Second Sunday of Epiphany - Choral Evensong

  • Preacher

    The Dean

  • Readings

    Isaiah 60.9-22; Hebrews 6.17 -7.10

The 1970’s was an era of disaster movies, things like ‘Towering Inferno’ and the ‘Poseidon Adventure’ and so, in response, the ‘80’s saw a rush of parodies on the back of them, films like that wonderful 1980 movie, which I always end up being amused by, ‘Airplane’

The opening title sequence shows the pilot arriving at the airport fighting off people asking him to donate to this, that or the other.  The reason I mention this is that sometimes walking along the Borough High Street can feel a lot like that.  The ‘chuggers’ as they seem to be called, those people employed by charities to stop people in the street and persuade them to donate to their cause, are lined up to grab you if you hesitate for one moment.

Usually I keep my eyes fixed on the pavement and move swiftly on but this doesn’t always work.  With some I can honestly say ‘I give to you already’ but otherwise my response has to be, ‘I’m sorry but I plan how I give money and who I give money to, I don’t make those decisions, literally, on the hoof.’  And that’s true.

Before I was ordained I was a door-to-door rent collector in Wellingborough.  I had three rounds in the week on three estates built to take Londoners who’d been moved there when the GLC demolished slum areas and relocated people to the leafy parts of Northamptonshire.  You could be forgiven thinking that Wellingborough was one of those new towns that had ben built post-war.  But go into the centre and you discover something very different – a beautiful mediaeval church, the remains of Croyland Abbey and most wonderfully and intact, the Tithe Barn.

This lovely barn was part of the Abbey and built for the sole purpose of receiving the tithes of the local people. 

It’s this that is being referred to in the Second Lesson this afternoon, this practice of giving a tenth of all things to God.  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is reflecting on the story in the Book of Genesis of Abraham meeting Melchizedek, a mysterious character who appears once in Genesis, once in the psalms and then is used as a type of the priesthood that we see in Jesus by the author of this letter.

‘To him Abraham apportioned ‘one-tenth of everything’.

Even Abraham, patriarch, father of the nation, paid his dues, through the priesthood, to God, is the point that the writer is making.  But the story also makes us also think about the quality and the nature of our own giving, of our own generosity.

The Wise Men are still in the crib and they will be there to Candlemas.  Their ongoing presence is a reminder to us of their generous response to the generosity of God.  God, in Jesus gives his whole self to us, ‘born of a woman, born under the law’.  There’s nothing that God withholds from us as St Paul makes clear in his Letter to the Romans

He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?

When we experience true generosity we’re often unclear what to do; it can be overpowering, humbling, disarming.  We’re not sure how to respond – thank you can appear so inadequate and perhaps we want to respond with equal generosity.  ‘Will he not with him also give us everything else?’ The generosity of God knows no bounds.

But as the prophet Isaiah suggested in the First Lesson our inadequate response to God needs to be transformed.

Instead of bronze I will bring gold,
   instead of iron I will bring silver;
instead of wood, bronze,
   instead of stones, iron.

We bring the very best to God because God has given us the very best of the divine nature; we give the first fruits of our labour because in Jesus we see the first fruits of God’s love; we give a tenth of all that we have because, well, because God has given us everything.

This is more than making a decision on the hoof to get a chugger off our back, this is the planned response of love to love, and we always need to be considering how we give and what we give and later this month we will be thinking more about that in the life we live here.

But for now, as we continue to look into the crib, we remember the words of Christina Rossetti at the end of her poem ‘A Christmas Carol’

What can I give Him,

   Poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd

   I would bring a lamb,

If I were a Wise Man

   I would do my part,—

Yet what I can I give Him,

   Give my heart.