Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

17 sep 2017


Preacher: Canon Wendy Robins,
Honorary Canon & Assistant Priest

Readings: Psalm 119. 41–48; Ezekiel 20. 1–8, 33–44; Acts 20. 17–38


‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ is one of those phrases which forms a backdrop to my childhood.  One of those things that I know my mother used to say to me most often, especially, I imagine, when someone had not bought me what I had wanted for Christmas or a birthday when I knew (or thought that I did!) that I had bought them exactly what they had wanted.   Maybe it is just me but I can remember those moments of anticipation when I was pretty sure that the shape of the package meant that it was the pencil case inside that I exactly wanted only to be crushed when I finally opened it to see that it was a green one instead of the red one that I had so much wanted or something like that.   It was then that my mother, wanting to be kind would say things like. ‘it is the thought that counts’ and it is ‘more blessed to give than to receive’.   My little heart though would be no happier for hearing that, I am sad to say.

As I have grown older though I have come to realise that this one small part of one verse in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, that we have just heard, is very important.

Part of my work is to be one of the stewardship advisers for the Diocese and to go round to our churches to help the individuals within then to think about their giving to the work of the church, both of their finances and of their time and also to help them to think about what they give to other charitable causes too. 

It is especially helpful to look at what Paul, remembering Jesus’ words, says in this context, as he wants those who are listening to him to realise that he has always fended for himself and had never relied upon them for the things he needed to live.  It these principles of generosity and looking to be self-supporting, whilst supporting those who cannot be, that are so important in the Parish Support Fund Scheme which the Diocese uses to encourage our parishes to give with generosity to the work here in Southwark.

But the principle of generosity has many outworkings and generosity is a principle which we each need to hold dear in these difficult times in our lives as a city and as a nation. 

I had very much hoped and prayed that there would not be another Sunday when I and others in pulpits across the city and country, would stand in the pulpit knowing that there had been more tragic events in our city and in our world.  Once again we are faced with natural disasters and the disasters caused by humanity and somehow one hopes that that will be it and it will come to an end and yet we know that that is unlikely.

And as we look back on Friday’s events and give thanks for the fact that the bomb failed to kill anyone and pray for those it injured it is important that we are generous of spirit to those around us.  I have heard members of some of the other faith communities living in and around London and indeed across the country speak of their concerns that their communities and individuals within them will be targeted as a result of the terrorist attack being ‘claimed’ by ISIS or Daesh.  They are scared that they will be blamed for that which was not done in their name.  And that’s where generosity comes in.  It is easy to be sacred of things and people we don’t know very well and to blame others for things that go on around us.  That is why the phrase ‘#westandtogether’ is so important.  

In his book, ‘The beauty and the horror’, Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford who is now an Assistant Bishop in this Diocese, tells the story of a mother who is, understandably horrified to learn of the killing of five Amish girls and the wounding of five others.   Matters only become worse for her when she learns that it was her son who killed them before turning the gun on himself. Harries tells of how the Amish community came to offer condolences at her son’s funeral and how they protected her from the press: he speaks of hew she is now even involved in caring for one of the girls who has permanent brain injury as a result of the attack.

Such acts of forgiveness and generosity are the things that will help to heal our fractured works and which we must practice.

Whether the disaster is natural, as in the hurricanes that have swept through the Caribbean and Florida, or caused by human action, we will be at our best as communities and individuals if we respond with generosity of spirit and where applicable generosity of giving to help rebuild too.  That is what we are called to do.  To be generous in who we are and how we react no matter what we are faced with.

Here at the Cathedral we have been building on our good relationships with the local mosque as a result of the London Bridge terrorist attack and we want to see good relationships flourish in our local area and more widely.  So as we leave here today let us take with us that short but important phrase ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ and see how we can begin to live this out in all areas of our lives.