Sermon for Epiphany 3 – 2016
1 Corinthians 12: 12-31
‘Only connect . . .’
Well the past days have seen the church in a degree of turmoil over the issue of the day . . . the date of Easter. And I for one am glad that at last the churches of the west are getting their act together over this – after all it is SO annoying and disruptive the way the date keeps changing – every year we’re thrown into chaos as we panic about the date of Easter – especially in a year like this when it is so early which means we’re only just off our summer holidays and Ash Wednesday is nearly upon us – February 10 if you were wondering – how will we get everything in good order by then!!!! . . . Well as my son continually has to remind me ‘Dad, you know that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit . . .’ . . . but, then, we all have to start somewhere . . . :-)
Actually I must admit to a degree of agreement with our Orthodox brothers and sisters in this regard – who understand it as I believe it is, another example of the capitulation of the western church to the spirit of modernity (whilst having the decidedly un-modern humility to acknowledge that even if they thought it were a good idea to fix the date, there is no way they could agree amongst themselves :-) ) The ability to laugh loud and long at oneself is surely a sign of the Kingdom of God :-) And perhaps the greatest sign of the sin which Modernity drags us into is that of taking ourselves way too seriously. I remember some years ago when I got myself into a terrible mess, speaking to my brother about how I was dealing with it – and he stopped me, saying, hang on, You got yourself in the mess, what makes you think that you can get yourself out of it . . . and thanks be to God, I laughed :-) But modernity which is the ‘death of God ‘ culture writ large is all about humans ‘building a better world’ . . . Please. Give me a break :-)
During this season of Epiphany, we have come back again and again to the ‘Modern’ perspective on reality – where ‘this is this’ and ‘that is that’ and there is no sharing in existence – AND the sacramental understanding, which understands that everything is somehow bound together, and shares in existence. That at a personal level, my life has no meaning apart from others – ‘no man is an island’ as John Donne reminds us – and that at the level of the wider creation – all things co-inhere, hold together. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us . . . Jesus Christ, in whom all things hold together . . .’ This fixing of the date of Easter is a Very Modern move and I find it very troubling, indeed I see it in terms close to horror, on three counts – ‘separating out’ this from this, or ‘that from that’.
For it is a triple disconnection. Firstly, but not necessarily most importantly, the date of Easter is fixed by the lunar cycle – by the moon. I have spoken before of how our modern disconnection from the wider created order is the source of the murderous violence we pour out on that Creation. We refuse to allow the land to rest – we cannot wait for it to recover – we pour artificial oil based fertilisers onto the land. 20% of all usable soil has disappeared in my lifetime. We do not recognise our life as woven into the Creation. “Fixing a date according to the lunar cycle??? What does the moon have to do with us??” So, disconnection. This is the date of Easter – That is the lunar cycle.
Secondly it is disconnection from God’s ancient people, the Jews – for the lunar cycle sets the Jewish Passover, which therefore dates for us Easter. Disconnecting from Passover disconnects from our Jewish roots. The church has spent two thousand years trying to disassociate from its roots, as if it had some life apart. The Spirit of Modernity in this present age has wrought an equally appalling murderous devastation in this regard as that meted out to the Creation . . .
And thus finally, and binding the three in One it is therefore a disconnection from the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh, born into God’s ancient people, in whom all things hold together. Thus disconnecting heaven from Earth. We ‘Moderns’ think – there must be A date – the TRUE date. Yet fixing the date of Easter apart from Passover, in a horrible irony disconnects us from a Truthful Easter, which transcends our calendar – one which is bound up with the created order and the ancient story of deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt – a reminder of our own slavery to sin and death, which Jesus and only Jesus rescues us from. For only in Jesus are all things woven together.
Jesus, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, comes to Nazareth. As he must have done many times over the years, he stands up in the synagogue, and the scroll is passed to him. He reads from the prophet Isaiah, announcing God’s mighty act of Salvation – and then makes the astounding claim, ‘Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ God’s saving work is made present – it is Revealed – it is manifested – it is an Epiphany. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, he has sent me] to let the oppressed go free, 19 [He has sent me] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This Palestinian Jew is the locus of God’s saving acts in Creation, his Good purposes for all . . .
And what of our response? When Jesus has finished speaking, we read that the people of Jesus’ home town were ‘amazed’ at his gracious words . . . they couldn’t connect the son of Joseph with this Wisdom – they couldn’t connect Jesus to the saving acts of God. By the end of the story they are so enraged that they go to throw him off a cliff!! Yet before we think we know any better, our reading from Paul also does not show the church in a very good light.
As I said last week, 1 Corinthians 13 is a very odd reading for a marriage, for it is addressed to people who think they have it all, yet don’t love one another. It is not addressed to a couple but to a community, who are accustomed to saying, I don’t need you – ‘ I can get on perfectly well without you . . .’ they fail to acknowledge that their life is together . . . The modernist instinct of separation lies within us all – the instinct to individualism . . . but for most of history, the sheer hard labour of putting food on the table, has required some kind of co-operation . . . this individualist account – of Separation come to terrible fruition – has only come about in this age because the release of unimaginable energy in the form first of coal and then of oil has given many people the ability to escape the common bonds of Life Together, to close our door to the world. We are not constrained to have a concern for our fellow human being, because we cannot see how our life is in any sense dependent upon them. ‘We are all Individuals!!’ is the Creed of Disconnection. We readily curse those with whom we disagree, and so are cursed for we do not see that our life is together and recognise only ourselves.
And by and large we have also been blinded to our life with the wider Creation, living as most of us do now in towns and cities . . . I wonder, if we saw the full impact of our buying on the wider world – the ecological cost, the human cost . . . what would we do??? If we saw . . .
Jesus gives sight to the blind and that Seeing is so painful, that his own people would rather throw him off a cliff than see – yet that is not always the case. The pain of opening eyes to the reality of our existence can by the grace of God be born and can be transformative. So we are invited to See that recovery of sight in a shadowy form in our reading from the Jewish scriptures, from Nehemiah.
The people of God have been long in exile – they now stand amongst their modest attempt to rebuild Jerusalem – far from its Solomonic glory, and the Book of the Law is read to them . . . Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground . . . So they read from the book, from the law of God . . . And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law . . . Their eyes are opened at the reading of the Law – they saw as it were the cost of their way of living, their disconnection, from one another and the Land and thus from God – They had ignored the year of the Lord’s favour – they had never enacted Jubilee in which all land was returned to its original overseer – they had never set free economic slaves – they had acted as if there were no God . . . and they Saw, and they wept . . . there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth . . . But that announcement of the Law of the LORD is also the announcement of God’s Salvation – their sorrow leads to Repentance and Rejoicing. Nehemiah and Ezra See the holiness of God in these tears – God is present – Eyes are opened – This is a time for rejoicing, for those who were lost have been found!! “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Above all and through all and in all -The Joy of the LORD is your strength – Jesus comes to us, to reveal our condition – that our Joy may be complete!!
I for one am often guilty of seeing only my sin, of only seeing the devastation I have wrought upon the world – and the Grave danger of that is despair, a Deadly sin. Deadly for it refuses the Salvation of God. Despair says ‘all is hopeless’. Yet that is not what the Jews of Nehemiah’s time were told, nor is it what Jesus brings – Yes he opens our eyes – that we might see, but more that we might see Him, the fulness of God’s purposes, in whom all things hold together. That we might walk in His Light – the Light of His Life, in which all things hold together. That we might have JOY, the Fruit of Life Together in Him, through Him and For Him. God for ever praised.