HOMILY FOR JULY 8, 2018 – THE REV. STEPHANIE SHEPARD
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Pentecost 7, July 8, 2018
St. John the Apostle
“The Charis of Christ”
I speak to you in the name of the one true and living God, whom we name Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Here’s a good news story. A homeless man living in Langford on Vancouver Island found over $2000. Instead of keeping it for himself, he turned it into Victoria police, saying “it was the right thing to do”. In spite of the man wishing to remain anonymous, a fundraising campaign raised over $5000 to reward his honesty. But the good samaritan refused to accept it, asking instead that it be donated to a local Victoria charitable organization called Our Place for a job training programme. What he really needed, he said, was a job. He got one. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone like that?
The thing is, he needed more than the money. We all do. Our basic human requirements are to be loved, to be safe, to have purpose, to be respected, and to have choices. And our lives are spent discerning those needs from everything else that might appeal to us or tempt us. That’s not easy! There was a little boy who was whining for his parents to buy him candy at the store. “I need candy” he pressed. His father tried to explain to him that there was a difference between needs and wants. Candy was not something he needed, it was only something he wanted. “But I needs my wants” the boy replied.
That’s the trouble. We think we need our wants. And we think our wants will supply our needs. Material objects are value place holders for the deep needs that are not being met in our lives. Because our dominant materialist culture puts value on possessions, it is implied that if we have stuff, it will make us feel better about ourselves. Want to feel young and beautiful and healthy? There are a million products on the market that will promise that. Want to be rich? You just have to spend what you have on seminars or the stock market or the latest scheme. Want to be better than others? Then you really need that new high definition television or the car or the house to prove it. It’s not just the big-ticket items either. We are the society that invented the phrase “retail therapy” to describe our addiction to buying more stuff to make us feel better.
Because there is this abundance of merchandise available, because it is so easy to finance our purchases, because we are pressured into doing what everyone else has bought into as the norm, our homes are full of stuff. It doesn’t matter what economic bracket people fit into- from hoarders on disability pensions to multi-million dollar mansions- we have an over-abundance of goods. But goods are not necessarily good. The more items we stack up, the harder it is to see over the pile to others’ needs, and the more we bury our own deep yearnings. I think that all our stuff leads us to a theology of scarcity. You have heard the concern voiced by politicians and economists who assert there isn’t enough for all. This planet does not have enough food or water or resources to support the increasing population. Rich countries continue to have barriers to immigrants while the needy already living there cry for justice. The needs of these many seemingly outweigh the resources of the few. What can we do? The top 5% believe that there is no way that all human beings can attain a level of consumption comparable to their own, and they are right. What we are really being challenged to do is to re-assess what we and others need and can share.
2 Corinthians chapter 8 is a great help in reorganizing our priorities. Paul’s encouragement to the early Church to be generous is great stewardship material, but we sometimes miss the core message- that generosity starts with God. The context of Paul’s “ask” is a collection to assist the Jerusalem congregation financially from the other Christian communities that have sprung up around the Mediterranean. His purpose is not only to provide financial help, but to strengthen ties between Jewish and Gentile Christians through this unifying project. Action has to be based in love, not duty, he says. And our love is a response to the love shown by Jesus Christ: “that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (v. 9). The work of redemption and salvation which we know in Jesus is God’s “charis”.
The Greek word “charis” gets translated as “generous act” in the reading this morning. It can also mean grace, blessing, thanksgiving, and even privilege. From it we take the word for the sharing of Jesus in the bread and wine at communion: the “eu-charist” or good thanksgiving. This morning we have a double charis. We celebrate the richness of our new life in Christ through the sacrament of bread and wine. And we celebrate our new life in Christ through the sacrament of baptism. It is the generous act of God towards Peter, but also towards this whole community of faith. Baptism, especially the baptism of an infant born into a Christian family who will be brought up in the love of the Church, is a wonderful sign of renewal. For older members who have seen many transitions, there is the reminder that our eyes have seen God’s salvation, like Simeon and Anna in the Temple from Luke 2:25-32.
Our response is to rejoice in the present abundance and to share it with others. Paul speaks of balancing self-sufficiency and fairness. “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” (vs. 13-14). Jesus’ life and death and resurrection proclaim a theology of abundance. God provides enough for all, if we would only risk sharing what we have. This is not idealistic, nor is it a communist philosophy where everyone should have exactly the same. It is a reminder that the resources are there. Our challenge is to find the wisdom, the courage, and the justice to source and distribute them. Generosity comes from a loving and thankful heart which examines our own needs in relationship to the needs of those around us.
What does this have to do with baptism this morning? The people of St. Johns have so much to share with Peter. You will help shape his life in accordance with God’s charis for him. And Peter has so much to bless and give back to St. Johns. He is a sign of new life amongst you. I know he will be welcomed and encouraged. Let him also be welcome and encouragement to you: an example that God’s purpose is being lived out here into the future. As he is joined by other young ones, please make room for them. Tolerate the noise. Volunteer to teach. Feed their hungry minds and stomachs. Raise them up in the faith that they have much to give back to the One who gave everything that they might know the touch of his love in water, bread, and wine. In this sacrament, Peter and each of us are reminded again that our need to be loved, safe, respected, and have free will is met in the charis of Christ. Amen.
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018