Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity
25th Jun 2017
Trinity 2 Year A Semon
‘I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household’
Sometimes scripture comforts us; and sometimes it is so uncomfortable that we’d rather avoid what it says. But if we are to grow in our faith and to present a faithful, mature version of Christianity to the world then we need to grapple with these difficult texts, trusting God to reveal himself to us. So why did Jesus say those things about the family which we have heard today?
‘Family life’ and the past embrace in the Church of England of ‘Family Services’ attempted to express a catch all expression for one homogenous unity, a strong bulwark against anyone or any influence which would stray from its delineated borders. The idea of family could speak of a family as a predictable set of givens, and of certainties. But at the same time families have been volatile. There are those stories of people being forever excluded when they marry someone of whom their family disapproves, and we may add the more subtle and gradual exclusion experienced by people with creeping dementia, finding as the affliction develops and their memories of the family fade, so the family forgets to include them, fails to visit, leaves them - in their neediest time - alone. There are families which have rejected and excluded gay sons and daughters and societies acting for families in marginalising them, imprisoning them and even sentencing them to death.
We see Jesus distanced himself from society’s so-called Family Values and even from his own family. He would not make an idol of the family, as the rest of society had. Time and time again in the gospels we hear him make statements like, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’ or ‘There is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come have eternal life.’ And today’s incendiary remarks,
‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’
So what on earth does Jesus mean by these words?
First of all, a couple of statements about what his teaching on the family is not. Whilst there will obviously be a place for the family in the future of God’s people, we must not make an idol of it, and we must be prepared to reshape it in the light of the values of God’s kingdom. . The baptised are a people exploring a new way to be human together with God : life as lived in Jesus Christ. ‘If we become one in a death like his we will certainly become one in a resurrection like his’ Romans 6.3. The is a oneness proceeding not our of blood ties but out of the one incorporation into Christ Himself.
The Baptised are not a family – the relationships actually transcend so-called family values. No wonder then that the Christian Community is referred to by St Paul, writing only two decades after the death of Christ as ‘The Body of Christ’. Here refers to a body of faithful people not identified by family or cult status but as an organic unity. Families are alive to one other, exclusively; but the baptised are to be alive to God – which is an all-inclusive, all-embracing aliveness.
This week, three events in two days have reminded me of the indispensability of human relationships which incorporate and transcend the existing bonds of family and society, ethnicity, culture and even age. The meeting with a local charity, ‘Only Connect’ which helps to rehabilitate young offenders. we spoke about the possibility of their coming to help bring our Peace Garden in Cromer Street back to life. The second, a performance at Argyle School of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in cut down form, but with the help of The Small Opera Company, and containing elements of drama, tragedy, light opera and fabulous music and incorporating songs from ‘West Side Story’. The tragedy ends as the Montague and Capulets, the two warring families, come together as one in grief at the tragic deaths of their young ones, Romeo and Juliet. This was expressed as a reconciliation in dance. And then Friday’s visit from our students from Berkeley California and ‘hands across the sea’. At a time when we accept the warring and violent and divided world, so often a by-product of age old internal tensions, it is good to enjoy being part of a greater human whole which can delight and celebrate human diversity in all its latent beauty even and especially when the world’s pain is being so utterly manifest. Christians are especially called to live within these contrasting places.
The baptised person is not only in the middle of human suffering and muddle but in the middle of the love and delight of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That surely is one of the most extraordinary mysteries of being Christian. We are in the middle of two things that seem quite contradictory: in the middle of the heart of God, the ecstatic joy of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; and in the middle of a world of threat, suffering, sin and pain. And because Jesus had taken his stand right in the middle of those two realities, that is where we take ours. ‘Where I am, there will my servant be also’ (John 12.26).
The Baptised are a people joined together in relationship with God, joined together with other believers who may be in some ways quite different from you, from all walks of life, and especially the in the embracing of the poorest, the neediest, and those whom society and its nuclear families have shunned and rejected. The Christian community which we call The Church is not a self-selecting group of people; a sect. It relates to God in such a way as its energy is directed outward and away from selfish or narrow tribal instincts. The Church is to model that ambitious challenge, laid down by Christ this morning ‘Those who lose their life (in this way) will find it’.
We, the Baptised, are placed in this world to remember the forgotten ones, to include the excluded ones, to bring peace to the conflicted ones, to visit the unvisited ones, to nurture life and love and hope where family and society has failed to deliver these things. Like our Lord, breaking down barriers, transcending boundaries, muddying the waters in joyous activity - these are the marks of the Baptised, to whom we belong. It is to this that we being called.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6.3