Sermon for Fourth Epiphany Year A
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Blessed are the WHO?? (This sermon is given in a very different form to that written below)
“There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”
I wonder if anyone can tell me who said that??
Well it comes from the lips of one of the characters of the more interesting philosophers of our age, JK Rowling . . . Lord Voldemort . . .
And I think it sums up in practice if not always in explicit theory the prevailing philosophy of our day, indeed of any age. Our hopes are either raised or dashed by the people, we the people put in power . . . Let’s be honest about this, we are not particularly interested in the moral character of our leaders, rather we just want them to ‘get the job done’ (as long of course it is the job WE want them to get done.) Given the choice over the effective brute and the ineffective Saint . . .
It’s interesting in this light to consider a couple of things – firstly why we make the choices we do for those who lead nations, where we have a choice – and democratic processes . . . well enough said about that. The Scriptures are really NOT big on Kings, Emperors, Leaders in general – indeed the idea of The Leader is in a very large part something which grew out of the movies 🙂 . . . but we still look for the person who is going ‘to get the job done’
So again locally what do we really want in a new bishop??? What are we interested in when in a few months time we come to elect Bishop Kelvin’s successor? It’s one of the ironies about human life that the more closely we know people, often the more clearly we see their faults and so are tempted to go for someone we only know vaguely, but then again, as the old saying goes ‘better the devil you know . . . than the devil you don’t’ yet be under no illusions as to where your choice lies 🙂 Perhaps out there there is some bishop with a proven track record in restoring crumbling dioceses, they have a really impressive CV – come over really well in presentations – and they want to be our bishop . . . They ‘get the job done’, then there is someone else, not at all much to look at. Known to be kind, humble, meek, pure in heart, with an at times sad disposition about the world . . . but will they ‘get things done’?? What do we look for in a bishop? With whom do we agree? Which way? The way of Jesus? Or the way of power?
We might of course readily say, well the Way of Jesus of course, but after a few hours wrangling over it that old temptation to ‘get things done’ can rise to the surface . . . after all Jesus’ track record doesn’t exactly speak volumes does it – Yes he was a Good man, but at the end all his followers have given up on him and he’s dead on a Roman Cross . . . oh yes there were rumours that that wasn’t the end, but . . . we live in the Real World. The world of Realpolitik go ‘getting things done’
Of course that ‘realistic’ desire to ‘get things done can extend right to the heart of religion. If we just . . . pray hard enough, if we just worship in the right way, if we just get ourselves sorted out. The prophet Micah leads us off down this track pondering “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high??? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?’ Will that be enough to twist his arm?? How about something bigger??? ‘Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?’ Perhaps that doesn’t quite cut it – it’s really not all THAT sacrificial – hang on a minute ‘Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”’ The Religious world is just as prone to Power – Power over God to ‘get things done’ Ramping it up. If we get a thousand people praying for this . . . if we give more . . . if we . . . if we get the right bishop, the right leader . . . if only . . .
And God is having none of it ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you?? but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? While the World calls for bigger and louder and more and more Impressive, more ‘powerful’ – the Human scaled response is all that God calls for – in our day to day lives, our daily bread existence, act justly with the people you meet, don’t seek to win out over them, be fair, Love Mercy – treat others as you yourself are, fragile and frail and like the grass of the fired that is here today and gone tomorrow, but a breath of wind . . . that’s all you are – so walk humbly with your God. Wake up to the scale of your existence – lose your illusions . . . for in that small thing you may find you are much closer to Him than you might think
As St Paul says ‘Jews demand Signs’ Show us a sign that we might believe win you they said – do something spectacular Jesus! ‘Greeks demand Wisdom – well worked arguments – a decent apologetic – explain your faith!’ and all we have is ‘Christ crucified’ . . . humanly speaking no power at all . . . I think it is probably fair to say that if no one has ever laughed at you for your faith, you haven’t really explained it to them properly 🙂 And then says Paul – just look at yourselves – Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. . . humanly speaking the church was never meant to look like much – funny how we get anxious as in the eyes of the world we become ‘irrelevant’, small, nondescript.
Blessed says Jesus, blessed are the nobodies . . . In Lent we’ll be looking at some of the ways our faith doesn’t make sense in The Modern world . . . not with any view to change it, mind you . . . there’s enough folk trying to do that, not enjoying the way in which the world ignores all this sin and salvation stuff, this message of the cross . . . but lets be honest, look at those Jesus says are blessed – no wonder we don’t get a ready hearing – Blessed are the WHO . . . Really?? The Meek shall inherit the Earth?? These words of Jesus are SO hard to hear in our culture of Power of ‘getting things done’, of the irrelevance of Good or Evil, just Get Results – as I have mentioned before these words of Jesus so stick in the throat of some Modern Christians that they try and avoid them – to paraphrase one popular writer, ‘God’s Kingdom is so wonderful that even the losers get in!!!’ But in so doing rejects not only Jesus’ words, but Jesus himself – the poor, mourning, meek one, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker finally persecuted and killed for righteousness sake.
When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God he uses metaphors about things small and hidden – not obvious, not demanding our attention. In amongst all the people putting their money in the treasury, he picks out the widow putting in her mite, the woman who brushes her hand against the hem of his robe, the child in their midst. the lost coin, or the one sheep in a hundred or the mustard seed . . . ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. Jesus was low and despised, he was mocked, laughed at, spat upon and finally crucified – and we expect that our faith will seem respectable?? Wise? Significant??
It is hardly surprising that when St Paul goes to Corinth taking only this message of Christ and him crucified he goes ‘in weakness and in fear and in much trembling’. Trusting God to work through his Holy Spirit to bring people to faith – because sure as eggs is eggs, only God can bring us to faith in the One revealed to us in Jesus on the Cross, for He in no way tallies with the way we are taught to understand the world – Blessed are the WHO???
Finally we have a stark choice – the one the world holds before us, and of which Voldemort’s words are the unveiled truth, “There is no good and evil, there is only power . . .”, or the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus sounds to us so other worldly – after all how is THIS the way to get things done?? Pray by all means, but come on ‘we need to get things done!’ But if the words of Jesus sound otherworldly, perhaps it is because the world in which we live is so distorted??
For in the same way that God chose the weak and poor and the foolish – those ignored in the world, – those are the same people who receive his message so readily. The poor in Spirit, the mourners and the meek. Those with no power of themselves to save themselves find themselves to be the recipients of God’s salvation.
Occasionally people rise to power who effectively throw off the mask – who agree with Voldemort not only in deed but in word, but the way of the World is in practical agreement with him even if it has not the self understanding to admit it “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” As someone commented about Donald Trump this weak – ‘well at least you can’t accuse HIM of being a hypocrite’ WYSIWYG . . .
there are only two ways, the way of power and the small hidden weak poor foolish merciful and humble way of Jesus. Each of us Is small, our days are few and race by like the wind – let us not waste them – let us follow Jesus in his humiliation, for finally the way of Power will be revealed to be a Lie. This we believe – let us so live