The Time and the Place
March 1, 2009
Sermon for Lent 1. Yr B. Stewardship (1 Peter 3, 18-22 Mark 1, 9-15)
“There’s a time and a place for everything!”
I am sure most of us have been told that at some time in our lives – usually when we were a child or a teenager, frequently when we were found doing something that adults disapproved of, and usually in a tone which implied “And it’s not here and it’s not now!”
Mark’s Gospel is full of references to times and places. You could think they are just part of the narrative, to tell us about a sequence of events and to express the busyness and urgency of Jesus’ mission – but they are usually of much more significance than that. So, in our reading we are told that Jesus came from Nazareth and is baptised in the Jordan -from the provinces on the fringe of Jewish religious life to a place that was central to Jewish identity. After his baptism he went into the wilderness for 40 days – perhaps recalling the wanderings of the Hebrews for 40 years in the wilderness before they crossed the Jordan and took possession of the Promised Land. After John had been put in prison Jesus began his ministry in Galilee – so he took over the task from John of proclaiming the Good News. But his proclamation was different – no longer “The time is coming!” but “The time and the place is here and now!” The task of the Forerunner is done. The task of God’s Chosen One has begun.
Christianity is rooted in times and places. It is not a religion of abstract thought, or philosophy or disembodied spirituality. It is an incarnational religion, taking its inspiration from a real person, who lived at a particular time and in a particular place, and provided a window through whom we see God. It marks its beliefs through dividing up the year and the week into particular times, and through the use of material things – bread and wine, candles and oil and water – which become the outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. Christianity could never be a religion which teaches that matter is evil – for it material things are good. They are part of God’s gift to us, meant to be used to teach the truth about God, meant to be used for God’s work and to God’s glory.
We are at the beginning of one of the special ‘times’ now – the first Sunday of Lent. Traditionally, Lent is the time when we take the opportunity to consider what we can do to strengthen our faith, and to become more Christ-like. In the past, this was helped by a discipline of fasting, ‘giving up’ some pleasurable material thing, in order to help us to grow spiritually – meat and fat in less prosperous times; chocolate, alcohol and biscuits more recently. There has been a renewal of this in the last couple of years in the moves to ask people to undertake a ‘carbon fast’, reducing their use of water, electricity and fossil fuels in order to help to preserve the material world for the benefit of poorer countries and future generations.
‘Giving up’ has often been combined with ‘taking up’ – doing something to feed the soul and help us to come closer to Christ. Our Lent course on Monday afternoons and Wednesday evenings is an opportunity to do that – to give up a couple of extra hours of our time to be with God, and take up the study of a portion of God’s word and apply it to our lives in the here and now. Fairtrade fortnight, which falls this year at the beginning of Lent, provides other opportunities to ‘take up’ something as a discipline to help us get closer to God, while doing something to help those who are at a disadvantage in our present trading systems. This year, we are asked among other things to find one new Fairtrade item to buy in addition to those we usually purchase, and to give out cards asking our usual supermarket to stock more Fairtrade items – and, of course, if you like bananas to ‘Go Bananas’ and join in a record attempt by eating a Fairtrade banana next weekend.
The Church of England has is promoting another form of ‘taking up’ encouraging people, through its ‘Love Life, Live Lent’ campaign to do a small act of generosity each day which will help to build human communities ( something as simple as picking up other people’s litter ) as well as giving time to praying for the wider world.
Love Life Live Lent also contains suggestions for giving to mark Lent. This also has a long history – giving alms, giving away the money you might have spent on chocolate or drinks, giving time and talents to charitable activities. And the Church through teaching and preaching has encouraged this.
Some people say that church, particularly during times of worship is neither the time nor the place to speak about our use of money – that what we do with our time and resources of money and talents outside Sunday worship has nothing to do with our religion. But to say that is to deny the incarnational nature of our faith. Our lifestyles, our use of time, our bank accounts, everything we do proclaims our values, the values which should derive from our commitment to Christ and the salvation assured to us through baptism to which the Letter of Peter refers.
In recent years this church community has used the first Sunday in Lent as the time and the place when we are asked to reconsider our stewardship of the money, time and talents which God has given us. Many in our community give generously of their time and talents to serve the Kingdom both within the church and in the wider community. A recent example of this was the people who generously gave up some of their half-term to repaint the hall, and we are enormously grateful for this. And in the coming months we will be asking everyone to join in fundraising for particular projects, like the new carpet for the hall. Everyone, no matter how limited their resources, will in some way be able to contribute something to that and we will be grateful for the help we will receive then.
But unfortunately, in the time and the place in which we live, we cannot do everything by voluntary activity or occasional fundraising. We cannot generate our own electricity or supply our own water or gas, nor dispose of our own sewage, nor do the repairs to the roof and stonework of our ancient building. If there is to continue to be an Anglican church here, in this time and this place, we need to have a regular and yearly increasing income on which we can depend to meet the regular demands on our budget.
So, as well as anything else you may give up, or take up, or give this Lent, we are once again asking you to make some time and some space to reconsider, prayerfully and sacrificially the amount you give regularly to meet the cost of keeping this church as a going concern.
“There’s a time and a place for everything” – and the time and place for your annual review of stewardship is now – please!
( with thanks to the Diocese of Portsmouth ‘Stewardship for Sundays’ site for the germ of the idea for this sermon)