Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
8th Oct 2017
Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity Year A
“The Lord is my Shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing” Psalm 23.1
“Christ has made me his own” Philippians 3.12.
If you search the Bible for a passage which stands sure and strong as a complete evocation of faith and trust then it must surely be Psalm 23, which is set to words and music as the hymn, ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’. It describes the individual’s relationship with God as one evidenced by fullness, rest, refreshment, guidance, fearlessness, consolation, comfort, generosity, thankfulness and hope. It is a psalm favoured for use at funerals as a summary of the gifts of faith, and it is a psalm full of hope. The Christian believer does not believe in a vacuum, but in the light of our experience of the living God, whose presence and whose love is sustaining and gives hope. It is both ‘refreshment for the soul’ and the experience of ‘goodness and mercy’ from its very source, God Himself.
There is much evidence brought by those who do not believe in God that all this is a kind of flight of fancy, or wishful thinking. Those who hold to faith are in the words of Professor Richard Dawkins, ‘deluded’. Christian Faith for many is not able to withstand the test that time imposes upon it, especially in the present day. The old Christian certainties have given way, in the face of a world grown more diverse, more communicative and more complex than ever, to an encroaching fatalism. If the Christian is to ‘walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil’ then she or he is to be a Christian who does not find themself in antagonised reaction to the new forces which shape our contemporary world. The Christian witness urges us on to refreshed and revitalised understandings of what is to be human, what it is to be British, what it is to be a Londoner, what it is to be a Christian today, what it is to be me, a citizen of the world. And we will need, to heed the words of Psalm 23, which calls for an impassioned all-embracing faith.
Some time ago a seventeen year old schoolgirl was called out of her chemistry class in Birmingham to be told that she had won the Nobel Peace Prize. The youngest Nobel Laureate ever. A few weeks ago she was offered a place at Oxford University, to read politics, philosophy and economics at Lady Margaret Hall. Imagine on her CV ‘Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize’ Malala Yousafzai, described in the press as a ‘child education activist’ has now been educated in Britain, having survived being shot in the head in her Pakistani home town by the Taliban whilst travelling on the school bus following a school exam. Now she is fully recovered, though with marked signs of her wounds, she has spoken out against the way girls in Pakistan are denied educational advantages, and of how in comparatively advanced societies like her own, children are commonly reduced to slave status from an early age by their families and supported by the political system. This young girl has been a great presence and a great voice on the world scene, because her experiences and outspokenness have speak to us all of as a voice of God. It has broken through the clarion voices and vested interests which would treat their fellow human beings, in this case children, as mere commodities, just like the wicked tenants in today’s Gospel reading.
As Christians, we must hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches, a spirit which does not confine itself to the Church alone, but which may express itself as the resounding voice of God in a troubled world, which may even be heard in the life of a seventeen year old school girl. If the promise of Psalm 23 is not to be one founded in religious romanticism then it must be a call to a Christianity which contains the three ‘C’s which we are aiming for in the Diocese of London ‘Caring, Compassionate and Confident’. It must be a Christianity which does not speak from a narrow and culturally confined space. Much of the New Testament emerges out of the clash of cultures and political ideologies and religions and Christianity must realise that this is still very much the case.
I was privileged last week to overhear a Christian priest welcoming a Hindu convert to Christianity. How could it be possible to understand all the world’s religions in relation to Christianity? The priest described a large tree with many branches, which are the religions of the world. He went on to say that for Christians, Christ is the root and sap of that tree, the necessary human/divine love out of which the whole structure grows and develops. It is above all else humanitarian and peace making. The existence if ISIS and other extremist/terrorist groups are a reminder its opposite, of negative, life denying, person denying, murderous intent.This is again echoed in today’s Gospel parable. God is not mocked.
The seventeen year old schoolgirl, Malala, shot in the head, called out of her Birmingham Chemistry lesson, and taking her place at Oxford while decrying man’s inhumanity to man is the reminder which we are given in today’s Gospel of the invitation to the heavenly banquet, where murderous intent and selfish disobedience has given way to a willingness firstly to recognise God and secondly, to live in God and to co-operate with God's purposes and then to speak for God. In this way we advance a reconciliation of all humankind with the one God, who in Jesus Christ is the Lord, our shepherd, in whom, in the words of Psalm 23, “we lack nothing”. Or as Paul puts it in today’s letter to the Philippians, we “…press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” which for Paul is an experience of Christ’s Resurrection. He goes on to say “I press on to make this my own, because Christ has made me his own”.
“Therefore…” replies the Psalmist, “…can I lack nothing”.