On the very last afternoon of the school summer holidays (4th September), my husband (a teacher) and I took a last trip out together, and since we had to be in the New Forest, chose one of my childhood haunts, when my father was Forestry Commission Head Keeper for the north of the New Forest.
On this occasion my thinking was that we might see deer, and also dragonflies and damselflies. I spotted a distant mixed bunch of Fallow before we’d got off the tarmac road, and we weren’t to be disappointed by the mating Emerald Damselflies on the pond. We also found a good number of Bog Asphodel seedheads (Narthecium ossifragum), and what I take to be Oblong-leaved Sundews (Drosera intermedia) among the various wallows and valley mire areas (though you’re welcome to correct me if I’m wrong with my i.d.).
But it was the Fallow Deer that proved the most interesting to me on this occasion. It was a large group of 30-40 “small deer” as my Dad would describe them; does with fawns, and some yearlings, the prickets (yearling males) showing their first antlers. Among them were 5 melanistic (black) animals, one of which was definitely a fawn another being a mature doe. There was also a white doe, and a menil pricket.
It was a really impressive show of the range of colours that exist in the coats of Fallow Deer, and when we showed my father the photo’s later, he commented that it was the most diversely coloured herd he’d seen for many, many years.
The white deer aren’t albino, having normal coloured eyes, but do tend to have cleaves (hooves) that are paler than normal. Dad showed me a paper he co-wrote in 1975 for the British Deer Society journal ‘Deer’ (Vol 3, No7), which explains that the white deer had been in the New Forest for “a very long time” owing their origin to the historic parks north of the Forest. The black and menil deer were at that time a more recent introduction, with the Keeper of Holly Hatch recording the first black buck in 1945 from Loosehanger. The first menil Fallow was recorded by New Forest Keepers in 1965.
The records published in that report gives the Keeper’s 1974 survey as showing 63 white Fallow, 12 black and 15 menil. It would be interesting to discover what those numbers stand at more than 40 years later.
In the meantime, if you’re in the New Forest, do look carefully to see what deer you can see; only the Fallow have this colour range!
I was back in Old Basing celebrating Eucharist and preaching this Sunday, before being back on the road again next week.
The Epistle and Gospel spoke about money, at times using some quite militaristic language I thought, but also about listening to God, to Jesus’ example and instructions for living a life that helps to extend the Kingdom of God. To understand my reference early in the sermon, it will help to know that my training incumbent Fr Alec has previously served as a padre in the Guards during the Afghan conflict.
I wonder how many battles you’ve fought in your lifetime?
Some, like Fr Alec and others among you will have fought in, or at least witnessed personal, armed conflict with a dangerous aggressor.
I’ve been reading my great-uncle’s diary, written at least in part during the Battle of the Somme, and it has struck me forcibly that in battle, listening to, and passing on accurately, commands and current positions is vital; you need to know when to move forward and where to, else your battle line will not be covered by supporting fire; you need to be aware of when retreat is the only option; and you need to listen to those around you, to know where the fighting is fiercest. And if those in command are ill-informed, misdirected, or won’t listen to the wisdom of those who have seen and experienced the front line, however junior their rank, then the battle becomes an even more pointless waste of life than it was already.
Many of you will have fought other battles. Battles with various illnesses, battles to get members of your family the support they need, battles of a legal nature when things have gone wrong or accidents happened. And quite probably we have all fought a battle with money in some way.
However rich or poor we are, most of us will say we could do with a little more money. And of course there are untold millions of people in the world, for whom a little more money would make a massive difference. They’d be able to eat more than one tiny meal a day, perhaps have a roof over their head, and be able to afford to send their kids to school. They could leave behind sheer misery, and yes, probably be content with their improved financial lot.
For some people, much of their dealings with money have given rise to uncertainty and stress. Those of us who have lived through the massive fluctuations in the mortgage rates and styles of the 1980s and 1990s, or held savings in more recent financial crises, will know that money will come and go. Listening to best advice doesn’t always guarantee financial security, especially when the greed of a few jeopardises the whole financial system. But, the front line of the battle in individual families is always whether food can be put on the table, clothes on our backs, the rent or mortgage paid, and some form of transport be afforded to get us to work or school. When all is said and done, here in the western world, that is about ALL we need.
Money is NOT of itself evil. Money was a human invention to make the movement of goods and services easier; in and of itself, money is not a bad thing. But when money becomes the thing that we listen to the most, whether we desire more and more of it, or whether we’re in debt because of desiring more and more of what it can buy, then we’ve started on the slippery slope to worshipping it, and that is idolatry. Money isn’t evil. Loving it IS, as our passage from 1 Timothy 6 this morning famously points out.
