These sermons were preached in churches which are part of the Wayland Group in Norfolk towards the end of summer 2013. I was to talk about the passage, harvest, and my experience at LST.
Lets Pray: Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for your provision for us in our lives. Let today be a day where we thank you for all that you have done for us and may the words from my lips glorify and testify to your Son Jesus Christ, Amen.
Good morning everyone, and thank you to Father Bob for inviting me to join here for this harvest service. As I’m sure we’ve all noticed, summer seems to have faded into the beginnings of autumn; the first leaves are starting to drop in the wind, the schools have all started once again and the crops are ready to harvest and bring in from the fields to feed the nation through the coming months. Harvest is a wonderful thing that unites us all together, even if we’re not farmers or labourers we’re all dependent upon the food that they provide for us in the shops.
And yet sometimes harvest doesn’t seem so wonderful. It can be incredibly stressful, everything needs coordinating and planning. The weather needs to be just right, the barns need to be finished so that the crops can be stored and the appropriate machinery needs repairing or fixing in time, will there be enough quality crops to break even on the costs? Will there be enough to make a profit? Even if we’re not farmers, food can be a major worry for us; after all, everyone has to eat. We build our lives around when where and what we’re going to eat, how we’re going to pay for it. Spend our lives working to earn the money that will enable us to pay for the food we eat, the clothes we wear and a house to live in. We bring our children up and send them to school for years to ensure they can get the right qualifications for the right Jobs, though preferably a well-paid one, and we make sure that they’re aware that they need to work hard to make sure they can have a ‘good life’. Yeah, we’re thankful that God gave us good weather and that there’s food but we still need to head out and earn it.
You see, here’s the problem: our celebration of harvest time is quickly dismissed and life gets in the way, the day to day worries return. Yet it is into these worries that Jesus speaks in our passage from Mathew today. He says ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes?’ Here Jesus reminds us that actually, there’s more to life than simply having what we need to live. With the image of the Birds of the Sky he reminds us that God will provide us with what we need, he doesn’t promise us more than we need but reminds us to trust God for ‘enough’. Jesus says that Pagans, non-believers, chase after these things and prioritise them, they obsess over them. But our heavenly Father knows that we need these things. True life, the life of the kingdom of God, is found by knowing our Heavenly Father through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus, by the power of his Holy Spirit.
When we seek God at all times and in all places and strive to live righteously we live in relationship with a God who loves us, a God who values us, a God who desires to provide for our needs so that we might trust him.
Trusting God to provide is probably one of the hardest things for us to do, so often we try to do everything ourselves, we try to rely upon our own strengths. I know I certainly have. Some of you may know that I’m a theology student at the London School of Theology and the last couple of years have been a real learning curve in terms of trusting God to provide and not my own strengths. I was invited to mention how I came to study theology but that’s simple, God led me one step at a time to the place where he was calling me to be. Instead I’d like to briefly share a couple of the times and different ways that God has provided for me in my life at LST.
The first example is financial: In my second year the fees went up and although I could cover most of it I didn’t realise until a week before I had to pay that I was about £500 short. Just after I found out I asked one of the members from my church who liaises between people in my church who wish to support me financially and myself, this removes the awkwardness of people giving me money and means that there’s accountability over how that money is used. Anyway, he told me that just the week before someone had come to him and said that they felt compelled to give me 500 pounds, they couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed it. I was bowled over, the sudden shortfall had been met and this brave person had obeyed what God had placed upon their heart and through them, he provided for my fees. This isn’t just unique to me, I know many friends at LST who have had similar experiences where God has provided money to pay fees even if sometimes it’s not until the last minute.
Another example, you might not have noticed but I’m deaf. I have been ever since I was born but I get by pretty well with hearing aids. However, growing up it was very isolating for me. I struggled to make friends and often felt excluded from conversations. As such, as I grew up I developed a suspicion that my friends were not really my friends, that I couldn’t really rely on them because I might be missing out on conversations etc. Over time I developed my identity on being the loner, the outsider that no one really liked. I’m not sure now how true that actually was but that’s certainly how I felt when I arrived at LST. I naturally fit into a group of friends that hung out all the time but even then I didn’t experience true friendship, I still felt alone. Over time a Guy called Robbie slowly befriended me (He would offer me food every time I went past his door) and gradually we got talking and I started to feel like I had an actual friend. Then one night I was stressed out and emotionally drained and so I went to speak with Robbie and he was in his room his best friend, a guy called Sam. That evening they both sat there and spoke with me, and listened to me, before Sam asked if they could pray for me. We sat there in Robbie’s room at about 11pm at night and they prayed for me and for the first time I realised that here was a couple of guys that I could trust and call friends. Around a year and a half later, I’m still stuck with them but through them God has provided that which I needed more than I realised, actual proper friends I could trust and be myself with.
And so God has provided for me financially, he has provided me with genuine friendships that will stand the test of time and lastly he has provided for me in my faith, he been with me as I’ve grown spiritually. The last story I’d like to share with you quickly is that even the son of a Vicar, a lifelong Christian and a student of theology, can wonder if God really cares. I had a time where my prayers seemed to merely echo emptily around my skull or room, nothing ‘happened’. One night I was fed up of what I perceived to be God’s absence and I said ‘Fine, I’m not going to pray each night anymore. There’s no point because you’re not listening’. Now the next day I was at lunch and a lady I’d spoken to only briefly on a couple of occasions came up to me and insisted that I leave the room with her, she had something to tell me. She explained that the night before she’d dreamt about me and heard God say to her that she was to tell me that He was listening to my prayers and that I wasn’t to stop because God was with me even if I didn’t feel like he was. Having delivered her message she just walked off, leaving me stunned. Once again, God had provided even if not in the way I expected or even wanted.
