Archives July 2007

Sermon: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Text: Luke 10:38-42

A RADICAL HOSPITALITY

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Kairos process has been with us for a few years now: that radical re-visioning of the way we do church in this diocese. Some may see its result at work in our deanery and parish in very clear ways, some may have thought of it as yet another passing fad, like the decade of evangelism (the 90s in case you missed it) which passed us by without impact. The first phase of Kairos was important, because it has brought the word radical to the lips of many in the pews who would not ordinary use the word; and when given the opportunity through prayer and reflection find themselves, perhaps surprisingly, calling for a radical approach to our challenges and problems. Kairos is not a past, passing phase, but moves into new and exciting areas which will have great impact on us here in Elson.

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us into doing some radical living, if we are truly listening. The Gospel calls us right into the middle of life—true life that brings the Kingdom of God down to all of us, so that we all can celebrate God’s goodness and concern for us all.

Yes, statements like the one above come from reading, hearing, and making sincere attempts at living out today’s Gospel passage from Luke—the hospitality of Martha and Mary. In this passage of Scripture, we are called to be open to doing some very radical work in the world in a simple gesture of hospitality.

All of us, I am sure, have been invited into the homes of friends, and have entertained friends in our own homes. Think for a moment, if you will, of going to the house of good friends who have truly made you welcome.

They say to you, “Make yourself at home.” And they truly mean it. All of you gather around a table or a meal of fellowship, and laugh and talk. You share old times, talk about what’s going on in the world today, share joys, speak of disappointments—connect. When the experience is over, we leave those friends with a great sense of richness both for them and ourselves. You and they have heard and experienced much. And because of our sincere openness we have learned much about one another, engaged with other human beings, and because of that we can face the world. We have had a community-building encounter.

Then there are those friends who are quite fussy about all that has to be done. Every “doily” on the table must be just right. And while we may appreciate the care, how much nicer things would if they were to let go of their hang ups and just be real.

Jesus visits Martha and her sister Mary. We experience right away the two different kinds of host mentioned in the above examples: Martha who is doing her “role” and Mary who is caught up in the happenings—no doubt learning something new and experiencing true joy in the process. Martha even complains to Jesus. Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?

Poor Martha—both literally and figuratively! She is poorer having missed out on the conversation by being caught up in the business of task, of preparation.

Martha is not some kind of villain or awful person in this story. She is simply all of us in the many areas of our lives. Mary has chosen the better part. She has sat, listened, and heard just as we have done with our friends. She will never be the same again.

Busy-ness does not allow for us to be open and be well. It can be the fatal element in our lives that keeps us hung up so that we may well “miss the boat,” and miss the point of the preparation experience. There are times when the essentials of hospitality and thoughtfulness are all that matter.

The Mass is the most special meal of all, each sacrifice is hosted by Our Lord Jesus Christ, made present in bread and wine on this altar, and that does require thought and preparation; but at the heart of it is the need to pause a while and encounter. In the stillness of our hearts, it is the proximity of the holy and sacred mysteries which feed and sustain our Christian lives and which enable us to look beyond this holy table and be busy about God’s work in Society at large.

This holy meal is the genuine and open home. Our preparation and hospitality should be at it most sincere, but our hearts, minds, and spirits must be so open that the trappings don’t hang us up. Hospitality must reign in such a way that the stranger will know that he or she is welcome at the table. The stranger, along with everyone else, will know what it is to hear the whole story that we tell of Jesus at the Table.

We are called to make the door of our home—the church—wide open to all. We are to invite all: those with tattered finery; those older; those younger; those female; those male; of different sexualities and positions on the Ordination of Women; those who are well physically and those who live with physical challenges.

In the process, with all at the table, we will hear much and learn much. The Kingdom will come down many times over, and we will realize that we have chosen the better part, and because of our hospitality we will never be the same again.

AMEN.


Sermon: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Texts: Luke 10:25-37; Colossians 1:15-20
“Go and Do Likewise”

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

I occasionally visit the Internet; and find it a fascinating source of information, news, entertainment and occasionally something useful. However, the website stupidlaws.com is not one of them, unless you are looking for real life examples of stupid laws from around the world.

For example, did you know that

• In Arkansas in the USA, a man can legally beat his wife, but not more than once a month.
• In Chester, you can only shoot a Welsh person with a bow and arrow inside the city walls and after midnight (so we’d better both Kelly Broster and Shirley Southerd!)
• In the State of Oregon, Ministers of Religion are forbidden from eating garlic or onions before delivering a sermon (check breath – I think we’re all right this morning)
• Apparently if Florida it is illegal to have sex with a Porcupine. Best just move on and not comment on that one, I think.
• Throughout this green and pleasant land, all Englishmen over the age of 14 are required to undertake at least 2 hours of archery practice a week, to be supervised by the local clergy; so if you’d all like to come with me…

You hear of some laws and wonder what led to the introduction of them, who or what they were pitched against and why no-one has bothered to repeal them, other than to give us something to amuse ourselves with on a Sunday morning.

