Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
20th Sunday after Trinity: Stewardship Sunday
St Barbara’s 18.10.15
Rev Tulo Raistrick
This time last year we encouraged everyone in the church to review financial giving. Many of you received letters explaining the financial situation of the church. As a church there was a brilliant response. Some people who hadn’t been giving to the church began to give, others began to give more regularly, and many of you increased the amount you give. Thank you.
Through a combination of your increased giving and careful management of our expenditure it looks like this year, for the first time in many years, our income will match our expenditure. That is great news.
We do still need to continue to give generously, and indeed you may want to take this opportunity to review your giving to the church, but that is not the primary focus of our stewardship month this year.
Our focus for Stewardship this year is service, using our gifts, talents and skills God has given us in service of the church.
This has been something that St Barbara’s Church has always been good at. I remember when I arrived 18 months ago how impressed I was to find that so many people were involved in serving in the life of the church, whether in the Saturday work parties cleaning the church and maintaining the garden, whether in the writing and distribution of the newsletters to every house in the parish six times a year, whether in singing in the choir or in being servers or sides-persons, in the organisation of film nights and social events.
But it is also true to say that some of our key people, who have been at the forefront of doing this work, are not as young as they once were, and we cannot expect them to continue to carry the main burden of work forever. This month provides a great opportunity to reflect on what more we can all offer, how we can work alongside and support one another in sharing in the ministry of this church.
This is not just a question of making sure the important jobs around our church get done. It is something much deeper than that. For in service we express and live out the very heart of the Gospel.
Hear the words of Jesus again: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
James and John, as we heard in our Gospel reading, have just made an extraordinary request. First, they say to Jesus “we want you to do for us whatever we ask”. That immediately sounds a bit suspicious. Usually asking for a blank cheque in that manner usually suggests that what is being asked for is not really appropriate, and they know it. They want to tie Jesus down to agreeing before he can backtrack when the nature of their request becomes apparent.
Then they ask: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” Hang on. What about the other ten disciples? And, at the least, what about Peter, who was also part of the three that Jesus would occasionally single out. Here are James and John trying to steal a quick march on the others, trying to guarantee the best seats, the most prestigious positions, the most authority, status and power, when Jesus became king.
Its the kind of move that would be pulled in a political party when the cabinet or shadow cabinet is up for a re-shuffle. The pulling aside of the leader and a quiet persuasive word in the ear: “Hey, us two really should be made chancellor and home secretary you know.”
And the reaction of the other ten disciples when they find out? They are indignant, outraged, furious. One gets the sense not because they think James and John have acted inappropriately, but because they have got in first, that they got to Jesus to ask him before they did.
But they’ve all got it wrong. They think the kingdom of God is about power, status, prestige. Jesus points out to them that is the very way the governments and military powers of his day would view such things. But, “not so with you”, he says. At the heart of the kingdom of God, at the heart of what it means to follow Christ, is service. Serving others, serving God. That is the example of Christ himself – “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve”.
But service is hard, isn’t it. Jesus did not pretend that following him was easy. It calls for sacrifice, the taking up of our own cross. He shows us the way. We are to follow.
It means putting other people’s needs before our own. It means sometimes doing the low profile and hidden tasks whilst others gain the credit. It means sometimes doing those tasks no one else is willing to do.
In the workplace, it may mean taking on the piece of work no-one else wants to do because its seen as a bit of a “dogs-body job”, or because it involves working with someone everyone else wants to avoid. At home, it may mean the phone call to someone to see how they are, when we ourselves may be feeling tired and worn out. It may mean the giving up of our own limited free time to care for a relative or neighbour.
But, for all this, service goes to the heart of our lives as Christians. It is an expression of our worship, our thanksgiving to a God who has given everything for us. Service may be hard, it may sometimes be unrecognised or go unrewarded by others, but it is what we are called to do, and in that there is joy and purpose.
It is the place where, when we serve together, we discover deeper friendships and a greater sense of a shared journey too.
So today you will be receiving a letter and a brochure. (If you are of secondary school age, you will be getting a brochure in with your parent’s letter.)
The brochure is an opportunity to see all the fantastic ways that people serve in the church, the many, many jobs that are done on a regular basis as part of people’s service of the church.
Have a look at all the different jobs and see if there are any that you could help with. There’s the opportunity to request more information before you commit, or to give something a one-off try, or to jump straight in – just circle the relevant letter in the brochure.
There are a couple of opportunities that may need a bit more explanation:
the Prayer Task Group is a group being headed up by Liz Hearn and Christine O’Brien to encourage more prayer in the church, through such things as prayer trees, prayer boards, etc
The Food for Thought group is a group headed up by Ian Leitch and Margaret Cutler that wants to encourage spiritual discussion and worship over meals.
All the jobs listed are in need of more volunteers, so whatever you can offer would be of great value. I’m particularly aware that we need more volunteers to help with the editing and delivery of the parish newsletter and with flower arranging, but every area needs help.
There may be some jobs that you may feel because of age or illness you are less physically able to do. Please do not worry. I hope you will find other things that you can do, such as joining the prayer chain.
Take the letter away, pray about it, fill it in and then return it to me or to the box at the back of church.