Simply Care  audio (6MB)
Gen 1:26-28
Acts 4:32-37

Today is George and Sarah’s last Sunday here. Last Sunday George preached his last sermon as curate of St Thomas, and a number of people commented on how helpful it was. He reminded us of Jesus’ final instructions - Go and make disciples (or learner-followers) of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to keep everything Jesus had commanded them. George reminded us that St Thomas’ mission statement reflects this: Speak the gospel - God’s incredible grace, which causes people to become disciples/learner-followers, Teach the Bible - because that’s where we’ll find what Jesus taught, and Build community that demonstrates God’s love  - community grows from the people of all nations who become disciples.

I think George wanted to leave us with a sense of his and Sarah’s enthusiasm for this!...so we follow in their footsteps – put our sadness at their leaving into positive action!

George warned us that this won’t be easy for at least 4 reasons: 1) our pluralist society is not as comfortable with absolute truth-claims as it is with opinions. So we are radically different from our society when we speak about the good news of Jesus as the - unique God-Man. So when we do, we must do so with the incredible humility of Jesus himself. Humble people don’t use their status to force anyone, but combine ‘deep conviction with deep love’. I don’t think anyone who has known George and Sarah has felt forced or coerced by their faith. Rather, their deep conviction has clothed itself in acts of love and service.

A second challenge George mentioned in following Jesus’ instructions and by extension our mission statement is 2) ethical relativism - which just means where there’s no objective basis for right and wrong, where morality is essentially arbitrary. Yet George and Sarah are convinced that we human beings have a very real sense of right and wrong given by God, and that Jesus came to rescue humanity, precisely because we are flawed. This again is a radical way of thinking because it claims that humans cannot create morality, because it’s come to us from a creator God, and what’s more, we cannot to live up to it, and need his help.
A third challenge George mentioned is 3) narcissism: a preoccupation with self, rather than the freeing, healthy commandments, full of possibilities and adventure, to love God with our whole being and love our neighbours as ourselves: thus creating human community. George and Sarah have been anything but narcissistic, in giving of themselves in love for God and us all, as they’ve built community here through Playgroup/Mops/Toms at Twilight, Youth group, Tom’s Crew, Messy Church, and on many occasions when they’ve had people in their home.

The fourth reason it won’t be easy to fulfil Jesus’ final instructions, and by extension our mission statement, is 4) materialism. It is materialism that we’ll focus on today.

This sermon is entitled Simply Care, and falls into two parts: firstly our relationship to the good earth – the world of matter in which we live, and secondly the way we share or distribute the earth’s material resources among our fellow ‘earthlings’, justly.
I use the term ‘earthling’, because the Christian worldview, teaches that we are of the earth, and will return there. So we’re earthlings of the earth. But the reading from Genesis tells us that we’re different from the animals in one respect – we are made in the image of God, ‘like’ God, to have dominion over and subdue the rest of the material world of animals, plants and inanimate matter. ‘Dominion’ and ‘subdue’ are strong words because we are not to underestimate the task, but they do not stretch to plunder, wantonness or exploitation, as has so often been the case in human history, not least the last century. But the other extreme is also to be avoided, where we deify nature and worship it, as some animistic religions and New Age groups do. God’s expectation for the way we treat the earth is spelled out more in Genesis 2, where we are to ‘till it and keep it’ - thus using it to live by and caring for it…and so too all living things. God spells out this way of stewardship, and he can do so because the earth belongs to him by creation, yet in giving us dominion over it, it is also ours by delegation. We are called to the noble, exciting task of cooperating with God. So it matters how we use it. It makes no sense to worship it – the created thing, but rather when we work it and it yields its sustenance (pic of  hanging fruit) and beauty (pic of oriental lily), our work is to be an expression of our worship of God. And it’s not going too far to say that creation itself sings God’s praises, for the psalms say – ‘the entire heavens declare the glory of God’, and the prophets speak of the trees clapping their hands for joy!

So what does this mean for us? These stats are sobering: the earth’s population was:

  • 1 billion is 1804,
  • 6.8 billion in 2000, and is estimated to peak at
  • 9.5 billion in 2050.

The WWF Living Planet Report of 2012, estimated that we’ve passed the ecological break-even point, and now consume 50% more resources than the earth can provide. As people delegated by God to care for his world, this isn’t good enough. It was E.F. Schumacher in his book Small is Beautiful, who first pointed out that the earth’s resources are like capital: fossil fuels, minerals, forests, plankton in the oceans, clean air – so our use of these capital resources has to be sustainable. This means using resources which cannot be replaced sparingly and not using those which can be regenerated too fast. It means renewable energy must replace fossil fuels, and we must recycle more products back into usable forms. It means using our purchasing power to exert pressure on those who use exploitative methods or unsustainable methods in producing the goods we buy. Shop Ethical is booklet with information on the companies that supply grocery stores and how they measure up on a number of counts such as care of workers, use of certain pesticides, animal testing and other criterion. Or you can download the app. For Christians, caring for God’s world and being actively involved in doing so, is not optional.

