March 2009

angerHere’s another sermon transcript from the Seven Deadly Sins sermon series preached at Belmont Chapel last year sometime. If you’d like to view the PowerPoint slides that accompanied my talk then you can find them by following this link …

PPT : Seven Deadly Sins – anger

(SLIDE 1) If you’ve been a regular here at Belmont Chapel over the past few Sunday evenings you will know that we have been working together through a series of talks grouped under the title Seven Deadly Sins. (SLIDE 2) This evening we’re going to tackle the third on the list of these seven aspects of character that exemplify and typify humanities sinfulness – and so its anger that we going to spend time thinking about this evening.

(SLIDE 3) One of the resources we’ve been recommending throughout this series is a recent book written by Graham Tomlin entitled The Seven Deadly Sins : And How To Overcome Them, and it’s from that book that I quoted in the introduction to this series a few Sunday’s ago and I’d like to remind you of how Tomlin concisely describes sin – he puts it like this, (SLIDE 4) “… sins are destructive habits … they are patterns of life which if we let them take control of us, will unravel all that is good in our lives, and will lead us to destroy everything around us …” (Pg.11)

So, with those thoughts fixed firmly at the front of our minds lets jump right in and consider the nature and scope of anger as well as thinking about how we can handle anger correctly in our lives day by day.

I think there is the distinct possibility that for some people there is a secret enjoyment in moments of anger. After all, to be in that moment is to feel powerful, to feel in control, and to feel absolutely in the right. Maybe the enjoyment of that moment is for others not an altogether secret one because they view anger as normal and natural, and when others complain about their emotional outbursts they attribute their behaviour as being part of who they are and so their simple advise to others is to back off.

(SLIDE 5) It’s true of course that our society notices angry people : recently in a readers poll sponsored by a TV magazine viewers voted the Michelin starred chef Gordon Ramsey to head up the list of TV’s angriest people mainly because of his outbursts of fury on his TV show Hell’s Kitchen. But not only are angry people noticed but our society also holds a fascination with the destructive power of anger : (SLIDE 6) Zinedine Zidane’s infamous unprovoked head-butt to the chest of Italian Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final was a moment that many football pundits commented was ruinous to his reputation and left an irremovable scar on an otherwise brilliant career. (SLIDE 7) Increasingly too anger is being associated with ill health. Ruth Ostrow an Australian newspaper columnist and life coach wrote recently, “… anger is worse for our immunity and wellbeing than anything we can ingest … it is internally and spiritually corrosive …”

(SLIDE 8) So what are we to make of anger ? Are we to view all anger as destructive and every expression of it evil ? Should we internalise our anger and never give it room to vent ? Should we remain ambivalent about anger, knowing that whilst we might be strangely drawn to it’s power, we are also violently reactive against it’s excesses, or, should we have a constructive view and take a look at what the Bible has to say to us ?

(SLIDE 9) Let’s read together a few verses from Matthew’s account of the life and teaching of Jesus verses that form part of the section that we commonly title the Sermon on the Mount. If you’d like to follow the reading you’ll find a church Bible on the rack of the seat in front of you and we’re going to read from Matthew Ch.5 starting at vs.21 which you will find on Page 917.

Read : Matthew Ch.5 vs.21-26

Anger, of course, is an emotion; it is a natural passion that alters us physically. Anger triggers a whole range of physiological changes within us. Adrenalin is released, hunger is dissipated, we experience clearer and better focus definition in our vision, the supply of the male hormone testosterone is increased and glucose is released from the liver – all, it could be argued, with positive affect.

(SLIDE 10) Martin Luther, the great reformer, famously commented that, “… when I am angry I can write, pray and preach well, for it is then that my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened and all mundane vexations and temptations depart …”

So is anger always wrong, or is there such a thing as constructive anger ?

Let’s take a look at what our passage in Matthew Ch.5 has to say to us and see what can we learn from what Jesus has to teach His followers on this subject ?

Let’s consider and develop too straightforward questions that need addressing when we start to feel angry …

(SLIDE 11)

  • Why am I feeling angry …?
  • THINK … what is the real cause …?

