Saturday, August 17, 2013

"Father against son and son against father" - words for Trinity 12C at St Matthew's

51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided:
father against son
   and son against father,
mother against daughter
   and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
   and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

That may sound rather too close to the current state of the Church of England – divided over women bishops, gay priests, fracking and a whole let else besides – and if it does, it probably does not fill you with hope or joy.
We tend to think that to be set against something is always bad – that harmony and unity are goods to be pursued at all cost.
But sometimes, you know, it's worth taking a stand AGAINST something
In India I spent a lot of time singing the sort of Sunday school songs that my own mother learned in childhood – songs that are, for the most part, considered far too old fashioned for the sophisticated children of 21st century Gloucestershire...One such was “Dare to be a Daniel – dare to stand alone”
and perhaps that's closer to the spirit of today's gospel than the infighting of the institutional church.
Sometimes there are things worth standing up for – whatever the apparent cost.
Let me tell you a story – not from this visit to India, but from my previous adventure there 7 years ago.
I'd spent some time wrestling with the legacy of the British Raj.
Was it something to applaud or mourn?
To be honest, I'm still not sure.

Disturbingly, to be white still seems a passport to instant respect.
A blessing from English hands is valued more than an Indian one, and to the young Indian to be westernised is to be to sophisticated and successful.
That’s a real issue –for westernisation brings as many problems as blessings.
However, nothing is ever quite straightforward in India. Just as soon as you think you've got a handle on something, fresh light shows new perspectives – and I'm still not sure whether the work of the British in India is something to cherish or to lament.
Some of my Indian friends, though, are quite clear about it.
People like Andrew a Sunday school worker with Church of South India.
Like 70% of Indian Christians, Andrew's family is dalit, - the untouchable caste that is still seen in some areas as barely human, the lowest of the low,valued so much less than those beasts that Hindus revere as gods.
But his grandfather converted to Christianity, following what amounted to a miracle – a miracle that both gave him a great deal and cost him a great deal too.
Grandpa was employed by a British tea planter, a Christian who held daily prayers for his household...but grandfather, a devout Hindu, was not convinced.
He liked his employer, valued the kindness that was offered to all the staff, but remained steadfast to the faith of his own ancestors. Then one day he had an accident at work, breaking his treatment was some days journey away, and by the time he arrived gangrene had set in and amputation seemed inevitable. Surgery was planned for the following day, and he lay in great pain and utter desolation. How could he hope to support his family as a cripple? What could he do in in the face of such ruin? Where could he turn.
As he lay there on his hard hospital bed he noticed a picture of Jesus, which the face familiar from pictures in his employer's home...
In some desperation prayed
"I am in too much pain. If you are indeed a god, act."
That night his pain did not keep him awake, and instead he slept deeply and dreamed vividly of two men in white who came to him and assured him that Jesus had indeed healed his leg. In the morning, astounded doctors found that the gangrene had gone, the broken bone was whole and, not surprisingly, grandfather converted to Christianity on the spot.
Wonderful, life changing stuff – but carrying within it the seeds of another change – the sort that sets father against son and mother in law against daughter in law.
His grandfather's conversion meant that he was rejected by his own community, driven from the family home, threatened with violence, subjected to scorn and vitriol.
Even today, when Andrew returns home to his village, he is ostracised, out cast.
But, he says, it is worth it.
For Andrew, Christianity represents an open door, an escape route from the confines of the eternal cycle of karma to freedom and dignity as a child of God.
There are, you see, some things that are more important even than family unity.
You may never find yourself having to stand against those whom you love for the sake of your faith – but today's gospel reminds us that following Christ should never be an easy option. To be honest, if it has never yet cost you anything, you might need to ask yourself whether you're actually living as one of his disciples – or just coming along to a pleasant religious social club.
Think about that.
About what it is in your faith that might inspire you to hold fast no matter what...for Jesus emphatically does not promise an easy ride.
He does, though, promise life everlasting.

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