“Private Jets and Ferraris”
Sunday 3 June 2018
Every now and then in life, something comes along to fill you with the sense that you have been on the wrong track for a long time. You see, I have never been very good at what is called stewardship preaching. You may be aware that since coming to St Matthew’s in February last year I have preached every Sunday except for seven. And on all of the Sundays that I have preached, I have not once asked for parishioners to give more money as their weekly offering.
But during this last week, I came across an article form the Washington Post about a televangelist whose programs reach 106 million American homes every week. That sounds like quite a lot of people doesn’t it? He must be doing something right you might think. Well this fellow, whose name is Jesse Duplantis, is currently asking his followers for $54 million so that he can buy the latest state of the art jet aeroplane to expand his ministry. He apparently already has three jets, but this one will improve his scope even further.
It has become obvious to me that if I want to grow the parish here at St Matthew’s, I should be banging on about the need for a Ferrari or a Lamborghini to help me to get around the place so I can do my work more efficiently.
Duplantis preaches what is called “the prosperity gospel”. In fact, the term is something of an oxymoron because prosperity does not have anything about itself intrinsically related to living the gospel. We can become prosperous whether we are living the gospel or not. We can struggle financially whether we live the gospel or not.
When I looked at the beautiful Psalm 139, parts of which we used for our responsorial psalm this morning, I wondered whether Mr Duplantis has ever reflected upon it.
I suspect that he might have to consider what it means that the Lord has searched him out and knows him. Mr Duplantis and his fellow prosperity gospel pals might not be that comfortable to know that the Lord discerns their thoughts from afar.
But maybe we shouldn’t put all our attention on Christians who make a large fortune for themselves out of portraying the gospel of Jesus as being about becoming fabulously wealthy to show you have God’s favour. After all, it was Jesus who said it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
Maybe we need to apply it to ourselves and to the fact that God knows each one of us so intimately that nothing of our human weakness escapes his notice. It is a sobering thought isn’t it, when we consider our own unworthiness and the various failings that dog us and realise that God knows all about it. We are able to keep this part of our sinfulness from others perhaps, but not from God.
But having said all of that, I don’t really think that Psalm 139 is all about getting us to feel badly about ourselves in the sight of God. I actually think that it has the opposite purpose.
While we could use the opening of the psalm as a wake-up call about the fact that we can’t hide our sins from God, I think that we can also interpret it as a beautiful expression of how deep and close is God’s relationship with us.
Let me read the beginning of the psalm to you again and, as I read it, try to think of it in terms of God assuring you of his intimacy and care for you.
Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
you trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.
The Psalmist expresses in the final verse of the psalm, which unfortunately we did not hear this morning, the purpose for praising the depth of knowledge and understanding that God has for us. It is not so that God can punish and drive us away. Not at all!
The psalmist writes:
Look well lest there be any wickedness in me:
And lead me in the way that is everlasting.
Like so many of the psalms, Psalm 139 seems to be able to speak to us at a special place, the place where we meet God at God’s most personal.
I have to admit that it is my favourite psalm. If you like, it is my “go to” psalm when I am in need of reassurance and comfort about the love of God for me personally. Unfortunately, we did not hear all of the psalm this morning, but it is well worth each of you getting out your Bible or Prayer Book at home and reading prayerfully through it.
In many ways, this psalm provides a strong rationale for the practice of Christian meditation. What the psalm is saying in very clear and poetic terms is that God is so very close to us. God knows everything that there is to know about each one of us. When we read that in association with other texts that talk about God dwelling within us, it makes absolutely good sense for us to sit in silence with God and allow God’s presence within us to engage with us in the most intense way possible.
The psalm also invites us to be more conscious of God’s presence and interest in us at each and every moment of our lives. This too provides us with an opportunity for another form of prayer. All that we need to do is consciously include God in the ordinary moments of our lives. We often carry on with daily living, playing self-talk tapes in our head constantly. For example, we can be thinking (and ‘self-talking in our heads”) about how much we have to do today. It requires only a simple conscious act to remind yourself that the intimate God of Psalm 139 is always and already present and your thoughts can be turned to God to help your through the busyness of the day.
So, Psalm 139. A beautiful and rich poem of God’s love for us and of the opportunities we have to engage with God and respond to that love. Pray it often and let it touch your heart.
Now getting back to the Ferrari. I think I’d like a red one!