Let me ask you a question. What do you currently do with the plot of earth you own? I think we tend to be like our neighbours and see caring for a garden as optional. But it too is God’s earth, which we’ve been given as a gift. It might be a good place to start. You can harvest water from your roof into tanks, and harvest heat off your roof into solar power. You could build or renew a garden bed or vege box.

Here’s what author and theologian Chris Wright says: read p 64…

Do you remember what God did when he’d finished creating the earth and delegating its care to humankind? He rested from creating. I think it can be argued from Genesis 1, that the goal of being made in God’s image is not ultimately work-as-our-worship, but rest. When did you last go out into God’s creation and enjoy a day in it – a holy day – a holiday - free to explore (pic of Steph and Hannah), challenge yourself, see the expanses of beauty (pic of Grampians) Rest doesn’t necessarily mean sitting still!   

But what about the second aspect of materialism - sharing the earth? God made human beings plural: male and female, thus envisaging community, and instructed the first man and woman to be fruitful and multiply, thus creating community. So the second aspect of materialism where we are to serve God in radically different ways is the just distribution of the earth’s resources. If we have passed the ecological break-even point, and consume 50% more resources than the earth can provide, then some of the earth’s peoples are doing without, even while we enjoy it.

I this how God would have us live? Remember the manna in the wilderness – everyone gathered what they needed – no more or no less – there was equality and God made it impossible to store it up, because it went off! Then God instituted the 50th year of Jubilee in the Old Testament, to re-distribute land, so each family could have their land (i.e. capital) returned if they’d fallen on hard times, to live on again – the principle is, equality. And on this principle Paul collected money from the wealthy Corinthians to take to the famine-stricken, Jewish, Christians in Jerusalem – so that there might be equality Cor 8:10-15.

So for us who trust in Jesus and have received his Spirit as the pledge of eternal life, what lifestyle is appropriate now? We’re told it’s impossible to serve God and money. We’re told it’s hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:23. Rather we’re to - Be on (y)our guard against all kinds of greed, because life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. Luke 12:15. Wealthy Christians are told not to put their hopes in riches…but do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share. 1 Tim 6:18. We’re told that the good news of belonging to God’s kingdom is a free gift offered to all, but it’s especially good news for the poor, because they benefit more from the changes it brings.

And in our second reading today from the book of Acts we heard that one of the first things that happened after the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, was believers voluntarily – they were not forced, we find a few verses later in Acts 5:4, but choose to see their possessions and property in a different way – ‘None of them said that anything they had was their own.’ Acts 4:32. And ‘there was not a needy person among them.’ Acts 4:34. They were liberated to share with one another - instinctively reflecting Jesus who though rich, for our sakes became poor, so that we by his poverty might be rich 2 Cor 8:9.
How are we to respond then? We can pray: asking forgiveness. We can pray for peace and justice as God commands. We can pray asking God to give us generous hearts.

We can talk in our households about how we might downsize the collections of possessions stored in our buffets, on shelves and in cupboards, to levels of ‘enough’. We may choose to shop less expensively, so we can save, and give that saving regularly to agencies who are working for the world’s poor: Tear, World Vision, Compassion – a redistribution of sorts. We can write to or call MPs about the recently announced cuts of 14% to Australia’s foreign aid budget…feel free to talk to Andrew about this afterwards. You may choose to attend The Justice Conference next weekend, (show pic) here in Melbourne, run jointly by the Christian aid agencies (see Ellen Kenner). If your family has grown up moved out of home like ours, what are you doing with your spare rooms? Could they be used for the good of others in some way?

There may be books you can share with other ideas: this one (pic of Planetwise) comes highly recommended – I went to Sunday School with the author, in Bangalore, South India, where our parents served as missionaries.

Finally, as Christians, we cannot see caring for the earth and sharing it justly as optional. The New Testament looks forward to the day of Jesus return to judge, save, and reign. He will judge the greedy, and the oppressors. He will sit on his throne and separate the saved from the lost. If we have persisted in being indifferent to the needy, we will be lost. But if we have ministered to Christ, in the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, the thirsty, the sick, the stranger, we will be saved – for when we are saved by faith in Christ, we exhibit serving love of those who are the least.

Materialism is a challenge, but when we exercise care of God’s earth, and when we share it with increasing equality and justice, we are speaking the gospel, and teaching the Bible by our example, and this is a powerful way of building communities  - because God’s love is being demonstrated.

I began with how George and Sarah have sought to address these challenges among us, and as I’ve gotten to know Sarah in particular, I’ve come to appreciate that as a minister’s wife, an art teacher, an appreciator of beauty, and someone who cares passionately for her home as the hub of family life, she’s had to address the issue of materialism in a very particular way. She’s had to put aside the possibility of living in her own home. They don’t actually own a home at this stage, I don’t think. But this hasn’t been easy, as it’s a kind of cultural expectation in Australian society. Sarah believes the material world God’s created is wonderfully full of potential and possibilities, but she doesn’t necessarily have to own any of it to participate in it, enjoy it, and share it liberally. How we pray God continues to bless and use George and Sarah in Echuca. And us here.