Sermon for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year A 2017
‘Good Lord deliver us’
‘And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But anyone who endures to the end will be saved.’ Matthew 24:12-13
Last week we briefly considered ‘Ontology’ – the question of ‘What Is’, of ‘What we mean when we say ‘Existence’’. And for getting into the heart of the matter, I think that you could do far worse than talk to a farmer. Of course, coming from a farming family myself I may be biased, but Farmers are very connected to the Earth – they are grounded, we might say ‘humble’. They know far better than most modern people how dependent they are on a hundred and one factors which we pay little attention to – and know it not purely academically, they know it, because they live in it. They have a deep appreciation of Existence.
I remember well how the farmers in my old parish back in England spoke a great deal about climate change for it was affecting their rhythms and patterns of work, and I remember one particular conversation with a farmer who expressed to me his deep concern about Modern folk. That they had never lived through periods of food shortages. That as a society the folk memory of famine and want had been all but erased – for whom food shortage ‘was a thing of the past’, ‘something that happened to other people’. For not since the second war had folk experienced what it was for Everyone to know that food was short. My farmer friend thought this bode ill, that we had for too long lost sight of the importance of food security and agriculture to our daily lives, of our dependence upon the Good Earth, for history taught that famine was an ever returning aspect of the cycle . . .
In one of my churches we had a piece of furniture which was once common – The Litany Desk. On it lay a prayer book open at The Great Litany, a series of prayers with the repeated petition, ‘Good Lord deliver us . . .’ From amongst other things, ‘plague and famine and want . . . ‘
The idea that we might as a congregation pray weekly for deliverance from plague and famine and want, that we should be continually looking to God to preserve us from these things was something that in the eyes of my farmer friend and church member, something we had lost touch with – As Henry reminded me from Scripture – ‘we live in the seven years of plenty, but there are always seven of famine round the corner . . .’
Yet prayers about deliverance from plague and famine and indeed much more – seem to us to be ‘culturally irrelevant’. Would we give ourselves to pray the litany, three times a week? I must confess that in my own cultural blinkers, I removed the desk . . .
And what then of the Psalms? The prayer book of the Church as we know, but do we Know it? How much do they touch our lives , as we perceive them . . .
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonour who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, ‘Aha, Aha!’ turn back because of their shame.
Do such prayers apply to us? We who have everything we need . . . One of the hallmarks of our age and culture seems to be its easy self sufficiency. Written deep into the myth of these Islands is ‘we enjoy the good life’ I remember a few years back reading a piece in the Star asking why the entrepreneurial spirit amongst Kiwis was not as strong was in other cultures and the response was – because here you don’t have to put in too much effort for the three Bs – BMW, Boat and Bach – or if you’re from a different class, Barbie, Beer and Bach . . . The good life – sit back with a glass of chilled Savvie blanc and watch the sunset . . . And say to your soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
And in so many ways the sun is setting – certainly over the Church which is rapidly dying in these parts? Perhaps because we have no sense of our Roots, of our Earthiness – of our Dustiness – of where Life truly comes from? Of our sheer dependence on everyone and everything that surrounds us
. . . and under all, in all through all and coming to us if we did but see, the Deep wellsprings of the Life of God who in Christ sustains everything – Christ – sustains everything . . .
No one is crying out – ‘Why have you abandoned us??’ No one seems to be praying, ‘From a collapsing Church – Good Lord deliver us’. How strong is, not our doctrine or our idea of our mutual dependence on one another and God, how Strong is our Sensation, that embodied perception that Knows that the myth of Independence is a Shallow and deadly lie, that in truth it is God who is Life, who sustains our lives moment by moment. How is this Perception lived out amongst us?
Independence tells us we can do it for ourselves, that we have ‘our own lives’ and that is how we experience life in the modern world if we have a modest income. This becomes the narrative of our existence, and even the church acts as if it is more or less independent of God
Last week we pondered Jesus’ beatitudes, His startling accounting of those who were blessed. Of how his words were Emphatic – Blessed are the meek – for THEY shall inherit the Earth . . . Blessed are the poor, meek, mourning, hungry, persecuted – THEY shall inherit.
What marks out the Blessed in Jesus terms? Those who are in need, in necessity – those who do cry out day and night to the LORD, Good Lord deliver us – those who knew their dependence on kindness of others and the goodness of God, not as dry doctrine, but embodied fact – Blessed are those who know the truth of their existence . . . Blessed are those . . .
‘who cry out to God day and night will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
Blessed are the un-noticed – Blessed are those who are looking for God’s coming to them . . .
Blessed are those who long for his appearing, for they will not be careless with the oil – they will be prepared – they will be ready. The parable of the wise and foolish differentiates between those who are attentive, those who know their need and their insufficiency, and those who have become careless, who consider their life is their own.
Jesus having preached several parables against the Pharisees, now warns his disciples. Your Master, your Rabbi is going on a journey – things are being put into your hands – there is a very stern warning in the verses before our parable which puts it into context – Jesus talking to his disciples says
Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.
But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
(As one writer wryly asks – ‘which we may ask is worse, to be cut into pieces or to be assigned a place with the hypocrites . . . 🙂 )
So we have the wise slave who attends to his masters business, who is attentive to his coming, who knows his Life is tied up with his masters, who is caught up in that Love from the Lord, and too the Lord, which is the heart of mutual existence – and the wicked slave who gets distracted, separated out. The wise bridesmaids who are ready with their oil, and the foolish who haven’t given any thought to preparations, for what would they Need??
This parable with its stern closure – ‘I do not know you’ and the previous warning to the disciples take us back to that Sermon on the Mount which begins with the beatitudes of the needy, and takes us to its closure – its ending – the wise and the foolish.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
Distracted from the small works of mercy, by grandiose schemes and plans – unknown to the one who comes in smallness and humility
Then the parable of the Wise and foolish – those who hear the words of Jesus, are attentive to his word, and act on them – the Wise who build their house on the rock of the words of The Other . . . and those who don’t – those who don’t act on the words of Jesus and build their house where they see fit . . . Which house will stand in the day of the Lord’s appearing?
It is a story about an approaching storm – The Day of the Lord as spoken of by the prophet Amos. Amos the uncultured shepherd prophet, who throughout cries out words of warning to the comfortable
Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
Caught up in mutual independence in our neediness and love; or Independent, thinking ourselves to have a life of our own, not anchored to anything or anyone?
I must say I Love his turn of phrase – ‘as if someone fled from a lion only to be met by a bear!’ but its message is sober and clear
The closing verses of the Psalm place us – place us within the Reality of our Life before God, who Is our Life and give us a rejoicing Hope, and Orientation towards the One who comes to us in the Name of the Lord
Let all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
say evermore, ‘God is great!’
But I am poor and needy;
hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay!
A storm is coming – Good Lord, deliver us!