Sermon for Trinity 3
‘Inconsequential Life? Inconsequential God’
‘The Earth is the Lord’s and all they that dwell therein’ Ps 24:1
Just the other evening I was conversing with Sam about football, and of course the off-side law, because it is impossible to talk about football without taking about off-side . . . when he switched sports on me and asked if I remembered the England try, late in the last game against the All Blacks, which was turned down for off-side?
Eventually I dug it up from the foggy mire of my memory – and then was regaled with a deep irony. The season previous England had played italy, and Italy had used a loophole in the offside law to stifle England’s attacking game. After the match, the England coach Eddie Jones complained bitterly to the powers that be, and the law was changed. If it hadn’t been changed, the England try against the All Blacks would have stood.
Things come back to bite us – Life has consequences – but all too often we live in ignorance of them – they are hidden from our eyes.
Sarah and I come to serve here at St John’s – consequence, we have children and grandchildren separated by 12,000 miles . . . consequences – unforeseen, often unwanted when they manifest themselves. Each and every action of our lives bears weight beyond imagining – often the small things we do regularly without thought have greater significance.
One consequence Sarah and I have had to face is of course long haul air travel – with all its problems and then last week by the city council declare a Climate Emergency. Long haul air travel – still advertised as glamorous and ‘jet setting’, but in an age of Climate Emergency? Consequences . . . coming home to roost.
We still await the consequences of this high profile declaration. The call goes out ‘do something!’, but what if the council does things we don’t like?? What if we can’t live the lives we wanted to live?
I must admit that hearing of this declaration of an emergency I half expected to awake to find troops on the streets and police going around with loud hailers telling us what emergency measures were being brought in. But life went on as usual . . . Here’s my suggestion for what it’s worth.
Only cars with initial letters in the first half of the alphabet may be driven on odd numbered days, and only those with letters from N and after on even numbered days . . . Admittedly that slightly benefits the A-M crowd – by seven days a year – wait for the howls of protest!
One of the basic principles of liberal democracy , one of the foundations of how we have become happily accustomed to live , is that individuals should be free to live life as they see fit, especially to do what they want with their property – thank you John Locke.
Telling people they can and cannot do what they want with their cars!!! Cars which epitomise our Individual status, and lives. Go where I want when I want! It is an erosion of freedom! That is why I think that declarations of climate emergencies don’t get very far. We are so very used to our historically unprecedented individual liberties – and cars as I have said before, epitomise that freedom. Care free Freedom, Life without consequences – except of course that ain’t so.
Freedom – Life without boundaries – life without consequences. But Life without consequences is literally an inconsequential life. Which leads to the creation of ‘an inconsequential god’ . . .
After all, if we want lives of absolute freedom to live as we want, then it helps if we make a god in our image who does no more than smile benignly on, a god who is inconsequential. And it’s hard to attend to our own culture and suggest that God is of any consequence to us.
Those parts of scripture which suggest that our lives are matters of deep moral seriousness – that the Judgement of God is a Reality we might wish to strike from the record, and make ourselves a more inconsequential god.
Considering the Climate emergency, we may well wish to strike out Revelation 11
‘The nations raged, but your wrath has come, the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great,
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.’
God’s judgement on those who destroy the earth . . . or is it of no consequence?
It seems that both on the Left and the Right Christians live in a world of no consequences. There are those who say ‘it’s all going to burn up, but we are going to heaven’, who seem to me to be rather like a clergy person who confronted with the announcement of the judgement of God on the destruction of the Creation seemed to say, ‘but it doesn’t matter. God loves you’
In both cases there are no consequences – no consequences because ‘you’re a Christian and so will go to heaven’ or no consequences because ‘God loves everyone and all this talk of judgement is so yesterday . . .’ With such a lack of consequence – it is perhaps not surprising that few take Christian faith seriously. Why should they? It’s so inconsequential . . .
Both our Old Testament reading and Gospel today have been doctored to be less consequential, but I’ve taken the liberty of adding the missing portions. So you may well have been somewhat startled to hear those closing words of the reading from Isaiah . . . and then of course Jesus himself
Luke’s gospel, after the stories of Jesus’ birth move on to John the Baptist – the one ‘preparing the way of the Lord. Who calls people to repent for the Kingdom is at hand – to change their way of living – ‘you have two coats. your neighbour has no coat – give your neighbour your coat’. ‘You have food, your neighbour has no food, share your food’ for the Kingdom is at hand!
But isn’t my coat mine to do with as I wish? . . . Surely this is all up to the individual? . . . but the time for prevarication has run its course
The Kingdom has come in the person of Jesus. As John has prepared the way, now the King’s heralds go out. Have the people to whom they go responded to John’s words? Have they taken them to heart? Will the disciples who go out into the world without any sustenance, “no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic” – will they who go in need be given shelter and food, as the Kingdom requires, or will they be sent away hungry . . . The consequences of their hearing or not hearing the warning of the Baptist are being worked out in real time, for Good . . and ill
Where they are welcomed and fed, Life breaks out. “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”’ Healing comes with Kingdom sharing. It is perhaps to surprising that in an age when we all have ‘our own’ of this that and the other, we see so little in the way of Healings . . .
Yet not all have responded to John’s call to ‘Prepare the Way of the Lord “ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11“Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
Well if we’d heard the gospel today as it was shortened, we’d merely have thought, well that’s a shame . . . but God loves you anyway 🙂
But that isn’t Jesus’ response.
I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. Sodom, byword for evil and lack of hospitality will get off lightly compared to those towns which reject the disciples
Jesus says – ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.
A life wherein we demand absolute freedom free from consequences is finally an inconsequential life. To declare the kingdom of God as ‘something nice to think about, but hey if you don’t fancy it, that’s ok’ Is to declare an inconsequential life, and of course, an inconsequential God. A God who doesn’t care, who just wrings his hands, and wishes the world was different . . .
But what of the consequences of our lives?
You and I, the baptised – the disciples of Jesus? How consequential are our lives?
Jesus says this ‘‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ That is the significance of the baptised person. Our Life is in Him – He is our Life.
Our words are to be no more and no less than the oracles of God, and announce the presence of the King of the Kingdom. Jesus himself. If someone welcomes your message and the announcement of the King, they are welcoming the King. If they do not they are rejecting Him.
Perhaps this is why we are so slow to do such things . . . perhaps it is too much. We would hope for quieter lives, lives of less significance, lives of less consequence? But such a wish, such a desire is in vain. We are who we are – the body of Christ in the World. And that is not inconsequential . . .