Look again at vs.22, near the beginning of the passage we read together, and now glance down to the bottom of the page and read the footnote corresponding to the letter b in the main text. If we now re-read the verse, taking into account this footnote, we get the following, (SLIDE 12) “… I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgement …”. This translation, whilst not based on the wording in all of the earliest manuscripts, does makes consistent sense in the light of all that we know to be evidenced from scripture about anger. The Bible gives us almost 600 references concerning God’s anger and we know from the gospel records that Jesus Himself got angry – so it’s clear that not all anger is sinful. When we speak about anger in relation to God we discover it to be His personal reaction against sin, and as such, it’s a component part of His love. Now it’s important that we get that idea right since God’s love and God’s wrath – his anger, aren’t separate components of God’s character but rather they are inextricably entwined together. We know that’s true because we never read that God is wrath, or God is anger, but rather, of course, we do read that God IS love – so anger is an expression of God’s love.

(SLIDE 13) The writer and theologian C.S. Lewis puts it like this, “… such an anger is the fluid that love bleeds when you cut it …”.

That means, of course, that our capacity for anger is one of God’s good gifts and it’s not contrary to love but rather it’s complimentary of it. So then, if we consider anger within its right framework, could it be that we have reason to ask ourselves if we get angry enough. We live in a world that is distorted and twisted by injustice and sinfulness. God’s loving reaction to what He sees in our world is a righteous anger – an anger that comes as a direct and appropriate expression of His love. But does that kind of anger characterise my reaction to sin ? Unfortunately, so often, the answer is no ; since my reaction often reveals a detached complacency derived from a poorly considered notion of the need to be tolerant – I simply shrug my shoulders and accept the sin I see around me, and within me, as an inevitable result of being part of a fallen humanity.

As is so often the case, what sin does is it takes something that is good – in the case of anger, that appropriate outrage against evil and injustice – and it twists it into something distorted and destructive. (SLIDE 14) The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “… anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy …”. And so it’s clear that there is a difference between correctly focused anger and anger that is simply misplaced and misused, there is both rational and irrational anger, constructive and destructive anger, and the dividing line between the two lies in the understanding of the cause.

How often do we justify our anger by comparing our response to a given situation with the response being made by others around us, and giving no thought as to the cause ? How often do we allow our own ego to be bound up in our anger – where selfishness becomes the driver – and consideration of cause becomes irrelevant because our anger is all about us ?

Jesus Himself, as we’d expect of course, provides for us the supreme example since if we look at the recorded instances of Jesus’ anger we discover that it is always directed against sin and focused against unjust situations in which others are suffering. Nowhere do we find Jesus’ own ego wrapped up in His anger – when He was arrested, unfairly tried, exploited, oppressed, hurt, rejected and eventually crucified He didn’t say, “… I have a right to be angry …”, but rather He said, “… Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing …” (Luke Ch.23 vs.34)

(SLIDE 15)

  • What should I do with my feelings of anger …?
  • PAUSE what is the right action to take

Two of the characteristics of God’s anger are that it is consistently applied and it is never hasty delivered. The writer of the book of Numbers records these words, “… the LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion …” (Numbers Ch.14 vs.18). And such a measured response is in such stark contrast to other passages of scripture that warn against impetuous, hot-headed, self-righteous out bursts. (SLIDE 16) The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes says, “… do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, because anger resides in the lap of fools …”, and the writer of Proverbs says these words, “… do not make friends with the hot-tempered, do not associate with those who are easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared …” (Proverbs Ch.22 vs.24). Unfortunately of course we can have the tendency to move from the position of mildly annoyed to the position of fuming rage in one giant leap without any consideration of the steps in between, but rather we should follow the example of any of NASA’s shuttle launches, where there is always a lengthy countdown, during which vital checks are made, before ever blast-off occurs …!

The truth is that when we sense that building of anger within us we are required to take a step back and carefully consider what we are about to commit ourselves to. (SLIDE 17) When faced with the injustice of unfair taxes being imposed upon his fellow Jews we read that Nehemiah’s response was this, “… when I heard their outcry and their charges I was very angry … I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and the officials …” (Nehemiah Ch.5 vs.6-7).

