Sermons from St Faith's     

God's Abundance
Revd Sue Lucas, Ash Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Matt 6:1-6, 16-21
2 Corinthians 5: 20b-6:10
Isaiah 58:1-12

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free. (Is 58)

I’m delighted that the Mirfield students are coming again this Lent – I had an email from the first of this year’s crop, David Adamson – and he’s bringing some of his friends with him.  We get a great deal out of the ordinands’ presence with us, and we, in a small way, contribute to their formation. 

Perhaps you remember last year Ben Kerridge – now curate at St George’s in Hornsey, North London, saying there’s nothing like a bunch of pious ordinands for a bit of competitive fasting!  If you know and love Mirfield – it’s very possible to imagine it – a community just a little trying to outdo one another in self denial.  It’s very understandable, and completely forgiveable; but as our Gospel makes clear, it’s not quite what our Lenten fast is about.  There is a proper self-denial, an engagement with self-examination, an awareness of our own personal frailty in Lent – but this is only part of the point of the traditional spiritual disciplines of Lent, of ‘fasting prayer and acts of service.

For we are not persons in isolation, but in the way we belong to one another; and we are material beings, made of stuff, and dependent on it; we in the Catholic tradition know, above all that ‘matter matters.’
Our dependence on matter is made clear in the Creation narrative – adam/adamah – mud pies, but with the breath of God in us; both our dignity, and our total dependence comes from this.

Basic idea is that matter is ‘good’ – ours is a generous God, who creates in abundance, in profligate love; there is enough, and more than enough for all humanity to flourish.

Yet, we know only too well that matter is alsp problematic – live in a world in which a few have plenty, and many have nothing;  in our world, some are oppressed by matter, by having no work, or work that oppresses them, and concentration of wealth itself, whilst it is valourised in our society, is deeply oppressive – ‘spirits oppressed by leisure, wealth and care.  We fast then only partly as a personal spiritual discipline – for connected to that, connected to our own willingness to face, gently, our own unruly desires and drives, is appropriate sorrow – prophetic mourning – for the political and social and economic structures that oppress some and reward others.

Reward?  Of course, that word occurs in our Gospel; but in the Greek, it is actually two words – one that has the send of ‘wages’ of cause and effect; But the other has the sense of the material world as God’s generous love as a free, even  a profligate gift.  The material world is a work of grace, a gift of God’s generosity – our ownership of any of it is only ever provisional, temporary, fleeting – ours to use but not to own.  It is very obvious to us as clergy in doing funerals; of course, people rightly want to provide for their children; but much ‘stuff,’ that has been the furniture of a life, used, treasured, even is dispersed and scattered; we are indeed mud pies, we are indeed dust and ashes.

Yet, in the face of this, our Gospel insists we should rejoice; because – its proclamation is that, appearances to the contrary, God’s reality is not the controlling, measurable, cause-and-effect reality of the misuse of matter, the unjust structures that turn people into commodities and oppress them – with poverty, with prejudice, with no work or oppressive work.

There is, of course, a connection with the Eucharist – the Eucharist that is thanksgiving;  and it is not very hard to move from our sheer materiality – the mud pie status that God in Christ chooses to share with us – to ‘this is my body, this is my blood.’  In the Eucharist, we proclaim that, though we are but dust and ashes, we can come into the Real Presence of the Most High, and that the more bread is broken the more it is shared: and that, of course, is how the Church understands economics.

So we proclaim abundance, even as we fast; to disfigure ourselves with fasting, to be preoccupied with personal sin – in other words, to think that this is all about me is to privatise religion and so to distort it by not noticing it’s much bigger than that.

So let’s rejoice as we, in fasting, prayer and acts of service renew ourselves in our calling this Lent; to remember we’re mud pies, but with the breath of God in us; to sorrow in solidarity with those oppressed – by poverty, prejudice, by being excluded from all that leads to human flourishing; but above all, to rejoice; to rejoice in our materiality and in God’s abundance; that no human being, no situation, is finally left out of God’s generous economy, of God’s sense for the world.  Amen.

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