From Simon Barrow

“In life we receive more than we give; therefore it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Love, patience, forgiveness, kindness, compassion and gratitude: forget all the shining goodies you can get down the shops, these are the things that make life really worthwhile. What’s more, they are free and abundant. That’s the good news. The difficult news is that while they may not be limited by the means of supply or exchange, they can still cost us an enormous amount in terms of effort, persistence and endurance.

Pastor, theologian and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, reflecting in the looming shadows of 1930s Germany, recognised divine grace to be free but costly. Likewise, the gratitude he spoke of as foundational to experiencing life’s richness is something that can only be cultivated through the building of character. Given the way the world is and the way human beings often are, it is not naturally easy. And often, it is really tough.

Much public life runs on the assumption that things like love, patience, forgiveness, kindness, compassion and gratitude are ‘soft’, personal attributes, rather than ‘hard’ corporate ones. That’s because we have become accustomed to living in a society of strangers where people feel they have to make claims on one another in order to get their due, rather than in a community of companions where the joys and woes of others may be felt as our own – not as intrusions on our ring-fenced interests.

How to move from the mindset and structure of ‘official anonymity’ to one of loving relationship is the big spiritual, social, psychological, cultural, economic and political challenge of any age – though it is not often perceived as such.

At the end of his book After Virtue, the moral philosopher Alasdair Macintyre suggests that in a time of global dislocation and darkness, one important priority is “the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained.” Faith groups, civic bodies, neighbourhood networks and families – both nuclear and extended – are among the places where the core recovery, repair and renewal of ‘life together’ can take place.

As it happens, this reflection on how life can be more gratefully received and shared has been written and delivered from the setting of a family re-union. If being part of a family teaches us anything, it is that while there are hopefully going to be many moments when we are overwhelmed by gratitude, there will be just as many times when we need to be reminded of what we would do well to be grateful for: people, occasions of generosity, the sheer beauty of a day, precious memories, and gatherings of those who give us a sense of belonging to the past, the present and the future.

This is so because the many difficulties of life can act like magnets, drawing us towards problems rather than solutions, pain rather than possibility. In this context, gratitude is something that has to be worked at. It iss more than just a ‘feeling’. This may seem obvious, but it is very easy to forget. Therefore gratitude and all it brings with it is easy to miss out on, unless you have the right kind of apprenticeship and encouragement.

When I was seven years old, one of my grandmothers, now long since departed, gave me a bright green sweater. I loved my grandmother dearly, but I had rather different feelings about that sweater – which, as my father reminded me, had taken her a very long time to produce, because, well, she really wasn’t any good at knitting.

The outcome was that this green sweater embodied a great deal of effort and care for me, while not being over-encumbered by what we might conventionally call design, shape or fashion. (Indeed, if someone had set out to manufacture a garment deliberately equipped to produce mockery among a young boy’s peers, it might have been difficult to better grandma’s ungainly green pullover!)

Nevertheless, I was instructed to be grateful for this gift and to express that gratitude in a short note. I cannot remember, but I suspect I had to be given some guidance and encouragement because I may not have been wholly willing when I started out writing it. What my parents were very good at explaining, however, was that although I might indeed have to be uncharacteristically tactful about a certain green garment, my letter was really about something much more important: showing my gratitude for grandma herself. Needless to say, the longer I have lived the more important I have realised that early lesson in true gratitude to be.

My own blood family is very, very small these days. In fact it’s pretty much restricted to cousins who I have mostly seen at weddings and, increasingly, funerals over the years. But now, as result of my marriage in 1995, I have found myself part of two new and very large families – the Roths and the Metzlers. These are the families I never chose and which never chose me, but have nonetheless welcomed me and nurtured me in a whole host of ways. I have ample reason to be grateful to these strangers-become-friends, including those who are similar to me and many who are not, because I did nothing to deserve them. And they certainly did nothing to deserve me!

I realise that this is not everyone’s experience, of course. Unfortunately, families can be places of multiple wounding and grieving, too. They carry both the best and the worst of what is possible for human beings in relationship, and much in between. But the point is that whether it is through organic family or not, we all need to be in, or to find, networks of people who can show us what gratitude really is: the experience and awareness of how life-enhancing it is to give and receive without calculation or control.

Being a dissident, Anabaptist type of Anglican, I’m not the kind of person who automatically seeks validation in the pronouncements of archbishops. But I do have a particular gratitude for the current incumbent at Canterbury, Rowan Williams. This is because, aside from all the ecclesiastical politics (to which, maybe to his credit, he is not necessarily well attuned), he possesses genuine grace and wisdom.