Even Jesus Himself took time out to consider how to react. In John’s gospel we read of Jesus finding the temple courts over-run with inappropriate and unjust commerce, and whilst He may not have counted to ten, John records that Jesus did pause long enough in order to braid together a knotted cord before scattering the coins of the money changers and overturning their tables; “… get these out of here …”, he said, “… how dare you turn my father’s house into a market …” (John Ch.2 vs.16). Paul writes to his friends in Ephesus, “… in your anger … do not sin …” (Ephesians Ch.4 vs.26)

Jesus, in the passage we read together reminds his hearers that an ill-considered response to feelings of anger often leads to badly chosen words and the real possibility of actions that will lead to seriously damaging outcomes. Look again at what we read, “… I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgement … again … anyone who says “Raca” is answerable to the Sanhedrin … and anyone who says, “You fool” will be in danger of the fire of hell …” (Matthew Ch.5 vs.22-23). Surely the point that Jesus is making is that words of abuse are very powerful and they can be extremely damaging to the user and very damaging to the quality of relationship we share one with another. The whole thrust of the thinking here is that ill-chosen words are steps on a journey towards ill-judged actions, in just the same way that anger is a step on the journey towards murder.

We have to be careful here to understand that Jesus isn’t condemning the action of loving confrontation where we might step in, quite forcibly at times, in order to tell the truth about a particular situation that needs to be addressed, a situation, for instance, where telling the truth is most certainly preferable to an artificial and unsustainable peace, and where confrontation is necessary in order to correct a wrong that will lead to harm But rather Jesus is warning against us acting out of anger, the kind that usually stems from us feeling hurt or aggrieved, the kind of anger that has lost sight of proper cause and takes the immediate route to retaliation and insult – the kind of anger that loses all perspective and seeks to dismiss the image of God that is inherent in all individuals.

(SLIDE 18) The writer to the Proverbs again has valuable advice, “… a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger …” (Proverbs Ch.15 vs.1).

James, from the letter we’ve been looking at together during our Sunday morning teaching series here at Belmont Chapel has something to add when he writes, “… take note of this … everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry … because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires …” (James Ch.1 vs.19b-20)

But, whilst scripture warns us about over-reacting and speaking without thinking through violent, inappropriate outbursts we are encouraged to deal with our anger quickly through the twin routes of forgiveness and reconciliation. (SLIDE 19) The remainder of the verse in Ephesians Ch.4 follows the words, “… in your anger … do not sin …”, with these words, “… do not let the sun go down whilst you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold …” (Ephesians Ch.4 vs.26-27) – because resentment builds over time which in turn enrages a simmering anger that can explode at any time. Don’t let things get out of hand say Jesus in Matthew Ch.5, “… settle matters quickly … go and be reconciled to that person …”

(SLIDE 20) May God continue to work in us, through the power of His Holy Spirit that increasingly we may become more and more like Jesus Christ. May we, when faced with rising anger, consider the cause and be resolved to stop long enough to ensure our response is appropriate. But yet, when faced with injustice and sin let’s resolve to ask God to remove any complacency we may harbour so that we might be affective in standing up and defending the One who came and died for us, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

(SLIDE 21) Take a look at this slide – this is what the Spirit is doing in your life and mine if we continue to let Him have space to move and work, all of these things on the LH side fuel and fan anger within our lives – but God is looking to change us from the inside out.

Indifference replaced with love

Contempt replaced with respect

Frustration replaced with patience

Envy replaced with acceptance

Resentment replaced with forgiveness

Revenge replaced with reconciliation

Let’s make it our aim that as individuals and corporately as a church here we may continue to see tangible evidences of these transformations taking place …

If you were here for the first of this series I finished with a quote from Don Carson concerning possible attitudes towards sin and godliness, and it’s with this same quotation that I’ll finish this evening.

(SLIDE 22) “… people do not drift towards holiness … apart from grace-given effort people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to scripture, faith, and delight in God … but rather we drift towards compromise and call it tolerance … towards disobedience and call it freedom … towards superstition and call it faith … we cherish the indiscipline of lost self control and call it relaxation … we slouch towards prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism … we slide towards godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated …”

despairJust the other day I was asked about the unforgivable sin, so here are a few thoughts by way of response. The verses in question appear in Matthew Ch.12 where Jesus says …

“… and so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven … anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come …” (Matthew Ch.12 vs.31-32)

For obvious reasons this has been a verse that has caused many a Christian significant unease. So many words come out of our mouths each day; so many of them are ill-considered. I’m bound to have said something stupid about the Holy Spirit at some point. Assuming I have, this would seem to mean its curtains for me. This – and Jesus is clear here – is unforgivable.

