Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sermon for the Cathedral Eucharist, Trinity 8, Proper 14 11th August 2019

Do not be afraid little flock. It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

It isn’t supposed to be this way…
That’s a thought that crosses my mind with increasing regularity. I wonder if you feel the same...That things in the world right here and now leave more than a little to be desired.
There’s climate change
There are food banks
There area people mown down in mass shootings, simply because they found themselves in the wrong place when someone deeply unstable decided to exercise the right to bear, and to use, arms…
There are beggars on the streets of our own city – just a few yards away as we gather for worship this morning
There are lonely souls shut up behind closed doors, not knowing if it’s safe to come out, whether they’ll be welcomed or rejected.
There are children – CHILDREN for God’s sake – locked up in detention centres or entrusted to tiny boats crossing a stormy sea (oh yes, THEIR parents desire a better country for sure – they may simply be sadly deluded as to where they will find it)
It’s not an encouraging picture, is it?
Nothing like the world I imagined when growing up, not even the world into which I confidently bore my children.
It’s certainly not the world that we read about in the great kingdom prophecies of Isaiah, in the teaching of Jesus or indeed in any of the aspirational passages of Scripture.
It isn’t supposed to be this way…

So – what are we to do?
Confronted by the pain and disillusion of here and now – how should we respond, as people of faith?
My first reaction, I must admit, owes less to faith than to fear. I want to gather those I love around me and circle the wagons...If the world has all gone wrong, I want to protect them if I can, or at least huddle together as we face the worst. There’s a lot of metaphorical huddling that goes on as we listen to the news day by day – but into this experience of anxiety, fear, even despair, I hear Jesus speaking
Do not be afraid little flock for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”
Do not be afraid!
Really? Why ever not?
Fear seems perfectly rational to me!

But I’m here to preach the gospel and am reminded of some wise advice, that in preaching, the task is always to celebrate what God is doing rather than to struggle with the demands and failures of life here and now.

So – what IS God doing – that might, somehow, be enough to encourage us not to be afraid?

I guess it all depends on where your treasure is. It's far too simple to just focus on material possessions - but nonetheless, if those things that you treasure most are firmly of this world, you may well feel that God’s action is woefully inadequate (and that a bit more human action, based on unconditional love, would not go amiss either). 
But at no point does Jesus promise us a charmed life – quite the reverse, in fact.
In the world you will have troubles, he says….and that’s reassuring, when the troubles come. They may not be welcome – but they don’t indicate that God has somehow lost the plot. Not even for a second.

But, despite the troubles we are not to be afraid because, whether we deserve it or not, it is God’s good pleasure to GIVE US THE KINGDOM.

That’s extraordinary – and transformative, if we can but recognise it.
You see, what we believe about the future absolutely shapes how we live in the present.
We remain conscious of that sense that “it’s not supposed to be this way” - but instead of allowing that to halt us in our tracks, frozen in futility, we affirm that this is not our permanent home, not our eternal destiny.
We desire, with all those Old Testament heroes, a better country...and we press on towards it as best we can...sometimes confident of the terrain, more often stumbling, having no idea where we are heading or how we will get there….simply keeping going in a long obedience to God’s call.
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly”
Keep moving forward faithfully, step by step.

Sometimes, our faith may not bring us all that we hoped for.
We try to trust God, to place in his hands our needs and those of the people we love – but things don’t pan out as we’d expected.
Don’t be afraid little flock.
God’s got this.
Have faith.

Do not be afraid little flock – you’re aiming for somewhere better.
Somewhere where your heart can find a home, alongside solid joys and lasting treasure
Somewhere worth more than all the possessions you might cling to in the here and now.

So – like that rich farmer constructing giant barns whom we considered last week, we’re invited to reflect on what we value most – what is closest to our hearts. 
And, deep down, we all know that those things which matter most aren’t things at all...though we seem programmed to grasp them with both hands.
Let me tell you a story, the story of a guy whose unlikely lifelong ambition was to use the flying trapeze. To celebrate a significant birthday some friends organised a circus skills day for him– and suddenly, it seemed that this dream might be within reach. He had a wonderful day, learning about high wires and low wires, about tight ropes, slack ropes and safety nets...And finally the moment came when he could, if he chose, finally live his dream.
He found himself swinging in mid air, - another swing heading towards him. This was the moment.
BUT in order to fly, he had to let go of one trapeze, in order to grasp the other.
He HAD TO LET GO and trust.

That’s faith.

That’s the faith that sent Abram away from his roots, wandering in obedience to a promise that was not fulfilled in his lifetime.
That’s the faith that sends us into exile, moving us on beyond a place of comfortable certainties, showing us that, in fact, we never really belonged there...that we are wayfarers heading home
That’s the faith that enables the serious disciple to do as Jesus says – to sell possessions and give alms, trusting that in letting go of one thing, we will be given something else, still more valuable…
Yes. Letting go IS hard.
I know that. You know that.
But – it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom – and his promises won’t fail.

So, don’t fret about the state of the world, but do long for something better...
Do all you can to live into God’s future, making a difference here and now, but don’t despair if your efforts seem hopeless.
Trust that God will bring to pass.

The Welsh priest-poet R S Thomas wrote about God’s kingom – coupling a huge sense of yearning with the certainty that as we desire a better country, that country’s borders are open to all

It's a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It's a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf

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