Sermon Forty Four The right way to use money

john                                audio clip

Wesley talking about money is like a fisherman talking about herrings. He loves it. He doesn’t love money, he loves talking about it. He loves to extoll the virtues of earning, saving and giving.

Give to your utmost – he says

There is an American writer and pastor who gives 90% of his income away. Now in royalties alone for his books 10% of his money is probably more than 200% of mine. Also because most of his giving is through church, he has probably a nice office with the best chair. His church has the best technology available and he is able to pay for services, so has a big paid staff.

Just this week I had to account for my spending to a government department and I can say the last time I bought clothing was August for my child’s school uniform and before that it was June, a second hand winter coat in the sale in a charity shop for me. My average grocery bill was €28.76 per week and my heating for the next two years has cost €200. Sounds frugal enough? Well the reason I live so frugally in terms of food, clothes and heating is because my other expenses far outway them. My study costs this year have been vast and I can rationalise it by saying I am studying God’s word but I have been extravagant in this area, not in an ostentatious way, I don’t have walls lined with books but I do have an iPad chocablock full of ebooks, many free – I do love a bargain. But some quite expensive pieces too.

I give and I am not going to write here how and why and to whom but I don’t tithe. Sometimes I think I am arrogant in that I give in my own way not to the church and no doubt I will be challenged along the way on this and maybe even coerced or forced into changing my position. I like the word challenged best. I had a discussion on the subject of tithing recently and the person pointed out there would be no buildings, no paid ministers if we didn’t give. Flippantly, I admit, I said there is no harm, we can meet in a field, we can meet in houses. Undeterred they said – what about ministers. Flippantly again, I said there are many unpaid pastors in the world, they don’t stop what they are doing because they aren’t being paid – there is a call on their life. To not pastor would be disobedient to that call from God.

But how many paid officials in any church would continue what they are doing if they were not paid. There is another American pastor who has sold everything they have and moved into one room at the back of the church so the giving could hurt.

Wesley talks about money, don’t love it he says but he implies – love what it can do!

My husband struggles with my giving, but I told him of one gift last night and for the first time he didn’t counter it. He is beginning to accept that I like the second US pastor would give everything away and have a mattress in the back of the van because I truly believe it has to hurt.

Emptying the purse at the beginning of the week and seeing if you can survive on a fiver – YES YOU CAN!

I thank the lovely civil servants who last year for six months made me live on less than twenty euros a week. I rediscovered my ability to forage, to renew, to restore, to make meals out of nothing, to feed my family and be able to give.

Someone said to me when I suggested that a collection in certain churches were not appropriate, that even if you had €20 you could give €2, a 10% tithe. Now if you earn €1000 a week and tithe €200, you can live an expensive lifestyle, eating out, huge mortgage, the best of everything. Ten percent is not appropriate there it should be more like 50%. Having too much money makes a person spend it foolishly. But if you only have twenty, tithing two might mean your kids go to school in holey shoes.

I was at a meeting recently and my boots felt embarrassed for me! They were bought in 2003, they leak at the sides and have a tear down one of them. It is not discrete, it is a big tear. But everytime I go to replace them I cannot find a pair in my price bracket. So I looked at the other people’s shoes with their labels of Caterpillar or Vans and I pondered, I have no idea where I got these boots from, I don’t know if they were made by Chanel or Joe Soap and certainly any evidence has long since gone.

The first time I ever had money in my married life, my husband and I travelled to the nearest city and spent the day doing “BAGS” we shopped all the way down the main street and got oodles of “stuff.” First and last time. I still have some of those clothes, I still wear them. But there was an emptiness to the whole day because we hadn’t saved up, we weren’t buying for the kids, just for us. WE indulged ourselves but it felt wrong somehow.

Whenever I feel like splurging I think back to those feelings and it stops me because there is nothing to be gained but debt.