Firstly, we need to think about the context. Quoted in isolation (as above), this verse is very stark indeed. But Jesus didn’t suddenly announce it one day in a historical vacuum: it flows out of what has just been happening. And what has just been happening is rejection of his message.

Rewind to a few verses before the passage. Jesus has healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute (told with enormous economy in verse 22). The people are amazed (vs.23); the Pharisees less so, saying: “… it is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons …” (vs.24)

Their claim is simple: Jesus’ power is Satanic. His control of these demons indicates (so they say) that he has significant ranking in the demonic hierarchy. His authority comes from being higher up the ladder than the demons. The Pharisees don’t deny the miracle has taken place; they are forced to account for it as an expression of satanic power.

Jesus takes them to task in the next verses. The size and effect of his power indicates he is stronger than Satan. He is robbing the strong man of his possessions: people. The New Testament describes Christians as those who have been, “… rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought… into the kingdom of the Son …”. This all comes by through Jesus’ death, by which we have “… redemption, the forgiveness of sins …” (Colossians Ch.1 vs.14).

It helps to remember that in the Bible the devil is often called the accuser and his trump card is our sin; it is his boast and claim on us. Through the cross Jesus pays for our sin and provides forgiveness, and so Satan is plundered. He has no claim over us any more.

This cross-work is anticipated by Jesus when he describes himself as the binder of Satan (Matthew Ch.12 vs.29), and previewed by the deliverance of the demon-possessed man. It is this work of Jesus that the Pharisees attribute to Satan himself. Jesus is destroying the work of the devil and the Pharisees call this evil. They were not the last to describe Jesus’ means of binding Satan immoral. It is in this context that Jesus warns of the unforgivable sin: blasphemy against the Spirit.

We need to understand the significance of the Spirit to Jesus’ ministry. By the Spirit Jesus is bringing the kingdom of God (vs.28). By the Spirit Jesus was led to the wilderness to confront Satan (Matthew Ch.4 vs.1). By the Spirit Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross (Hebrews Ch.9 vs.14). By the Spirit we are able to see the truth of all this (John Ch.16 vs.13).

Blasphemy of the Spirit, I take it, is therefore the ongoing refusal to see the goodness of Jesus’ work in defeating the Devil. It is blasphemy against the Spirit because it is by the Spirit Jesus does this work. It is unforgivable because it is a rejection of the only means by which we can be forgiven in the first place. It is the spiritual equivalent of sawing off the branch you’re sitting on.

Three things follow:

  • The person who worries that they might have committed this sin almost by definition has nothing to worry about. The concern that you might have out-sinned the forgiving death of Jesus is not one that would be shared by someone who regards that death as immoral.
  • If you were blaspheming or had blasphemed the Spirit, you would not be worried about it.
  • Whatever you have done that you are worried about – look again at the first half of verse 31, “… every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men …”

wall-streetI promised to post the transcript of another sermon in the Seven Deadly Sins series, so here it is. If you’d like to follow the PPT presentation that accompanied the sermon below then please follow this link …

PPT : Seven Deadly Sins – greed

(SLIDE 1) If you’ve been here at Belmont Chapel over the past few Sunday evenings you will know that we have been working through a number of talks grouped together under the series title Seven Deadly Sins. (SLIDE 2) This evening we’re going to tackle the sixth on this list of seven aspects of character that exemplify and typify humanities sinfulness – which means that its greed that we going to focus on this evening.

(SLIDE 3) Oliver Stone, the screenwriter and director, in his 1987 film Wall Street gave film-goers, the world over, the chance to glimpse the somewhat impenetrable world of stock market trading that beats at the financial heart of corporate America. The film’s plot revolves around the character of Gordon Gekko, a wealthy but unscrupulous corporate raider, portrayed by Michael Douglas. And in one, now oft quoted speech, given to a group of fellow stock brokers, Gekko vigorously defends the style of trading that he adopts. He says, SLIDE 4 ‘… greed is good … greed is right … greed works … greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit … greed in all its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind …’.

