Mercy – Christ the King Year C 2019

Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, Year C, 2019

Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

“[The Father] has delivered us from the power of the darkness and translated us into the Kingdom of his love’s Son. In whom we have the price of liberation, the forgiveness of sins.” Col 1:13-14 (DBH)

’Who is going to take responsibility for this?’

When we consider what it means to be human, in all its glory and its shame; when we consider our human condition, there is perhaps one thing that we need above all else. This need is hidden from our eyes by Pride – thus making it perhaps the most deadly of sins, for it hides from us our greatest need – our need for Mercy.

We live in a Creation of glorious and bewildering complexity. And we live amongst human beings, every one of whom is a mystery to themselves yet alone others as we share in relationships with one another.
I was with a friend this week who told me that he had recently lost a friend ‘and I have no idea what it was that I did or said’. I spoke to a young girl who was 5 and a half and we seemed to be getting on great together until I told her with a smile that she was very grown up for 5 and a half, and she burst into tears, and neither I nor her parents had a clue what it was about! Lord have mercy

We like to reduce the world to a scale and a simplicity that we can simply navigate and get it right. Sometimes we’re bold enough to call this ‘Christian ethics’. ‘Do the right thing!’ we say,is far from clear and then when it seems it is clear often turns out to have unwanted consequences we hadn’t seen.
Ironically we see most clearly when we ‘see’ that we don’t see clearly

I once went to a seminar on how Christian Ethics was taught in some of our Anglican high schools. During this we were set an ethical dilemma.
There is a train coming down a track. Ahead there is a junction, and you’re stood by the lever and can divert the train. If you do nothing, the train will plough into a crowd of rail workers that haven’t seen or heard it, if you divert the train it will run into a young child playing on the line . . . what do you do??

What a choice! A ‘simple choice’, yet unclear. Yet life’s choices, life itself isn’t at all like that – rather negotiating life is more like being stood at the control box of a million and one railway lines with fast trains moving here there and everywhere . . . if the beat of the wing of a hummingbird causes a hurricane over the Atlantic, what are the consequences of the many many tiny actions we take every day??

This I think is why we take refuge in reducing the world to simple moral codes, our own rules of life . . . to reduce our sense of responsibility. If only everyone was like me we think . . . Lord have mercy

The Pharisee, full of Pride, is blind to his need. The Tax-collector, the notorious sinner, knows it all too well. ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner’

As I have said on several occasions, Luke makes a beautiful tapestry of threads woven throughout his gospel, and now, as we come to the Cross, one in particular, Mercy, floods into view

Mercy, of which Mary Sang in the beginning “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,” It’s there too in the Song of Zechariah “He has shown mercy promise dot our forefather, and has remembered his holy covenant”; “by the tender Mercy of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us” The Tender mercy of our God . . . isn’t that beautiful?

These songs look out towards the coming of God in Jesus, and His Mercy

We have the tax-collector, and the blind man who call to God for mercy – and then there is the Good Samaritan.

Jesus tells this tale in respect of the lawyers question, ‘who is my neighbour’. When Jesus has finished the tale, he asks the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour’ and the lawyer answered him ‘the one who showed him mercy’.
Showing mercy makes you a neighbour. Loving your neighbour as yourself – you and every person you encounter is in need of mercy everyday of your lives, we all are.
By showing mercy we share in Life Together. And there is mutual recognition “I need mercy, you need mercy – “Hey! We’re related!!””

We recognise our common human condition, we recognise ourselves in the other in this common need for mercy.

But the Samaritan is more than just someone who recognises the person in need as his own flesh and blood, in many ways he is a revelation of Jesus himself – for he takes responsibility for the man in the ditch. He shows him mercy.
He binds up his wounds, he takes him to the inn and promises to pay all that is needed for the man’s healing. And this is called ‘showing mercy’

We’re in a mess, we need someone to heal us, to show us mercy, to take responsibility for our condition, and we’re surrounded by others ‘under the same condemnation’ and we rightly for we have conspired with the world and its allure, and we’re in trouble . . . which is why we come finally in Luke’s gospel ‘to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”’

They know not what they do . . . as we say in our confession, ‘we have sinned in ignorance’ – we have no idea of the consequences of our actions . . . ‘I never thought that would happen!’ I never thought the girl would cry – I never thought my friend would leave . . . What’s going on/ Lord have mercy.
When they first found oil and started burning it in engines, no one thought, ‘this will lead to catastrophic over heating of the earth’ . . . Lord have mercy

We don’t see. Some of the Pharisees near Jesus heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yes, the time comes, that whoever kills you will think that he does God service. Those who crucified Jesus thought they were doing God’s work – they thought they could see . . .

