Taking Stock

Isaiah 49:14-15; 1 Corinthians 4.1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

Any retail business needs to carry out a stock-take on a regular basis, to evaluate as accurately as possible what stock the business holds. A stock-take will assess the quantity of stock held in relation to sales, and see how they match up. A stock-take might reveal that stock has been pilfered. It may reveal that too much is being held. It may give warning that profits will go down. I knew of a pub which had a manager who never paid for a drink for himself or his friends, and he liked to be generous. You might have thought a stock-take would be an anxious time for him, but he never worried because the pub always had the best stock-take in the group  because the staff were told to water down the lime cordial, up the prices of soft drink and mixers, and serve the beer with foaming heads, so that for every ten pints sold they made one.

For the Christian, Lent is a time for us to take stock honestly.  It is a time for us to look at where we are in our Christian lives, and see where we are lacking.

In the first reading, the Israelites complain that God has abandoned them. Isaiah was writing at the time of the exile to Babylon. The chosen people of Israel had lost the promised land and they had been taken off in captivity. It is no surprise that they felt abandoned.

God reminded them he could no more forget them than a mother her baby. The relationship of God and Israel is like that of a parent and a wayward child. Our relationship with him is rather similar. Jesus sums this up supremely in the parable of the prodigal son. God does not go away; it is we who go away from him.

When life is going well, or we are distracted we may feel we have less need of God. But when the trials of life assail us, is our faith strong enough to withstand them? Can we share the wonderful assurance of the psalmist: "God is my rock, my stronghold, he is my fortress, I stand firm."

How firm is our faith? How can we take stock of it and how it relates to our lives ?

First we might look at what holds us back.

Are we in control of our bodies, our appetites or are we slaves to them? Lent is the time to give up something. Unlike impossible New year’s resolutions, to be kept for the rest of our lives, a Lent vow is there for a limited period of 40 days, every day from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day, with Sundays off.  In this decadent age, it is good discipline to go without something we enjoy. We may even make life-changing habits. I gave up smoking for good following on from a Lent vow. But it does not need to be food or drink. Inspired by a lady who once gave up moaning, I intend to give up being negative for Lent, and hopefully stop myself from becoming a grumpy old git! 

Secondly, Lent is a time to look at what we might give away.

Jesus warns us not to be slaves to money. We cannot be the servant of both God and money. Lent is a time to be rather more detached from our money, to see the good that it can do for others rather than ourselves. We are therefore supporting the water bore hole project for Kalkokwo in Uganda again. Hopefully Whitefriars School will raise the money they need for them this year. How wonderful it will be if these villagers have water on tap, and not have to walk miles for it.

Thirdly Lent is a time to think what we might take on.

 Do you feed your soul? Are you reading the Bible regularly, have you taken up the Bible reading plan which you can start any time? Are you taking the time to pray, if only for a few minutes each day? It is vital for the Christian to keep in touch with God, the simple ways are usually the best. Our church offers all manner of ways in which to feed your spiritual life and help you get closer to God. And in our Lent groups, inspired by the parable of the sheep and the goats, we will be putting ourselves in the shoes of our others and looking at the Christian response to homelessness, poverty, imprisonment and sickness.

St Paul says that we are  stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. The steward is obliged to care for what is in his trust. Our faith is entrusted to us by God but we must take stock to ensure that we are properly nurturing it.

Jesus tells us to set our hearts on the kingdom of God, to concentrate first of all on what is most important. If we can do that, then everything else will fit into place. When we build our lives on the rock, what is unimportant will surely trouble us less.