Trinity 15: Life That is Really Life

September 25, 2022 – St Mary’s Turville & Hambleden

1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

It is probably something of an underestimation to comment that the impact of these past 2 weeks have brought up so much emotion; especially bereavement and grief for many people. This is on top of the normal ‘everyday’ grief that many people carry around. I hope that it was comforting to watch the State Funeral at Westminster and Committal Service in Windsor. I was reminded that many of the words used for The Queen are used across the Church of England day in day, week by week in funeral services all over the country. There has been a spate of deaths in the parishes recently too.

Both of the readings this morning speak of death among other important topics. Paul’s letter to Timothy begins with the stark reminder that we brought nothing into the world so that we can take nothing out. Paul then goes on to give instruction on how to live out the rest of our lives. We are urged to take hold of “the life that is really life’; beyond all the treasures and trappings of this life.

Luke’s Gospel reading does not make for the most comfortable reading in the best of times; let alone in a period of national mourning. We see in this reading there is a separation after death and not everyone ends up in the same place.
In this section of Luke there is an assortment of rather pointed parables designed to teach about stewardship of money, time and talents; the importance of forgiveness and faith, and the primacy of prayer in a disciple’s life. Time is short with Jesus; he knows this although the disciples don’t.

One of the examples is a rich man who held what seemed to be a godless view of wealth and righteousness. He has died and is being tormented in Hades. Hades in basic biblical terms is a subterranean underworld where souls of the dead went after death. Jesus is explaining that there is a chasm, a separation at the time of death between the wicked and the righteous dead.

Paul, in his letter to Timothy, warns that those who want to be rich will fall into temptation and will be trapped by senseless and harmful desires that ultimately plunge people into ruin and destruction. This is what appears to have happened here. The actor and comedian Jim Carrey said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer”.

Each of these readings, letter and parable, at their roots are about attitudes. Jesus was trying to teach that material possessions are a trust, on loan from God. They are to be used responsibly for the good of everyone. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day held the view of wealth as God’s blessing and poverty as God’s judgement. Maybe we feel this way too sometimes when we look at the culture and world around us.

How is our attitude to the Lazarus’ of our day? They are out there and not so far away.
-What goes through our heads:
-Is it their own fault?
-They have chosen to live like…?
-There are agencies to help?
-They should go and get a job?
-If I give money they will only spend it on drink or drugs?

It is clear that the rich man had ample opportunity to ‘do good’ to Lazarus as he sat in his front garden day in and day out. But he did not. The rich man comes to the end of his life and finds himself in a place of eternal punishment. Not because he did not help Lazarus but because he was lacking a relationship with God. This man’s love of money was the root of all kinds of evil. This is Paul again. The evil was selfishness.

At some point during the rich man’s torment he is able to lift his head and he sees Lazarus in a position of honour at Abraham’s side. A place that the rich man was no doubt used to occupying during his earthly life. What I am really interested in are the requests that the rich man makes of Abraham and the responses he is given. His first request shows that old habits die hard as he asks something for himself. Given his circumstances I don’t think that this is at all unreasonable!

We get a glimpse here of what it is to be judged by our own standards. The rich man was so shielded by his riches to the point where he could ignore Lazarus at the gate. He would have had servants to do the errands, he probably travelled in a carriage or on a horse, so he never noticed him. The rich man took no notice of Lazarus’ physical needs and now no notice is being taken of his.

The man’s second request shows greater awareness for others; as he is concerned for the eternal wellbeing of his five brothers. In Jesus’ time, tales of reversal of fortune in the next life were common. Jesus is not doing anything new here. However, in these tales, when someone asks to send a message back to people who are still alive on earth, permission is granted.

Jesus does not allow for that in this parable. This says something about the nature of death; it fixes our destiny and suggests there is no further opportunity for repentance. The response from Abraham to this second request is that ‘the brothers have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ The rich man knows that his brothers won’t listen to Moses and the prophets as they need a little more excitement or wow factor. Jesus suggests here that humanity is so sinful that it is unlikely even to listen to someone who returns from the dead in this manner.

What were the take home lessons then and now? There is an age to come and our attitudes and actions from this life will catch up with us. At the point of death there is no longer an opportunity to repent or make amends.

This leaves us in the present age! We must take seriously what Paul wrote to Timothy in the closing chapter of the letter: ‘There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called. Do good, be rich in good works, generous, ready to share, storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future. Take hold of life that is really life. ‘

What is life that is really life for us? We know that this life ends in death. The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell opened his sermon with the “For many of us in the United Kingdom, there were two people whose deaths we could never imagine. Our own and the Queen’s.” I suspect that many of us do not want to contemplate our own deaths. The alternative is to take hold of life, that is really life. Show generosity and love. Pursue righteousness, godliness and faith with endurance and gentleness. Not because it will save us from the torment of Hades but because God first loved us. Ultimately there is no fear in death when we place our trust in God.

Commemoration Service for the life of HM Queen Elizabeth II

St Mary’s Hambleden
September 11, 2022

Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33
Psalm 121
1 Corinthians 4:16-5:4
John 6:35-40

We come together today to recognise that this is a time of great change and historical significance in our country and around the world. The news has constant commentary. Many people carry grief which events like this bring to the fore. There is fresh grief as we mourn the death of a beloved and faithful Queen. There is joy at the proclamation and accession of our new King.

Where do we go with this? It can be difficult to find time to reflect on all that has happened in only a few days. Not many people seem to know the rules of modern day mourning (if there are any); we are not sure about what is appropriate to do or not do.

A priest posted on a Facebook group to which we belong, about popping into the village bank on Friday afternoon. A man confronted him and shouted, ‘why aren’t you in the church?! The Queen has died!’ The priest engaged in a conversation with the man about the events of the past day. It turns out the man was also upset that the village hall had cancelled bingo that evening.