Maybe in time I will tithe. I have found the church I belong to so maybe it is time to think about it, seriously. I just don’t want people to know. Giving is a private thing. Preferably an anonymous thing but it should always be private. Ostentatious displays in public are not giving the way Jesus prescribed.


Sermon Forty Three Stop criticising

john                              audio clip

This is a fine example of expository preaching. Wesley does not waver from the points in scripture, he merely expounds it – making it culturally appropriate for his time. There have been times when I have been in the company of people criticising others and I have been guilty of it myself.

I am well known for going to B from A via every letter in the alphabet to avoid criticising something or someone but, under pressure of being dreadfully hurt I can like the rest of humanity explode into a gossiping session.

That is what criticising is – if not done directly to the person. Backbiting, gossiping, criticism are all of the same root and it is not of God.

However, when one of us has done something wrong (how appropriate for this week) there is a format of how to deal with it. Now I have an acquaintance in a position within a church who on knowing someone has done something wrong sits back and waits for that person to appear. Well if the person has rationalised their sin in their own minds they are not going to come. There is a need for individual Christians to be proactive in this regard. And I don’t mean going round everyone pointing out where they are going wrong – “Sure if everyone did it MY way we would all be right with God” No that is not what I mean.

So imagine there are two brothers in a church. Brothers in Christ rather than biological. They don’t have the same personality, one is extrovert and the other introvert. At a meeting the extrovert is loud and bumptious but the introvert has much to say but can’t speak, feels censured by the louder one. The meeting ends in disarray. No one comes away joyful, and this is church, remember.

So what is to be done? Well an older wise brother was also at the meeting and over the course of the next week spoke at length with the two parties. Neither of which were willing to budge. In fact the introvert by this time has rationalised the meeting as the extrovert being a bully. The extrovert feels that no one listens to him, especially the extrovert. At this point the first criteria of the passage from Matthew where Jesus says – go to him is being fulfilled – kind of. The wise brother is being the go between.

But the wise brother is being triangulated by the two injured parties. Would there be anything gained from the two being together alone? No not at this stage. So the wise brother takes another brother with him to first one party then the other. Both injured parties pontificate wildly about the other person. But neither of them see their own fault in the matter.

It is a difficult situation, the wise brothers love the two errant brothers but can’t see how there can be a reconciliation so they take it to the elders of the church. The two are brought before the committee and the extrovert using all their powers of charismatic persuasion sways the meeting in their favour. The introvert leaves the church and is treated like a pagan by the rest of the church.

So yes, ideally the way Jesus outlined should work, if all parties are invested in a solution because we are in church for God’s glory. But we are messy people, some of us are being used by the devil wittingly and unwittingly. My parable is probably one that is more common in church than we like to think, we get very childish in our ways when we know we are in the wrong or have wronged someone.

Wesley puts a challenge on us at the end of his sermon. I should like, he says that Methodists be called “the people who never gossip”

Now that is a challenge to us all!

Jesus loves us, so we love others, love means caring in a very, very compassionate way everyone else.

I watched a youtube clip of Miley Cyrus singing wrecking ball in a live event for radio. She sat on a stool, her hands on her thighs and sang from the depth of her heart. It was one of those moments when you sit in awe of someone’s talent. She has a massive vocal range, she has been given the gift from God and if she were my friend I would tell her certain things. To do so here would be gossip. That is what Wesley is talking about, we don’t have to share with the whole world our opinion on some matter or someone’s behaviour. We do, if they are in our circle, have the responsibility for correcting someone BUT ONLY IN LOVE, not to bolster our own sensitive ego, not to show them up, but quietly and consistently being there for them as they revert to the path to the Lord.

Sermon Forty Two Self-denial

john                                                  audio clip

Self-denial is a hard topic to discuss. It makes Christianity less appealing. It is what makes many people turn away on first seeking out Christian circles. It is something that people give lip service to but not seriously and finally it is said in a blasé vague way, “it’s my cross to bear,” etc. when it is something simple like walking to the shop.