To most who have crossed his path, it is evident that Rowan Williams’ outlook on life is decisively shaped by gratitude. That is, by recognising that the life we share is beyond possession. To see the world and everything in it as God’s creation, he says, is not to propose a particular theory of origins (certainly not one in unnecessary conflict with the gifts of scientific endeavour and knowledge). It is, rather, to receive the world as sheer gift – specifically, the gift of a God who, having absolutely no need to get caught up in our quarrelling and jockeying for status and influence, is able to love without condition, manipulation and limit.

In this sense, the invitation at the heart of the Christian message is to let go and give thanks. Simple, but incredibly difficult without good teachers, encouragers and exemplars. So, apart from shelter, health and sustenance, what we need most of all in life is people and relationships founded on the recognition that love is not about gaining control, it is about setting free; and that gratefulness is not about being glad we got our own way, it is about being glad that often we do not.

For those of us who are Christian, this is what being joined to the Body of Christ is (or ought to be) all about. Others may discover the same spirit of liberating gratitude is different ways and places. But the light of recognition in our eyes tells us that though our labels may be different, the truth – God’s truth, some of us would say – remains the same.

When I first saw my grandmother’s garish green gift my initial, youthful response was indeed gratitude – but gratitude as in ‘attitude’ with a ‘grrr’ in front of it. Those of greater experience gently encouraged me beyond that first reaction, and indeed beyond the ‘thing’, the ‘product’, altogether. It was the heart of love which generated the gift that really mattered… and when I began to see that, the gift itself, strange though it appeared to me, was transfigured. I even wore it one Christmas for my grandmother. I looked absolutely terrible (in my mind, at least), but it was the best feeling in the world to see her face and realise what it meant to be connected to her.

All of which provokes one concluding thought. Recently I saw a sign in someone’s house that said, “home is where your story begins”. What if you haven’t got a home, I thought? Maybe that is because I have spent so much of my life moving, and because I couldn’t readily name one single place as my ‘base camp’. Then I realised that what is being said here is something far deeper. “Be part of a story that connects,” we are being advised, “and then you will know what it means to feel at home.”

Of course the “story that connects”, whether it is a family story, a Christian story, a spiritual story or some other kind of narrative, is bound to have its fair share of annoyance, trauma and tragedy. But if it really does connect – if it really is a place where you are able to love and be loved (the proof is in the practise) – you will find that you can be grateful not in spite of those difficulties, but in, through and beyond them.

This in turn, will free you to see all the light and hope which no amount of darkness can hide and to discover that there is plenty of it already close at hand, if only you can be equipped to look in the right way and in the right places. For that, too, you need other people, not just yourself and a bit of abstract reasoning.

Sermon Trinity 3 2009

In today’s epistle, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Paul talks about “excelling in giving.” It’s hard to talk about giving when the country is going through uncertain times, and the Credit Crunch seems to be on the front of every newspaper..

I don’t know how you felt as you watched the financial meltdown happening lately. For some people it was a very helpless feeling. Some of you watched the money in your pensions or small investments slowly disappeared.

One member of St Aug’s said she took a kind of Zen attitude towards it all. We started off with £500,000, Zen we had £400,000, Zen we had £300,000, and Davie McWhinnie’s legacy was quickly frittering away.

Of course, every cloud has its silver lining. There were some bargains. One man said he went to buy a toaster, and it came with a free bank.

Oh well. We laugh to keep us from crying. It’s better to laugh about some of the things that happen in our modern world than to have a nervous breakdown.

And this probably isn’t the best time to be talking about giving. Let me tell you, though, there are millions of people in the world today who would be thrilled to have the problems you and I have. We have our health, most of us. We have people who love us. We still sleep in nice houses. We have food on our tables and live rather comfortable lives, even in this recession and credit crunch time.
There are lots of people who would like to have our problems. And most important of all, we still have our faith in Jesus Christ. So, even though it may not be the best time to talk about giving. I’m certainly not going to apologize for talking about it.

St. Paul certainly didn’t apologize for talking about giving, and he was appealing to people who had far less in the way of material possessions than we have today.

St. Paul didn’t apologize for talking about giving to Christ’s work. He told the Corinthian church that they needed to excel in giving. What does Paul mean by “excel in giving”?

Well, think about it. It means that some people are sloppy in their giving. That’s the opposite of excellence sloppiness. Some people are sloppy eaters. Some people are sloppy dressers. And some people are sloppy in their giving to God.