These are just three short stories from my time at LST as to how God has provided for me in different ways. However, when Jesus speaks about not worrying and trusting that God will provide he’s not speaking just to the religious leaders of the day or to theology students today; he’s speaking to a crowd of people from all different places and walks of life. I am not special or different from you just because I study theology, my Heavenly Father that loves me through his Son Jesus by the Power of his Holy Spirit loves each and every one of us just as much. So be encouraged, don’t just ‘do harvest’ and thank God while trusting in your own strength, rather let us all as children of God leave this place today with hearts focused on seeking God in any place that life takes us and strive to live in relationship with our God and allow him to teach us to trust him to provide for us in every aspect of our lives. Amen.
Let’s Pray: Heavenly Father, we thank you that you love us and that you care for us. May the words of my lips be pleasing in your sight and may your Word speak through me and encourage the church here today. Amen.
Good morning and thank you to Father Bob for inviting me to speak here today on this passage from Matthew. Now, in this passage we hear Jesus speaking to a crowd on a mountain somewhere in Galilee and this crowd had come from all over the place to hear him speak and to see him heal people. These people came from Galilee, they came from the Ten Greek Cities of southern Syria and northern Palestine, and others came from Jerusalem and yet more came from Judea and the regions across the river Jordan and they all came to hear Jesus speak. This crowd that listened to Jesus would have been people from all walks of life, from the rich merchants and landowners to fishermen and soldiers or beggars and prostitutes to the religious leaders of the Day. The Scope of Jesus’s message, then, wasn’t just for a few specific types of people at a point in history with specific cultural and political issues but rather words that speak into the very core of what it means to be human.
And he says ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes?’
These are concerns that all people face, regardless of their wealth or situation. People need to eat and drink to live and we build our whole lives around it. When will we eat? Where will we eat? What will we eat?
Yet here Jesus reminds us that life is more than what we will eat and when or what we’ll wear and this applies in the rest of our lives too. We all have those things that we need to get on with, to do. Those deadlines that must be met or that phone call that needs returning and shopping to ensure we have what we need or even making sure that we get to work on time or that we do enough overtime to make ends meet. So much of our lives are spent ensuring our survival by making sure we can eat and have a roof over our heads that Jesus here is saying ‘Whoa, slow down a little, don’t worry so much about these things.’ You see, God loves his creation. God, who is the Lord, the giver of Life, cares for his creation. Jesus’s examples are of the Birds of the air and how God provides food for them, he talks about the flowers and how beautiful God has made them and then he takes these examples and uses a very Jewish argument of comparison: If God loves and cares for this small and relatively insignificant part of his creation, how much more will he love and care for his people who are made in his own image?
We are much more valuable than the birds and the flowers in the eyes of God. The birds may be blessed with food and the flowers blessed with Beauty but we are blessed because God doesn’t just want to see us fed like pets or livestock but rather he desires to know us and be known by us. God desires to relate to and with us. This desire for relationship, this love he has for us, is most clearly demonstrated to us today in the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus.
Through his sacrifice upon the Cross, Jesus enables us to be declared righteous and free from sin, he enables us to live in relationship with our heavenly Father. It is this relationship that matters, because when we stand in relationship to our heavenly Father through Jesus by the Power of his Holy Spirit, we are in relationship the source of true life; kingdom life.
Jesus reminds us that what really matters isn’t what we eat or drink or the clothes we wear but rather that we seek our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom and his righteousness. The foundation of true life is God himself, and when we walk through our lives seeking him wherever we are and striving to obey him in all that we do our God will be faithful to us and he will provide what we need, not necessarily wealth and luxury but enough.
It can be hard to hear this, to trust that God will provide for our needs but I’ve been fortunate enough to witness and experience God’s provision in my own life and those of friends around me.
You may not know this but I am currently studying theology at the London School of Theology, what used to be known as the London Bible College. Now my journey into theology is a story that takes a long time to tell and so I shall spare you the 3 hour epic; suffice it to say that I truly am convinced I was called to LST to do the BA in Theology and, more importantly, to meet some of the people I’ve met. Now God know us far better than some of us might like to admit, and this was certainly true enough of me.
You see, I am deaf and have been since birth and all my life I’ve quietly struggled with feeling excluded from conversations or big groups. Being deaf at school wasn’t a fun experience and although I cope very well with my hearing aids I’ve always had an underlying suspicion, a paranoia, that I was difficult to be friends with because of people constantly having to repeat what they’ve said. This, and things such as being one of a very few Christians in my school, led to me viewing myself as an outcast, as something of a loner. This became what I built my identity around and meant I struggled to let people in, to trust them or to believe that they were actually my friends.
Even arriving at LST I was worried I wouldn’t fit in, I naturally fit into a group of people that hung out all the time but even then I didn’t experience true friendship, I still felt alone. Over time a Guy called Robbie slowly befriended me (He would offer me food every time I went past his door) and gradually we got talking and I started to feel like I had an actual friend. Then one night I was stressed out and emotionally drained and so I went to speak with Robbie and as I went into his room there was his best friend, a guy called Sam. That evening they both sat there and spoke with me, and listened to me, before Sam asked if they could pray for me. We sat there in Robbie’s room at about 11pm at night and they prayed for me and for the first time I realised that here was a couple of guys that I could call friends. Around a year and a half later, I’m still stuck with them but through them, God has provided that which I needed most; friendship.
In all of our lives, we have things that we need and the lack of these things can be a source of stress and worry for us but can take comfort from the fact that we have a God who loves us, a God who Values us and who desires to relate with us and to provide for us. As Jesus Says ‘Your heavenly Father knows you need these things. But first, seek his kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.’ Amen.