Sermon podcast: Trinity 86 Aug 2019
Tim Williams, Team Rector Kidderminster West, 11 August 2019
There once was a wise communications teacher who set her students an observation exercise. She handed out a picture of an elderly man sitting on some front steps. A young woman stood to his right, looking down toward him, and a child stood in front, facing both of them.
The teacher asked the students to tell her what they thought was happening in the picture. “The child and woman are caring for the old man,” one person suggested. Another said, “The child is listening to a story while the mother watches.” “Maybe they are just passing the time waiting for someone to come out of the building,” was another guess. All sorts of stories came up until the teacher finally pointed out what was really going on.
“The elderly man and the young woman are listening to the child telling them something. All the signs are there: the way the young woman is fondly looking down toward not just the old man, but specifically at the child. The man is watching the child intently. Notice the child’s hands? They are spread out away from the body and the body is leaning toward the two adults, like the child is emphasizing something and there’s a big smile on their face.” She concluded, “Communication is happening all the time, we just have to pay attention to the signs. We must be watchful and alert like Sherlock Holmes, noticing things that in normal life we gloss over.”
The Christian life is similar as we cultivate the Kingdom of God. We are both communicating our faith in our actions (showing where our treasure is) and also watching for where God is (waiting for the master to return from the banquet). We must ask ourselves whether or not we are intentionally doing either of these things. Like the teacher in the story said, we are communicating all the time. The question is, “What are we saying as a Christian people?” Whether or not we think anybody is listening, God hears us, and that is the most important measure of all.
In the Old Testament we read over and over about how Israel pays lip service through their prayers, sacrifices that are not really sacrificial, festivals that hold little meaning to the heart. God sees a people who are glossing over the work of the soul. The effects have clearly been harmful to the society. They commit acts of evil. They do not seek justice. The most side lined people in Israelite society—orphans and widows—are abandoned. Jesus Criticised the Pharisees for their double standards Rules being more important than people .
How little have we learned? In our modern society, we can hear God crying out through the oppressed, through the orphans whose parents have been killed by the evil of gun violence, through the refugee widows of wars and through the sacred places that have been violated by another’s judgment. The signs are all there and God is calling out to us, “Look! Watch! Be ready to do your part!” Are we willing? Are we obedient? Do we have the depth of faith, as a Franciscan blessing directs us, to be foolish enough to think we can make a difference in this world, supported by our love of Jesus Christ? The questions are difficult, and the answers take courage.
I remember several clergy I knew buying tee shirts with ‘Jesus is coming. Look busy!’ written on them. It is funny, but it also points to the misconception of believing that as long as we’re being nice people doing nice things, then we are good Christians, or more accurately, nice Christians. To be a follower of Jesus—to be a disciple—requires so much more.
Have you ever been a member of a fan club? They say confession is good for the soul and I must confess that I was a member of the Bay City Rollers fan club and I had posters over my walls. Or if f you are a fan of a particular sports team, you might wear a replica shirt.
Interestingly fan club membership depends on how popular or successful the person or team is. If a football team is in the premiership then the number of people with season tickets is far more than if they get relegated. The fans usually fall away. If a singer or music group has a lot of big hits, they will have a lot of fans, but if the hits stop coming, the fans will fall away.
When Jesus was on earth, he had a lot of fans. As he travelled around performing miracles there were huge crowds of fans everywhere he went. But Jesus wasn't interested in having fans, he wanted followers and told them, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me."
To be a follower of Jesus means much more than being a member of his fan club. It means more than wearing an "I Love Jesus" t-shirt, a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet, or a necklace with a cross on it. It means to follow the teachings of Jesus every day. It means to reach out to the poor, to feed the hungry, to be a friend of the friendless, to love the unlovely. In other words, it means to show the love that Jesus showed to everyone we meet. That is what separates a fan from a follower. To be a follower means to transform ones life.A transformed life means that you can never go back to simply being nice. It implies that the church has a deeper quest than providing groups and clubs. Those are good things and we should be part of them, but that is not why the Christian church exists.
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury said, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” Think about that. We exist to benefit non-members. The people who are not us.
This is a tall order, but we don’t have to strive alone: we have God and we have each other.
So how we can join in God’s work outside our church walls when we feel that what we are already doing so much within? Perhaps looking outside is overwhelming and we do not know where to begin. Perhaps we need to start by being still and listening to God, to listen to love. What messages are we hearing from God and what messages are we giving to the world about where our treasure is? Are we followers, or are we satisfied with just being a fan? Be still and listen to God, listen to Love. God will take care of the rest. Amen.