Brixton Hill, 5 August 2001


Walking the Walk




ďSet your minds,Ē says St Paul, ďon things that are above, not on things that are on earth.Ē


ďSet your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.Ē


And in our Gospel reading, Jesus says: ďBe on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.Ē


ďLife does not consist in the abundance of possessions.Ē


Well, thatís it, really, isnít it!What else does one say?


But, of course, I canít really stop there.These readings, and others like them, are the crunch point of Christianity, really; where what you say you believe meets what you really do believe.Where what you believe has to affect how you act, who you are, what sort of person you are.


Some people, I know, take Jesusí and Paulís words so literally that they donít even take out insurance, believing that to show a lack of faith in God.Others, on the other hand, live their lives in such a way that you wouldnít, to look at them, know that they believed in God at all.


It is, I suppose, a question of balance.


Material Possessions


After all, we donít want to live in such a way that we put people off learning to know Jesus, do we?We donít want them to think that the standards we live by are impossibly high, and that to become Jesusí person, they would need to give up much that makes life sweet!But on the other hand, if our lives are not distinctively different, if what we say we believe doesnít actually make any difference to the way we live, what does that say about our faith?Far better to let our lives speak for themselves.


So, then, what are we to be like?Well, for a start, and this is emphasized in both our readings, not too attached to material possessions.This is difficult, in this day and age.Our children lose status at school if they do not have the currently fashionable clothes and shoes, and, increasingly these days, they lose out academically if they donít have the ability to access the Internet, and all it provides, from home.They lose out socially if they canít discuss the television programmes that their peers all watch.And so on.We, too, may suffer in similar ways at our places of work.It doesnít matter so much for us, but we do mind for our children.


But there is a difference between having nice things and being enslaved by them.We will give our children the best we can afford, of course we will, because we love them.And God will give us of His best, too, because He loves us.But the point is, to get our priorities straight.These things mustnít be more important than God to us.I know some people who insist they canít afford to tithe their income Ė that is, to give God ten pence of every pound they earn.But that is the Biblical norm, and the Bible tells us that it is robbing God to withhold it.And yet people say they canít afford it!That, to my mind, is putting too much emphasis on material possessions.


Quite apart from that, though, there is a danger that, like the man in Jesusí story, we will focus too much on material things.He was obsessed with getting rich, to the point that he totally neglected the spiritual side of life, which did him a great deal of no good when he was required to answer for his soul.Here in Britain, we are supposed to work harder than any other European nation, and, incidentally, have the highest paid chief executives, and the lowest-paid floor workers.And many people nowadays do seem to work horrendously long hours, feeling that they have no choice.But is it really worth neglecting your marriage, perhaps missing out on a lot of your childrenís lives?I donít think so!We are better to turn round and say ďNo!Ē to excess demands on our time.Obviously, every job has its emergencies, its occasions when you do have to work long hours, but if it is becoming habitual, then maybe it is time to stop and to wonder whether you are not putting material possessions above your family.


Other Behaviour


Jesus talks only about greed, but St Paul lists it as just one of many things we need to avoid: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry), and from our speech anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.And lying.Paul is saying, basically, that whatever we were like before, now we are Christís, and Christís people donít behave like that.


Well, we donít, do we?Or do we?Itís very easy to think we behave as we think Christians ought.We never steal, do we?But how honest are we, do you suppose?What about that stamp or envelope you ďborrowedĒ from the office last week without permission?What about that day you took off, saying you were ill, when really you were just feeling like what the Americans call a ďduvet dayĒ.Itís fine if your firm allows that kind of thing, as many do.


Or if you arenít working, are you sure you are scrupulously honest about what benefits you claim?Itís all too tempting to claim that to which we are no longer entitled.And, of course, if you are the employer, would you pay someone in cash, if you suspected they were claiming social security on the sly?


Really, itís horrendously difficult to be totally, utterly honest.And sometimes itís not very nice if we are.I mean, is it really kind to tell someone you know is desperate to lose weight that yes, their behind does look big in that?And how often have we concealed our first, and honest, reaction to the hideous tie that Aunt Jemima saw fit to give us last Christmas?


I rather think that we need to be sensible.We must be totally and utterly honest about ourselves.That, of course, is what confession consists of, isnít it?Itís about being honest with ourselves and with God about what we are like, the kind of person we are.If we know we are greedy, we have to acknowledge it, and ask Godís help to overcome it.And so on.


And then there is the whole minefield of sexual morality, and I donít even want to go there!All the same, are we quite sure that we act as we should in Internet chat rooms?


And what about all that malice and slander that Paul talks about?How often do we repeat stories about other people, without first ensuring that they wouldnít mind?Do we really keep to the rule of not saying anything behind someoneís back that we wouldnít say to their face?What, all the time?


And so it goes on.It really isnít easy to live the way we are expected to.


And yet, and yet.There really does need to be something distinctive about our lives.And itís not something we can force, either.I think itís something we have to allow to grow.


God In Us


The thing is that we arenít required to be perfect.Our salvation doesnít depend on what sort of person we are, on whether we obey Paulís words literally, on how lacking in attachment to material possessions we are.And we are not going to be condemned for failing to obey the rules Ė Paul makes that very clear indeed.


But it still matters.What we believe ought to affect the way we live, or what is the point in believing?I donít want to have to face God saying to me, ďBut how did people know you believed?You didnít behave like a believer?Ē


But itís not something we can force.If we try to force it, we will become joyless and legalistic, trying to impose our way of being on other people, not allowing any fun in life at all.


No, what we must do, I think, is to remember that all this is a consequence of the fact that, as St Paul says, ďYou have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.ĒNow, I donít pretend to understand in the slightest much of what Paul means by that, but I do know that it means I can leave most of this stuff up to God.I have to try, but let God do the doing.I have to be willing for God to change me, for God to point out any bad habits I have Ė even now, after thirty years as His person, God still has a nasty tendency to point out some of my bad habits!


I have to be honest with myself, and with God.When I fail Ė and of course I fail, so do you, so do all of us Ė I need to be willing to admit it, and to admit that without Godís help I shall go on failing.


And I have to be willing to sometimes be inconvenienced.Jesus reminded us to be on our guard against all kinds of greed, and sometimes that includes selfishness, as well.Maybe Iíd rather not miss that programme on television to chat to you when youíre in trouble Ė but maybe God needs me to do so!




So, then, brothers and sisters, we must be aware that faith involves more than just lip-service.Itís not just about saying we believe; itís about doing what we believe.Itís about walking the walk, not talking the talk.But we must be aware, too, that in our own strength weíre not going to get anywhere.We need to rely on God to help us to integrate our faith into our lives, and to help us work it out in practice.Because, as St Paul reminds us, our new self is being renewed all the time.


But it all takes time.Donít despair if you arenít the person you would like to be yet, as long as you are willing to become that person, even if it does mean personal inconvenience for you.Just go on trusting God, and go on being willing.


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