Church of England · Felixstowe · Prayer · Sermon

Order! Order, order!

Order! Order, order!

Sermon for Trinity 9 – 18 August 2019 – St John the Baptist, Felixstowe

 

Text: Luke 12.49-56

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division!  (Luke 12.51)

God give you peace my sisters and brothers. 

A few weeks ago I spent some time in Les Haut Alpes in Southern France chasing our eldest son and two friends around as they spent time hang gliding between assorted mountain peaks.

At the end of a day’s flying there was always an opportunity to sit at a cafe in downtown Laragne-Monteglin and talk about how high the pilots had climbed, where they found thermals to lift them higher, and the sheer joy of everyone making it back to the goal landing field for 5 of the 6 days we flew. Which meant that yours truly had to spend very little time driving up farm tracks in search of abandoned gliders.

There was, bearing in mind that we were in France, one particular topic we tried very hard to not talk about… the ‘B’ word, {whisper it quietly, Brexit} but one night it slipped out in conversation causing much hilarity amongst a group of German pilots who came over to our table and, in homage to the Speaker of the House of Commons, good humouredly shouted at us, Order! Order, order!’ 

It seems the machinations of our MP’s on the green benches of St James’ Palace are the ordersource of much hilarity, and mystification, to our European neighbours! But then we have spent over 1000 years developing and fine-tuning arcane and quirky, yet quintessentially British, ways of pursuing democracy.

Just look at the voting system, which involves many cries of ‘Order, order!’, ‘lock’ and unlock’, ‘Ayes to the Right and Noes to the Left’. If you have ever been in the Commons when voting is taking place there is an ebb and flow between calm conversation amongst MPs and constituents and then frantic running around each time the Division Bell rings.

Early versions of the Standing Orders of General Synod, modelled on those of Parliament, imitated this process. The business of Synod proceeded through debates until a vote was needed. A bell was rung and a legal eagle wearing a wig on the front table would stand and, House of Commons Speaker-like, proclaim the word ‘Divide!’ At which everyone would troop out through their various voting doors for a count to be general synod dave walkermade. After several years it was deemed that the liberal use of the word ‘divide’ was not healthy for the unity of the church so Standing Orders were changed and the legal eagle wearing a wig on the front table had to stand and House of Commons Speaker-like proclaim ‘Decide!’ instead. I’m not that certain that the change in language made General Synod a more united place but at least we try.

Whether you ring a Division Bell in the Houses of Parliament or a ‘Decision’ Bell in the various Houses of General Synod. This truth remains; all decisions will involve a decision.

As the Old English proverb first written down in 1546 (and often misquoted) says:

“Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?”[1]

(you can’t eat your cake and have it)

Much as we would like it to be different we cannot have the Best of Both Worlds.

So it is that Jesus tells us today:

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?

No, I tell you, but rather division!  (Luke 12.51)

How is it that Jesus, the swaddled manger-bedded Prince of Peace of Luke Chapter 2 has, just ten chapters later, turned into this prophet of familial division and disunity? Mind you the ‘Casting down of the mighty from their seat’ in Mary’s Magnificat should have given those around him a hint of a warning.

Yes, decisions provoke divisions but does it have to be this serious?for you for everyone
And does God have to be the harbinger of disaster?
Isn’t Jesus supposed to be the purveyor of all things good, gentle and cuddly?
What about the opening of the Kingdom to everyone and the promise of forgiveness and life evermore?
How can it be called ‘Good News’ if the author of Life proclaims a coming division and disaster?

When Jesus speaks about learning to read the Signs of the time, he is saying to his listeners, (who to be honest don’t appear to be too good at listening), that a moment, an event, is coming which will turn the world around.

They could not see that once Jesus started taking God’s love for everyone seriously – his birth greeted by outcast shepherds, allowing women to be amongst his closest followers, feasting with prostitutes and tax collectors, proclaiming Samaritans to be good, and cocking-a-snook at the powers of the day – that it was all going to end in tears on a cross.

For his little flock of almost faithful misfits the Cross requires of them a decision that would lead to division. And what is the decision that the Cross compels us to make? A decision to welcome everyone.

A decision that insists that if we are ever going to be ‘Open to God’ then it is an imperative that we must be ‘Open to All’ as well.

There are no half-measures. To have everything which God offers we must give everything we already have away.

Big Logo circle cropIf we want to live we have to decide to die!

In our Eucharist we use these words:

He offered his life for sinners

and with a love stronger than death

opened wide his arms on the cross.

 

Our decision to accept this love will lead to division because not everyone can accept or even contemplate an unconditional arms open-wide love.

His wide-open armed love means that everyone is welcome?
Crucified thieves, be they penitent or otherwise.
Gambling soldiers throwing dice for the Saviour’s robe at the foot of the cross.
Angry Pharisees and Sadducees whipping up the blood lust of the crowd.
Indifferent Prelates, washing their hands of the pain and suffering of those beneath them.

And in our world today these wide-open arms continue to call to us so it is we who are to welcome;

Those who are not like us, who have different manners and morals.
Those who speak different languages and have different faiths and rituals.
Those whom we have given up on, as not deserving of our love or care.

And it gets worse, an arms open-wide love also includes;
Those with whom we have disagreed and will not sit next to in church.
Those with whom we will not share the Peace or the Body and Blood of Christ.
Those from whom we refuse to seek forgiveness for our un-lovingness?
Those whom, if they are ever bold enough to venture into church, we look down upon simply because their sin is more visible than our transgressions.

As if God did not know the secrets of all our hearts?

The old old hymn calls us to our senses

Nothing in my hand I bring, 
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Saviour, or I die.

In the unconditional welcome of the One whose arms are open wide on the cross there is no room for us to suggest that God’s love is only for people who are just like us, or people with whom we are in perfect harmony, or people who will talk to us if we turn away from others.

You see if we are so concerned with the behaviour and morals of others that we separate ourselves from them then we also separate ourselves from the loving embrace of our Lord and Saviour. It is not Jesus who condemns us to an outer darkness but our own deeds. Our decision to not welcome everyone brings upon our own heads a separation and division from God.

Nothing in my hand I bring, 
simply to the cross I cling;

 

To spend our lives at the turning point of the Cross demands that we, as with our Lord, are required to be empty handed, so that with Him we may open our arms wide and welcome everyone into the shelter of God’s love were all find rest and peace and joy everlasting.

[This blog ‘Order! Order, order!’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019]

[1] https://knowyourphrase.com/you-cant-have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too

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