Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 11 2013

Genesis 15:1-6
Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “Faith is believing in something you know ain’t true”. I wonder how many people today think the same: that faith is wishful thinking, talking to an imaginary friend, pie in the sky. Whatever you can’t pin down and prove scientifically isn’t real.
But that I think is to do a disservice to faith, and indeed to science. Our ordinary human experience tells us something more. If you stand before a great painting, such as Cezanne’s Mont Saint-Victoire, chemistry can tell us about the composition of the paint and pigments, where they came from, the spectrum of light they reflect, and so on. Geology can tell us what rocks the mountain in the picture is made from, and how old they are. But the truth of the painting is something else: an intense, immediate experience of a mystery that stands before us, both earth-rooted rock and transcendent height, glowing with colour and light, drawing us in. Cezanne is telling us the truth about a mountain in a way that science never could.
Faith is access to another kind of truth again, truth revealed by God. This is not contrary to the truth of science and human experience, but exists in a different order. So the Letter to the Hebrews says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.
What is it that is hoped for but not seen? Abraham hoped for descendants and a homeland, and he believed, even though this seemed impossible. Hebrews says this was a heavenly homeland, not the earthly ‘promised land’ which kept going wrong. He was seeking a homeland founded by God.
When and where is that? Today’s gospel reading speaks of the coming of the Son of Man. Does this means the end of the world? Is that imminent, or is it not now? How long have we got? 
Well, an aspect of the teaching of Jesus is about the End, the completion of God’s saving work, when his judgement on all human life will be made known, when Christ will be all in all and the redeemed will be gathered into his Kingdom. But Jesus says his coming is unexpected: if we think this is all about some remote future, far from where we are, we are missing the point. 
Jesus is talking about something for which we need to be alert and ready now.  He says to be “dressed for action”. That’s a quotation from Exodus 12:11, and it’s the instruction for the Passover. The Passover, you’ll remember, was a meal to be eaten in haste, because it was that very night that the Israelites were to leave the land of Egypt. So the bread was unleavened, because it’s quicker to cook, and the dress code was: have your girdle round your waist, your sandals on your feet and a staff in your hand. The girdle round your waist was to hook up your long robes so you could actually run. 
The Passover was urgent and hasty because God was coming to deliver his people right there and then, no time to waste. And Jesus is saying exactly the same thing to his disciples in this passage. He is saying, here and now, God is delivering his people. Can you see what’s happening? Are you ready? 
This is something that Jesus has been drawing attention to over the last few weeks as we have been reading through Luke’s gospel. The Kingdom is happening now. Be attentive. Be aware. 
Two weeks ago we heard how the Lord’s prayer described what God was doing in Jesus, there and then. Prayer takes us into the place where the Kingdom is happening. The parable of the rich fool was about someone whose attention was in the wrong place: on his possessions, his self-constructed image, so he missed the Kingdom. 
Faith is about spiritual awareness. Awakening our inner vision so we can see what God is doing. And Jesus tells two little parables about awareness, one reassuring, and one disturbing, but both are strange. There is something Zen-like about the parables of Jesus. They describe a world which is never quite like the one we know. They challenge our assumptions and expectations. Parables are about probing and deepening our awareness.
The master returns from a wedding very late - and swaps roles with his servants, serving them, waiting on them at table. That is not how the world we live in works. Clearly the Kingdom that God is giving to his little flock is very different from human expectations. This Kingdom belongs to a new order in which the most important thing is service, not power. And Jesus will make exactly this point again at the last supper when he says “I am among you as one who serves”. We have to unlearn everything we know about how human society works if we are to enter the Kingdom. 
Then Jesus shifts the imagery from that happy but unexpected scene. Suddenly, there’s a thief coming, but because this is a parable even the thief behaves strangely. Instead of breaking through the door or a window or the roof he literally digs through the wall. This is the Incredible Hulk of burglars!
Parables present us with a challenge, an obstacle to our understanding, to jolt us out of our old way of seeing things. Jesus tells these two stories, one which is strange and has a happy outcome, and the other which is strange but disturbing and upsetting. But both stories are about the coming of the Kingdom, and about our awareness. Can we see what is going on? Can we see how we need to change? Can we see where God is at work? 
In this Gospel passage we are at the scene of a break-in. God in Jesus is visiting his people, but unexpectedly, and in a way which  shatters our pre-conceptions about how human society works. Just as the thief demolishes the walls of the house, so Jesus breaks down the whole framework of how we thought we were meant to live. Masters become servants. Roles are exchanged, boundaries crossed. The Son of Man comes like a thief, like an outsider, to break down the walls which we thought we needed to keep the insiders in and the outsiders out. The city “founded and built by God”, as Hebrews puts it, is very different from the city we human beings construct for ourselves if left to our own devices.
So, the story of the master who serves his servants, and the story of the thief who comes crashing through the wall of the house, are about the same thing. They are about leaving off the way we used to live, and beginning to live in the new and different life of God’s Kingdom. And that happens when we become aware of the Kingdom, attentive to a spiritual reality that we discover by faith. 
But although this is a spiritual reality it is not disconnected from life here and now. Quite the reverse: be alert, be dressed for action, says Jesus. The kingdom is happening here and now. An authentic spiritual awareness of God’s Kingdom will always change how we live in this world and how that world lives around us. The kingdom is becoming real through us.
Justice and liberation, good news for the poor, the marginalised brought into the centre. All these are true signs of God’s kingdom breaking in to this world. But it begins with the Kingdom breaking into our hearts. It begins with awareness and attention to God in the ground of our being. It begins in prayer, and meditation on the scriptures, and the practice of the sacraments. But it ends in breaking down all the walls that this world builds, so that all people can be set free to enter their true home, the City founded and built by God.

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