It is, Wesley tells us an essential requirement in Christianity and to deny it or make it smaller than it is. So what is it? It is the denial of our will and surrendering completely to the Lord’s will. Wesley’s illustration is:

God’s will is a path leading directly to him, when we are following his will our path runs parallel and we are compliant to his will. However if we follow our will our path is going in the opposite direction. We have to decide which way we are going to walk towards him or away from him. Because we can’t walk in both directions at the same time.

We must stop thinking of “self” and take up our cross. Now our cross will never ever be as significant as Jesus Christ’s Cross. It cannot even be put in the same boat, completely different. But we are to be living sacrifices. This means that walking the Christian life does involve sacrifice but how we sacrifice is up to God. Taking up our cross means more than just giving up something pleasurable like some of us do at Lent, like giving up chocolate.

There is a cost to following Christ. Now if we were merely to carry our cross, that would be putting up with a situation imposed upon us when we have no choice, perhaps Paul’s thorn would come under that category. But the way Paul lived his life that is taking up your cross. Taking up a cross is a voluntary decision to accept God’s will, even though it is against our wishes.

Would me preaching come under this? Let’s tease it out. God has placed a call on my life to preach. I resisted it for a while but eventually I volunteered to begin preaching because I knew it was God’s will. But it is not a sacrifice on a par with selling all my possessions and giving them away. It is not the same because there is a privilege attached as well as a responsibility.

I think that sometimes we are called to take up our cross in an area of our life where we need healing or testing. For example a thief that become a follower of Christ obviously must give up their job but the test would be if it could be sustained for a lifetime. So the ex-thief might be given scenarios where they have little or no money. Now the ex-thief with little or no money has things put in his way, perhaps a handbag left on a chair or money fallen from a pocket.

We cannot do this cross bearing alone, we need the fellowship of others and we need strength from the Lord. We must be willing to live totally surrendered lives, in total submission to be used in whatever way he wills. But it isn’t easy, and it isn’t appealing to those on the outside looking in.

Sermon Forty One Weariness through continual struggle

john                                              audio clip

The struggle Wesley talks about here is not the wilderness of spiritual darkness as proposed in his previous sermon. This is a weariness, a dysthymia, that affect some believers sometimes in their walk with the Lord. It is an exposition of the first of Peter’s letters, specifically chapters 1 and 4.

Peter is talking to believers that had faith and knew the peace, hope, joy and love of the Lord and kept all those along with remaining holy whilst going through this struggle.

The nature of the struggle outlined is a kind of grief or sorrow, perhaps a little weltschmerz although this has nihilistic connotations. (oh this is getting too big wordy Suzie!) Okay let’s try it like this – it is like a weight pressing on your chest, a heaviness of heart. Like when you try to learn something and every day diligently you apply yourself to the learning but after a year you know no more than when you started. It depresses your enthusiasm. So no matter how zealous you are in the task the end result seems farther and farther away.

Now I have a very close sister in Christ and together we celebrate the Lord in our struggle in a certain aspect of our lives. We are able to do this in spite of the adversity because we have hope, peace, joy and love. As we struggle we rejoice, because we can only imagine going through this without the Lord. So we are not defeated and we are not depressed.

But some people go down in this area, not all the way down to despair. There are various causes – fighting temptation, illness, poverty, bereavement. These all leave us open to the work of the devil. He wants us to sink deeper into the depression of weariness because ultimately he wants us to move to that spiritual darkness.

This weariness can be a test, a time of refining. Temptation can increase our faith and hope, our holiness and helps us set an example. How we behave under persecution or temptation may give someone else hope in their life.

Finally Wesley points out that not everyone is singled out for hardships, it is a gift (in hindsight) and it is possible to turn this adversity to your advantage in that we can allow God to use them to increase our faith, confirm our hope and bring us closer to a state of perfect holiness, we must work with him not against him, trying to grow in the grace of Jesus each day.

