Sunday, 10 September 2017

Living in Harmony as God's People (transcript of sermon 10/09/2017)

St Anne’s Brown Edge 10th September 2017

Shortly after my sixth birthday my father was killed in a road traffic accident. That left my mother to look after three young boys. My mother also suffered from a severe heart condition and so spent long periods in hospitals. Therefore my two older brothers and I would often spend some time during the summer at a Children’s Home. One of the Children’s Homes was in Lytham St Anne’s. One day when we were all playing another boy bit me. I was taken into a kitchen type area and the wound was dressed and I was consoled. Then the boy who had bit me was brought in and made to stand in front of me and his shirt sleeve was rolled up. I was then told to bite him back, which I couldn’t and didn’t.

The idea was a kind of tit for tat – or to use a Latin term – Lex Talionis.  

Or from Exodus 21.23-25

"But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise…”

The basic principle behind this was a good one – in effect it was saying, no more than an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

However Jesus often had a different take on things and offered another way to live as an authentic human being and to live together in community and in harmony.

And so we have this passage from Matthew’s Gospel talking about the conduct of the small communities of Jesus’s disciples that were emerging during his time as an itinerant preacher, teacher and healer.

In these new communities disputes were to be sorted out in a different kind of way.

This side of glory, human beings will have the occasional spat or dispute, often caused by a misunderstanding.

Jesus says that it is important how we handle such matters. In most cases it will be only a slight matter or issue and can be quickly dealt with by an apology and forgiveness.

However there will be issues that we simply cannot shrug our shoulders and say, o it doesn’t matter, because it does matter.

Bad behaviour, unkind words, deliberate denigration, all these and much more besides are poisonous and need to be faced, dealt with and forgiven with restoration of fellowship as the aim and goal.

Very sadly I could mention church fellowship after church fellowship where such disharmony and dis-ease has been allowed to creep in and poison the fellowship and harmony amongst brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is partly what lies behind the sharing of the Peace. 

‘…Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother or sister; then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5.23-24

If you have fallen out with someone, or had some kind of dispute or spat, it would be perfectly right and proper as you came into Church this morning, to have a quiet word with me to hold the Service and for us to pray quietly while you make peace with the person whom you have offended or whom has offend you.

And the sequence of steps outlined in this passage demonstrates the seriousness of getting this right – of living in peace and harmony with each other.

It starts with an individual face to face.

Then moves on to involve others as witnesses.

And finally, if reconciliation cannot be reached, moves on to the point of putting that person out of the fellowship.

If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone, writes Paul in Romans 12:18

And in Romans chapter 13, which we heard today, Paul picks up a similar theme with instruction for the small and fragile Christian communities’ in Rome.

We must always bear in mind that society at that time was deeply stratified. 

One scandalous feature of the emerging Christian Communities was the mixing of classes – ‘for all are one in Christ Jesus.’

What this meant, what it looked like and how to make it real, is the subject of many of the Letter’s in the New Testament.

We are probably all familiar with Jesus summary of the Law and what we sometimes refer to as the Golden Commandments…

Mark 12:30-31
 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

This is picked up here by Paul when he writes about love being the fulfilling of the law.

‘Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.’

However ‘love’ here needs to be balanced with the passage from Matthew we have just been thinking about.

Love is tough and love occasionally has to say no.
It is never a matter of easy going compromise and perhaps saying, so what’s the harm, it does not really matter.

You might recall the story some years ago of a mother who son at the age of nine, if I remember correctly, weighed about 13 stone.

The authorities were threating to take the child into care if she didn’t sort things out. However she said, but he loves his food, crisps and burgers and chips. She thought she was being a loving mum, but in fact she was killing her own son by a misguided understanding of love.

Remember the Truth and Reconciliation Commission under Archbishop Desmond Tutu when the apartheid regime in South Africa was dismantled.

Truth about the horrors committed by all sides had to be brought into the open, spoken about and acknowledged. Only then could there be a move towards forgiveness and reconciliation.

You see, in the time of Jesus and of Paul, as now, we are supposed to be a light shining in the darkness.

We are called to demonstrate how to live as authentic human beings and how to live in love and harmony and community together as God’s people.

Jesus calls us to love each other in the Community of Faith

‘…A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

And it is from this Faith Community, with love, peace and reconciliation at its very heart and core that we open up our doors and invite others in so that they can see and taste that the Lord is good.

Sadly, many of our Churches are full of rancour and bitterness, of people complaining because we do not sing this hymn or that song any more, or because we do that or because we now do this.

Is it little wonder that people may look at us and say, I have enough stress and arguments in my life already; I do not want to add to them by becoming involved in Church if that is what they are like.

So here are a few questions by way of a conclusion.

What first attracted you to this Faith Community – to this Church – and that applies whether you are here for the first time today, or have been coming for years.

Then, what do you think would attract more people to come and join us?

Then, what might we do to make ourselves more attractive, available and accessible?

And if you are new here today then you are exactly the right kind of people to help answer this question.

This is why it is important to make the Gathering Alan has arranged for the 16th September, a top priority with a wide invitation for everyone and anyone to come along. So that together we can discern the will of God for His Church, whether you have been labouring in the vineyard all day or just for one hour!

‘…A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

Now let us stand to share the Peace

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