Behold the lilies of the field.
Over the past several weeks we have been confronted on the news by the great crisis of refugees fleeing everything in their homelands to seek a better life, and for many it is not just a better life, but simply to preserve their very lives. Our hearts are being moved by their plight. Government leaders are confronted by questions of how many should we let in? How will it affect our lives? Can our social security systems bear the strain? Can we afford it? Will some of them bring with them violence? (There is always a risk in stepping out in love, what risk is acceptable?) What is the best way to integrate these refugees into our society?
These refugees, many of whom had full lives and jobs and wealth, are being forced to trust in God’s providential care in a profound way. I suspect that they, and those of us here who are more on the edge financially, hear and are comforted more than the rest, by the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel:
Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, With what shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
We are being challenged by this crisis to think about what it is to love God with all that we are and our neighbours as ourselves. Do we still think that we can try to serve both God and Mammon – that is, God and at the same time worldly wealth? If our motives are mixed we cannot serve God – we will end up despising Him. When God asks us to give things away to help our neighbour will we despise Him?
In our Epistle today (Galatians 5:25—6:10), St. Paul wants us to see that whatever action we take, however we spend our energy, our material wealth, in this life, we are acquiring something. He wants us to take a serious look at whether we are by our actions acquiring fleshy things or spiritual things. What it is we truly want is revealed in our relations with our brothers and sisters in Christ. (The “flesh” that St Paul speaks about here is any disordered human passion, such as pride, vainglory, envy, dejection, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, lust.)
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked: for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one that sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption – that is, something that will not last eternally, such as the glory of this world which is fleeting, just as are its material goods. But the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not be weary of doing good – one way of sowing to the Spirit is to love our neighbour – for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone – sow to the Spirit – especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Now there is a danger here in thinking we are getting something for being good – gaining points in heaven for doing good. But this needn’t be so if we are careful to remember that our desire to do any good thing, is like a seed implanted in us by God, and when we do an act of kindness we are simply, in obedience to Christ and by his grace, planting that seed that it might bring forth fruit to God’s glory. It is to remember that whatever we have, All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own have we given you.
And in the case of sowing to the Spirit, what it is that we reap is not something that is our possession alone, but something that is shared by all, the giver too receives more – the love of God is shed abroad more fully in our hearts and in the hearts of others by the Holy Spirit that is given to us.
Yesterday and last Friday we have been on an Away Weekend with the Council and we have been reflecting together on our calling at Holy Trinity chaplaincy – we’ve been thinking about the new church plant in Amersfoort, one of the ways we hope to share the love of God more widely with our neighbours. We also thought about the way in which this church in Utrecht will be replanted when some leave to begin the new church in Amersfoort. We were reflecting also on what it means to be an Anglican. And, finally, we reflected on our mission outreach – on the way we can share the love of God that we have come to know with the wider world that we live in, in very practical ways. How can we improve this?
God is giving us so much opportunity to “bring-and-share” the love of God with our neighbour.
Refugees fleeing the violence in Syria have much more immediate concerns than their long term economic flourishing – how do I preserve my life? How will my family be reunited? Last Sunday, we were surprised by the attendance of two Syrian Christian refugees who came from an Asylum centre to our Anglican Church in Zwolle. After the service when I asked Ibrahim, what were his concerns – it was, his wife and child still in Aleppo – he showed me pictures of he and his wife at the font where his daughter was being baptised – his concern today is that sometimes the power goes out for a few days in Aleppo and he has no contact with them by sms or internet, and it is terrifying for him, then finally a message comes through. What could we do for him? – he said he was ashamed to ask – but when I pressed him, a winter jacket? A young couple in the congregation has taken him and Jacob, his fellow Armenian Christian friend from Aleppo, who also came to the church, to be clothed for the cooler weather that they are not used to.
We have so many opportunities today. We don’t need to sit despairing before our TV sets hoping that our governments will respond in a Christian way. Madeleine de Boer, from our congregation, has been going to the Asylum seekers centre in Utrecht to volunteer for several months now and Peter Gillies, also from the congregation, has visited the authorities in charge of the Amersfoort Asylum Seekers centre to see how we can help as a church. In the coming days we will make known on our website and the next Newsletter what they have learned about how we can help us as a church and as individuals both financially and through volunteering some time. Of course this is just one example of the myriad of other ways we can share the love of God with our neighbours. Whatever we choose to do,
Let us not be weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Our desire and the anxieties that we have for food and clothing and our health change when our hearts are moved at seeing those in so much greater need. But the desire of every human being for these basic things are also related to a desire for something spiritual – to be filled with the bread of heaven, to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and to inherit eternal life.
Jesus reminds us not to be anxious about whether or not we will get these earthly satisfactions or even the heavenly satisfactions that they ultimately point to. Jesus says, look at nature, unable to store up food, yet
provided for by God; unable to change how it looks, and yet made beautiful by God.
Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, With what shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
God will provide what we need to sustain and clothe our bodies, and more than enough, so that we can help our neighbours in very practical ways; and our lives have been in God’s hands even before we were born and He promises never to abandon us.
We have come here this morning, in the first hours of this new week, following Jesus’ words to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. And Jesus will fulfill his promise to us today with the food which preserves our bodies and souls, that clothes us in the righteousness of Christ, and makes us fit to be inheritors of eternal life. As we receive Christ’s body and blood given for us, let us think in our minds and be moved in our hearts to share that Love with the world.