Sunday, 6 September 2015

'We Need A Holiday' - transcript of sermon St Thomas & St Andrew Doxey 6th Sep 2015

St Thomas & St Andrew Doxey – 6th September 2015

James 2.1- 17 & Mark 7.24-37

Today I would like to use these two Gospel stories as a way to explore something of the work and ministry of the Church Army and the call of God upon all the Baptised to be about the business of sharing faith in words and deeds.

I also would like you to keep in mind the ever practical James – faith has to make a difference to life lived in the present.

Most of you will be old enough to remember Cliff Richard inviting us to climb aboard a red London bus and go on a Summer Holiday.

Some if you may even remember Madonna’s 1983 song ‘We Need a Holiday.’ 

And then, although not a song, we have a recent Pastoral Letter from Bishop Mark, talking about the value and virtue of a holiday.

I love optical illusions, paintings and photographs that look like one thing but then viewed from another angle reveal something else.

Sometimes there is value of looking at piece of Scripture like this, viewed from a different angle, rather than front on.

The story of the Syro-Phoenician is one such story.

We begin by considering the journey – ‘Jesus left that place and went to Tyre.’

‘That place’ if we take the last placed mentioned, was Gennesaret, just a few miles from Capernaum on the North West shore of Lake Galilee.

That’s a journey of around 40 to 50 miles and from Tyre to Sidon was another 20 – 30 miles. When you add up the miles into a round trip it works out at approximately 250 miles.

Tyre is on the North West Mediterranean coast well outside the borders of Israel, deep into Gentile territory.

It wouldn’t be that difficult to see this as a beach holiday for the disciples. In all probability the first time they had seen a real sea and tasted salt water on their lips.

And as fishermen are fishermen and it could well have been that Peter struck up a conversation with the local fisherman and soon they were out for a boat ride in the open sea, a new experience for them.

Allow your imagination to play around with this idea – can you see them on the beach late at night with a small fire, some flagons of wine and charcoaled fish, talking late into the night.

We are used to modern day celebrities trying to get a break away from the press, and this looks a bit like what Jesus was endeavouring to do.

‘He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it…’

Yet, probably through traders, he was known and was sought out in particular by one woman in desperate need who had heard something about Jesus and the extraordinary powers he displayed.

Today we are used to living privately but there was no such thing for most ordinary people in the 1st century, everybody lived in a semi-public way.

Therefore, breaking every convention, this woman came and prostrated herself before Jesus and begs for help because her little daughter was ill.

We then have this most extraordinary conversation.

If ever you train in acting or even public speaking one of the exercises is to take something like a familiar Nursery Rhyme and then try acting it out or saying it in different styles.  

For example as someone who is angry, or sad or full of pathos or even full of teasing and fun.

The point is we simply do not know the way this conversation was conducted and that could make all the difference to the way it is read.

As an aside, we were discussing this Passage recently in our Home Group and talking about being on holiday and asking if we go ever go  ‘off duty’ as Christians.

It also worth noting, not that it makes a huge amount of difference, but the word ‘dog’ is better translated as ‘puppy.’

Personally I like to see a bit of gentle humour and Jesus drawing the woman into deeper faith.

Interestingly her words are now part of our Eucharistic Liturgy.

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under your table.’

The Syro-Phoenician lived out on the edge, on the margins, and certainly at this time, ‘a Gentile puppy, not worthy of being fed.’

Jordan was such a person, living on the edge, in and out of prison. Until that is he met Captain Nick Russel a Church Army Officer working out of the Greenwich Centre of Mission. Through a developing relationship and friendship Jordan has found new life and new hope, he has found that he is invited not to simply gather up the crumbs from under the table but as we read in Revelation 3.3.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

For over 133 years the Church Army has been reaching out to those on the edge and beyond the margins, seeking out the least, the last and the lost.

Our other Gospel story is about a man who was deaf and mute.

Again I invite you look behind this story and I want to suggest one particular thing.

Imagine that this man had never heard the praises of God sung or the trumpets sounds or the loud clashing cymbals praising God.

He had never been able to lift up his own voice in praise of Yawheh, the God of his ancestors.

Now he can! 

When you ask what is the purpose of the Church many will say it is to offer praise and worship God.

They may even quote the Shorter Westminster Confession – ‘man’s chief aim is to worship God and enjoy him for ever.’

I wouldn’t argue against that.

However I would want to place alongside this a passage from Romans 10.14 and following…

"Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News of good things!"…

 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?

And does it not follow - How then will they worship Him in whom they have not believed?

Evangelist are those of beautiful feet because they bring the Good News. 

And where do they bring the Good News?

Well yes, here in building such as this. But far more importantly they take the Good News to the many, many thousands who will only ever been seen dead in a place like this.

That is the work and the ministry of Church Army.

However it isn’t the work and ministry of Church Army alone.

While not everyone is called to be an evangelist, all are called to evangelize and one of the prime roles of the evangelist is to enable, equip and encourage God’s people to ensure their feet are shod with the Gospel of Peace.

To be out and about as heralds of Good News in the highways and the byways, wherever you go and with whomever you meet along the way.

And should you be concerned that you will not be able to sing an appropriate Gospel message then heed our last story.

‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’

If invited God will open your ears to the cry of those on the edge, the least, the last and the lost.

The Syro-Phoenician woman, the Jordan’s, and those who are deaf to the call of God and as yet are unable to sing out His praises.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."   Acts 1.8

Well, here you all are in Jerusalem...

But where is your Judea, your Samaria and your ‘ends of the earth.’

People of God, the song of the world may sound loud but it is often discordant.

But the song of the Gospel is by far the sweetest and brings hope, joy and peace.

People need to hear a very different song and be invited to belong to a very different choir.

Are you willing to become a Gospel troubadour and sing out the Good News?

‘For all your goodness I will keep on singing, ten thousands reasons for my heart to find.

The Founder of the Church Army, Prebandary Wilson Carlile was known affectionately as ‘The Chief.’ 

This is the Chief’s Consecration Prayer – can I invite you (if you are able) to stand and say this along with me as we dedicate ourselves afresh to fight against, sin the world and the devil and to continue as Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants to the ends of our lives.

‘Now and here I give myself to you,
 and now and here you give yourself to me;
 and now and here I find your love within.
Break through me Lord,
 that others I may win;
Your wounded body and your life blood poured

 impel me forth to live and preach you, Lord. 

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