Proper 12A – Romans 8 & Matthew 13
Another week when the news has been anything but good.
Corruption and scandal at home, famine abroad and then late on Friday night the news of the horrific events in Norway....the bomb in Oslo and the shooting of so many young people off at a summer camp in an idyllic island setting.
Truly the stuff of nightmares – and just as things seemed to be at their worst news began to spread across the internet – the gunman, Anders Behring Breivik, was described as a fundamentalist Christian.
Suddenly, I realised without any stretch of the imagination how the majority of peaceable, devout Muslims must feel as they read the often hysterical references to Islamic fundamentalists.
I was distraught as it appeared that none of those reporting could see the contradiction between the horrific violence that claimed só many young lives and the label of “little Christ...Christian” that had been attached to it.
I wanted to rush out into the road shouting
“No.......No..........You've got it all wrong. Christianity isn't like that....Nobody who is following Jesus could ever act in that dreadful way”
I wanted to – but I didn't.
Because I started thinking about the way that I live out my baptism....the ever present gap between the person I'm called to be, the one whom on my best days I aspire to be, and the thoroughly ordinary, hurt and hurting Kathryn who repeatedly fails in her quest to follow Jesus.
I realised that Christianity isn't that much like my life either....That though I may long to spend my time as a sign of God's Kingdom, I sometimes find myself pointing in a very different direction.
And I'm probably not alone.
Because, I guess, each one of us betrays the Kingdom of God in só many different ways.
We may do só by failing to care enough – by ignoring the cries of the hungry children of Africa or the loneliness of the troubled old lady down the road.
We may do só by a disproportionate focus on the interests of our own kind – our own family, perhaps even our own church family...
We may do só by the choices we make in our shopping trips – to save ourselves money at the expense of others, far away out of sight and thus out of mind
We may do só by staying silent in the face of injustice or by the simple hypocrisy that leads us, like the Pharisee in the Temple, to thank God that WE are not like other people.
Though perhaps none of those betrayals is as flagrant or as cataclysmic in its immediate impact as the probable actions of Anders Breivik, still each reflects our failure to truly live the cross-shaped life that we're called to in baptism.
Too often when I read a report of the latest mad or bad cleric, the sillier discussions at General Synod, or the minor selfishness of a small community that thinks that “charity begins at home” means “US first – everyone else can just wait their turn” I want to exclaim
“No...you've got it all wrong...Being a Christian isn't like that”
But sadly, that's often all the Christianity that people see.
Is there no hope, then?
If even the best of us fall over our own feet again and again, should we say, as one rather weary friend lamented earlier this week, that “the Christian project has failed”.
Certainly if we look at the lives of those who profess themselves Christians, there is lots of ground for disappointment...We don't seem to be bringing in the Kingdom, do we? The world is every bit as broken and enslaved as it has ever been.
How does Jesus describe the Kingdom, that state of being in which God's will is done on earth as in heaven?
He doesn't, you'll notice, talk about overnight revolutions – about the world turned upside down, and everything made perfect in an instant.
Nor does he talk about our working our way into the Kingdom...It's nothing to do with us qualifying by our behaviour.
The images of the Kingdom that he gives us in our gospel today are all about gradual growth, delayed gratification...
A seed, só tiny that you might drop it without even noticing, that grows slowly, imperceptibly to become a home and shelter for many
Yeast, that takes it time to work within dough...that cannot effect change unless the conditions are right...but that cannot BUT change everything with which it has contact
A treasure buried in a field...buried so deep that few people suspect that it is there...but something of such value that it is worth all we could possibly pay and more....
A priceless pearl – worth more than we can imagine...the sort of jewel you might spend a lifetime seeking...
Nothing quick, easy or dramatic here...but also nothing that depends on us.
The Kingdom, - where God's love rules regardless of our failures, our intransigence, our stupidity....that Kingdom will come.
It will come because there is nothing that can stop it.
Not human sin
Not the powers of evil
Not the things of time, nor those of eternity.
God's love is inexorable...
It will find its way through our rebellions, our apathy, our feeble attempts to live as Christians and our petulant refusals to let God be God...
It will even find its way through the pain of those who are weeping for lost children today...
That's what love does.
It does not eliminate pain...so it is right and proper to lament, to cry out with all that is in us “Oh God – why”......knowing that as we do so, Christ allies himself to us in our weeping and in our longing for redemption.
Love comes with us into our darkness, shares our desolation, cries in our tears, but is not overcome.
Even Paul, who was undoubtedly a fundamentalist Christian in that so much of our theology is founded on his writings, never doubted that.
“Love never ends” he said, to the Christians in Corinth......and then, as he looked at the trials and terrors that surrounded the new-fledged church in Rome he wrote still more powerfully
I am confident that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christianity does not depend on us.
Hope does not depend on us.
We fail, again and again, but always, always God's love wins...and as we recognise and begin to respond to this, so the task of following, of becoming signs of the Kingdom, becomes, step by tiny step, that bit more possible
So – despite the grief of the world......Despite the shame that I feel when I measure my own Christianity against the fulness of God's kingdom, despite all that casts shadows across our lives I can say
“I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in Love, even when I do not feel it
I believe in God, even when God is silent”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.