Loving money, or the things it can buy, makes us greedy, and whether held individually or corporately, loving money will stop us having a generous heart, and that was the rich man’s problem in our Gospel parable from Luke 16. He couldn’t even make the effort to give the starving man at his gate the crumbs from his table. We’ve all seen images of starving people, those on our own streets and those around the world. Written in the pain of their pinched faces and the pattern of their skeletons protruding through thin, fleshless skin, is a picture of what greed can do – even when some of the cause is natural disaster. If we listen to our politicians carefully, we can hear greed in their words too, when the profits made from the sales of arms, far outweighs the increase of a few million in the aid budget to the very places under fire from those armaments!
So in the battles generated through the idolatry of money that leads to greed at a personal or national level, how do we as Christians decide who to listen to, and then how to act?
Money can come, and can go. God doesn’t. He is the constant. His is the voice of instruction that should guide us. In our parable, Abraham listens to the rich man in torment in Hades who has, too late, seen the revelry of his lounging pass away (Amos 6:7). Realising the error of his ways he wants to save his like-minded brothers. Unlike similar fables of it’s time, in Jesus version of this story, there is no happy ending but rather the stark reminder that the rich man and his brothers’ had failed to listen to the voices of Moses, and the prophets like Amos, who taught God’s law. The Law included among other instructions the requirement to enable “the alien, the orphan, and the widow” to collect the gleanings in a field and the last olives from your trees, “so that God may bless you in all your undertakings.” (Deut 24:19-20)
God has not required those who have money, or other forms of wealth, to simply give it away willy nilly. It is as possible to be a wealthy Christian, as it is to be poor one who remains financially secure. The key in battling to handle our finances with integrity as Christians, is not only to listen to wise financial advice and hope it’s at least half-right, but to listen to scriptures like those today. These scriptures, and others like them, are the battle commands we’ve been given and should lie behind all our financial dealings; to fight with our faith and our money those battles that stand for Jesus’ priorities of love, gentleness, endurance, generosity, and other good works, including feeding the hungry at our gates.
With the Foodbank, our support for Christian Aid and other charities, the occasional purchase of the Big Issue, we are caring in small ways for the Lazarus’s at our gate. But, the characteristics of love and generosity aren’t just about us behaving better towards others for our own peace of mind to show we’re better people; they are the essential requirements of being in Jesus’ army. However, it isn’t about buying our way into God’s Kingdom either, it’s about living by faith from the point that we declare for ourselves a belief in the resurrection of Christ on through our lives. We accept our place in this battle through baptism and confirmation, and we will be constantly challenged to move our financial battle lines forward making appropriate forays and sacrifices along the way, listening for the instructions both scriptural and otherwise that show us when to advance, or retreat, and where the fighting is fiercest for those around us. Those will be the places where our generosity of spirit, and our money, is needed most. There will come alive our calling to fight in Jesus’ army.
Let us pray:
Loving Lord who has given us much
We thank you for the example of generosity set us in scripture;
We repent of those times when we have not been generous.
We repent of those times when greed has made our finances precarious.
Open our eyes to the needs in the world, those on our doorstep, and those further afield,
And grant us wisdom to prioritise your kingdom in the financial decisions that we make.
I was back on the road this week, visiting two churches with contrasting services: a BCP Holy Communion in a church actively being re-ordered (there was a small digger in the nave), and a Family Communion. In the first place (Odiham) there is a theme of prayer encompassing their sermons at present, and the 1 Timothy passage lent itself to this. The Gospel on the other hand is apparently one of the hardest in the lectionary to preach on! So no pressure then!!
So, in the format in which I wrote it, with alternative starting modes for each church, and an additional ending for the second church, here is what I said. (In the second church it actually had people talking about who they were going to have to pray for, and it was really interesting who they found hardest.) Intro for Odiham (BCP):
It is not unlikely that at some point in our lives we have lent
someone money, at least if we have had any to lend. It might
have been as part of a formal agreement, or something more
informal where repayment is taken on trust, and interest may
or may not have been charged. We have almost certainly been
lent money, by a bank or building society if by no-one else; and in those circumstances, we have almost certainly been charged interest. People like a return on the money that others
use; it makes the effort and risk seem worth their while. When
we are the debtors it is wonderful if the interest on the loan is discounted. When we are creditors, it may be more difficult to
If it is not money that we have lent, we are very likely to have
committed time, talents or some other definable resource to
help family, friends, or a neighbour, and whilst we have not perhaps done so with the anticipation of being paid back in kind, there is possibly a natural expectation that in some way
the relationship will be reciprocal when we experience a time
of need or crisis ourselves. With money and goods, time and talents we have a natural inclination to expect some return on our investments. And I wonder if sometimes we anticipate the same when we pray?
