Sunday, June 22, 2014

"Motherhood and apple pie" - a sermon for Trinity 1A at Coventry Cathedral

It's sometimes said that one of the hardest parts of living in a post-Christian society is the number of people who THINK they know exactly what our faith is about.
Take, for example, the way certain sections of the media tend to equate “Christian values” with “Family values”.
Safe, cosy, completely unobjectionable,both are seen as a kind of short-hand, much like “Motherhood and apple pie”.
Love them, or loathe them – in the public imagination Christian values are most definitely NEVER challenging.

Except, of course, that we know better.

We know our attempts, whether whole-hearted or faltering, to live lives shaped by Christ's teachings rarely make things easier in the short term.

We know that a faith that looks towards things as they could be is rarely good news for things as they are...Our very existence should speak of challenge and change – and that's not something that makes for a smooth journey.

And we can't say we weren't warned.

Really, it's quite extraordinary how many people miss this aspect of Christianity...
because the gospels are full of it, even if you gloss over the end of the Jesus story. Certainly, he himself makes it very clear, again and again.
Just listen – if you're feeling brave.

I have not come to bring peace but a sword
I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother...”

What price family values here?
What are we to do with this picture of conflict and complexity – in a place dedicated to peace and reconciliation?
Motherhood and apple pie? I don't really think so.

It's frankly terrifying stuff – perhaps almost more so for those of us who have never experienced any kind of persecution for our faith.
We ask ourselves whether we'd have the courage of our convictions...whether we might after all turn out to be fair-weather Christians...
Perhaps the gospel is too challenging for us after all.
We rather like the life we have – it's familiar, comfortable, largely manageable – and we would much prefer to carry all the baggage that we have so lovingly accumulated – family, friends, and material possessions – rather than surrender them, leaving our hands free to take up the cross.

And this is supposed to be good news???

Actually, I rather think it is. Here in Coventry, I know that many of you will have had direct experience of meeting brothers and sisters who've lived this – and you'll recognise their rather different perspective. For me, my first encounter with a real live persecuted Christian was a complete eye opener...putting an end to any assumption that “Christian values” and “Family values” belonged together, but also showing me the unexpected joy of those who HAVE on one level lost their life for Christ's sake. It was on my 1st visit to India, when I found myself sitting at table with Andrew, an Indian Christian working for Scriputre Union across the 3 dioceses of Karnataka North, South and Central. His family was originally dalit, untouchable – and despite the outlawing of the caste system, that legacy endures - but Andrew's grandfather converted to Christianity, following what amounted to a miracle. He was employed by a British tea planter, a Christian who held daily prayers for his staff...but grandfather, a devout Hindu, was not convinced. Then one day he had an accident, 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 the ward, in great pain and utter desolation...He noticed a picture of Jesus, which he recognised from his employer's home...and 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, the gangrene had gone, the broken bone was whole and, not surprisingly, grandfather converted to Christianity on the spot. Healed and restored – a whole new life began – but in embracing it, he lost all that had gone before, for he was outlawed from his own family, forbidden to return to the place where he'd been born, pelted with stones and refuse by work mates and relatives. Even now, when his grandson Andrew returns to his home village, he is ostracised – by those very outcasts who might have been expected to show solidarity no matter what.
But, he says, it is worth it, for he has found an open door, an escape route from the confines of the eternal cycle of karma to freedom and dignity as a child of God – and for Andrew, that's worth any amount of abuse. Following Christ has helped him to find himself...his vocation...his purpose in this life and beyond.

Good news after all, then!

But where does that leave us?

Do we have to pick a fight with the rest of our family? .

Well no – probably not! But we DO have to be certain that we know where our priorities lie.
The call to discipleship is an absolute – not one to follow on the days when we haven't got much on, when it fits in with our personal timetable.
You see the message is that nothing – NOTHING – is as important as acknowledging Christ as Lord...and sometimes this may even seem to be at odds with our calling to peace and reconciliation.
You'll know already that reconciliation has nothing to do with papering over cracks or denying difficulties.
Reconciliation goes hand in hand with truth: it is never achieved through superficial compromise.
Where difficulties exist they must be named and faced...and for us, trying to live as citizens of the Kingdom will often mean difficulties as we strive to speak up for the oppressed and challenge injustice.
We may find ourselves in situations we would never choose, places of deep, enduring pain – but we stand there as signs of hope and liberation.

Those aren't easy, empty words...and their inherent challenge would surely startle those who see our faith as a bland expression of kindness without meaning.
I almost wish that our faith was more “motherhood and apple pie”, more hallmark cards less gospel imperative

So here's the rub.
I want to take it seriously...I want to have the courage to put Christ first in all let go of everything else - but as Jesus tells his disciples...
Whoever loves father or mother...son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”
I'm pretty certain I'm not worthy of him.
Not because I've got a set of disordered priorities – though that's probably true too – but because, actually, we're NONE of us worthy of him.

Which brings us back to good news after all
We stand or fall not on our own worthiness but on His unlimited grace....

So do not be afraid . We have His word for it that you are worth more than many sparrows!

1 comment:

Stephen said...

This notion of being worthy? - so this is not a criticism, but just a thought. I wonder whether we do have to be worthy of/for/to those who love us - or whether it is enough just to enjoy their love and do our best to love them back. Without worrying about whether we are worth it.