Physicists will tell you, if you ask, 69% of the Universe is made up of dark matter, 27% of dark energy . . . 96% of everything you cannot see! And yet we are so free with our opinions and judgements and and and . . . Lord have mercy

We don’t know, we don’t see! Jesus says this – you think you see the sin of others, but you have a log in your eye! . . . We judge and condemn others – we do not see ourselves sin them – we don’t see ourselves in need of mercy like them. It is this stance that is the thief who like everyone else rails against Jesus.

They thought they could see, so everyone rails against Jesus. The leaders of the people, the soldiers, and one of the criminals crucified with him! – If you are the Christ, Save yourself. He saved others, he cannot save himself, save yourself and us. Even one who was in the same place as Jesus, could not see . . .

Save yourself!! That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? The survival instinct? . . . Judging others is our way of trying to get out of the ditch. ’I’m not responsible’.
Yet as we explored last week, Jesus told his disciples to prepare their hearts so as not to defend themselves against the accusations but to bear witness to God in the words he would give them . . . so Jesus does not Save himself – he does not defend himself. By the Spirit he bears witness to God. Father forgive them for they know not what they do . . . the Tender mercy of our God . . .

Showing mercy is not about saving yourself, it is about spending yourself, it is about spending your dignity and pride, and forgiving the unforgivable, for we see and recognise our common humanity . . . And it is thus that the other thief on the cross speaks the truth.’ ‘Don’t you see? We’re under the same condemnation, you and I and this man, and we rightly, we’re in a mess of our own making – but this man has done nothing amiss. He sees Jesus with mercy, and so becomes his neighbour ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’

We don’t identify with Jesus to signal our righteousness, we identify with Jesus because we are in a mess, we need mercy – and he then recognises us. He knows us in that moment. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me
Jesus does not judge but has mercy – he takes responsibility – he suffers the consequences of our sins committed in weakness or deliberate fault, but mainly in ignorance for we do not see . . . and like the Samaritan he pays in full what is needed for our healing.

He takes responsibility – he shows mercy to the one in distress – Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner – and so becomes a neighbour to the one in distress. Becomes Our neighbour.

We Often talk of the birth of Jesus as God coming to share our humanity – but the truth is, it is on the cross that Jesus takes on our humanity fully. He takes it on in its entirety – he takes it to the houses of healing – he shows us his mercy . . . ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise’

Go and do likewise


On [not] paying attention – Trinity 21 YrC

Sermon for Trinity 21 Year C 2019

Job 19:23-27
2 Thess 2:1-5,13-17
Luke 20:27-38

‘On (not) paying attention’

Psalm 90 – a prayer of Moses

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn us back to dust,
and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.

[therefore] teach us to number our days, that we might acquire a heart of wisdom . . .

There is perhaps no more important virtue, than that of paying attention. It is such a rare thing that when we discover someone who pays attention to us, it is a precious gift. The gift of being present to, attentive to, and listening to another – discerning their hearts movements from careful and patient attention – is almost, like wisdom itself, as precious as rubies. In this age most definitely we might cry out ‘Attention, where is it to be found?’

We think of those modern conditions, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder, and Attention Deficit Disorder – two sides of the same thing. We are so distracted by many things, that we cannot give our attention fully to others, and they in their turn will do anything to get attention.

It is sobering to think, as one writer puts it, that many of the best minds of this age are giving their time and energy to ways in which their employers might grab your attention . . . Perhaps we might say steal it, for Attention is in your gift. And it is a most precious gift, for where you spend that gift is where you spend your life. We spend our very few days in giving attention – and in these days everything it seems is clamouring for it . . . and so our life is frittered away.

I am sure that I am not unique in fighting against my phones habit of drawing my attention. I have to discipline myself, not always successfully, against turning to look for the news when I first rise in the morning. Is this how I am going to spend my days? Is reading the news the fruit of a wise heart? When I look back, can I say I wish I’d given more attention to the news?

Teach us to number our days . . . if we realised how fleeting are our days, if we attended to the very gift of Life with which we had been entrusted for a season . . . to what would we give our attention? Are we paying attention to our lives?

Or indeed the lives of those around us? Do we give this gift of Attention to others? One of the markers of the deep disorder of our lives that I hear all too frequently from folk ‘I like to hear about people’s lives at their funerals’ . . . Actually, as I am all too often trying gently to remind folk, we never truly hear anything about a person’s life on such occasions.
Life, this gift of Presence – of Being with others – Relationship is what makes a life. People paying attention to one another. A Life cannot be spoken in absence. As anyone who has ever loved another human being knows, you cannot attend to their being when they are dead. Much of grief, I believe is to do with this sense of ‘there was so much I missed!’ You know I spent so many days and hours and months and years in the presence of this person and paid so little attention, to them. Perhaps we were caught up working on something, or we talked about this or that or the other, but paying attention to this Life that was present, and now is gone.

Paying attention is the Root of Wisdom – it is the source of Life itself. Not least because our Life is the fruit of God’s attention to us

And paying attention is another of those thread which keeps recurring in Luke’s gospel . . . from the parable of the sower, where we read of those from whom the Word is snatched away, to those where the Word is choked by the pleasures and cares, those attention thieves of Life . . . it is only those who by careful attending to their lives tend the seed of the word of life – who bring forth a harvest . . . or again the man who sees his corps have done well and not paying attention to the shortness of his days builds bigger barns . . . and his life is demanded of him.

I mentioned the deep sadness of hearing of those who do not know people when they are alive . . . another aspect of the same thing is those who as it were put off the attention to the future, only to find their life demanded of them. I think in my own family of those who died before a retirement for which there were so many plans . . . trips, holidays, barns . . .

Of course just being Christian doesn’t keep you from such distractions, such dreaming. Religious life has its own traps, its thieves of attention . . . There are religious controversies, and the Lord knows how easily our attention is consumed by those.

So St Paul warns the Thessalonians church ‘As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.

They’re getting caught up in this stuff – running around like headless chickens.

Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? ‘Weren’t you paying attention to what you were taught?’ he berates them. Are we paying attention to what we are taught?

‘Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels’ 2 Timothy 2:23 The body of Christ, the Church – broken over stupid and senseless controversies . . . and no one seems to notice – no one is paying attention to Life, to the Life of Jesus, Jesus our Life

Jesus who teaches us to pray and not give up – Prayer is returning God’s attention of us to Him – giving our attention to God. He uses a parable the meaning of which we might miss, so tuned are we to the word justice. He tells them that even the unjust judge gives justice . . . so do not doubt that God will give you justice, but will there be faith? Will there be lives directed towards God in prayer – Lives from God? To what are we attending? Issues? Or God?? Perhaps this is what is behind Jesus’ warning – note the personal nature of this warning. Jesus is speaking ‘pay attention’ On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not do all this stuff in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”

The purpose of the teaching of the church is to focus our minds and hearts on the Life that is in Jesus . . . And so Jesus’ opponents come to him, trying to trap him in his words – first the taxes question . . . there’s a controversial one . . . the Brexit of its day – do you pay taxes to Caesar, or not – in the Roman Empire or out? But the questioners haven’t paid attention to their own existence – give the image of Caesar to Caesar – but whose image do you bear? To whom do you belong? Your Life is the fruit of God’s Attention – pay attention to your Source. Don’t get cut off from Life – distracted by many things

Then what seems a clever question about marriage from the Saducees who say there is no resurrection . . . There is a deep irony of this story. Those who would deny the Resurrection have to use a story with no life in it. This pattern of a woman marrying the brothers if her husband died without an heir, Levirate marriage, focussed on marriage as the source of Life. The fruit of the Blessing of marriage – children.
But over and again fruitless marriages, seven times over – no Life. 7 deaths, no Life springing up. The argument against Resurrection Life is framed in a story which does not see Life as life but a repetitive story of death . . . a story told in the presence of the one who is Life, Jesus himself.

Finally, not paying attention to our lives, as coming to us moment by moment from God himself, we learn to make lives for ourselves. This is what it is to take the place of God.

Listen once more to those words of St Paul – The man of lawlessness opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.

We take the place of God in the Temple of God – the Creation . . . and Life departs. For the Human cannot sustain the Earth, he cannot uphold all things by the word of his power. I will not go into the myriad details of climate collapse, of the extinction of living things . . . the helpless human seeking to order the creation as he sees fit . . . apart from God there is no life

The fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living;

And we have a choice – it is a choice of attention – to attend to God and Life, or not

for to him all of them are alive.’

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, – If you give your attention to me – then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away – and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them – you give your attention elsewhere – I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life – attend to me – so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. – Those who are alive before me.

In the midst of Job’s afflictions it is his constant attention to God which gives him Hope. In the midst of death, he cries out

‘O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock for ever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!

May we attend – may we too Know our Life in God