Simple introduction for Upton Grey (Family Communion):
I have three bags with me today, and with the first let us
imagine for a moment that you have asked me for a loan of some money, and I lend you some. (Circulate bag of coins 2/5p) What might I expect in return?
I might also, perhaps more realistically, imagine that you have
asked me to pray for you. I can indeed give you my prayers. (Second bag of ‘Can I pray for you?’ paper slips.) What might you and I expect in return? Nothing? But plenty from God, as we trust faithfully that in some way those prayers will be answered.
Paul, in our first reading this morning, is asking us to pray
specifically for our leaders, the ones that grown ups elect into power, and those that inherit what we might view as status or wealth, as in the case of Her Majesty Queen. But why should we bother, if we don’t feel like we get any benefit in return?
In many places in scripture we are taught to pray. In the Old
Testament we are taught to “look to the Lord and his strength;
to seek his face always” (Hos 14:2). Jesus taught repeatedly
on prayer and among other things said to “ask for anything in
his name” (John 16:24), to pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44)
and of course left his disciples with what we know as the
Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). St. Paul, elsewhere in his
letters teaches by example that we are to pray with thanks for
others (Eph 1:15-21). But in our passage from 1 Tim today,
Paul is exhorting us first and foremost to pray for our nation’s
leaders and the leaders of all nations.
The temptation when we read that we are meant to pray for
our leaders, those elected and unelected, may be to think in a
similar way to that which we would about making a loan ofmoney; what will we get in return? Prayer all too easily
becomes more like trying to broker a deal with God, reminding
him that he is known as a just God, but having our own image
of what that justice should look like. If we don’t agree with the
politics and policies of those for whom we are called to pray,
this may be a particular issue and possibly put us off doing it
But if we look at this ideal in the light of Jesus’ parable about
money, perhaps it can help us in some way. In itself, it is not
an easy parable to understand, perhaps because it was not
directly aimed at us, but at the community of Israel at the time
of Jesus. He was only too well aware that it has been under
the leadership of foreign rulers for many generations, and that
a time was coming when that rule would become particularly
ruthless and hard to survive under.
Jesus was not suggesting that devious financial practices
would help them through this, but that they should as it were,
think ‘outside the box’ with regard to their financial and other
relations with those in power who control their lives, so that as
his disciples they would live to tell the tale, and the good news
of his life, death and resurrection. And, it is not after all, the only time that Jesus exhorts his followers to be shrewd, as
shrewd as snakes indeed (Matthew 10:16)!
St. Paul too has the expectation that we, with young Timothy,
will think shrewdly and laterally, but in this case about how we
pray. Paul doesn’t want our national, secular and spiritual
leaders to be an after thought behind our own more pressing
concerns, and that of our family, friends and neighbour’s. Like
Jeremiah telling the exiled people of Israel to pray for the city
of Babylon to which they had been taken, so that they will prosper within it (Jer 29:7), Paul knows that to live in peace, with godliness and dignity, requires us to pray for our leaders.
And on the world stage, I think we know only too well how much millions of other people need such peace and dignity?!
It is also about the propagation of the Christian gospel; as
ordinary people with limited power at our fingertips, we need to
live in as stable a situation as possible, so that we can thrive,
and so that the message of God’s love that we hopefully live out, can be seen as a witness to the grace of God, and the sacrifice of Christ.
The conclusion of our Gospel reminds us that money is not the
possession the master and steward regard it as in the parable;
but something whose use demands trust. In the modern world
we have to trust people with the care of our money, and whilst
that doesn’t always go as well as it might, we too are trusted
with the care of the finances of others, who place their faith in us.
And just as we need to be faithful in such secular and financial dealings, so too we are called to be faithful in the matter of prayer. God entrusts us with the ability to pray, to turn to Jesus who is our mediator and advocate with the Father, with the focus of our prayers being first and foremost those who lead, or seek to lead, the nation’s of the world, for through their decisions and actions lies the welfare of all God’s
Conclusion for Upton Grey:
And so we are left with my third bag, and the challenge held
there-in: will you pray for these, the leaders of the world? (Circulate bag of ‘leaders’ and the question, ‘Will you pray for me?)