And whilst we might flinch from such a forthright and uncompromising mantra for living we do however find ourselves in a society that in the majority condones and encourages personal and societal greed. For many people greed could hardly be classified as a sin, let alone a deadly one.

(SLIDE 5) The psychologist Dorothy Rowe puts it like this, ‘… deploring greed and its effects is a treasured occupation for those who like to feel virtuous … doing it is about as useful as deploring the fact we need air to breathe … I think the only way to give up being greedy is to die …’

Yet, in stark contrast, in the chapter on greed from Graham Tomlin’s book, The Seven Deadly Sins : and how to overcome them, the book we’ve been recommending to be read alongside this series, we find the author quoting Thomas Aquinas, the 11th century monastic theologian, who wrote this, (SLIDE 6) ‘… greed is a sin directly against ones neighbour … since one man cannot over-abound in external riches without another man lacking them … it is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, inasmuch as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things…’.

So, in the face of these quite contradictory statements how are we best to consider greed and especially the greed that accompanies the misuse of money and possessions ?

In order to provide some shape to our thinking this evening we’re going to read together from Luke’s gospel – a passage in which we find Jesus responding to a request to arbitrate in a personal matter of financial inheritance. Jesus replies, as he often does, with a parable. (SLIDE 7) The reading is found on Page 986 in the church Bible, a copy of which you can find on the rack of the seat in front of you, and we’ll start reading from vs.13 of Luke Ch.12.

READ : Luke Ch.12 vs.13 to 21

It’s interesting to notice the context into which Jesus interjects this parable since it comes as a response to an interruption from someone in the crowd that, as we learn from the beginning of the chapter, had gathered to hear Him teaching His disciples. The topic of this particular teaching session revolves around the need to be God centred and God focused in everyday living. So clearly the man who interrupts in vs.12 hasn’t been listening carefully, because if he had he would have recognised that his question to Jesus was quite out of sync with Jesus’ teaching. Of course, it’s true that Rabbi’s were routinely petitioned to arbitrate in domestic disputes but Jesus looks past the detail of the dispute in order to talk about a much broader principle – a principle that finds its focus in vs.21, ‘… this is how it will be for those that store up things for themselves but are not rich towards God …’ (Luke Ch.12 vs.21).

We’re going to focus our thoughts this evening around two simple statements that I trust will help us shed some light on the nature of greed and it’s consequences as well as hopefully helping us to look again at some counteractive measures – things that we can take on board and utilise day-by-day.

Here’s the first statement … (SLIDE 8)

1. Greed means … we become get-centred rather than give-centred

If you were here two Sunday’s ago you may recall that when looking at the subject of gluttony we read some verses from the book of Ecclesiastes, and it’s from that same book that I’d like to quote again. The writer of the book, the teacher, says this in Ch.5, ‘… those who love money never have enough … those who love wealth are never satisfied with their income … this too is meaningless …’ (Ecc. Ch.5 vs.10). The word meaningless in Ecclesiastes has everything to do with frustration and futility and the failure of something to achieve genuine satisfaction. And yet despite the warnings, we see all around us clear evidence of an impulse to possessively and selfishly pull in towards ourselves those things that in reality we should be sharing.

The very nature of the society in which we live tends to have a bias towards getting rather than giving and we see evidence of it in the consumerist outlook on life.

Consumerism is simply the advocacy of a high rate of consumption and spending as being the only means to achieve economic stability, and it encourages overspending and high debt amongst individuals. It’s probably fair to say that in our diverse and shrinking commercial world, that consumerism is the religion of the twenty-first century and it’s the major player in the globalisation process that reaches into every corner of our world. Never before have we had such a wide breadth of consumer choice, choice about what to purchase, when to purchase it, and crucially, when to pay for it. And there is an implicit use it and discard it tag on virtually everything we buy, and the consumerist fuelled desire for newer and better things threatens constantly to drive us towards greed.

