Monday, 28 February 2011

27th February 2011

Service for 27 February, 2011
Ashgrove West Uniting Church

Epiphany 8
Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
Divided Loyalties”

Call to Worship (based on Psalm 131:2-3)

We have come to be with God,
bringing the trials and troubles
of the busy week.

God is like a mother
calming our troubles
quieting our fears

Our hope is in God
now, and for ever.

Hymn Together in Song 156 Morning has broken

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

We confess our divided loyalties.

We want to put you first in everything
But so many needs and wants
so many people and possessions
so many demands and pressures
close in on us.

We want to put you first in everything
but we so often,
everything else gets
the best of us
and you get whatever is left over.

Help us to do what we intend
to remember that everything else is less important
than you
to keep in perspective all of the “big” things
and all of the “little” things
that demand our attention throughout the day.

Help us to see
that the purpose of everything
is to serve you
and help us to use everything
to serve you.

In Jesus' name, amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness

Kids' time - Bec

Hymn Together in Song 162 Thank you for giving me the morning

1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 6:24-34


Australians all let us rejoice! For we are young and free....”

That's how our national anthem begins. I'm not sure if that means we don't have a reason to rejoice if we're no longer young – but after youth, the next most important thing we apparently have to sing about is freedom.

And the next things we celebrate in the anthem are “golden soil and wealth for toil”.

Land, wealth, money, freedom, youth.

If you wonder what Australian values are – those are the ones that are enshrined in the first lines of the national anthem. Apparently, that's what's important to us.

We ought to be aware of what's important to us – what our values are – because whether we realise it or not, those things will influence our decisions and actions in a whole range of areas of life.

When we value freedom so much, it might be hard to see ourselves as enslaved – but when Jesus talked about serving God or serving “mammon” (property or possessions); he gave it as an either/or option. There was no opting out. You must be enslaved to one or the other. It's not possible to just step outside of ourselves and say we want to be free of obligations to either. Everyone has a religion – what you live for and what you live by is your religion. It's what gives your life meaning.

The thing that gives your life meaning can either be God or something else. If it's something else, the Bible would call that idolatry. That something else could be possessions, people or a particular person, self, happiness, pleasure, food, appearance, pretty much anything at all.

When something other than God becomes the most important thing – the reason we act and think – our driving motivation – that thing takes the place of God in our lives.

Jesus saying: “You can't serve two masters” talks about the problem of divided loyalties.

He uses wealth as the key example of what can gain our loyalty. So we will stick with that example – but the same problem applies to anything else that can become too important in our lives. Whether it's food, sex, drugs, fashion, sport, career, pets, a person, a goal, anything can become too important, and take that place in our lives that is rightly reserved for God.

Do we think we can serve God, while still trying to make money at all costs?

We must, after all, earn money. The way society is structured, we can't survive without it. It's essential. We know it's essential. God knows it's essential. If we don't have money we can't provide ourselves with food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care – the basics of surviving in our world.

There's not a lot of places in the world for the ascetic who decides to give up all material encumbrances to live an entirely spiritual life. In fact, for the ascetic to survive, others in society have to supply that person's needs, effectively providing them with money and possessions. And if we abandoned the world for asceticism, apart from there being no-one left to support us, we could fall into the trap of being “so heavenly-minded as to be no earthly use” - in other words, making an idol of our own piety.

So we must earn money. We must save money. Otherwise we're being irresponsible, we're not preparing for the future. We have to put money into the bank, or into a superannuation fund or some other investment – because we don't just need it to survive now – we need it to survive as long as we're going to be in this life.

We must use money to acquire things. We must either own or rent a place to live – in either case we are using money. We must own basic clothing and furniture. We must own tools for everyday life. Again, there is no choice. We absolutely need this stuff. There's no option to say – I'm putting God first, so I won't have a home, clothes, furniture, or any other possessions. It just doesn't work.

So it seems we are stuck – we can't live without money.

Perhaps we can simply decide that God is more important than money – that money doesn't matter so much. I wonder what that would look like – if everyone decided that money, and the stuff that they get with it that they need to survive, didn't matter. Perhaps it would mean that you would never move house because once you have shelter that is all you need; or that your car would last until it falls apart because if it works you just don't need another one; or maybe you'd wear the same sets of clothes until they fall apart. Not a lot of people actually live like that in our society – it seems people are never content with what we have – we always see something better (whether it's better because it looks better, or it does something that what we have doesn't do, or it's safer, or whatever). There's always something that will suit our needs or at least our wants, better than what we have.

