Sermon for Lent 5 – Year B – 2015
Sunday March 22nd – St John’s, Roslyn – ‘Week in Community’
1 Cor 12:20-26 (Alternative Reading)
While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.
So here we are, gathered together at the start of our Week in Community. A week in which we spend time considering the nature of our Life Together – Life Together. And what a great place to start: St Paul gives us a beautiful image of that Life Together in the language of The Body of Christ – where ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.’ A body in which ‘the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour,’. How different from the World.
Many people nowadays have fallen prey to the idea that humankind is on some kind of evolutionary path – even within the household of faith we hear this talk, echoing the false confidence of the late 19th Century in Europe. There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to heresy. Yet Evolution, with which I have little argument as a scientific theory, works like this – Survival of the fittest, and the devil take the hindmost. If you are weak, you won’t survive – and however we dress up the World using the language of Civilisation, this is the underlying narrative of society, not ‘the weaker are indispensable and treated with special honour’. In the early years of the Church, the Emperor Julian broke into a Church demanding they show him their treasures. He was shown to a room where the hungry were being fed
I was particularly struck by the conflict between the Life of the Gospel and the life of the World in our Tuesday discipling group, where we were confronted by the Beatitudes. Those opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus – seeing the crowds walks up the mountain. We might imagine Moses ascending Sinai, leaving the Israelites behind – but in this case Jesus is followed, by his disciples. They come out from the crowd. And then Jesus, rather than receiving Words from God, sits down. He adopts the posture of the Rabbi. He Sees in the foreground his disciples, then further off the crowd – and the Greek text is unusual at this point. It says ‘he opened his mouth and spoke’. A most unusual construction. The Greek might have easily said, he began to teach them, but it says ‘he opened his mouth’ And so there on the mountain he opens his mouth and from it comes the words of God. ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, blessed, blessed blessed . . .’
Teaching his disciples, in the hearing of the crowd, These are those blessed by God. If you want an example of how the values of the Kingdom of God are utterly incompatible with the values of the world, you need look no further. His disciples come to him – they are separated from the crowd – and here as often with Jesus, there is the offer of Grace in obedience and conformity to the words of Christ, but the possibility of leaving him, dissolving back in to the crowd. The broad and easy way, or the hard and narrow. For living faithfully as the Church, as the Body of Christ it is not possible to at the same time live in the world without severe trial and conflict. Trials and conflicts from which we have been insulated for many years, but which now are becoming much clearer. As the disciple body we stand between Jesus and the crowd – they see us, we see them. It is not a comfortable place to be, to be part of a community which adheres to a way of living, a Life Together which is in complete conflict with the World around us – and to fall neither into pharisaical condemnation of the World, for we know our status as sinners also, yet not to succumb to the temptation to melt back into the world, as so many do without hardly thinking about it. Mourning for the World and the path it has chosen, but not condemning. Poor in Spirit, knowing our only treasure to be Jesus Christ, for whose sake we have left everything . . .
And I think of those institutions which seek to work ‘Christian values’ into their life, but what place do such values have in the World in which we live? The way of the world wins out again and again. And humanly speaking that only leads to the sort of hopelessness, the fruit of which we see around us in despair or its fruit, mindless hedonism. The Way of Jesus is not ‘one thread in the rich tapestry of Life’, it Is Life. Life in its fullness, and the secret of the Church is the eternal life in our midst.
In fact it is such a secret that all too often we forget it ourselves. That is why through Lent we have been learning the practise of praying continually ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’, for like Martha we are readily distracted into thinking we might make a life for ourselves and then at the end present it to God, as a child presents their first painting, yet all the while God in Jesus is sat in our midst, offering his life to those who sit at his feet. Which is why we begin this week in prayer and Word and Sacrament. We pray in Christ Jesus, We listen to the Word of Jesus, We receive Christ in Bread and Wine
Our gospel passage finds us as it were at the end of the beginning of the gospel – a turning point. Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” So many have followed after Jesus wanting Bread, or healing of their physical infirmities, or justice in their suits with their siblings – NOW comes some who seek Jesus, for Himself. Greeks – proselytes probably – going up to the Temple to worship, but wanting to see Jesus. John does not tell us what happens to them – he wants us to hear those words, ‘we want . . .’ ‘We want . . .’ What do we want? What do we seek after here as the followers of Jesus in this place and at this time? What is the desire of our heart as the body of Christ at St John’s? This is the question Christ asks of us, every day, every week, and a question we must ask of ourselves. In our conversations these coming days it is perhaps worth holding that question in the back of our minds all the time ‘Are we looking for Jesus, or are we looking for the things of Jesus?’ ‘Do we desire God’s gifts or the Giver?’ God looks at the heart – what are we seeking after?
For if we are seeking after Jesus, let us hear his words clearly – . ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled. . .’ Hear his words ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor’
The disciples coming out of the crowd, the Greeks seeking Jesus – the Gospel’s Grace filled, and utterly merciful contradiction of the World becomes clearer and clearer. The contrast – Light and Dark – harder to ignore. And as those disciples must surely have felt the pull, to sink back into the obscurity of the crowd, so too at these times in the Life of Jesus, people fall away, notably of course at the Cross itself.
But on an earlier occasion – when Jesus had spoken of his flesh as real food and his blood as real drink, and in the Light of this revelation, many of his disciples stopped following him, Peter once more spoke what might have seemed to him to be a desperate truth, but Truth all the same. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’ Even as others have gone the door is open to disappear into the dark, but Peter names the truth, ‘Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life’
May God in his inifinite Love and mercy kindle that same conviction within us in this coming week, may we seek all the more with the Gift of this Light ‘believe in the light, so that we may become children of light.’ And that more and more the Life of Jesus is known and revealed amongst us His Body, in our Life Together. Glory to Jesus Christ Glory for Ever