Sermon for Solemn Evensong & Benediction Sunday 3 February 2013
Sermon preached by Fr John Pritchard
In Chapter 22 of Matthew’s Gospel we hear our Lord in conversation saying, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” but ideally, this evening’s Gospel text, had the compilers of the Lectionary been mindful, should have started a verse earlier than we heard. Verse 24 of the sixth Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel gives us the real context for what Matthew is trying to say.
To refresh your memories, the verse is, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth”
So S. Matthew calls upon his audience, and upon the Christian community to commit their / our ultimate allegiance to God, even if we have to pay to “Caesar what is Caesar’s” whoever Caesar might be in any given year.
The Christian way is for us to not be preoccupied with material things, but to recognise their quality as part of God’s riches given for us to enjoy. And also, we are not to imagine God to be alienated from comprehending our human need. After all, our Lord teaches us to ask, “Give us this day our daily bread” and in response, gives us much of what we require to survive, rather than what we really want to live.*
However, the anxiety in this part of the Gospel, if we think it an anxiety, arises from “us” making some-thing other than God our ultimate concern, our ultimate preoccupation.
St Matthew mentions worries over food, drink, and clothes perhaps because they are the most basic human concerns which we all share and which come readily to mind. But we are also to have a different perspective on these things.
We are to work on having faith in God as Creator and seeing that all we receive of the world from God at this moment and at every moment of our lives is a gift. We are to contextualise all that we have as a gift from God, no matter if we have earned the wage which pays the tariff, or which secures the new frock / or cope.
All that we have comes from the immeasurable talent of creation, it just so happens, that what we harvest in many and varied ways, (which is freely given to us by God), is the same which is exploited in order to secure riches for some.
Perhaps a by-product of the “industrial harvest” is that many are deskilled from being in-touch with creation, and also the potential of God’s generosity can seem limited when someone cannot afford to put even the most basic of food on the table or clothes on their children, so we become more obsessed with the material things, hording for that rainy day, lest we find a time when we have no food in the store, no clothes in the wardrobe and no chateau-neuf-de-pap in the wine-rack.
My God-daughters Grandfather, a retired Honorary Canon of Norwich, is a keen gardener. He has kept vegetable plots for decades, and he and his wife eat much of what he grows. It isn’t unlike the Good Life though, where catastrophe often seems to trump blessing. Where crops are ruined because of significant rainfall, where disease is prevalent and stray animals come and feast on a crop on which they don’t perceive any ownership. Canon Lathe often says, we have forgotten that the land is cruel and hard to work, but the gifts that you manage to reap are a treasure, a real enjoyment and a blessing, even from God.
The electronic transactory nature of our society, means that we have little appreciation of money, and less appreciation of how things have come to be. So we have a declining perception of creation and perhaps also of God. But we have an increasing understanding of stuff, and owning stuff.
What is fashioned in this place, might come out of human imagination and aspiration, but all that has been done is the fashioning of marble which is of God’s creation into a place in which God is remembered and worshiped. The food we eat, is a gift for which we should always be thankful, for it might have arrived at our table through human slog and hard work, but it is there at all, because it is of God’s wonderful and satisfying creation.
We cannot be preoccupied only with what we wear, what we eat, drink and own.
You might think it easy to stand here and say, “be preoccupied with God rather than with the benefits of the world”, but we all live a compromised life; you in relation to your pensions, employers or mortgage repayments, me to Fr. Alan and the Bishop.
We all need to find a balance, where if God is of central importance to us, now and again we fantasise about not being citizens of this realm, enslaved to economic forces and circumstances but brothers and sisters with human kind in God.
To some extent, we have all sold ourselves to earn a wage and find security, many of us remain dependent on the monthly income and remain compromised by a master or mistress who benefits mainly from our labour. But the task set before us, is to be liberated so that we don’t act like people who think about God second.
The anxiety in this part of the Gospel, arises from “us” making some-thing other than God our ultimate concern, our ultimate preoccupation. So return to God, and look again at all that we enjoy, know that they are his, and rejoice. As the writer of the book of Chronicles reminds us, “All things come from thee, and of your own do we give thee.”