On Saturday 4 November, the Archbishop spoke to the York Diocesan Synod on the theme of TEAM C R Y (Cleveland, Riding, York). The Bible Reading: Haggai 1: 1-15. His presidential address follows in full...
The citizens of the Kingdom of Judah had returned from the exile in Babylon. And we heard in our reading from Prophet Haggai a report of a divine exhortation and the people’s response to it.
Verses 1 – 2 of Chapter 1 are the introduction:
The Second year of King Darius, following his taking power in the Persian Empire, was 520 BC. Zerubbabel, in spite of his Babylonian name, is pictured as a Jew who returned to Judah from exile as a Persian-appointed governor (Ezra 2: 2) and was descended from David (1 Chronicles 3: 1 – 19). And Joshua is in the line of descent.
In verses 3 – 11 we hear of the Plight of Judah. The reason that the people of Judah are living at the subsistence level is that they have been interested chiefly in building their own houses, whilst neglecting to build the house of the Lord, which has lain in ruins, for 67 years, since the destruction by the Babylonians in 587 BC. The situation will become worse, including drought and famine.
The response of people was amazing. In verses 12 – 15 of Chapter 1 of Haggai, the construction of the Temple began. The faithful remnant of the people rally to support the rebuilding project of the Lord’s House, and the work began. And this is followed in Chapter 2, by the encouragement about the Future Splendour of the Temple – by the gifts that would come from all over creation and from all the rations (Isaiah 60: 6) and would result in a temple that would surpass in beauty that of King Solomon. And full restoration and renewal of the whole community of Judah will depend on the altar and worship in the temple being pure. The possibility of full renewal existed from the first day when the first stone was placed to rebuild the temple (Haggai 2: 18 – 19).
The lesson for the people of the Old Covenant was clear. They were reminded of God’s primary position over everything created. God must be Lord of all or he is not Lord at all.
The Covenant people freed from slavery into the land of promise were commanded in Deuteronomy 11: 13 – 21:
“If you will only heed his every commandment that I am commanding you today—loving the Lord your God, and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul— then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill. Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshipping them, for then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain and the land will yield no fruit; then you will perish quickly from the good land that the Lord is giving you.
You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.”
We, as people of the New Covenant face the same challenge from the Lord. Through the Death of Jesus Christ we too have been bought from the land of slavery to sin and disobedience into the land of promise. By our baptism and faith in Jesus Christ we have been incorporated into the Body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But we too may live as the returned exiles to the Kingdom of Judah. Being churlish souls stint with our contributions to the ministry and missionary endeavours, and calling such saving good economy and prudence – without ever realising that we are impoverishing ourselves. Our excuse often is that we must care for our own families and mission unit, forgetting that to neglect the whole Body of Christ (in our case the whole Diocese of York) is the sure way to bring ruin upon our own wellbeing and growing in the Holy Spirit – sadly the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit not growing in us.
It is the teaching of Holy Scripture and Holy Scripture as a whole that the Lord enriches the hilarious giver in all things and leaves the misery and tight giver to find out that withholding leads to poverty – especially of the heart, soul, mind and strength.
In a very wide sphere of observation, during fifty-eight years of walking with the Lord, I have noticed that the most generous Christians of my acquaintance have always been the most joyful and almost invariably the most possessors of abundance life – promised by our Lord in John 10: 10.
I have seen the hilarious giver raise heavenly joy which they have never dreamed of; and I have as often seen the mean and tight, ungenerous and ungracious niggardly descend into the misery of grasping which they had sought to avoid.
On the whole, people trust hilarious stewards with larger and larger sums and responsibility, and so it is frequently with the Lord; he gives by sackloads to those who give bucketfuls. Where wealth is not bestowed the Lord makes the little much by contentment which the sanctified heart experiences in a portion of which the tithe has been dedicated to the Lord. For example, in Mark 12: 41 – 44 we read:
“He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”
Please also remember the boy who had five loaves of barley bread and two fish. After the feeding of the five thousand men, in St John Chapter 6, the boy ended up with twelve baskets of the pieces left over (St John 6: 12 – 13)! Wow!
Selfishness looks first at home (ME), but godliness “seeks first the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness” (Matthew 6: 33). Sadly, in the long run selfishness is loss, and godliness is great gain. It needs faith, “as small as a grain of mustard seed” (St Luke 17: 6) to act towards the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with an open hand, but surely he deserves it of us; and all that we can do is a very poor acknowledgement of our amazing indebtedness to his goodness. He gave us all his all in his Son, Jesus Christ, and sent the Holy Spirit to live in us for ever. He loved us that much.
I thought it would be helpful for us to imagine our Diocese of York was both a circle of the Friends of Jesus Christ;
as well as TEAM C R Y (C R Y stands for the Archdeaconries of Cleveland, East Riding, York). And the goal of TEAM C R Y is to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness” (Matthew 6: 33).
And if a member of that TEAM C R Y does not play according to all of the rules of TEAM C R Y, they earn a YELLOW CARD.
And the Rules are these:
1. Prays Ceaselessly and Trustingly.
2. Worships and Witnesses in the Holy Spirit’s Power.
3. Reads the Bible daily.
4. Yields to the Holy Spirit.
5. Confesses and Repents of Sin.
6. Collaborative and Enthusiastic.
7. Gives Hilariously of Money, Talent, Time.
And the name of each Hilarious Giver and Team Player is written at the top.
On the other hand, a Tight Giver and Lone Player earns a RED CARD because this is how they play the game of “seeking first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness”.
1. Prays Sporadically and Untrustingly.
2. Worships and Witnesses irregularly – when I feel ….
3. Reads the Bible rarely.
4. Resists, Quenches, Grieves the Holy Spirit.
5. Confesses and Repents of Sin if ….
6. Collaborates with others if ….
7. Gives Tightly of Money, Talent, Time.
These two cards will now be handed out. I invite you to consider both of them seriously.
Please get up and be alone and ask the Lord to speak to you. After five minutes, in the quietness of your heart, put your name on the card which matches your self-examination. Please keep it to yourself. I will draw our time of self-examination to a close by a short reflection on Psalm 51: 10: “Lord, Renew a right spirit within me”.
- Lord, by your grace, renew my first love for you;
- I repent of the sins that drove, drive you away from my heart;
- Manifest the Holy Spirit’s energy in me;
- Blessed, Holy and Glorious Trinity, help me, in my powerlessness;
- Lord, renew a right spirit within me as you fill me with the Holy Spirit;
- Inspire my prayer life;
- Help me to live according to your Word as I meditate on it daily;
- Lord, tear down all the idols which have driven you away;
- Help me to cry daily, “Renew a right spirit within me: Fill me with the Holy Spirit.”