With many students interested in preaching and limited spots we decided that the students that are graduating would get first dibs on preaching spots. Last week, 29 September, was the first Sunday of the preaching series. And the message as POWERFUL! Each week I will post the text of the sermon given, and a short bio of the person who gave the sermon!
CSM Position: Chairwoman
Degree: BA, Psychology and Journalism
From: Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Gospel Reading: Luke 16: 19-31
Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
Today we celebrate the patronal festival of the Cathedral, the 160th birthday of the Cathedral and the celebration of our patron Saints Michael and George. It is incredibly special to be sitting in a church that for 160 years has been a place of worship, fellowship and a home to all God’s people. But what does it mean to be a Godly person? How are we living our lives so that what we celebrate in this Cathedral can be seen everywhere we go.
When thinking about this reading I was weary about preaching about something we have all heard before. Deny worldly things and place all your faith in God. The anti-consumerists sermon that is preached so often.
What stood out for me in this passage was use of binary opposites.
· Rich vs Poor,
· inclusion vs exclusion
· compassion vs indifference,
· faith vs unbelief,
· Heaven vs hell.
Without lessoning the importance of the last 2 I am going to focus on the first 3.
Rich vs Poor, as students and young adults we are now starting to learn the value of our own money. Whether we earn it, get it as an allowance or are here on a scholarship. In this parable Jesus is not saying that to be rich is to be sinful nor is being poor holy, but it is where you place the power in your life that is important. Are we allowing God to be in control to grant us eternal riches or are we controlled by our desire for superficial, worldly power. The type that is instantly gratifying, but short lived.
By being rich in worldly things have we become poor in our relationship with God? Where do we start to rebuild our lives when we feel as if we have lost God?
As students rich does not only mean to have monetary wealth. We tend to place emphasis on our social wealth, the number of friends we have, are we invited to the Rat every Friday night, do we have more than 500 friends on Facebook, how many followers do we have on Twitter?
What importance is all of this in our relationship with God?
When we walk down New street can people see that we are children of God, rich in God’s love or are we hiding this for the sake of our street cred? If this is the case the power in our life is not that of God, but a desire to be wealthy in a superficial world. I’m not saying that you need to give up your friends, or your money or delete your social network profiles, I am simply saying that perhaps we all need reconsider whether those that we surround ourselves helping us build a deep and rich relationship with the Lord or slowly helping us to forget it landing us in spiritual and Godly poverty. Because in the long run this is the relationship that matters most.
We need to consciously and purposefully give the power in our lives to God and yes we may lose something by doing this, but when we are serving a God who sacrificed his own son to save us how can we deny the relatively small sacrifice he expects from us?
Like the rich man, are we only going to realise all too late that we needed that relationship with God more than the hundred likes on our last Facebook status.
The idea of surrounding ourselves with Godly people lends itself to the next binary that of inclusion vs exclusion
Now we are all faced with the idea of being included or excluded. Some of it is forced on us by virtue of our gender, race, or religion, all of these governing the groups that will include us whether we like it or not.
Here’s an example, Zandile is a child that I work with every week suffering from cerebral palsy, she cannot walk, talk or communicate in anyway, none of this is her fault yet she is immediately excluded from ‘normal’ society.
This may seem like an extreme example but I ask you to think about what aspects of your life, that you have not chosen, have granted you opportunities that others may not have, and what has left you feeling excluded or different?
Then there is also inclusion and exclusion that is controlled by us. The friendship groups we are in, the activities we partake in, the fact that we all decided to come to this Cathedral tonight.
What does this mean?
God gave us free will, the will to choose where we want to be included and where we choose to exclude ourselves. Are we consciously deciding to include ourselves in activities that will bring glory to God, are we open to include people who are seeking a relationship with God, but maybe aren’t at the same point as us or have different opinions to us? Are we excluding ourselves from dangerous, self-destructive things that may provide immediate satisfaction, but in the long run leave us feeling empty and alone? Like the rich man, are we seeking inclusion in the world rather than inclusion is God’s Kingdom?
The third contrast that is made is that of compassion vs indifference.
I’m sure as residents of Grahamstown we can all relate to the rich man as he walks past Lazarus lying on the pavement and pays no attention to this man with no home. We pass begging hands on the way to Pick ’n Pay and shrug them off or give them a look of disapproval. Our disdain and indifference towards these people in palpable.
To be different from the rich man, we do not have to give every person we pass on the street our hard earned money, but we do need to acknowledge them as people as more than just a body lying on the side of the road, an obstacle to jump over. Their humanity is as worthy as ours.
This indifference can be seen in other places in our lives too.
Many of us also hold strong opinions about every day issues, be it politics, sexuality or religion.
I recently read a quote by Rick Warren that ended, “we do not have to compromise our convictions to be compassionate”.
Our opinions are not going to change overnight, but we are commanded to love one another as we love ourselves and as God loves us. We cannot be cold, distant and hateful to those who are different to us. How do we encourage people to find God when we are not willing to hear them, love and show them what it means to be a person of God. Are we open to loving people like Zandile, like the person sitting next to you, like the person who spreads rumours about you, the person who laughs at your religion or the homeless child who never gives up? God calls us to love them all
How do we do this?
Instead of shrugging people off, pray for them, even if you may look a little strange standing on the side of the road, with your eyes closed, deep in prayer.
Treat people the way you want to be treated. Show love even if you may disagree, with what we may think or how they act.
Doing this isn’t easy but, it’s is a struggle that we will all face together.
So what are the commonalities between these three contrasts? Is it:
Good vs evil
· God vs the world
I will leave you to come to your own conclusion, but perhaps it is that to do all of this we need God’s unconditional love as our example.
Now as we consider these three opposites we realise that the other two, faith vs unbelief and heaven vs hell. If we have faith then we will be called to love other, include ourselves in God’s army and find wealth in our relationship with God. And by doing this we will be saved from a life of eternal suffering and allowed into eternal peace with God.
So I ask that as we leave this Cathedral as people of God, may we be people that are compassionate even when it comes with a sacrifice, to be inclusive rather than exclusive and find our richness in God’s love.