Sermon by Clare Heard, St George's Church, Sunday 25 June 2017, Trinity 2
Sermon by Clare Heard, St George's Church, Sunday 25 June 2017, Trinity 2
Why are you a Christian? Why do you come to church each Sunday? Where you do expect your Christian journey to take you?
Is our Christian life mainly about being nice to people? Is our faith a private matter between you and God? Are the possessions we have ours to own and control?
I ask these questions because if we have any such illusions, that the Christian life is comfortable, private and undemanding, the readings today blow them right out of the water.
The Old Testament passage sees the break down in relationship between Abraham and Hagar and their son, the Psalm is likewise about a servant poor and full of misery, the Epistle is about needing to be dead to sin, and the gospel passage is Jesus warning of what speaking truth can do and the impact that being a Christian can have on relationships.
In the gospel passage, Jesus is teaching his disciples how to be disciples. He is warning them of the dangers of trying to raise oneself above others, warning them that when they speak truth, they could well be faced with a sword, faced with family conflict. He is explaining to them the cost of discipleship.
And I think this is a particularly helpful passage to focus on as we struggle with recent events and the current political and economic climate.
We may be asking questions like; how do we live out our call to walk in the image of God when our country looks so messed up, when we have such strong feelings about what should be done, or not done, when we are angry at the tragedies we see, but feel so helpless, when we can’t see a way forward?
The readings we heard today help to begin to answer some of these questions and they do this in two ways. Firstly, they challenge us to expect conflict, suffering and the need for sacrifices, but then they reassure us of the love and faithfulness of God – a God in whom we can trust.
So firstly – the conflict….Have you ever noticed that when you speak a truth to someone it often doesn’t go down well? People rarely want to hear truth if it challenges their own ideas or comforts, if it wounds their pride, or simply, if it’s too uncomfortable.
We are all like that – and our first reaction to any such truth (even if we privately acknowledge it to be true) is self-defence or aggression.
Personally, I am starting to realise that if I react particularly badly to something someone says to challenge me, it’s usually because they are right, not wrong. If they are wrong, I don’t get nearly so worked up, because I am confident in my own position. If they are right, my conscience starts to play a role, I feel uncomfortable and I don’t like what is being said. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
Look at the trouble people get into when they challenge those in power. We can clearly see this in certain political dictatorships, but it can also be seen in businesses, and in any kind of system where there are those in power, who want to hold onto that power. We even see it in the church!
We are all affected by the world we live in. It is very difficult to have a position of power and not want to hold onto it. It is equally difficult to have wealth and be willing to reduce it. It is difficult to reject society’s assessment of value as based on things such as achievements, intelligence or beauty. And being a Christian does not make it easier – but it does ask us to try and follow a different path.
This is exactly what Jesus did, it’s is how he lived. He spoke the truth to people and many people didn’t like it and turned away. He encouraged people to give up their wealth and they walked away. He challenged those in power and they plotted against him and eventually killed him for it.
And make no mistake, we are his disciples – we are told to lose our life that we may gain it, we have to pick up our cross and follow him. We should expect conflict, we should expect rejection, and we should expect mess, struggle and discomfort.
Jesus statement about setting family member against family member is not made because he does not value family, or respect of elders, but because his number one priority is love of God and this will lead to differences of opinion, and inevitably a certain amount of conflict with those who have different values. Jesus’ point is that our relationship with God must be our number one focus and be the frame for all our other relationships. This is about priorities.
And when we look at the world around us, Jesus makes it very clear that our faith is not simply a private matter. We are called to take up our cross and follow him. Follow him in defending and caring for the poor and the orphan, follow him in challenging the power structures and systems that lead to the dehumanisation of parts of society, that lead to tragedies such as Grenfell, follow him in speaking truth to power wherever we can, to try and bring more of God’s love into our world.
And let’s be clear, if we are to do this like Jesus, this is not a call to a socialist revolution – remember our Trinitarian God, affirming both Unity and Diversity, remember Jesus self sacrifice and absolute refusal to force his views onto others. We are not called to impose our beliefs and views onto others, to prove that we are the ones with the truth. But we are called to not remain silent, to speak out, to show people a better way - God’s way.
This is a call to a different type of debate, a call to encourage more voices to be heard, more balance between different views, more humility in our own ideas on how to take our country forward. For those of us with strong political allegiances, it’s a call to listen and engage with other parties, acknowledging that they might have something positive to contribute, that they are not the enemy but people who also want the best for our country, even if they have different thoughts on how to do that.
This is a call to refuse to scapegoat parts of society. It’s a call to encourage all those who have (and that’s all of us by the way), to do as much of we can for those who have not. Yes, that might mean paying more tax, but it might not. It might mean spending more time building relationships with those who are different. It might mean spending more time in prayer for those who are suffering, it might mean praying for our enemies. It might mean listening more.
One of the most tragic elements of the Grenfell Tower Fire, was that the residents who raised concerns about safety had been ignored. Jonathan Wittenberg, the Rabbi who spoke at the Interfaith prayer vigil for Grenfell talks about listening as a way to love better, indeed to love at all. He writes:
“We must not become a city so separated into sub-communities divided by Ethnicity, religion, income, prospects and such different daily realities that we’ve no idea where others hurt. We must not remain a society in which, when one group cries out ‘I don’t feel safe’, the rest don’t hear, perhaps don’t even care.
“We all have the power to turn a nobody into a somebody by listening and caring.”
The gospel passage today is a call to listen to God and our communities, it’s a call to bring God’s Kingdom, God’s values here, to our own nation and our world by following Jesus, in spite of the challenges we will inevitably face.
So how can we do this? How can we find the strength to do what Jesus asks of us? Well, the passages tell us this as well. We get the strength from faith in God, from receiving the love of God, who knows every hair on our head.
But we may question:
- Do we have enough faith?
- Do we trust God enough to take risks?
- Do we love God enough to make sacrifices?
Now for most of us, the answer to these questions will probably be no, or not enough, but remember we are all on a journey. We start small, we start by praying a little, giving a little, loving a little, having a little faith.
And just like anything, if we practice, we can get better at these things. But we do need to practice – it doesn’t just happen. And we need the motivation to do this, to practice. And where do we get the motivation? The only real place is in the trust and love of God.
The Old Testament Passage and the Psalm remind us that God will deliver us, that his steadfast love is good. St Paul reminds that if we are united with Christ in death, so we are also united with him in resurrection and Jesus tells us that those who lose their life for his sake, will find it.
Motivation comes from having faith in a loving heavenly Father, from receiving that love from God, that demands to be shared, from trusting in a God who gave his only son, in order that we may live. We must be motivated by love – nothing more and nothing less.
So I ask again – Why are you a Christian? Why do you come to church each Sunday? Where you expect your Christian journey to take you?
Jesus says we must take up our cross and follow him – we can’t expect that to be easy!
The readings today ask us to take our faith into the world, to follow Christ as we speak truth, help the poor, make sacrifices, listen well and love our world as best we can.