So we should embrace a time of testing for what it is. God wants to use us more so if we keep joyful in suffering and persecution we are doing his will. If we can worship when we feel like mud how much more sweet would our worship be when we have got through the storm.

I am not sure that Wesley uses the word depression as we understand it. There certainly weren’t meds in those days and in his book on “doctoring” he suggests a cure for melancholy is a good stout walk. Three hundred and some years later exercise has been proven to increase the natural serotonin levels and therefore raising the spirits.

Sermon Forty The wilderness state

john                                                    audio clip

Being a reader, editor and proof reader I have come across many “wilderness” books. The wilderness years of Winston Churchill and Adrian Mole (now there’s a contrast!) come to mind immediately. Blood Meridian is a novel based on real life events in the desert of the Mexican border with the States. But another one of my pastimes is film. In films deserts are sandy places not unlike Inch beach without the water. The sand scours the skin. My favourite wilderness in film from a cinematography point of view is the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Dying in a hail of bullets in a remote chapel someplace along the border previously mentioned. So desperate, so caught in a corner, that there is no place left to hide, they were hunted down and then killed.

Sometimes in our peachy happily clappy Christian life something happens that makes us doubt everything, including God’s sovereignty in it all. We are floored literally by some life event and we end up in the wilderness. Immediate desert after a time of abundance. What floors us is as individual as to how long it takes us to rise again. Some of us don’t languishing in a place not fit for human habitation, where breathing in and out is a chore that we want rid of. Not every Christian goes through this so if someone tells you we all do, we don’t. It is a specific time for specific people.

There is more than one wilderness, though. Sometimes a sin that we hadn’t brought before the Lord, by omission rather than design, rears up and causes us to enter this state. For others it is the realisation that something has got to change. Whatever causes us to enter, the losses are the same and interlinked.

The first is loss of faith, people no longer trust God, after putting all their trust in him they suddenly find they have lost their spiritual strength and have become as weak as non believers. So they lose the love. Where is the love? The love is in the connection, when we sever the connection the love is still there but we cannot feel it anymore, we are not plugged into that personal relationship. And so to joy, with no faith and no love there is no joy, not the temporary happiness that abounds at a tea party but that deeply rooted joy that comes as a gift from the Spirit. Where peace was, there is now a chasm as wide and as deep and as long as can be. Where once the person was basking in the glow of the love of God, now there is turmoil, insecurity, doubt and all measure of devilish thoughts. And finally we lose the power of Jesus Christ, that power over sin.

What does cause it? Sin committed deliberately can darken the soul in an instant. Like there is a boy who when he was eight years old I swore that when he was a grown up I’d give him a beating for all the bullying he inflicted on one of my children. He is twenty now, still walking, still has a pretty face. Why? Because in the meantime my heart was softened by the love of God until I could say clearly from the bottom of my heart I loved this boy. My clucky mother hen natural instincts supplanted by God’s love. We love because He loves.

We can quite easily wander into the desert by omitting things in our spiritual life and this is possibly why John Wesley was so diligent in this area.

Just like there are many wildernesses and deserts there is equally only one way out. It does make sense. Wesley says there are a variety of cures but I say one. The lying down of oneself at the Cross, hand it all over to Lord, ask for forgiveness and ask for the strength to forgive. Let go of the “what if’s” If it surrounds a death, be assured no one knows when the time will come for our earthly hearts to stop whether we are ninety or nine hours old. If it surrounds a sin get rid of it. A relationship, healing. Whatever is causing you to doubt God’s sovereign rule in your life, get it out of here because it is not of God.

I was once placed in the wilderness for my own good and it was a very enlightening period. I discovered lots of things about pink, I discovered a lot of things about God and me or me and God too. I was not there from doubt or fear, but I was there for a reason and I had stuff to work out before I could be brought out of the wilderness through the refiner’s fire, a shinier person than before, ready to hear what he had in store for me.

[and then I wanted to go back to the desert!] briefly before I was given tools to proceed.