The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at
s079e04 St James Lockleys 25/7/04
"everything is for your sake" 2 Corinthians 4.15
I often point around the Church when I celebrate a baptism and ask what is the most important thing in this church building. For good evangelicals it might be the Cross behind the Altar, the Bible or the Pulpit. For the Anglo-Catholics it might be the Altar or the aumbry where the reserved sacrament is kept. For those into lay participation it might be the font. For the musicians it might be the organ. For the foundation member it might be the brick that has "my" name on it.
Some poor deluded individuals might think that the Rector is the most important thing in this Church :-)!
The most important thing in this building is you and I. We might genuflect towards the aumbry or bow towards the Cross, but the incarnation of our Lord and Saviour is God genuflecting towards us. There is nothing more sacred in this place than you and I, for it is us for whom our Lord died and rose to life again.
But it is not just me and you; for the Lord died and rose again for each and every individual who lives. There is no one in this world so important that they get their wishes at the expense of others; no matter what their faith or lack thereof. There is no one in this world so unimportant that they never get their wishes simply because of who they are.
And we see the importance of this in the interchange between the mother of the sons of Zebedee and Jesus. The mother is like every good mother. She loves her offspring and wants the best for them. She even thinks that they deserve special places; they are certainly special to her.
Recently an eloquent preacher put these words on the internet:
I was hungry
And you formed a discussion group to talk about the causes of hunger
I was imprisoned
And you wondered whether I was guilty, and if so, whether the sentence was adequate
I was naked
And you decided that if I hadn't spent money on cigarettes and beer, I wouldn't be cold
I was sick
And you wondered if I was infectious, and thanked God for your own health
I was homeless
And you told you didn't have a spare room, but the love of God would shelter me
I was lonely
And you told about the friendship group at church.
You seem so holy, so close to God but I am still hungry - and lonely - and
I had the temerity to suggest an additional verse:
Our child died in the Women and Childrens' hospital, and you didn't allow the (female) chaplain to do a funeral in one of our churches,
and we are still mourning.
The whole of the history of Israel was bound up in the working out of their special status before God and their relationships with the people around them. It is therefore hardly surprising that the whole of the history of Christianity is bound up with our working out of our special status before God and our relationship with those around us. The pitfalls that the ancient people of God faced are no less real for us, and to suggest that we do any better than them; in our comfort, watching the news each night, is presumptuous indeed.
I have, as a matter of course, begun reading the book of the prophet Amos for the morning office, and the first chapters describe God's punishment on the nations around Israel, on Israel's enemies. Damascus is doomed for threshing Gilead (1.3); Gaza "because they carried into exile whole communities" (1.6); Tyre because they "did not remember the covenant of kinship" (1.9); Edom "because he pursued his brother with the sword" (1.11); the Ammonites "because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead in order to enlarge their territory" (1.13); and Moab, "because he burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom" (2.1).
However the judgment pronounced on Israel's enemies is immediately followed by judgment on Judah and Israel themselves: on Judah "because they have rejected the law of the Lord" (2.4) and Israel: "because they sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals" (2.6).
It is worthwhile examining the reasons given for the judgment on Israel's enemies; for only two of them are for acts explicitly against Israel. It is only Damascus and the Ammonites who are judged because they have attacked the Israelite tribe of Gilead. Gaza, Tyre and Edom are judged for their wars against anyone. But it is curious indeed that Moab is judged because of their actions towards the king of Edom. It is interesting to ponder if Moab is expected to know that they should "love their enemies", even the enemies of the people of Israel?
But Israel isn't even at peace with those within her own community, let alone the nations around about her; and it is hardly likely that in this respect that they were different from the nations around about them.
We get a frighteningly similar picture to the situation in our world today, and let me hasten to add, I am not looking at the Middle East. Wars against people who are outside; injustice towards those closer at hand.
And the frightening thing is that this is supposed to be ordained by God! I suspect that this is thought to be ordained by God mostly by those who think that they are winning :-)!
There can be no doubt that in the early times of the occupation of the Promised Land scripture told the people of Israel to exterminate the nations they were dispossessing. The prophets point us to something quite different to this and they were often viewed as traitors or collaborators.
Again, I am not talking about others, I am talking about us; our faith and what the practical implications our faith which we believe confers on us a special status before the Almighty; and our relationships with others.
When St Paul says: "everything is for your sake"; to whom is he referring? Is it just us and those like-minded individuals who worship like us? As soon as we say this, we are implicitly allowing wars between people to continue in the name of God and injustice towards those closer at hand.
If our faith is about us "winning" in the personality, monetary, ethical or morality stakes, getting into heaven; I suspect we have "lost the plot" entirely.
If we don't make heaven here on earth; for us and for all people; then we can hardly expect that God has got an alternative group of people waiting for us in heaven with whom we will find it any easier to get on with, for all eternity :-)
My mind often returns to that wonderful TV cameo of Hyacinth Bucket in bed with Richard. Hyacinth says to Richard how great a comfort it is for her to know that they will be spending all of eternity together; being the good members of the Church of England they are! Richard can only roll his eyes towards the heavens! :-)
Today we celebrate St James', and this alerts us to the fact that we will not be alone in heaven, enjoying blessed communion with our Lord and Saviour and not having to share the Lord's attention with anyone else. Our communion with God for all of eternity will be no more personalised than it is now. Indeed, as time goes on and there are more individuals in the kingdom, there will be less and less.
We might be tempted to think that, of course, the saints in heaven, being saints in heaven, won't disagree with our perceptions. But this would lead me to ask if we would be the only saint in heaven allowed our own individual opinion? This might be heaven for us, but not for others, and therefore somewhat unlikely.
Do we like living in this world with all its diversity or do we actually rue our existence now. If we would like to live the way we are now for all eternity, this seems to me to be a pretty good definition of eternal life. If we are struggling to get others to think and behave and worship just like us, I suspect that we will be eternally disappointed. In this case I think it would be likely that such a person would opt for something other than eternal life, for it would imply eternal struggle and disappointment. In this case it would seem that this person has received nothing, rather than everything.
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