The Gift that Changes Lives
Ordinary Sunday 25: 23rd September, 2012
Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill
Last month I went to New Zealand for a couple of days for my father's 80th birthday. It was such a blessing to be able to go and share in Dad's big celebration and catch up with my family. I'd not seen my granddaughter for more than six months so that was a particular highlight for me. Charlotte had grown up so much in that time and was walking around and chatting in her own toddler language. Her big game at the moment is "ta". She picks up some object and gives it to me. I say "ta" and then give it back to her. She then gives it back to me and so the game goes on for a very long time. It is a developmental stage as important as any other; the ability to give and receive.
Our readings today tell of what happens when we loose this child-like ability to give and receive freely. The Book of Wisdom depicts a dramatic scene of mischief-makers plotting to trip up a good person: "Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law." Likewise the Book of James delves into the darker side of our human nature: "Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts." Even in Mark's gospel we see the disciples in conflict over who is the most important. Their concern is not how to give of themselves in the gospel mission, but of what power they can get for themselves. Jesus is aware of this and takes a child: this powerless person will teach you about power. If you welcome this child you will welcome me. Perhaps we need to go back to the game of "ta" and reprioritize what is important in our lives.
This month is Stewardship Month at St Peter's, an opportunity for us all to reflect on giving and receiving as a faith community. The Stewardship envelopes are in alphabetical order at the back of church for you. If you've not already picked up yours, please do so at the end of the service. And if you don't have an envelope there, please give your name and address to the sides-people. In the envelope there is a form for you to renew your pledged giving to the parish. You may wish to order a new set of offertory envelopes or otherwise give your weekly donation by automatic payment through the ADF Diocesan giving programme. Your ongoing gift of money is of great value to the parish, and without it the ministry and outreach of St Peter's would just not be viable.
As well as the gift of money, we are asking for the gift of your time, which is equally valuable in the mission and ministry of our church. Also in the Stewardship envelope is a survey that I hope you'll fill in and return to church next week or post. The survey is structured around six mission areas that we have been looking at on Vestry and with the parish leadership:
- Incorporation & Pastoral Care
- Christian Education & Spiritual Growth
- Services to the Disadvantaged & Mission Outreach
- Stewardship of Time and Money
- Electronic Communications & Links to City of Melbourne
The intent is to develop a Mission Action Plan for the parish around these key strategic areas for growth. The plan will be presented at the AGM in November, but it will have so much more depth with your input. We can only build our mission and grow together in God's love if each member of the parish pitches in. Some of you will be able to offer more time than others, I realize that, some of you already give very generously of your time. But our hope is that there will be a role for everyone in the renewed mission of the parish. The survey is a first step along this path and I do hope you'll all take the time to fill it in and return it to church next week.
Giving is a primal thing we learn from childhood. It is the life-blood of community. It is a lesson we must learn again and again. Sometimes the gift we give quite literally change lives.
A fourteen-year-old boy had shot and killed an innocent teenager to prove himself to his gang. At the trial, the victim's mother sat impassively silent until the end, when the youth was convicted of the killing. After the verdict was announced, she stood up slowly, stared directly at him and said, "I'm going to kill you." Then the youth was taken away to serve several years in juvenile detention.
After several months the mother of the slain child went to visit his killer. He had been living on the streets before the killing, and she was the only visitor he'd had in jail. For a time they talked, and when she left she gave him some money for cigarettes. Then she started step by step to visit him more regularly, bringing food and small gifts. Near the end of his sentence, she asked him what he would be doing when he got out. He was confused and very uncertain, so she offered to help him with a job at a friend's company. Then she inquired about where he would live, and since he had no family to return to, she offered him temporary use of the spare room in her home. For eight months he lived there, ate her food, and worked at the job.
Then one evening she called him into the living room to talk. She sat down opposite him and waited. Then she started, "Do you remember in the courtroom when I said I was going to kill you?" "I sure do," he replied. "I'll never forget that moment." "Well, I did," she went on. "I did not want the boy who could kill my son for no reason to remain alive on this earth. I wanted him to die. That's why I started to visit you and bring you things. That's why I got you the job and let you live here in my house. That's how I set about changing you. And that old boy, he's gone. So now I want to ask you, since my son is gone, and that killer is gone, will you stay here with me? I've got room, and I'd like to adopt you if you let me." And she became the mother he never had.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.