I have a friend who works at Portsmouth Magistrate’s Court and he repeatedly tells me that at the magistrate’s court they administer the law, not justice; as though in recognising that the law and justice can be quite different beasts entirely. At times, the law appears to be a mockery of itself.

But for the Jews in Our Gospel this morning, there was no such ambivalence. The Law was good, it was sweet, it was a delight. The Jew lived for the observance of the Law. For them, it came from God, not from human beings, and God’s commands could not be subject to argument. They demanded all the heart, all the soul, all the might.

The inspired writer of Deuteronomy reports that God told his people that this word, the Word of the Law, was very near to them — in their mouths and in their hearts.

For centuries the struggle to observe the Law kept the people of Israel and Judah focused on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The prophets in their midst, reaching the highest understanding of God, recognized that obedience was the best sacrifice one could offer to God.

Still, the struggle to observe the minutiae of the Law continued. The outward observance of the Law was always easier and certainly more obvious to those who watched others in order to judge them. And the people who paid attention to appearances were content to think of themselves as righteous.

Into this preoccupation with the externals of the law, steps Jesus, an acknowledged teacher and healer, a rabbi who talks of God and God’s kingdom as no one else has done, and he confounds them:

• If someone sick comes to him on the Sabbath, he does not hesitate to heal that person.
• If a woman who is an outcast, a Canaanite, asks him to heal her child, he listens to the prayer of the foreigner and heals her child.
• He does not keep himself aloof from tax collectors, even though he is equally at home with proper, respectable people.

He doesn’t seem to care too much for the outward niceties of the Law. He tells them clearly that the Sabbath (the law) was made for the people, not the people for the Sabbath (the law).

Many are highly offended, and scared: What will happen if that which we know as right collapses? How can we know the righteous from the unrighteous if we cannot judge obedience to the Law from outward appearances?

They don’t want the security of the familiar to disappear. They will have to think for themselves, and that is a challenge for many people.

Others are very attracted to this young prophet who, instead of bringing gloom and doom, is filling Galilee and its surroundings with his loving presence. They want to know his secret. They want to have what he has — a peace that comes only from close, daily communion with God. They want to enter, to inherit the kingdom of heaven. So they come to Jesus to ask him. We have several such instances in the Gospels. This one, in Luke, brings forth one of the most beautiful stories ever told, that of the Good Samaritan.

In Luke’s story, it is a lawyer who asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus who respects the scriptures of his people refers the inquirer to what he, being a lawyer must know — the Mosaic Law. The lawyer answers correctly with what the Jews called the Shema, from “Hear oh Israel,” and the magnificent words about loving God with our whole heart, soul and mind and our neighbour as ourselves. Jesus tells him that his answer is correct. “Do this and you will live.” But the man finds a stumbling block in the last part “and your neighbour as yourself.” And asks the question, “Who is my neighbour?”

In the story that we all know and love, Jesus tells to illustrate his answer, the wounded man is bypassed by two of the most respectable, religious representatives of the community, a priest and a lay assistant.

They pretend they don’t see the dying man. It is easier to pretend not to see, much less bother. They are both so busy; their hands are clean, their clothes proper, they must not be soiled with blood and mud.

It is easier this way; we don’t need to have our time taken up by unexpected distractions — better not to dirty our hands and clothes — we are respectable people.

We might want to reflect on all the victims we have bypassed in our lifetime: and how we might seek to redress that.

But the Samaritan, the known outcast, is not bothered by outward niceties. He stops and offers help — the kind of help that takes responsibility, that is not here today and gone tomorrow.

He takes the victim to the inn, he treats the wounds with his own hands, he stays with him through the night, he pays the bill, and he comes back to check on him.

“Which one of the three, do you think, was a neighbour?” The answer is, “The one who showed him mercy.” “Go and do likewise,” is the simple command of Jesus. Do likewise, show mercy.

The bearing of fruit was the Jewish idea of doing good, of showing mercy.

St. Paul’s teaches the Galatians to leave the enslavement of the minutiae of the Law behind and to feel the freedom that comes from God’s grace through Jesus Christ. It is impossible for us to observe the Law on our own, he tells the Galatians. But Jesus has freed us from enslavement to outward rules and regulations. We now walk in the light of freedom.

With the power and grace of God through Jesus Christ we can indeed go out and do likewise, show mercy to our neighbours, bear fruit.

In the another part of Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, the emphasis shifts to the bearing of fruit.
“. . . so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.”

It is a good thing to remember, to take with us as we leave this place today — the vision of the Good Samaritan, the words of our Lord:

“Go and do likewise,” the exhortation to the Colossians: “Bear fruit in every good work.”

These laws are not stupid, these laws are not outdated or anachronistic, but are the fundamentals of society, a timeless truth and an eternal justice: My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have the instruction: Go and do likewise

Amen.


Sermon – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Text: Luke 9:51-62

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Stopping on an almost deserted road in the wilderness of Ireland, I leaned out of the car and asked the farmer standing by the gate – “how do I get to Dublin?”

“Well Sorr, if I was goin’ to Dublin, I wouldn’t be starting out from here”

However, we seldom have the opportunity to choose our starting places on life’s journey, we have to make the best of where we’re at and travel in faith and hope. This morning, we consider the journey that Our Lord begins towards Jerusalem; a journey towards the Cross and towards the victory that is our salvation.