Let me stop there for a moment and just pose a few questions for you to consider. What are the ‘must haves’ for my life ? What are the things that I greedily hold onto in a futile belief that they provide security and status for my existence ? What is it that I’m determined to possess ?

(SLIDE 9) One of the saddest life stories of the twentieth century is the story of Howard Hughes – writing about his life for Leadership magazine, Bill Hybels says this about Hughes, ‘… all he ever really wanted in life was more … he wanted more money, so he worked tirelessly building up his business portfolio … he wanted more fame, so he moved to Hollywood and became a filmmaker … he wanted more sensual pleasure, so he paid out handsome sums to indulge his every sexual urge … he wanted more thrills, so he designed and built the fastest aircraft in the world … he wanted more power, so he secretly dealt political favours with two U.S. presidents … (SLIDE 10) he was absolutely convinced that more would bring satisfaction … unfortunately history shows otherwise … since Hughes concluded his life emaciated, colourless, drug addicted and a eccentric recluse … Howard Hughes died believing the myth of more … he died, insane by all reasonable standards …’ (Bill Hybels – Leadership, Vol. X #3 – 1989).

(SLIDE 11) The consequence of being get-centred rather than give-centred is that we are in danger of destroying the relationships we share one with another. Those words of Thomas Aquinas again, ‘… greed is a sin directly against ones neighbour … since one man cannot over-abound in external riches without another man lacking them …’. The rich landowner in Jesus’ parable saw the provision of an abundant harvest as being an opportunity for him to please himself, and we have only to notice the amount of times he mentions the personal pronoun I to see clearly that he had little or no thought for others. So, just before we move onto the second statement we’re going to consider, it’s worth pausing to think about what the Bible has to say by way of an antidote for this get-centred disease.

As we look into scripture we soon discover that much of what it teaches – whether through God’s dealing with his people in the OT, or through Jesus’ teaching worked out in the NT – is often counter-culturally orientated. It routinely focuses away from the accepted norm of the society in which God’s people find themselves living. And two principles that we find taught and practiced have, I’m sure, something to say on the subject of being give-centred rather than get-centred.

In the OT book of Leviticus we discover details of the remarkable concept of jubilee. We read there that every fifty years the Israelites, commanded by God, were to free slaves, cancel debts, return land to their owners and allow a period of rest for the countryside. These radical actions were, in part of course, a graphic and costly reminder to the people that all they had was, in reality, only theirs to hold because it had been granted to them in trust from a generous God. (SLIDE 12) The Psalmist understood where true ownership rights resided only too well, when he wrote, ‘… the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it …’ (Psalm 24 vs.1), and despite whatever your views on the politics of Margaret Thatcher she certainly got this right when she commented, ‘… no generation has a freehold on this earth … all we have is a life tenancy – with a full repairing lease …’. The year of jubilee helped to address the extremes of wealth and poverty inherent in society and it was a searching spiritual and profound social event, helping the poorer members of the community to find a new start. The parables of Jesus contain jubilee concepts too, not least the ones referring to release from debt and stories talking about the redistribution of goods to the poor. And of course, Jesus Himself came to proclaim the ultimate year of jubilee – sins forgiven and salvation through faith in His death and resurrection.

Now you may be forgiven for thinking that the jubilee concept does, at first glance at least, have little or no relevance for us today as individuals, and yet I believe it’s important that we routinely take stock of our attitudes towards getting and giving and in doing so it’s important that we consider taking on board radical steps to re-appraise what we do in the light of God’s grace. Realising the potential for jubilee in our lives is different but complimentary to another Biblical concept, that of tithing – and whilst both shouldn’t be mechanistically and remotely applied in our lives, both can make a dramatic difference towards combating greed. When was the last time I stopped to consider what my attitude towards money and possessions reveal about my priorities and about my relationships with others ? Is it time for a radical shake-up such that jubilee type effects can bear fruit in my life to counteract any tendency I might have towards greed ?

The other idea that scripture offers as an antidote comes through understanding the ideas contained within the NT word fellowship. This word has many dimensions, including partnership, joint participation, communion and community. Its root meaning is commonness, as in when we share communion together, for example, where it refers to the joint participation we share in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. But the word fellowship also has an economic side to it too, that sense of practical sharing one with another, the sharing of resources and finances. Such an ideal was the hallmark of the NT church, SLIDE 13 Luke writes in Acts, ‘… they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer …’ (Acts Ch.2 vs.42). Such mutuality, in the kind of attitude we see to money and possessions in the NT, is very radical and it reveals the essence of jubilee.