Actually, the whole commercial side to our society depends on our always wanting something better than what we have. Let's look at something as simple as the ubiquitous television set. I can remember the first tvs I saw were black and white. (Yes, I am that old.) It was a really exciting moment when my father brought home his first colour tv – and also exciting that we were allowed to watch it. Somewhere along the line, a colour tv became a necessity. My kids couldn't imagine watching a black and white tv. They stayed the same for quite a few years – with the addition of remote controls and things to attach to them like video players, game consoles, dvd players. Then came the next absolute necessity – digital tv – you could buy a digital tv or a digital set-top box, but either way, if you didn't have digital you can't possibly have tv anymore. Almost as soon as my family bought our set-top box, everyone else switched to high definition digital – and a whole lot of new channels started that would require an hd set top box (which someone kindly gave us for Christmas). You can actually survive quite well without a tv – did you know Jesus never owned one? But, for most of us, a tv is important enough that we have trouble imagining not owning one. In just a couple of generations, it has become a central part of life.

If everyone in Australia woke up tomorrow morning and decided not to buy anything new for a year (especially if they stuck to that decision) – chaos would break out in the retail industry. So many people make the money they need to survive from us spending money. How did Kevin get us out of the global financial crisis? He gave us money to spend! Some naughty people used it to pay off debts or saved it, but enough people accepted the gift in the right spirit to save us from the worst of the world-wide disaster! Australians can spend our way out of anything, apparently.

Jesus says, you can't serve money, possessions, and serve God at the same time. That's a tough situation, because, well, look how good we are at serving the interests of money! Couldn't we just serve God on Sunday mornings, and our possessions the rest of the week? Or maybe we could divide our lives into compartments, and serve God with one part, and work to make more money with the other.

So how do we avoid the problem of divided loyalty?

How do we put God first, and deal with money as is absolutely necessary for survival?

I think we start with an awareness that everything comes from God, and still belongs to God.

Whatever money or possessions we have, are not our own. We're only taking care of it.

After the awareness that everything belongs to God, the next thing we need is to be aware of the difference between our legitimate needs and wants. We need food like fruit and vegetables, lean meats and carbohydrates – we don't need chips and ice cream – one is a need the other is a want. We need transport – we don't need the most expensive car available. If we can't live without it, it's a need – if we could live without it, it's a want.

When we discern the difference between a need and a want – then the resources we have are freely available for our legitimate needs. We use them and we thank God for providing them.

Our wants, we ought to treat differently to our needs.

If we treat wants as if they were needs, then we are always looking for something more. Advertising might tell us we can't live without our wants, but that's not actually true. In fact, it's not always good for us to have everything we want.

So how do we handle the things we want, but don't need? I'm not suggesting we go without all of them. I think we need to look at them closely, and at the resources God has entrusted to our care. We need to ask the question: “how would God want me to use this resource/the money that the thing I want would cost?” Yes, it's good for us to have some of the things we want. Sometimes, it's better that we miss out on something we want, to help someone in need. Sometimes, it's better to be responsible about the future and to save what we have.

Everything we have actually belongs to God. If we remember that basic fact as we seek to balance our own needs and wants, the needs and wants of other people, and the responsibility to use the resources in our care wisely; then we won't fall into the trap of seeing possessions as higher than God. We can be safe from the problem of divided loyalties.

Hymn Together in Song 439 What shall we offer our good Lord?



Prayers of the People

For the world:

Merciful God, we pray for your world
we have watched the news with horror this week
seeing the earthquake disaster in New Zealand
and protests and retaliation in so many Arab nations.
We have been reminded that in north Queensland many
cyclone victims are still struggling,
and some will be without electricity for months to come.
All of the trauma, all of the needs seem too great for us -
but God, you know what every single person in this world needs
and we commend all these needs to your love.
And we ask, that you will show us ways to help love the world
as you have shown us how to love
to serve our neighbours
as you would have us serve.

For our own congregation:

In the life of our own congregation,
we pray for those who we love who are away from us because of ill-health
we think of xxx and xxx
we pray for those who are troubled, afraid or lonely,
we may not know all the needs of the people sitting beside us in church
but that you know.
We pray for our brothers and sisters in faith
despite our differences
may we always support each other,
strengthen each other,
and serve you together.
May we love each other with the same love you have shown us.

In Jesus' name. Amen

The Lord's Prayer

Hymn Together in Song 687 God gives us a future


Threefold Amen.