Sunday, July 4, 2021

Treading Lightly upon the Earth

Text:  Mark 6.1-13

To watch this sermon, as delivered, please click here:

I’m about to have a bit of stress introduced into my peaceful existence.  In about nine days time, Clare and I are expecting a team of builders from the Diocese to arrive at our Rectory.  Following a surveyor’s inspection, the builders have instructions, from the Diocese, to rip out our 30 year old kitchen, machine-gun all the tiles off the wall, and install a new kitchen.  This process is likely to take a month a more, because of the time it will take for newly plastered walls and ceilings to dry.  In the meantime, Clare and I will be confined to our living room, surrounded by the contents of our kitchen and dining room, and living out of a microwave.  Now would be a good time to buy shares in any of the local fast-food delivery services!

And that’s not all.  We are also to have a flat roof replaced, new carpets fitted to the hall, stairs and landing, walls painted, holes in the driveway filled in, and some new fencing erected.  Doors and wood-work are due to be painted too, and a new smoke detection system will be fitted throughout the house.  Clare and I will continue to do our work throughout this chaos – but we hope you will forgive us if we arrive in public with plaster in our hair, or panic in our eyes.

All this work will take place because there is an expectation upon the Diocese, as a landlord, to maintain clergy properties to a reasonable standard – which is, of course, what anyone would expect.  The things we own, or the things we steward, need to be taken care of, don’t they? 

Or do they? 

On the front page of the present Corona Chronicle, I was a little bit provocative.  (Which I realise is very unusual, for me!).  I suggested that some of the dramas in the news we’ve been reading are really what are known as ‘first world problems’.  Among them, I listed the tragedy of people getting their cruises cancelled.  Poor things.  Sainsbury’s has run out of pre-packaged bags of salad – meaning that its customers might actually have to cut up and mix their own salads (horror of horrors!).  The costs of garden furniture and other luxury goods is set to rise by 25% or more, thanks either to Brexit or the Pandemic – or both.  “It’s all just awful” was my headline, quoting a comment I read on Facebook one day.

But these are all ‘first world problems’.  80% of the world can only dream of taking a cruise, buying pre-mixed salads in a bag, or purchasing garden furniture.  80% of the world’s clergy would dream of working for a diocese which is capable of renovating their vicarage.  Believe me, I’ve seen the state of third world clergy vicarages, and they make me ashamed.

What I didn’t have space to reflect on, in my article, was the extent to which we, in the West, are effectively owned by the things we think we own.  Every possession we ‘own’ requires stewarding, by us.  I have a car.  An old car.  And this month it will require at least a couple of new tyres to scrape through another MOT.  I have a swing in my garden, for my grandson.  And this year, all the ropes will need replacing for health and safety reasons….lest my little boy lands with a bump.  Clare dug a fish-pond last summer, as regular readers of the Chronicle will know.  Well, this week, we had to entirely replace our stock of goldfish, and buy a net to stop the local heron from snacking on the new ones!

Do you see what I’m getting at?  Everything we own requires effort, time and often money to maintain.  Computers have to be updated, windows have to be washed, lawns have to be cut, motorbikes (like mine) have to polished and preened.  Ornaments need dusting and polishing, or housing in glass cases.  We don’t own these things: rather, we are slaves to them.  We spend considerable portions of our lives just looking after stuff.

But Jesus didn’t.

When he sent out his disciples with the message of the Kingdom, he told them to take ‘nothing for their journey, except a walking staff.  No bread, no bag, no money, and no second tunic’.  In doing so, Jesus did no more than ask his disciples to live as he lived.  ‘Foxes have holes, and birds have their nests’, he said, ‘But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’.

Jesus gave up all possessions, all property, all stuff, in order to be as free as possible from the shackles of such possessions.  As he sent out his disciples with a Gospel to proclaim, he asked them to do the same.  Without such stuff, encumbering their journey, the disciples would be free to give themselves wholly and completely to the task of the Gospel.  Jesus taught his disciples the principle of ‘Living Lightly’ – and I genuinely believe he calls us to do the same.

It is a challenge to us, though, isn’t it?  We have become skilled at justifying to ourselves every one of the possessions we own.  I justify my motorbike, because it’s easy to park, it gets me efficiently to meetings, and costs less to run than a car, and its kinder to the planet.  But, let’s be honest with each other, I don’t really need one, do I?  The Diocese justifies the enormous amount of money it’s about to spend on the Rectory, because we don’t know who the next Rector will be when I one day move on…and we don’t want the decaying state of the Rectory to put anyone off applying for the job.

So, let me point a finger at you, this morning – fully conscious that three fingers are pointing right back at me.  Let me invite you to conduct a bit of an audit of your home, and your possessions this week.  Look around your home, and ask which of your possessions takes up time, energy or money to maintain.  Ask yourself which of them you could let go, in order to have either more time for the work of the Kingdom, or more money to give to the Kingdom.  What do we own, what do we buy which is wasteful of the wealth God has given us?  What do we own, what do we buy which does no good for the planet we steward for the next generations?

The disciples found that when they followed Jesus’ instructions to tread lightly upon the planet, they cast out many demons, and cured many who were sick.  I wonder what blessings could be ours, if we truly followed the call of our Master to live lightly on God’s green earth.


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