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Fiscal Prudence in the Kingdom of God

Fiscal Prudence in the Kingdom of God

Sermon for Trinity 12 – Sunday 8 September 2019

St John the Baptist, Felixstowe

Text: Luke 14.25-33
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (Luke 14v33)

God give you peace my sisters and brothers.

Sometime ago I heard a comedy programme on the Radio which had a false announcement from No. 11 Downing Street. An enthusiastic sounding Chancellor of the Exchequer strode confidently to the lectern, greeted the serried ranks img_2052of the world media and proclaimed;

‘We’re building a better Britain…
It just might be a bit late and a bit over budget.’

Thus it seems it ever was with the large ambitious projects of our common life. High Speed Rail 2, widening of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, never ending rail-replacement for Felixstowe due to the passing loop being built at Trimley, and seemingly circular arguments about the fate of the Leisure Centre on the Promenade. At least the roofing works on St John’s church (God Willing) are going ahead apace! Mind you even that was mooted before our family moved into the New Vicarage, which will be four years ago come 2 November. ‘A bit late and a bit over budget’ may be a perfect summary of our common life in the early decades of the 21st Century.

Personally I think there has been a corporate and national losing of our nerve about investing time effort and money in to things that will bring about a better life for all.

Millenium DomeI suspect the rot set in with the Millennium Dome. I don’t know how many of you were able to visit in the year 2000 or even since then. I did. I came, along with 45 excited Primary School Choristers, all the way from South Africa to visit it. It was, and is, marvellous and majestic yet two things always nag me about it. Why should such an iconic space built at great public expense now be making a mint for a private company and why wasn’t it built in Portland Stone instead of plasticised canvas?

It seems that the most important thing about any large national project, be it about bricks and mortar or hearts and minds, is no longer ‘Will it be good for our country’, but instead the more self-serving, ‘Will it make me more popular.’ Which just goes to prove that Jesus of Nazareth with his call for leaving family behind, pouring money into tower building, and planning for casualties in war would never cut it on the green benches of St James’ Palace Westminster.

This conditional nature of our public life – a worldview that is always on the lookout for personal advantage – spills over into our communities, our churches and even our families. Instead of our first words being ‘how can I help’ we slip all too easily in to the language of ‘everyone for themselves’ and ‘what’s in it for me?’

Whatever happened to the spirit behind the words of this famous prayer hyde_chapel_gee_cross_greater_manchester_cmike_berrell_2010of Ignatius of Loyola which many of us learnt in our school years?

Teach us, good Lord
to serve thee as thou deservest,
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward;
except that of knowing that we do thy will. 

Jesus calls us to a different method of budgeting;

‘none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.’ (Luke 14v33)

To be a people who want to build the Kingdom of God will cost us everything!

This is not a fixed sum of money – it ranges from the ‘half of all I own of the tax collector Zacchaeus to the two copper coins of the widow at the Temple gate – but is an attitude of mind that to the world is profligate; pouring good money after good money in to the bottomless pit of proclaiming a love that refuses to count the cost.

Kingdom building is not just about money; do note that Jesus calls us to give up our possessions and not simply our pocket books. We are called to give up everything – father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – in this quest to build something that endures and not become the laughing stock of the world as it points at the ruins of our half-heartedness.

Of course this is the only way Jesus, the Master Carpenter, knows how to build. At the end he is left alone writhing on a cross proclaiming of his own Father, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Yet it is in his emptiness that he fills the whole world with love, opens the gates of the Kingdom of God and exalts, ‘It is finished!’

The stone that was rejected is the corner stone, the ruin is rebuilt, and love is born anew.

And Christ calls us to do the same. To love him so deeply with a love that as Elliot says costs ‘not less than everything’ [1] so that we may love everyone more fully. His call is not to deny family and fortune, but to embrace him so completely that our conditional ‘What’s in it for me’ lives and loves will be transformed into something that is deep, and true, and eternal.

Until we give everything away, our ambition, our security, our status, we will continue to love ourselves more than we love others. And that is not really love but a form of self-interest that, left unchecked, borders on lust.

Christ calls us from this ‘tit for tat’ love full of uncertainties and ifs, ands, or buts, to a love that, like his, is profligate and without limit.

2019-09-08 09.50.30You see until we learn to love Christ deeply we will love everyone else wrongly.

I’ll say that again.  Until we learn to love Christ deeply we will love everyone else wrongly.

Without a total commitment to Christ our love for others will always be reflected through the cracked mirror of our old self and the world’s way of reckoning for profit, pride and status.

Only when we learn to love as Christ loved can we love the unlovely in society, truly love our friends and family, and allow ourselves to love ourselves.

Only when we learn to forgive as Christ forgave can we forgive those who have hurt us, forgive our friends and family, and dare to begin to think about forgiving ourselves.

Only when we learn to give as Christ gave can we give anything of true worth to the least, the last and the lost, and in giving ourselves away find that we have been found.

‘none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.’ (Luke 14v33)

As with his words a few chapters earlier – Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! (Luke 12v51) – this is not a callous call to a slavish obedience to a demanding deity, but instead a challenge to give ourselves completely to work alongside a master craftsman instead of joining the ranks of the world’s cowboy builders.

I know myself. I know, even when I try very hard, I will alwaysillustration-David-Copperfield-Uriah-Heep-Frederick-Barnard revert back to doing what is best for me. The works of charity I offer can too easily be perverted into vehicles for self-aggrandisement during which I Uriah Heep like, beat my chest and say.

‘I am very umble to the present moment, Master Copperfield, but I’ve got a little power!’

And there you have it, power. While we continue to hold onto possessions (be they wealth, status, or relationships) we hold on to power and cannot hold fully onto the One who holds us in prayer before the Father’s throne.

Whoever comes to me and does not hate… even life itself, cannot be my disciple (Luke 14v26)

You have found us out Lord! You know we want to be your possession but we also want to be our selfish selves as well. Like the self-made man we are daily so sorely tempted to worship our maker and forget to honour our Creator.

Until we learn to love Christ deeply we will love everyone else wrongly.

I love my family, I love my church family, I even love the Church of England (although that is a challenge at times!), I love the family of all nations but until I get my loves the right way around and decide to put my love for God first all my other loves will be pale imitations of the great love poured out on the Cross.

2019-09-04 23.01.39

To build the Kingdom of God, in T.S. Elliot’s words will indeed cost not less than everything, but then having paid that price we will with Christ win the prize of life eternal.

[This blog ‘Fiscal Prudence in the Kingdom of God’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019]

[1] From ‘Little Gidding’. A complete version of this part of his longer work ‘Four Quartets’ is found here:

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