Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Other mens' flowers"

Apologies for absence...We've had an awful lot of special occasions, guest preachers and wonderful events over the past month - and sermon writing has been squeezed into insufficient time and has often felt less than I thought I'd spare you! This one is no exception - except for the helpful words that I borrowed from the then Dean of Bradford, who preached a remarkably similar sermon there in 2007. So...I'm plagiarising with deep gratitude and in hopes that I may find the space to do some decent reflecting of my very own before too long. Meanwhile, as we celebrate Ss Simon & Jude tomorrow I have particular cause to be grateful that the Church is a body of Christians travelling and learning together. 
Today we remember the apostles Simon and Jude.
They’re not exactly the most famous of the twelve followers of Jesus. Simon was called the Zealot, the jealous one, and was probably linked with the Jewish nationalist Jews movement, bent on ousting the Romans – nowadays he might well be a terrorist suspect. Jude also called Thaddaeus (but often referred to as Judas NOT Iscariot) is indeed Jude the obscure, the patron saint of lost causes and last resorts. Because of the confusion with his better known but universally unpopular namesake, a belief arose that practically NOBODY would ask for his help...and thus that he worked extremely hard for the few who did...hence his patronage of lost causes. Though a letter at the end of the New Testament is ascribed to him, it tells us nothing about the man at all, and may well have been written by someone quite different...
Simon and Jude: not really in the first rank of famous Christians..not dwellers in the limelight,but faithful followers who managed to stick with Jesus throughout his public ministry...and of course that's where their value lies. Ordinary people...nothing special really. People maybe a bit like us.
Simon and Jude, remembered, not because of what they did, but because of who their friends were, who their friends are. 

Simon and Jude,part of a small group that changed the world. 
They didn’t choose their own individual way, their tailor-made path to fulfillment and holiness: they devoted their lives to following Jesus, and so their lives will always be remembered. Their story reminds us that being a Christian isn’t a matter of just “me and my God”. Rather, it's about all of us travelling together... Being a Christian is a corporate act: you can’t make it on your own. Christianity is the least individualistic of all the world's religions...we share corporate responsbility for one another and for the world that God loves só much...We need each other, we need to be part of the body of Christ, in order to be saved. 
More, we don’t get to know God alone: we come to know God together – and we need the different insights, gifts and understanding that the whole faith community, young and old, can bring.

In our gospel reading from John, Jesus speaks to the twelve apostles including Simon and Jude after his Last Supper. He’s already told his disciples that they must love one another as he loves them; as they gave themselves to Jesus so they must give themselves to one another; and they must stick together, because the world outside will hate them as it hated Jesus himself.

That’s what we’re called to do as disciples of Jesus. To love one another and stick together: to be together with all other Christian people; to be friends of the friends of Jesus.
‘Any friend of yours is a friend of mine’.
Sometimes that seems surprisingly hard. We look at our fellow Christians and, really, they aren't the people we would choose to share our lives with. Our tastes and our habits don't match. Indeed, we struggle to spend time together at all, and so we miss out on the many things we could learn from one another, the many ways in which our journeys are better together...
Judging by the gospels, the 12 apostles thought each other really rather strange and didn’t get on that well either: but they learned to become a community of love in Jesus Christ. Perhaps the persecution that they suffered strengthened the bond. It's noticeable today that where the church is allowed to exist in peace and prosperity, precious energy is wasted in factions and disagreements.Instead of working together for the Kingdom, we work against one another, in the best tradition of family squabbles...whether our divisions are over women bishops, human sexuality or our preferred translation of the Bible and the words that we use in worship...When we don't need to stand together, against the world, we find ourselves indulging in in-fighting that does nothing to mark us out from the crowd..We don't seem to be strangers and aliens in our broken world, but very much at home in it, as broken as our neighbours...
And of course, we ARE broken...
But we are called to something different. To unity on the foundation that is Christ...
There’s a very good visual image of all this which Paul gives us in today’s epistle reading from Ephesians ch.2. It’s the picture of us as God’s building. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, the first key stone which is laid and which is the point of reference for the rest of the building. There’s a lovely phrase about the cornerstone in Isaiah, from which this image comes:

I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
‘One who trusts will not panic.’

Or as our collect for the day says, ‘God builds the Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone.’ We are part of God’s building. If you've time after the service today, go and look at the drystone wall that surrounds our churchyard. Look at those many different shapes, irregular, unpolished, not matching one another but all having a place, necessary to give structure and strength. That's how the Church works. As individuals we fail....but together....well then, when we feel alone or isolated or meaningless – as Isaiah tells us, Don’t panic! We belong in Jesus.

Sometimes that call not to panic feels like a really tall order. We hear the call to be holy, the reminder that we are citizens with the saints above...we look at our own lives, with all their failures and unfinished business.....and.....well, most certainly I for one DO panic. There's só much I long to change...
But remember,all of us are broken people in one way or another, and it's those broken people that Jesus calls to him. A church of broken people finding strenth together, through our unity in Christ.
We may not have chosen each other, but each of us is here because, wonderfully, God has chosen US. And God asks us, not to judge and exclude each other, but to love and serve and find Christ in one another, even in those with whom we profoundly disagree. I know I'll find that hard next month, as synod debates the ordination of women as bishops for one more time...I'll dream for a while of a church where everyone sees things just as I do...I'll imagine those whose views differ from mine miraculously vanishing.
But then, I hope, I'll take time to reflect and to pray. Because excluding difference is never part of our calling as Christians.
The world may hate us, but we are called to love...and to love inclusively.
We do not stand against one another but FOR all God’s people, of every kind and condition;
We belong together in love, whatever decisions are made elsewhere.

One who trusts will not panic. You may, like me, need to ask for help to trust more fully....but really - please 
Don’t panic – for all of us who follow Jesus, whether conservative or liberal, gay or straight, black or white, famous or powerless, men or women have a place in God’s household, the community of Jesus, who is the cornerstone of God’s Temple which will last for ever.
Do not panic. Love one another.