The readings on which these sermons are based can be found at:
s043g05 Lockleys 5/6/05 Sunday 10
"If I only touch his cloak" Matthew 9.20
All my ministry I have quietly lusted after a "Cowley" cloak from Wippells in England, so naturally I took the opportunity, when I went on my pilgrimage to Britain last year, to order and collect one. Properly it is called a "Capa Nigra". Soon after I returned, I was informed that my name had been put forward to the Bishop Nomination Committee for discernment.
On Wednesday morning the 1st of December last year, I read these words from the prophet Isaiah at morning prayer: "I will make boys their princes, and babes shall rule over them. The people will be oppressed, everyone by another and everyone by a neighbour; the youth will be insolent to the elder, and the base to the honourable. Someone will even seize a relative, a member of the clan, saying, "You have a cloak; you shall be our leader, and this heap of ruins shall be under your rule." But the other will cry out on that day, saying, "I will not be a healer; in my house there is neither bread nor cloak; you shall not make me leader of the people."" Isaiah 3.4-7. And I thought: That's interesting!
But then two days later we had a clergy conference at Holy Trinity Church, North Terrace, where the spirituality is unashamedly bible based, and they used this same passage for one of their readings. The homily was about taking the words of scripture seriously and how we are to be distinctive as Christians! I thought again: "What is God telling me here?" :-) So it is no wonder I haven't worn the cloak much since returning!
I have since realised that cassocks, surplices, albs, amices, girdles, stoles, chasubles, rochets, chimeres, and mitres are never mentioned in the Bible. The cope, which is only a decorated cloak, is the only vestment that might be considered unambiguously biblical. However the cloak is worn outside on a journey, it is the garment of the pilgrim. And we see that Jesus wore one, and the one he wore was considered significant, like the cloak of Elijah. Even St Paul was attached to his cloak. So you will have to excuse me if I confess to being attached to mine :-)!
This woman had spent some time in self debate, and it is something we all do. I did as I read these passages of scripture. I do it all the time, internally debating about the things that happen, the people I meet, the conversations I have.
When I was in theological college, I used to berate myself that I spent more time during worship engaging in these internal conversations than I did attending to the words of the service or the sermon. But, of course, God has heard the words of the service once or twice before. God probably knows what the preacher is about to say, even before he or she says it, for God has had a part to play in the composition of those very words. The thing that is new to God is the internal conversations we each have, and so I suspect that it is these that God considers the most important.
Recently I read the account of Hannah praying in her heart in the Temple and the priest, Eli, thinking she was drunk.
But not all of these conversations are helpful. The tribes of Israel murmured against Moses and God. Those who were opposed to Jesus murmured against him also.
There is, obviously, life giving, self debate; as well as soul destroying self debate. Those who struggle with mental illness no doubt find it extremely difficult to stop the soul destroying debates in their minds. But there is also the theological doctrines that put people down, be they ordinary human beings -- "we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table" or some sub-set of humanity, like women or gays or whatever.
Molly Wolf recently wrote: "Woke up this morning with Failure curled up on the pillow next to my head .. my mind went trailing back through memories, examining the bright beginnings that didn't work out, the things taken up and set down too soon, the broken promises, the failed potentials .. that endlessly self-criticizing internal voice .. I do this to myself and it drives the people who love me crazy" and went on to describe how she dealt with this self criticism.
This woman debated in her mind and she decided to reach out and touch the fringe of Jesus' cloak. She engaged in some life giving conversation and she was not disappointed.
Jesus turns to her and says "your faith has made you well", not my power or the fringe of my cloak. This positive faith, this self-conversation that was not sceptical but hopeful, has cured her.
Now if we grumble and murmur then we are just putting up higher and higher barriers for God or others to overcome. We are expecting God or others to do all the work, and often this results in people expecting God or others to make them happy. Why should God or others bother, when they realise that next time the barriers will be that little bit higher, for others to surmount?
So we have all to try our best to speak positively about ourselves. One of the few who were privy to my nomination said, "I hope that you now take heart to know that someone has recognised and appreciated your ministry". So these words are as much directed towards myself as to you in the pew.
We all need help to do this, and so I would encourage us all to seek out positive people, people who are life giving rather than soul destroying. May we in this parish, may we in this diocese, may our Church be life giving rather than soul destroying, for us and for all!
But again, if we look at things negatively, what is the point of God acting, until we choose to stop being negative? Nothing God, or anyone else, does will ever be good enough. We will simply be a sponge, endlessly soaking up grace and being of no use to anyone else. God blesses positive thinking if only because it is easier than blessing negative thinking, and the results are likely to be more lasting.
Recently someone was talking about their fear of flying. They thought that their fear was part of their self-defence mechanism. And being protective of oneself is a good thing. But then this person began to realise how much poorer she was as a person, denying herself the breadth of experience that comes from travel overseas. She began to realise that her being protective of herself was also meaning that she wasn't growing into the fullness of a person she wanted to be. So while she is still not happy flying, she has begun to take longer journeys and doing and experiencing those things she herself was previously denying herself.
So perhaps it might help having a close look at our selves and our lives and question if negative self-conversation is actually limiting us and diminishing our lives, and if so, choose to be affirming rather than abasing.
And I cannot but help finishing this sermon by mentioning my own appreciation for how positive and affirming you are, my "real" congregation. It is a delight to be here.
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