Today began with an 8.00 Eucharist at a neighbouring church which is currently in an interregnum...a church whose traditions are very different from St M's, but where I'm given the warmest welcome imaginable. A real treat to be with them, and a lovely way to start the day.
One of the ways in which St L's is different is in expecting a "Word" even at 8.00. This is fine if you are preaching on the Eucharistic Lectionary at 10.00, as it simply involves distilling essence-of-sermon and offering it to them in a kind of homeopathic quantity. This week, though,I celebrated at 10.00 and preached at Evensong...different readings so 2 sermons (or rather 1 sermon, 1 sermonette*).Rather a shame, to be honest, as I'd have loved to say something along these lines to my home congregation, some of whom have been rather inclined to write off the entire youth of Charlton Kings on the basis of a few rather sad and silly incidents. However, it was not to be. The lovely thing was that simply telling the St L's people about the Greenbelt Eucharist gave me another opportunity to relive it and I came home feeling all warm and smiley. I said it was a good start to the day!
I spent last weekend in company with around 20,000 other people at the Greenbelt Festival on the racecourse. This year one of the Festival tee shirts bore the words
“One Festival, many faces” and there is indeed a huge range of worship, music, art, theatre, dance, and of course theology on offer so that nobody’s Greenbelt is ever quite the same as that of their neighbour.
However, I want to think for a moment a little more explicitly about the actual human faces I saw there…Faces young and old, faces framed by dreadlocks or looking out from shaven heads, or bald ones, faces adorned with piercings of lips, nose, eyebrows as often as ears.
I have to say that if the group of young people with whom I found myself breaking bread at last Sunday’s Communion had gathered in the precinct in Charlton Kings, most of my home congregation would probably have wondered why the police weren’t immediately acting on the infamous “dispersal order” which is in force there. Those kids looked different….Definitely not mainstream Anglicans! Of course, I don’t have any idea what their denominational allegiance actually is, or indeed if they have one at all- but I can certainly vouch for their commitment to Christ and their shining love of God and of neighbour. When it comes to walking the talk, they really knew what they were doing. But in my own church they would have looked like outsiders, and might well have been regarded with suspicion….
When we hear Jesus berating the Pharisees, we tend automatically to put ourselves on the other side of the line, to count ourselves among the good guys…but most of the Pharisees were good, observant, God-loving Jews…the sort of people who took their faith very seriously and did all that they could to live godly lives. People whom we might well aspire to be, in fact.
But, for all their good intentions, they had totally missed the point.
“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.
They’d used their zeal for the law to inculcate a “them” and “us” culture of exclusion…. Jesus, though, operates from a very different perspective. He’s in the business of building an inclusive community. He rejects those categories that we too often enforce: class, “race”, wealth, and religious purity. He reminds us that for God such divisions are meaningless, that we will be judged on how we live our lives, not how clean our hands are.
Jesus will not allow us to draw lines of our own, and then attribute them to God…Nothing is to exclude His children from relationship with Him. Archbishop Desmond Tutu always used to say that the tragedy of Apartheid was its ability to persuade [black] children of God that they were not, in fact, children of God! We may not have to look terribly far in the church today to see other examples of a similar mindset…indeed, we probably need to acknowledge some traces of it within ourselves, and repent.
Meanwhile, Mark presents us with a Jesus who is alive to the deep-seated human tendency to exclude people who are “different”. The most effective way to do so is to declare them “unclean” – beyond the pale. But these are precisely the people whom Jesus turns to welcome first into the Kingdom…the second-class citizens, the outsiders, the excluded. He turns to them because this is the way of our God, God whose nature is compassion and love, and whose “holiness” is expressed not in disapproval but in loving welcome.
Last week at Greenbelt we sang words by Shirley Erena Murray
"For everyone born, a place at the table
For everyone born, clean water and bread.
For everyone born, a safe place for growing.
For everyone born, a star overhead.
And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy
Yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy.”
*And I'm grateful to Lawrence for the providing a direction for my thoughts and the Desmond Tutu story...excellent stuff. I love Lectionary blogs :-)