And the things you have prepared; whose will they be?

Fr Alec
Sunday, August 4, 2013 - 9:30am

Why are we here? I am not asking a big existential question, at least not yet. Rather why are we here today in church, rather than shopping, or watching TV, or lying in bed?  It’s a dangerous question to ask, even rhetorically, because it may provoke the response

‘I was just asking myself the same question.’

But I suppose that once we’ve crawled past the witty responses about the shops being shut, and nothing on telly, we may reach the decision that we are here to Worship God.

Now the word ‘Worship’ comes from the Old English ‘weorthe’, the same as our word ‘worth’. We are here to declare what God is worth to us: To show that the Lord is ‘worthy’ of our peeling ourselves out of bed on a Sunday morning and coming here to offer him praise.

Similarly we show affection to those whom we love in the same way. Not just by telling them so, but pre-eminently by showing them through the care that we take of them. In the marriage service, husband and wife declare ‘with my body, I thee worship.’

Worship is concerned with finding value in something, and with demonstrating that. But value can be placed in the wrong things, and this we call idolatry.

I have an aunt, who, for a long time now, has lived on her own, and within the family has developed something of a reputation for eccentricity. Perhaps her strangest foible, however, is that she will not throw anything away.  This kind of hoarding has attracted the attention of documentary makers on a number of occasions, and you may well have seen on television how those who practice hoarding end up in houses stacked high with what is essentially rubbish.

This is how my aunt lives. She has room upon room stacked high with newspapers dating back decades, each of which has articles highlighted which she means one day to read. Video tapes are piled up to the ceiling with recordings of programmes she could never hope to watch even if she lived to be a hundred, and never did anything else. One must squeeze through her front door past rubbish which has been kept for no other reason than that it may one day be useful. Though the family has made several attempts to help her clear up, she becomes too angry and distressed to let anything go.

It is a very sad situation, and one which I think has a close bearing on our gospel for today. You see, I don’t think that my aunt is a greedy woman. In many ways she is a humble woman who gets by on very little. I don’t think she is driven by acquisitiveness so much as by fear: Fear of letting things go. Fear of missing out on something. Fear of not having what she needs when she needs it.

In a way she is the victim of a greedy and acquisitive culture, whereby we throw away as much as we bring home. A municipal dump is always a rather tragic place because one always finds skips piled high with perfectly good belongings which have been thrown away either because they are out of date, or because they are broken in some trivial way, and it is cheaper to replace them than to mend them.

It seems to me that hoarding is a kind of rebellion against this profligate waste. It has something almost quixotically noble about it. The hoarder is saying

‘While there is still some use to be found in this, I will not let go.’

The problem comes when the hoard is not, cannot be put to any use. All this stuff- What is it for? Whose will it be?

And this is my point, the value of anything comes from it use. William Morris, I think it was that said you should allow nothing into your home which you neither know to be useful nor think to be beautiful. Everything has its own purpose, and its own value that arises from that purpose. Yet greed, covetousness, acquisitiveness, ends up gathering things for their own sake, or for ends for which they were not intended.

St Basil the Great said that the bread in our cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging unused belongs to the one who needs it, the shoes rotting in the closet belong to the shoeless, and the money that we hoard belongs to the poor. This is a statement about the purpose of things. Bread is for meeting hunger, Clothes for covering nakedness, Money is for answering need. For each of us with plenty there are many more with nothing.

So it is that we return to the original question: ‘Why are we here?’ This time in the broadest sense. What is our purpose? What are we directed towards? Yet the answer, I suspect, is the same: the Worship of God. Because where else can we place value in life? In the objects that we will leave behind us? In the achievements that will fade? They may have a passing value for us now, but looked upon from a heavenly perspective they must seem like so much junk            crowding up our lives. Only God will remain when everything else has passed away.

The word from the bible that we translate as worship is latreia, which means something like service. Our purpose is to serve, and if we are fully to serve the God who took flesh and dwelt among us, then we will do so by serving those who bear his image, by serving one another. This very day, this very hour, our soul is being demanded of us, and all these things that we have prepared, whose will they be? Now is the time to choose.