We’d be short-sighted however to merely encourage this kind of mutuality amongst ourselves, since fellowship in a broader sense is wonderfully productive in building relationships with those aren’t yet Christians. The gift of hospitality and the opening up of our homes to evangelistic use is a expansion of this same idea.

Secondly from Jesus’ parable we learn this … (SLIDE 14)

2. Greed means … we become self-centred rather than God-centred

And here is the second problem that Jesus highlights in his parable, since not only does greed harm our relationships with one another but also greed destroys our relationship with God. Thomas Aquinas, in the words we quoted earlier said, ‘…greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, inasmuch as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things…’, and those words are an echo surely of what we read in Luke where Jesus says, ‘… life does not consist in an abundance of possessions …’ (Luke Ch.12 vs.15). Greed creates a spiritual problem since it affects our relationship with God.

As we scan through the parable we could be forgiven for thinking that here is the story of a self-made man, who is a success in every sense of the word. And yet, when we get to vs.20 Jesus describes this man as ‘… a fool …’ (vs.20). And why is he a fool ? Well, he’s not a fool because he is wealthy – the Bible doesn’t condemn wealth, and he’s not a fool because he has invested and saved – since the Bible encourages good stewardship, and he’s not a fool because he’s chosen to take early retirement either. But the reason he is a fool is because in all of those things he has neglected and rejected God’s rightful place in his life.

Jesus’ point is very simple, and the warning surely, for us, is that we need to be careful to always remember that there is more to life than getting as much as we can for ourselves. Life has a different, far more important purpose, and that is, that we need first and foremost, to be found in a vibrant, living relationship with God.

I’ve never met a Christian, who has opening acknowledge being materialistic, probably because in reality it is a mutually incompatible concept to the Christian faith, and yet, I’m sure; we all have materialistic tendencies within us that affect adversely our outlook on life. Materialism at its heart denies the reality of God, and because of that it will if we allow it to, erode our faith and have a dramatic negative impact upon our lives and upon our effectiveness for God. Materialism fosters amnesia concerning God’s provision, it destroys our spiritual life, our relationship with God, it makes us proud, and it distracts us away from our core responsibilities towards God and one another.

In order to counteract that self-centredness and self-sufficiency that materialism fosters the Bible offers us the antidote of the Sabbath, and whilst we haven’t got time to consider the potential of Sabbath keeping for our lives I would recommend you stop and re-think your way through it’s implications for you and it’s intention as prescribed by God.

(SLIDE 15) Graham Tomlin, in the same book I’ve already mentioned, says this concerning the Sabbath, ‘… Sabbath is a crucial antidote to greed because it is a regular weekly reminder that the purpose of life is not career, work, money, deals, degrees and all those things we fret over … it is the enjoyment of God and the good things He’s given us …’

Let me close with a story … (SLIDE 16)

I’m reliably informed that one of the most difficult animals to capture in the wild is the ring-tailed monkey, unless, that is, you adopt the practice of the indigenous Zulu tribesmen who use a unique method to attract and capture these creatures. One of the favourite foods of the ring-tailed monkey is the seeds contained in the centre of a melon, so, in order to catch the monkey the tribesman cuts one hole at the end of the melon in order to attach it by a rope to a tree and another hole through the side just big enough for the monkey’s hand. The tribesman waits patiently and when the monkey sees the fruit he slips his hand inside and opens its fingers to grab a whole fistful of seeds, but, because his fist is now larger than the hole through which the monkey’s hand first entered it can’t get free – the monkey is easily captured because of a resolute refusal to let go of the seeds – the monkey is captured because of greed.

I wonder if I’m so focused on money and possessions that I’m unaware as to the danger of the sin of greed that lurks close by to capture me ? What do I need to release my grip on in order to enjoy the freedom that God gives – that joy of knowing and living a life in relationship with Him – a life characterised not by self and greed, but by generosity and God’s grace.