Sunday 24th September 2017

Sermon Title: Sunday 24th September 2017
Date: 24/09/2017
Preacher: Roxanne Addley
Church Calendar Date: Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Lectionary Reading: Exodus 16, Matthew 20

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day”.

What an image: rain bread from heaven for you.  It brings to my mind an abundance of food for both the body and the soul! And all provided by a generous and forgiving God.

Some of you might remember that Archdeacon Jan Crombie came to preach to us during Lent and she referred to this book Dethroning Mammon by Archbishop Justin Welby, who had written it as this year’s Lenten Reflection.  Well, being the keen bean that I am, I went to St Peter’s bookshop and bought it, and read it over the next week.  I couldn’t put it down.  Who would think that theology would be so riveting?

But this book, introduced me to the concept of the divine economy, God’s economy, which is based on abundance, generosity and grace.  This economy is in stark contrast to the worldly human economy which is based on exchange and equivalence, an economy which has the alias of Mammon. Archbishop Welby suggests that instead of Mammon ruling our world, which is quite apparent and obvious from our own every day news headlines, both here in Australia and around the world, that Mammon should be subordinate to God’s economy of abundance and grace.

And this is exactly what our two readings, from the Old Testament and the Gospel are on about. So today I want to explore God’s abundance and generosity as it is expressed in our two readings and ask the questions, how do we dethrone mammon?  How do we make money serve grace?  And how do we manifest God’s abundance into our own lives?

Well our Old Testament reading sets the scene, presenting a complaining congregation of Israelites, who are fully demonstrating human frailty with verbal dissatisfaction.  And this is despite being led out of Egypt by a God inspired Moses and a miraculous escape from generational slavery there.  It seems to me that humankind is indeed a fickle lot!  But fortunately, they have God.  And in this case a God who shows much tolerance and generosity for this complaining, ungrateful mob.  In fact, this God showers them day after day with manna, enough for everyone to be satisfied. Such is the abundance in God’s provision, that no one goes hungry.

And our Gospel from Matthew builds on this theme.  Here we have Jesus describing what the Kingdom of God is like.  And he is doing it in economic terms.  He is contrasting God’s way to the human way.  We are presented with the scenario of a landowner needing workers for his farm. So, he hires workers at the beginning, the middle and the end of the day.  And at the end of the day, he pays them all the same “usual daily wage”.  Our normal human response to this situation might well be that, shouldn’t each worker be paid for the amount of work that they have done?  How did you respond? Were you resentful like the grumbling labourers who pointed out that they had worked a full day in contrast to those who had only worked an hour?  But what was God’s response?  It was to provide fully for everyone, highlighting that his way was the generous way.  God’s economy is an economy of abundance. God created this world with enough for all.

But God’s economy, in this parable, doesn’t just refer to issues of justice and the distribution of wealth.  This narrative actually starts in the chapter before with the story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus asking how he can have eternal life.  And the last verse of chapter 19 before our story in chapter 20 is “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first”.  And this is repeated in chapter 20 at verse 16 when the landowner, metaphorically God, says “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  The bookending of this statement around our parable today emphasizes the spiritual point that Jesus is making.  God’s generosity is applied to everyone, whether they have worked one hour or ten hours, whether someone has been worshipping for one year or ten years.  Or whether one is a longstanding religious Pharisee from the establishment or a young radical upstart from Nazareth.  God’s generosity is available to all. And this generosity is not just about how we are paid and how we sustain ourselves materially in this world.  God’s generosity extends beyond this to the questions of salvation and grace.  God’s unmerited free gift of love and grace is available to us all and how long we have worked or how long we have believed is not the determining factor.

The determining factor is that we do have faith and have taken Jesus into our lives and hearts as our Saviour.

So, what do we do with this?  I said at the beginning, that today I wanted to explore God’s abundance and generosity as it is expressed in our two readings and ask the questions, how do we dethrone mammon?  How do we make money serve grace?  And how do we manifest God’s abundance into our own lives?

Well, Jesus was not against money in and of itself. Clearly money was and is a tool for the way we live and in today’s world an essential means of efficiently making transactions in our day to day lives.  However, Jesus was against the way in which the love of money can subvert our spiritual existence and can detract from our love of God and each other.  The power of Mammon is that it lures us into submission through both desire, for the things that it can get for us, and fear, of how we will exist without it.

Jesus said, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  He was a radical in his time and also in today’s consumeristic society.  His mission was to bring “fullness of life” to all people and “fullness of life” meant not just the satisfaction of our material physical selves, but also the nurturing of our spiritual selves along with the promise of fulfilment in the Kingdom of God.

Archbishop Welby says that:

“abundance exists to be given freely and openly.  We should see money as an instrument that enables us to build relationships of abundance and grace.  Abundance and grace call us to be generous and trusting in a way that builds links and relationships.  Trust in the economy of God leads us to seek to give because to do so is to gain.  The gain may be less tangible than our money was, and the revolution in our thinking is enormous.  We start with small steps and will find that Mammon first shudders, then falls from the throne.” (p. 128-9)

Archbishop Welby says that the steps to dethroning Mammon are firstly to listen to the Holy Spirit, then act by giving of our own abundance and lastly placing Jesus on the throne in Mammon’s place.

How do we listen to the Holy Spirit? Through prayer and meditation, we can tap into the Holy Spirit within us and discern our path forward.  How do we give of our own abundance?  Well we know there are many opportunities to give materially: through the activities of our own church community, through organisations like World Vision or TEAR, and by specific gifts responding to crises both here in Australia and around the world.  We might also be in the position to give of our time and skills.  There are many ways to share our God given abundance, not just confining this to money.

And finally, how do we replace Mammon with Jesus?  This means accepting God’s grace, that we are all of infinite worth and deeply loved.  In recognizing that we ourselves are loved, we can then see the inherent human preciousness in those around us.  What a sense of liberation and joy this can bring when we cast aside our propensity to see the world and its people in terms of utility and the value that they can bring into our own lives.

Well, what a powerful set of readings we had today.  The concepts are confronting and challenging, things to deeply consider as we continue on our own Christian journey.  Let us pray:

Loving and Gracious God, we give you thanks that you have created this world of abundance.  We give thanks for your grace upon us, undeserved and unwarranted.  We pray that as we listen to you, that we will understand how also to be a generous people, sharing the abundance that you have given us.  Help us to remember that we are loved. Help us to contribute to doing justice in this world, so that those who are last can be first and are provided for.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen.