readings on which the sermon
below is based can be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r008.htm
s008g10 Sunday after Christmass 26/12/2010
In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.
(Fr Jim Cotter http://www.cottercairns.co.uk/)
‘flee to Egypt!’ Matthew 2.13
I have sometimes wryly wondered what happened to the gold,
frankincense, and myrrh, that the wise men / kings brought Jesus, whose
departure begins the words of today’s gospel. Suddenly an
obscure birth to an equally unpretentious couple had escalated to
assume more than a little importance for the movers and shakers in
society. The baby was a possible political rival to the
king. And it was precisely the three kings who had alerted Herod
to the danger. Perhaps the wise men weren’t
actually. As the old joke goes, if they were three wise
women, they would have
· Asked directions,
· Arrived on time,
· Helped deliver the baby,
· Cleaned the stable,
· Made a casserole, and
· Brought practical gifts.
How fascinating ‘Google’ is, to be able to retrieve the words of this
so easily! And I reflect that perhaps the gold,
frankincense, and myrrh were used to enable the Holy Family to survive
in Egypt. When they eventually returned to make a home in
Nazareth it is likely that the proceeds from the gifts was well and
And this shows us how ‘wisdom’ and ‘power’ are essentially destructive,
and we too are called to flee such things. It is
interesting that even then the Holy Land was an unsafe place to
be! Recently I received a comment in response to one of my
sermons: ‘You helped me remember that the modern church is not a
sanctuary from malice and anxiety.’ (thanks Bob :-) When I
replied I said: ‘I sometimes wonder if I'm cursed with an unreasonable
Egypt was entirely other. If there was hatred between the
Samaritans and the Israelites, Egypt was a million times
worse. It was the land of their past servitude.
They worshipped idols. There was no way one could observe
the kosher rituals there. It was entirely unclean.
And yet this is where we are told Jesus went.
Now, I don’t want to suggest that the infancy narratives were historic
events. If one reads the bible and then makes a virtue out
of believing the literal and historical accuracy of each and every
statement there, then it seems to me that the person who does this is
making distinctions between people. The words about Jesus’
early life were not written to give us a biography of
Jesus. They are trying to link Jesus with the ancient
people of God - to show how Jesus fulfils scripture. The
object of this exercise was to form links with the ancient people of
God - not to distance the followers of Jesus from the past.
Jesus comes and makes connections, not just with the orthodox and
devout, but also with the alien and the unclean. So to use
the words of the Bible to do the opposite, to distance the ‘real’
‘christians’ from the rest is to do precisely the opposite of what the
Bible tries to do.
Making connections is done in homes and neighbourhoods, as well as
Some time ago we were horrified to learn that someone had bludgeoned 23
protected seals to death. Who could have perpetrated such
an atrocity? But it made me wonder if the person felt so
powerless in a society where power is everything, that they ‘had’ to
club something to death. Horrible though it is, perhaps it
is better that the person did not club a human to death.
It seems to me that the ‘church’ does nothing to help make connections
between people by asserting how right, how special, how sacred it
is. What the world needs is connections between people, not
endless divisions. The world doesn’t need self-elected and
self-ordained people to come along challenging them, marginalising
some, alienating others, condemning most everyone else who doesn’t
think like them, believe like them, live like them or worship like them
- which is actually most others .. especially when done in the name of
the God of love ..
Today we celebrate the Holy Family. Any pretensions to
greatness they might have had would have been quickly dispelled when
they became fugitives from the powers that be. Someone said
once that the ordinary peasant in England in times past would not have
travelled more than 5 miles from their village of birth.
This explains the multitude of local dialects. So a journey
to a foreign land 300 kms away to the Suez Canal was huge. Just
as well they didn’t arrive in Australia by a leaking boat during a
We are told that Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus found sanctuary in
Egypt! How strange that God is safer in alien places, in
unclean places, in enemy territory! But the gospel record
shows us this, and that in the end God was killed by the orthodox, the
clean, and the devout.
This should alert us to the fact that orthodoxy, cleanliness and
devotion - our orthodoxy, cleanliness and devotion - can kill
God. In our efforts to magnify the Lord, we can effectively
murder God. If we attempt to protect God from everything
unclean, we deny the incarnation. If we attempt to shield
God from the multitude of people who do not live up to our expectations
for ‘real’ ‘christians’, we are denying who God is reflected in Jesus.
I finished my sermon for Christmass with the reflection that we are
called to treat others as we would have them treat us. And I am
currently enjoying preparing a sermon for the 9th of January were I
will be preaching for Evensong at Christchurch Cathedral.
And I have realised that Jesus didn’t say ‘do unto white, straight,
male Christians, what you would have them do unto you’ or ‘love your
white, straight, male Christian neighbour as yourself’. So
I want to further suggest that accepting people of colour, gay people,
women equally as men, and people regardless of their faith or lack
thereof is not a liberal secularist plot!
I often think about spiritual events as something out of the
ordinary. I am not at all wanting to criticise those who
have had profound experiences of the divine but to recognise that this
is unusual. But we can be hoodwinked into thinking that we
must look for times when God feels especially present, when God lifts
us above our mundane existence into the first, if not the ‘third
heaven’. (2 Cor 11.2) And I wonder if this is not to live
our lives chasing the fabulous lottery win, that elusive hole in one,
or whatever. A god that condemned the whole of humanity to
live on such a perpetually endless goose chase is also a demon and no
The special revelation that Paul had on that road to Damascus was given
to stop him persecuting others who didn’t live up to his religious
ideals, in the name of ‘god’. I am sure that he realised
how sad that the experience was necessary in the first place.
And I wonder if not *the* time when we ‘do unto others’ is when we are
intimate with the person we love. It is not that we are
aware of God’s presence, a holy ménage à trois or even
that we should be seeking such an experience, but it is the time when
we are doing as God would have us do, even when our focus is quite
definitely somewhere else.
For many people their family upbringing was far from
perfect. The war years, depression and the sadness of the
Vietnam war had profound effect on everyone’s lives, and those who
returned ‘unharmed’ (superficially), still carried and carry burdens
that those of us who have not experienced war can scarcely
imagine. But when I grew up ‘children were to be seen and
not heard’ - an abuse if ever there was one. Calling God
‘Father’ brings many people recurrent nightmares of rejection and
abuse. But God is the perfect Father and Mother, respecting
and loving each and every one of their children without hesitation,
distinction and expectation. Each and every person,
‘christian’ or not, male or not, anglo-celtic or something else,
straight or gay, saint or sinner, whatever - all are loved for who we
are without hesitation, distinction and expectation. And
when the church faithfully reflects this, then it faithfully reflects
God and Jesus whom we follow.
If we don’t respect and love each and every one of God’s children
without hesitation, distinction and expectation, is the church any
different from Herod who killed the innocents indiscriminately because
one amongst the many might not bow to his majesty?
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