Text: Mark 4.21-25
Proverbs are strange things. They are an arrangement of words which say
much more than the words themselves.
They spark our imaginations, and cause us to seek out deeper
meanings. For example, there’s an old French
proverb, which goes ‘il y a des gants sans les mains dedans’ – which translates
as ‘some gloves have no hands in them’. One
can’t help but wonder who such a phrase is aimed at. Leaders, who are all words and no
action? Or self-proclaimed saviours
whose clever turns of phrase turn out to be empty and useless?
Jesus liked proverbs, and according the Gospels, he
coined many which have been handed on to us.
Today’s reading contains a number of such wise sayings, all thrown
together in a few verses sandwiched between the parable of the sower, and the
parable of the seeds. As such, Mark
clearly intended us to apply them to the notion of ‘spreading’ the good seed of
the Kingdom. So when he says that no-one
would stick a lamp under a bushel basket, we can see immediately that Jesus
wants us to know that the task of the spreading good news about God’s love for
humanity belongs to us all. We are each
called to be lights in the darkness…which is a radical thought, indeed.
We human beings have a tendency to let others do the
heavy lifting, don’t we? It has often been
said that one of the greatest weaknesses of the Anglican Church system is that it
essentially sub-contracts the work of all Christians to one person – the Vicar. Thankfully, for me, that is anything but the
case in this parish. I count myself among the most blessed of
Vicars, in that I have such a great team
of staff and volunteers working with me to bring light into the darkness. But I have enormous concern for some of my
colleagues, who find themselves entirely responsible for running their
buildings, giving pastoral support, preaching and teaching, as well as printing
and photocopying and cleaning the loos.
This is an issue which the church across our land is
going to have to confront with real urgency in the coming months. The Pandemic has led to a significant drop in
giving to churches – with the result that our Portsmouth Diocese is currently having
to seriously downsize, and is considering losing something like 20% of our paid
clergy, to cover a £2million black hole in the Diocesan budget. Frankly, this is just accelerating a trend which
has been going on for a number of years.
Our first reaction, when hearing such a statistic,
might be horror. How can we possibly
cope with 20% less paid clergy?! But
actually, I think this is a change which needed to come. For too long, Christians who should be
shining their own light into their communities have been content to let the
clergy do it for them. They have
sub-contracted, for the sum of a few pounds per week or less, the sacred task
of being lights in the darkness to a handful of clergy.
And believe me – we are only a handful. The Havant Deanery, of which we are a part,
has a population of around 170,000 people.
And just 15 clergy. That’s one
full-time minister to 11,333 people, on average. If only 1% of that population wanted the
personal attention, support, advice or individual prayers of their Vicar, each
week, that would mean every priest having to cope with 113 individual requests
for assistance each week. Think about
that for a moment. Could you cope with
113 individual requests for support every week, on top of managing a parish, preparing
and leading services, writing sermons, and attending to essential legal
paperwork? No. Neither could I. Which is why the work of spreading the seed
of the Gospel, or sharing the light of Christ, is a task that Jesus gives to every Christian, in every place that such Christians find themselves.
It sounds like a stern command, doesn’t it? And in many ways, it is. Jesus expects us to take him seriously when
he calls us to action. But Jesus offers
a carrot with his stick. Alongside his
clear teaching on the responsibility of every Christian to be a light in the
world, he offers this: “the measure you give will be the measure
you get, and still more will be given to you”.
Another proverb. Another profound proverb, containing the promise
that as we give out of our energy, our love, our resources, our prayers to the
work of the Kingdom, we will be rewarded in return.
What might those rewards look like? Well, of course one longs for the reward of
heaven. But there are tangible rewards
to be had on earth too. Bear in mind,
that, according to recent studies, there are an estimated 2.6 billion people in the world who call themselves
If every Christian used their voice, or their pen, to
speak out against injustice…how much more just would society be? And how many poor Christians – as well as
others – would benefit.
If every Christian gave one tenth of their income to
the work of God, as the Scriptures require, how much more good could the church
do in the world?
If just a tiny portion of Christians stood for political
office, and put God’s principles to work in our economies and policies, what a
difference we could make!
If every Christian donated food to the hungry, medicine
to the sick, water to the thirsty – at home and abroad, how much less tension
would there be in the world: how much
less competition for resources? How many
Christians in war-torn lands would benefit?
If every Christian took the time to know their neighbour,
and to telephone the lonely, and shop for the housebound, how much more love
would be spread around every community?
If every Christian gave just one day a year to the
task of planting trees, or clearing litter, 2.6 billion days a year could be added to the sacred task of caring for
I could go on…but I hope the point is made. As a body of people sub-contracting to a few
paid clergy the tasks of the Kingdom, we are a weak and, frankly, ineffectual
expression of the love of God. But as a
2.6 billion-strong army of lights in the darkness? What a difference we could make!
To quote, again, the words often read from our service
after the creed: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your
good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven”. Amen