• Susan Bowden-Pickstock

Rev'd Susan's sermons: Value

This sermon was given in Harston Church on Passion Sunday in early April 2022.


From the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, chapter 43, verses 18-19

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

From St Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi, chapter 3, verses 4-14

Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of… the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as nothing, in order that I may be one who comes to faith in Christ… to know the power of his Resurrection...


Sermon

I wonder, if you do an inventory of everything both in your house, and in your life, what is valuable? There was a very interesting exhibition at the Fitzwilliam a few years ago called Treasured Possessions – and I was really intrigued to see what was of the most value to people in different eras.


Minimalism came in as a concept to interior design here in the UK in the 1990’s, just as we were having our family. We chuckled at how ridiculous a concept it was for those with a family home, but it has not ever gone out of fashion - because a sense of external spaciousness is seen to benefit one’s internal sense of spaciousness.


If you were to do a de-cluttering exercise, what would be kept?


About 6 or 7 years ago my sister’s beautiful Tudor thatched cottage was basking in the last sun of a late Spring evening. Just as she and her family were about to sit down to supper, her husband went to close the henhouse. As he came back up the garden, he saw a thin spire of smoke coming up from the roof above their sitting room. By the time the others came out to see what he had seen, a whole section of roof was alight.

They called the fire brigade, who responded within fifteen minutes, and on arrival called for back-up until thirteen fire crews were working on the cottage. They took the good thatch and threw it into the garden so it could not catch. It was piled 6 foot high in loose heaps filling the space. The crews all worked on different parts of this L shaped building for 6 or 7 hours. At the end, the short section of the ‘L’, the kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms had survived. The rest of the house burnt down so that the vertical timber beams were just stumps above the floor.


Some of the firefighters went in at the beginning and rescued pets and papers and things of value, but they only had minutes in which to do that. My nieces lost all their clothes, and their bedrooms were unrecognisable. Fortunately, everyone in the family, including the pets, was rescued.

Our son has just been accepted by the fire service; he starts his basic training at the beginning of May. Perhaps he’ll be able to tell me whether they are given instructions on what to bring out, if they are able to do so. Are they trained to recognise what is of value?


We find ourselves now at the 5th Sunday of Lent, and we enter Passiontide, where we begin to walk the road with Jesus, that road of the last few days of his human life on earth


Adrian G.R. Scott - see: https://adriangrscott.com/poetry/ - has written a poem about value:


How would it feel if, out of the darkening grey

of dusk-fall clouds

as they lower themselves onto the backs of the hills, an unseen hand reached down and removed, at a stroke everything

that makes up the minutes of your life

and left you in the stripped yearning of a bare night?


And then in the cold initiatory shiver of a new dawn,

that same hand returned your life to you in discrete items,

like clothing on hangers and shoes in boxes?


What would you choose to keep for that expedition we call our life,

and more important, what,

finally, would you choose to leave behind?


Lent this year has coincided not only with the ongoing pandemic, but with the conflict in Ukraine. We have walked the way of the cross with Ukraine, and we have experienced anew what the way of the cross is. That pared-down existence, making difficult choices as to what is fundamentally important and what can be left behind.


Surely, we cannot not watch and read of the particular devastation; not listen to Ukrainians telling their story of leaving everything behind them, of seeing their history and heritage and identity being smashed to rubble, and of burying men, women and children entirely innocent of the savagery that has been wreaked upon them - because if we did not do this we would be turning our backs on them.


The way of the cross is very pared-down; it is disturbing; it is not comfortable. Equally, there is no doubt that St. Paul, having had his Damascus Road experience, his own powerful tornado. Then centred his entire life around the person of Jesus. That too is a Lenten challenge for us. ‘Whatever earthly gains I have (Paul says), I regard everything as loss. I regard them as rubbish.’ Paul, not living in a consumerist society in the modern definition of that, did not even talk about material stuff in his litany of value. He was also willing to put aside heritage, status, education, religious participation and work in order to walk closer to Jesus.


We need to walk with the Ukrainian people, and the other peoples of the world equally disturbed and hounded by conflict, famine, disease and injustice. If we are going to understand the value of what we gain, and what is valuable, the way of the cross lends us a perspective. The way of the cross is pared-down-ness, but it is a way of solidarity with none other than God himself, in the company of others who suffer, in this broken world.


What would you choose to keep for that expedition we call our life,

and more important, what,

finally, would you choose to leave behind?


A Prayer Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do also for you. May we learn this lesson of value, and help us to live with all those you give us, that we might be the fragrance of kindness and love here and always. Amen.



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