My prayer is that this morning we can come together to lament the sadness of her death and remember with gratitude all that she was to so many. Also start to get our balance back! The readings were suggested by the Church of England for today. Each of them have the common threads of: time, being lost, life changing and God’s faithfulness.

Time Moves On

It is still less than 72 hours since The Queen’s death was announced. Really it is. Thinking back to Thursday feels like years ago. Everything seems to be happening so fast; keeping in mind that we are mostly spectators to the events going on in Scotland and London. It is difficult to fathom what is happening in the eye of the storm and how those in the inner circle are actually feeling. Yet the plans for this time and event have been in the works for years, if not decades.

Time moves on and so do we. It feels like it is moving fast but there are no more minutes or hours in a day then there was on Wednesday. Lamentations, Psalm 121, and 2nd Corinthians each speak of time changing. God’s mercies are new every morning. God is watching over us day and night, Our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

When someone we love dies it is normal to want the world and everything to stop. To sit still for just a moment. I am not convinced that time heals all wounds. Healing often requires rest and sitting still. This is not what time does! Time waits for no man and no Queen. Even in the deepest grief, God is watching over us and we are changing. Go slowly if you need to but keep moving.

Even if we feel lost, God is not

Sometimes we do move in the wrong direction and can get lost; physically, spiritually, emotionally. Despite all the protocol, instructions and the immaculate planning of Operation London Bridge we still feel adrift in all of this. Again, very easy to do in the midst of grief and uncertainty. Many people have been surprised at the emotion that has surfaced in the last three days.

The pilgrim in Psalm 121 is having a hard time; he is far from home. Likely travelling to Jerusalem for a major feast. This should be a time of celebration with family and friends. Instead he has found himself in the physical and metaphorical wilderness. He has not given up though. He does some very sensible things: he stops, he looks up and rediscovers that his help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Chin up! It takes all of two verses for this realisation. The pilgrim then spends the next six verses reassuring his fellow pilgrims that God is with them too! He changes from my to your.

In 2000, The Queen decided to speak more about her personal faith in her Christmas Messages and she has ever since. That year she said, “For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life”.

I am bold enough to say that this is the greatest gift that she left us. This is what likely underpinned her life and gave her the strength, grace and fortitude to do all that she did. So when the changes and chances of her life came, she was on solid ground.

Life changes but God’s love is steadfast

Change has come quickly in line with protocols and in some ways it feels cold-hearted. Not only here but in the colonies as well. My sister, a lawyer in Calgary, told me of her utter shock at turning up at the Court of King’s Bench on Friday morning! Wait – what?! Never have pronouns changed so rapidly. Do you remember the last time you sang God Save the Queen? I am glad that I did not know it would be the last time but I am now saddened that we won’t.

Her Majesty was our rock, she has been described by multitudes of people as a constant in their lives. Her consistency runs through the multitude of interviews like a golden thread. It is true that she was the only monarch that many people have ever known.

Her image has been on millions if not billions of coins, bank notes and stamps; her portraits hung in government buildings the world over. She had the wonderful gift of making people feel seen and heard. She was there when we needed her. At home with us on Christmas Day, at the races, on the balcony, on the telly during Covid when we needed her non-anxious presence and messages of peace. She loved us and we love her.

However, she was a rock that was temporary. As we all are. In the words of The Committal, ‘For he knows of what we are made; he remembers that we are but dust. Our days are like the grass; we flourish like the flowers of the field…’ We want people to last though; at least longer than us. Looking in the mirror every morning, this earthly tent, is not the material of eternity.

Paul is talking about our home in heaven that is permanent; not a flimsy, fleshy tent that we walk around in now. Do not lose heart, Paul says at the beginning of 2 Corinthians, even though it is all changing, we are being renewed day by day. Better things are ahead, eternity in heaven. This takes some imagination but much better than holding the notion that there is nothing beyond this life.

God is Faithful in all things

How do we know that there is more beyond this life? God is faithful in all things. Lamentation speaks of the steadfast love of the Lord never ceasing, his mercies are new every morning. There is a quality to this love, it is not fleeting or fickle. John’s Gospel speaks of the long-term will of God that all should be raised up on the last day. God is faithful. When we stand on and in the faithfulness of God, we can love fully and be fully loved.

We are overwhelmed with commentary from the news channels and social media. Many pundits are getting their day! I am not sure if that makes it better or worse? It is at least distracting. However much we watch it, it will not sustain us ultimately. Only Jesus can do that; I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Much of the commentary is about her virtue and seemingly endless capability in the role of monarch, the influence of her parents and sister, and her marriage to Prince Phillip. All very good and great things. Ultimately though it was her faith that sustained her. She was faithful to us because God was faithful to her and she was faithful to God.

I am going to end with some borrowed words from my friend and former tutor, the Revd Dr Michael LLoyd…

Her whole life was characterised by unfussy, unflashy, unfailing faithfulness. Her whole life pointed in the same direction, and therefore had integrity and impact. It also made her a reassuring symbol of reliability and dependability. Her Majesty prayed this prayer as she prepared for her Coronation:

Into thy hands, O Lord, we commend ourselves. Be with us in our going out and our coming in. Strengthen us for the work that thou has given us to do. Defend us with thy heavenly grace, that we may continue thine for ever and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until we come to thy everlasting Kingdom; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

She has now come to the Kingdom. We give thanks for her, we mourn with the Royal Family in their grief, and we pray for our new King, that he, too, may have God’s help in all that lies ahead.

God Saved the Queen.
God Save the King.
God Bless You.