The disciples never had an easy discipleship; for every time that they thought they had got this discipleship thing cracked, Our Lord challenged them, undermined their cosy assumptions and brought them closer to an understanding of what it really means to be a Christian. Frequently we read in the holy scriptures about how they started from completely the wrong place, but through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, they reached the final, blessed destination.

This morning’s reading tells us that “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” The Original Greek is much more descriptive, and older translations render it as “He set his face towards Jerusalem”: You can probably imagine the look: fixed eyes on the horizon, the jaw firmly set, a steely determination in the eyes.

On their journey, they were to encounter much apathy, much hostility and much to challenge them. A good example is the encounter with the Samaritan village. There was no love lost between Samaritans and Jews. The Samaritan town’s refusal to receive Jesus was the result of centuries of ethnic and sectarian division, truly the modern Holy Land has learnt very little from history.

The response was also typically modern: James and John, to whom Jesus had given the nickname “Sons of Thunder” want to respond with violence: heavenly violence, and the destruction of the village, by the calling down of fire from heaven: the Biblical equivalent of Cruise Missiles, perhaps. They thought that would please Christ, and would please His Father.

But their request was not pleasing to God, or to His Son. His holy desire was not to blast them from the face of the earth, but as the Prophet Ezekiel says, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32).

Christ came to earth to save lives, not destroy them; to heal, not aggressively crush.

And so Jesus turns and walks on, giving the people of this region another chance on another day. He walks on, after a firm rebuke to the disciples; they are wrong-footed, challenged once more and brought closer to understand what it means to be a Christian.

We are all engaged on a Spiritual Journey: just as Christ was now heading towards Jerusalem, so we are heading towards the New Jerusalem, the heaven on earth promised to us in the book of Revelation. When ever I think that I understand what discipleship means, what being a Christian means, or even, heaven forbid, priesthood, or incumbency in the Church of England means, I find that I am challenged, and Jesus Christ and his Gospel is there to challenge me, to wrong-foot me and to bring me to a closer understanding of the Christian life.

We need therefore to realise that following Christ on His walk towards Jerusalem requires something special from us: most especially Commitment and Faith.

Commitment, because no one ever said that this journey would be easy: Christ indeed told his followers that they would be rejected, that they would have to pick up their cross and follow Him; when times are hard, and prayer is a chore rather than a delight, and when the pressures and temptations of the world just feel that bit too distracting, then I am reminded by this morning’s lesson that Christ understands this, and that he promised us no less; and I feel my commitment renewed.

It is very easy, especially in such supportive, positive surroundings as this to affirm our commitment to Christ, to be part of the crowd of witnesses, and to go with the majority; but when Christ says “Follow me”, and the times are more difficult, the circumstance less convivial, and the people in the pub or at work, less understanding, I find myself identifying more with the man who wants to bury his Father first. The phrase “to bury one’s Father” is middle-eastern slang, and means to see off one’s responsibilities, to do the decent thing first. Christ asks for a little more than duty and the decent thing: he asks for everything.

The dead, He says, can bury their own; for Commitment to this journey, is more important, more pressing than ‘the decent thing’. It is, we are assured, much harder. This commitment, asked of us by Christ, is for real.

The journey also requires Faith, the well-spring which sustains us on our journey: it is the faith which was kindled in the apostles, and passed down through the ages in the body of the Church and it is Faith which we give thanks for with this morning’s Eucharist: Faith which nourishes, faith which guides and helps us through this journey.

I am speaking of the Faith which we need to nurture both in ourselves and within others, a faith which looks outwards and spreads throughout our community; a faith which needs to challenge the threats to it from outside: from the secular world, and from the ever-encroaching sectors within the church which seek to dilute the true Catholic Faith.

On our journey, we may encounter a great number of challenges, much apathy, and even some hostility, much as the disciples did; it is a long and arduous journey, and one which can only be achieved through Commitment and with Faith.

In our vision day, we spoke much about getting people through these doors, but little about Mission. If we do not engage in mission –each and everyone of us- then the Gospel message will be lost and countless souls in this place will be lost. I do not mean getting out a soapbox, distributing leaflets, knocking on doors, but the mission of companionship, the evangelism of kindness, the sharing of a journey, the engagement of “come and see what God can do for you”. It might mean rejection, it might mean a move out of our comfort zones, but that my dear friends is what the Gospel calls us to. Even if we risk it blowing up in our faces, at least we will have died trying to do God’s will on earth – notice that even the disciples had a hard time of it.

So, sometimes, when we in our anger and our less-than-Christian moments want to call down fire from heaven, and perhaps wish the destruction of our own, personal, Samaritan villages, it is right that Christ stops and rebukes us and with that rebuke in our ears we can turn gladly on our journey towards Jerusalem following our Lord and Saviour with that commitment, and this faith.

“I wouldn’t begin my journey from here Sorr”, but then again, would any of us given the choice; it is perhaps more important therefore for us to journey with Christ, and have faith in the final destination. Amen.