I have unable to post any new blogs since June as I have been completing a training programme which will allow me to move up from being a Methodist Worship Leader to a Methodist Local Preacher, complete with roving commission to preach in other circuits and districts (something I already do but we’ll let that pass). Consequently, the Talking about Faith element of this website has been neglected so free from any further study commitments and having taken a sabbatical from the preaching plan for a few weeks, I am going to try and upload a post on this site every 3-4 weeks either my own or a guest one if available. This blog posting is taken from a New Testament reflection I gave at Essington Wood Methodist Church on 28th August last on the subject of service with humility. The scripture readings were from Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 and Luke 14:1, 7-14.
Two NT readings both of which focus on doing good, to look after those who cannot look after themselves but to always do so with humility.
One of the things I find irksome in life is the sight of politicians and others in the public eye using their social media presence when donating to a local worthy cause such as a foodbank. Not withstanding the fact that for those in the governing party, it is their policies which has led to the increase in foodbanks and other forms of mutual aid to the very poorest, yet pose they do with no sense of irony or shame.
When this happens, I am reminded of another passage from Matthew’s Gospel in the Beatitudes ch 6 vv 2-4 where Jesus says, “So whenever you give alms, do not sound the trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so they may be praised by others. Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, so your alms may be done in secret and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”
The singer George Michael led a lifestyle which would not find favour among many Church goers or indeed people of any faith. But he was not one of the hypocrites that Jesus referred to. After he died some six years ago, it was revealed the extent of his charitable giving to worthy causes and always done anonymously. Every Easter he donated £100,000 to Capital Radio’s Help a London Child campaign; he gave £15,000 to a complete stranger for IVF treatment following her appearance on the tv show, Deal or No Deal, again without any fanfare of publicity; he was also the anonymous donor who gave £50,000 which allowed Richard and Judy’s Pass the Parcel appeal to charter a couple of aeroplanes and send two plane loads of very needy and deprived children to meet Santa Claus in Lapland. He also you might remember, gave a free concert for NHS staff and was known to volunteer undercover in homeless shelters having first sworn the staff to secrecy. People may criticise his lifestyle and behaviour, but if you ask me, he was a better person than most of those considered “worthy” and the world is poorer for his passing.
What this provides is a salutary lesson for others whether in the public eye or not about self-publicity. Of course, many people who give do so anonymously like many of us for example, when we bring donations for our local foodbanks or have standing orders made out to our favourite causes or put money in a collection tin. God brings people into our lives for a reason, we all have a back story to tell, sometimes harrowing ones. In the letter to the Hebrews the author (most likely St Paul), calls for mutual love to continue and to show hospitality to others as you may have entertained Angels without knowing it. Luke in chapter 6 of his Gospel expresses it thus, “The measure you give, will be the measure you get back.”
In v5 of Hebrews Paul calls on his audience to keep their lives free from the love of money and to be satisfied with what they have something which the pandemic clearly showed us. Jeremiah’s warning in the earlier Old Testament reading about digging cracked cisterns instead of embracing and immersing the fountain of living water God provides, still isn’t being heeded.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, he remains our one consistent, immutable presence. His message was simple, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body and soul and Love your Neighbour as yourself”.
Yet for the most part we don’t!!
Chapter 14 of Luke’s Gospel begins with the pharisees keeping watch on Jesus to see what he would do. Not for the first time did he find a way to rebuke them albeit a bit more subtly than previously for example in Ch 11 v 37-48, where he rebukes and condemns both the pharisees and the lawyers for their hypocrisy. In the parable the story of how the guests to the dinner choose to sit in the best places rather than wait to be directed by the host is classic Jesus, admonishing the pharisees for their behaviour, expecting their status to be honoured at the expense of others who may be more worthy.
Sometimes in churches too, when a stranger sits in a particular seat because as first timers they don’t know the protocols only to be told by a regular attender – none too friendly at times – “You’re in my seat!”, leaving the poor unfortunate stranger embarrassed at such a public rebuke then wonder why we never see them again. Would it really have been too much for that member to have gone to another seat but not before introducing themselves so the stranger might feel welcome?
Verse 11 sums up for me why we should never think we are better than anyone else regardless of who we are, our backgrounds, our social status or the positions we hold including in our churches.
Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those humble themselves will be exalted!
Finally, vs 12-14 illustrate why when we show hospitality it should be to those who cannot always repay; the poor, the disabled, the blind, those who live on the margins of society who are often despised and ridiculed by those who have the most especially the powerful, whose attitude is that if someone is poor or has fallen on hard times it’s their fault.
We can go to all the fancy dinner parties and corporate events and boast to our family and social circle about the lavishness of it all. But it comes at a price; if you buy into that lifestyle you are expected to reciprocate, however high the cost. It is then when our human frailty makes us most vulnerable. We must be seen to be superior to our neighbours, our friends, our colleagues even within our own families. We find ourselves at times behaving like the pharisees because our standing – if you want to call it that – gives us special but imagined privileges and we look down on those seemingly with less including the penniless, itinerant preacher from Nazareth. He by his love for others, his willingness to serve and his courage in challenging the abuses of the powerful of his day, inspired many others to follow his example and should inspire us to do the same today.
My message for today is that as we go from here back to our daily lives, let us remember that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, the same today and the same forever”, he does not change; he is as we said earlier immutable; it is we who change; and it is we who need to accept this and to ensure that we act to look after and serve those whom God has put before us, but to do so with humility and with grace at all times.