Rev’d Jonathan Gale
They call this Low Sunday, I suppose because all those exhausted by Holy Week decide to catch up on sleep on this day! I’m not sure.
The lectionary chooses some readings that would make anyone feel a bit low too! Nothing quite so designed to make you feel guilty as that verse from Acts that reads 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Dear God, I don’t do that. I must be responsible for much of the poverty that exists around me! Well, not really.
You see, we are to live, not with a sense of obligation (i.e. with the sense that some law dictates to us), but in a dynamic relationship with God which spreads to a loving relationship with our fellow Christians. When that relationship is established (and it is within reach of us all) the Holy Spirit will nudge us towards greater generosity and it will be a joy. In fact it will be a form of worship.
I’ve avoided telling this story (in fact I’ve never told it before) but it keeps coming to mind so I might as well do so. A few years ago I noticed on Facebook that a friend of mine, a young Curate in Eketahuna, was asking if anyone had a car for sale. I felt God say to me, ‘Give him your car.’
Now, when you’re a priest, not earning a great deal, and God says that; well, you find an excuse pretty darn quick, as they say. I replied with a sigh of relief, ‘Lord, you know that my car isn’t that crash hot. I’d hate him to break down when he heads off home to Wellington for a break.’
God and I wrestled for a bit, but like Jacob, I won! And I was pretty sure that was that.
Ah, but God is a bit like the pig in a story someone called David Nthakeni once told me of a fight between a huge boar and a young crocodile in a river near where he grew up. Just when they thought the pig had lost, it rolled over, leapt up and grabbed the crocodile by the throat and won the fight!
I was walking out of the Parish office one day when I noticed that the Youth Pastor and her husband were having transport difficulties because they only had one car.
You know they talk about the Holy Spirit who is ‘gentle as a dove’ – at least the compilers of the Prayer Book do. Well God is not always like that. I had the distinct sense of the Holy Spirit as an eagle grasping me from behind by these muscles on either side of my neck, and saying, ‘You didn’t listen to me when Chris needed a car. Now’s your opportunity.’
That night I spoke to Faith and, ever the generous person, she said, yes.
I told the Youth Pastor this story and I noticed that one day when she arrived at work, her husband had spray-painted a black eagle onto the car – I think it was on or near the petrol cap. It looked good on a silver car!
The thing was this: the Youth Pastor was someone I very much respected and we had a good relationship. When I obeyed God it wasn’t a hard thing at all.
And of course I was able to replace the car with one I preferred.
Our Psalm today depicts the kind of community God wants us to be. Verse 1:
1 How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
And the last verse,
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life for evermore.
God’s blessing (which includes generosity on our part) will not be a burden when we relate well to God and to one another.
Our old friend Thomas, the doubting apostle, illustrates the legalistic mindset perfectly: But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
It’s got to be in black and white, fellas! No room for silly imagination here.
But when Jesus does appear to him, he falls on his knees and cries, ‘My Lord and my God!’
But what interests me are Jesus’ next words, 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Jesus is not praising those who believe with faith because they are superior to Thomas. He is saying the quality of that belief, a belief that takes a step of faith, is blessed. It is so much more joyful to live like that.
It’s that sort of living that develops relationships that make possible, what to outsiders looks like awfully sacrificial giving. That kind of faith is what makes that very early church community in Acts possible.
Do you remember what John’s very next words are in his Gospel? What thought comes to him after he tells the story of Jesus and a Thomas who comes to new relationship with both Jesus and his fellows?
We’ll conclude with them: 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
You may have life in his name. Life! Not a sense of obligation. Not a sense of dreary duty. Life! That is what Jesus promises those who grow in faith, and that life spreads happily to how we treat one another too.
Readings for today:
Acts 4: 32-35
John 20: 19-31