It turns out that Facebook is not all bad news. It allows us to see some pretty amazing things in God’s wonderful creation. Yesterday Barbara called me over “Chris, come and look at this!” Before my very eyes were baby Stingrays, their tiny bodies moving like little dancers in the water, gingerly feeling the potential power of their watery wings.
And Television, if we pick and choose wisely, is still a great window on the world, taking us to places across the globe that we could never hope to see first-hand. It has certainly kept the presenter Sir David Attenborough young and youthful into his old age, as he delights in the diversity of plants, animals, birds, fish and eco-systems.
Closer to home, Spring is my favourite time of year, with glorious Easter flowers followed by buds and blossom all around. I think that the warm days forecast for this coming week will bring out more of that particular vibrant fresh green in the hedges and woodlands of this lovely area of mid-Cheshire.
I’m waxing lyrical about all this because I believe it is the right starting point for a Stewardship Renewal in our two parishes. Stewardship recognises that in this earthly life we are in fact owners of nothing. We are here for a finite period of time. Everything we have as human beings is temporary, lent to us for a while. Will we use it selfishly and indulgently, or balance the use of our time and wealth by considering the needs of others, and using our resources to further the important work of the kingdom of God?
Look around you and take a moment to think about your own place in time and eternity. People phrase their reaction to good, secure and happy circumstances in different ways. Some will say “ I am lucky. Fate has smiled kindly upon me.” Christians will progress further to the phrase “God has blessed me.” This acknowledges our belief that God is our Father, and the originator and sustainer of all that is good. He delights to bless us and answer our prayers. Even when times are tough, we can perceive the hand of God in our lives, upholding, undergirding, bringing blessing.
So this morning, in this first sermon of three, I invite you to look at the world and its beauty, at the incredible loving details of life on this planet, and to attribute it not so much to luck, or fortune or fate, but to God.
In the Old Testament, the book of Psalms is the hymnbook of the Hebrew people. Our first reading was part of Psalm 104. It’s very upbeat, a paean of praise to God… “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.”
Here we find our starting point: acknowledging that we are creatures made by a creator. The world didn’t come from nowhere as a random assembly of atoms. People of faith always see a greater purpose and pattern. The writers of many of the Psalms, including this one, do what comes naturally. They look around them, and up to the heavens, and they respond by writing down words of thanksgiving and praise.
Poets and hymn writers in our own day do the same. Words I remember from my boyhood continue to inspire me: “Count your blessings, count them one by one; and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
So, personally, I do just that. I count my blessings. I think of my wife and family, and reckon I am indeed a lucky fella! I consider my circumstances today: a Sunday lunch to look forward to and a warm house to live in, and acknowledge that I am certainly more fortunate than most of the world’s population. God blesses us in so many down to earth practical ways. We trust him, and he gives us each day our daily bread. More than luck, more than fortune: brothers and sisters, we are blessed indeed.
Then let’s think about this special season of the Church’s year. Today is the Third Sunday of Easter, and the resurrection message dominates our worship and singing. “Christ is risen: he is risen indeed!”
We are an Easter people. Our world view, our perspective on life has to come through the lens of the empty tomb. “He is not here. He has risen, just as he said he would” If we are frightened or alarmed by news headlines about chemical weapons and cruelty, confrontation and cruise missiles, the words of our living Saviour come to us again “Do not fear, do not be afraid, for I am with you” This promise of Jesus, the promise of his presence at all times is the rock and foundation of our faith. That’s why I’ve entitled the Stewardship Renewal “Jesus – Alive in us”
He loves us unconditionally, and he loves us to the end. All may not be rosy in our own lives, and we may be facing problems and difficulties. In such times, we remember Christ the crucified Saviour, who shared our human suffering and pain.
We may be burdened with guilt and a sense of failure. Yet at every service here in church we hear words of forgiveness and pardon proclaimed when we confess our sins and shortcomings. Take them to heart and let Christ liberate and encourage you. Jesus is Alive, and has conquered sin and death.
Finally, this morning’s Gospel reading was taken from the Sermon on the Mount, so picture yourself for a moment, 2,000 years ago, sitting with the disciples on the mountain. It’s a lovely day, there is a cool breeze on the hillside and Jesus is radiant, smiling warmly, teaching the crowd by examples and illustrations from what they can see around them.
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all these things will be given you as well.”
Yesterday morning there was further excitement at the Vicarage, this time from the bathroom window: the house martins have returned ! Yes, they do make a mess on the path below, but it’s worth a bit of clearing up to witness the amazing nests they build under the eaves, the way they feed their young, and the joyous swooping across our garden in search of tasty insects to bring home.
“Look at the birds of the air” So over these next couple of weeks, why not take the opportunity to reflect again on your own life, and the life of our churches. Are we lucky, are we fortunate, are we blessed?
My hope and prayer is that we will all find a fresh realisation and acknowledgement of God’s goodness that enables us to consider our response, and renewal of commitment.
Our God is generous, and gives to us abundantly. What shall we give in return?