as advocated in the Paris Accord there are grounds for hoping that serious damage will have been avoided. A headline in the Telegraph last Tuesday declared global warming forecasts were “wrong”, but the report below it said more cautiously that an article in Nature Geoscience originating from the University of Oxford said that the forecast warming could be slightly reduced, and one from University College, London pointed out that many North American States were going ahead with fossil fuel reduction despite President Trump; so that, if the nations keep to what they have agreed to do, in the Paris Accord the warming will remain within acceptable limits. We ourselves can support our Government in keeping to that Accord, restrain our use of air and car travel and think twice before opposing the development of renewable energy sources in our own area. We can avoid buying perishable food air-freighted from far away, like asparagus from Peru, while looking forward to enjoying local produce in season grown locally. The current move towards electric cars will reduce urban atmospheric pollution, but will do nothing to reduce the total use of energy.

Both these sets of measures are part of a thoughtful co-operation with our Father in the use of his generous and open handed provision for our well-being. The only fitting response to that generosity is thanksgiving, Let us pray:

God our Father, thank you for your generous provision for our well-being in the world you have given us to live in. We thank you , too for the wisdom given to scientists to see where mistakes have been, and for the measure of agreement by governments to move away from harm. Give them, and us individually steadfastness to follow these paths. We pray this in the Name of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Lewis Simmons.