And some people are sloppy in their giving because they give God only what’s left over.

It’s hard to get these people to pledge to the church because they wait to see if they are going to have anything left after they pay for what they want rather than what they need.

Some people are sloppy in their giving because they do not give God their best. Some are sloppy because they give God only what is leftover. But St. Paul would have none of that. He encourages us to excel in giving.

We’re sitting here in this beautiful church. Do you think we could have this wonderful facility if other people had given only their second best? Do you think we would have what we have today if other people had given only what was left over? We have the blessings we have because others before us sacrificed, did without, gave of their very best.

The truth is that today we will have a Vestry Meeting after the service, and we will look hard at our finances. We have some really hefty bills coming in between now and the end of August. By then we’ll have shelled out over £330,000 for our new hall, had to replace the boilers at over £10,000, and pay the bill for the collapse of the gable end through the office roof. Another £4-5k.
Did you read the appropriate part in The Epistle?

It is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something– now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.

I know that when we add it all up, the cost of the hall and all that, and look at what we have left, there will be very little left.

The reality is that we have lost around £100,000 in share values, and we need to find £50,000 before September!

It had been hoped that there would be enough left over to top up the stipend of a full-time priest, but that is now highly unlikely. I’m lying in bed at night thinking that I sjould just go part-time. We are leaking over £1,200 or more every month and we needed our investments to yield that amount to keep us going. That is not now going to happen.

Maybe we don’t have all that much spare cash, but at St Silas’ in Glasgow, they pray for money when they need it. They needed £1m last year and they prayed for it and got it and more. And maybe that’s what we need to do as we enter into a period when things are going to get really sticky. We maybe need to pray and pray and pray again that God will provide us with the money we need. If we don’t ask, then we might not get!!!

So, St. Paul calls us to excel in our giving, he would also want us to excel in our praying at the same time. He reminds us of what others have given on our behalf, but I’ll tell you that this place and the restoration of this place was built on praying as much as it was in giving.

Paul adds the ultimate comparison. He reminds us of what Christ gave in our behalf. He writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich . . .”

Christ has made us rich. Do you realize that? He’s given us the greatest gift that we can receive, the gift of eternal life, his graces and his forgiveness.

But he paid an awful price in order for us to have these great gifts. That is what the cross is all about. And when it comes right down to it, this is the most important motivation for giving.

It isn’t how you feel about the Rector or the Vestry, or the Music Group or the economy or even about how life is treating you right now. We give because he has first given to us.
And I’d soon be able to tell you how much God and this church means to you by looking at your bank statement or Credit Card statements. They tell me where your priorities lie!

There are some who will look at the uncertain times we live in and say, “This is a time to look out for myself.” Other will look at these uncertain times and will say, “No. This is the time to give.” Guess which of these has the heart of Jesus?

You know the needs of our church. You know how important your faith in Jesus Christ is to you and how grateful you are for all we have been given. That is all that matters when it comes to giving. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich . . .”

In response to such love, as God’s love and the bounty we are given, how can you not excel in your giving? And how can we not pray and pray and ask God Himself to help us provide the shortfall. If we do our bit, then he’ll do His bit too.

Laptop

Got the laptop back today with new hard drive. Of course all my programmes are missing, and most of my data. If you normally get the Parish Mag by email, then I’m sorry, but I’ve lost your email address! You will need to re-subscribe on this site.
 
Now we have to rebuild it! It’s going to take months!

Magazine

Things are looking bleak over the possibility of the Church Magazine being published this week. The Rectory Laptop has died, or is at least very sick, and the June/July Magazine was on the desktop, together with all the photos and submitted articles sent via email.

The Rector has tried the “Laying on of Hands”, swearing at it, and even more cerebral options like trying to start Windows in Safe Mode, but the “Blue Screen of Death” ensues whatever is done, and the laptop is going to the Computer Hospital for, hopefully, repair!

Murder Mystery Night

Well, the deed was done in church tonight, with Maggie Wallace getting bumped off early on! Little did I know that it was the RW who actually was the murderer! I’m frightened to go to bed tonight! Right enough, she did look a bit scary on her way out of the door earlier on!

However, we all had a fine dinner while sifting through the clues!

Some other pics of the not guilty here, and eventually all on the Parish Site under Multimedia.. but time for bed!

 

 

New Hall

We now have a new pic from the architect. This is how things should look at the end of August!