Truth be told, we are all rather prone to complain. In Argyll, we have always been complaining about the weather. Now we also have parking in Oban to complain about. Of course, a complaint may be justifiable. But it is all too easy to get drawn into a cycle of negativity where we do nothing but complain! That is unlikely to do us any good. Perhaps that is why the Bible calls us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thessalonians 5:17). The Christian life is a grateful life.
An amazing thing that we learn from the Bible is that God needs people to fulfil the divine purposes. And those people might be us. We know that we have made many mistakes and that there are many flaws in our character. Our whole inclination is that we should stand back and leave it to others to take responsibility. But here’s the wonder of God’s grace. No matter what our failings, no matter what our flaws, no matter what our faults, no matter what our foibles, God chooses to work through people like us.
Harvest thanksgiving might be an old tradition but it is also an urgent contemporary necessity. The earth has suffered as we have extracted its resources for short-term advantage. We need to be generous rather than grasping in the way we relate to the natural world. Exactly the same principle applies to our own spiritual prosperity. When we are mean and selfish we don’t actually benefit as a result. But when we are open-hearted and caring, our life becomes better and richer.
After a glorious summer, Argyll experienced a big storm this week. Such was the wind and rain we could imagine what it was like in the days of Noah and the great flood. With the ark and all the animals it is a fabulous story. But above all it is a story about God – God’s promise and God’s salvation. When we meet the storms of life how good it is to know that God is with us and will see us through.
The story of Cain and Abel points to something that has gone disastrously wrong in our human life and experience. At every level conflict erupts and leads to death and destruction. We know this all too well. What we are invited to discover, is that there is also in our world a movement of the grace of God. A movement that works in the opposite direction – replacing hatred with love, division with reconciliation, and violence with peace.
John Milton struck a chord when he called his great poem “Paradise Lost”. We know that the way things are is not the way things were meant to be. Somewhere in our beginnings there has been a wrong turning. There has been what is classically described as “the Fall”. There is something within us that causes us to choose the wrong path. The good news is that Christ has come to put this right.
The Christian life is a generous life. Its whole dynamic is about being turned away from self-centredness towards a focus on God and neighbour. When we come to appreciate how much God has given for us, we discover the motivation to give of ourselves. The point was captured by Isaac Watts when he wrote in a famous hymn: “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Jesus had a way of seeing things differently, of confounding prevailing expectations, of turning things on their head. He had an eye for the outsider and a realization that God often works through people who are despised and counted as worthless. When it came to the question of generosity he drew attention not to those with plenty of resources but to a poor widow who gave her all.
“It is in giving of ourselves that we receive,” said Francis of Assisi. Counterintuitive this may be but experience has proved it is true. When we realise how much God has given for us, our generosity is unlocked and giving becomes a way of life for us too. Christian giving is not something that is prised reluctantly out of us when we would rather be holding on to what we’ve got. It is the kind of giving you do when you are in love with someone and you give them first of all yourself and then everything you have.
The Bible tells us that in the human story, with all its tragedies and complications and ambiguities, God works out a great purpose of salvation. Each of us can tell our own story of struggles, tragedies and disappointments. The amazing good news is that God takes those stories and makes them part of the great divine story of love, redemption and everlasting hope. This in turn shapes our own lives so that they reflect the faithfulness and redemption that we find in God. Here is power to turn around even the bleakest of situations.