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

Monday, 7 July 2014

Sermon, Trinity 3 2014

Zechariah 9:9-12                    
Romans 7:15-25a                   
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

On Thursday evening I was at a meeting of local Christian representatives and Jews called on the initiative of Rabbi David Mason of the Muswell Hill Synagogue. He wanted to learn about Christian perspectives on Israel and Palestine and their ongoing conflict, and to share the views of the Jewish community with us. It was a very valuable meeting and I think a lot of important sharing and learning went on.
One insight that Rabbi David shared with us was how the stories of the Israeli and Palestinian people seem to mirror one another. They both have stories of oppression, loss and grief, histories of conflict and opposition. But their stories don’t converge. It seems so very difficult for each side to understand the other, and to see how similar they are. They are caught in a dynamic of opposition. It’s a blame game. The experience of each side is that bad things are always being done to them by the other, and however far back you go it’s always the other side that started it.
If you’re in that blame game you can’t see that the other side is actually the same as you. It takes real cost and courage to break out of the deadly game. Someone at the meeting shared the story of an encounter between two bereaved mothers, one Israeli, one Palestinian, both had lost children, killed by the ‘other side’. But in meeting and telling their stories to each other they discovered that their grief was the same. They were able to move beyond the blame game and recognise each other’s humanity, a story they could share, and find themselves on common ground instead of in opposition.
The same thing is at work with the children in the market places, whom Jesus mentions today. They are just playing a children’s game, one group plays the flute or wails, the other listens and then acts out the behaviour the sound is associated with. But the game has gone sour. “We played the flute and you didn’t dance, we wailed and you didn’t mourn.” It has become instead a game about identifying two groups, insiders and outsiders, those who keep the rules and those who don’t.
Jesus is saying that this is what his contemporary society was like. People have responded to John the Baptist and then to Jesus by opposition and rejection, because both John and Jesus haven’t followed the rules that society wanted them to follow. And they haven’t done that because their message was meant to change society. They preached repentance, a change of heart and direction. Human society has to give up the blame game, has to give up that destructive dynamic of us against them.
Now there’s a bit left out of our gospel reading this morning, where Jesus goes on to warn the lakeside cities he was preaching in, because they would not repent, in other words they would not give up this game. It will be worse for Sodom and Gomorrah, says Jesus, than for these cities. Because the blame game in the end is corrosive and death dealing. It poisons and destroys relationships and lives. It does not get rid of your “enemy” but in fact turns them into an obsession, a stumbling block, something you keep falling over but can’t tear yourself away from. And it is a fact that not one of the cities Jesus mentioned exists any more. They are all just archaeological sites. Human societies that would not repent and did not survive. They would not give up the blame game, the dynamic of opposition and casting out.
This is an enduring problem in human life. My trips to the gym are usually fitted in mid afternoon, and there is a row of television screens down the wall facing the cross trainers. So whether I like it or not I quite often end up watching the Jeremy Kyle show. The premise of the show is that people in conflict-riven families and relationships come on and are able to tell their stories and air their grievances, and the aim is to try and seek resolution.
When it works it does so by helping people to move on from blame. In other words to forgive, to let go of the hurts of the past, those endless variations of “we played the flute and you wouldn’t dance”, and to recognise that the other person you’ve been so opposed to is actually the same as you. It enables people to recognise their common humanity.
Well Jesus offers the radical alternative which can break anyone out of the blame game, and that is knowledge of God. God doesn’t play the blame game. God offers instead love, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation. We can learn from Jesus, who learns from the Father. And this is rest for our souls, a light and easy yoke. It can be costly, yes, but it is also healing. It is in fact the path of life.
We need this in society, in our relationships and in our own lives. Blame and division is something we internalise, and it becomes part of the workings of our own sin. It eats away at us from within. As someone has said, when you point the finger of blame at another person there are three fingers pointing back at you.
And St Paul says in today’s extract from Romans, “I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate”. “I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members… the law of sin.” It’s almost as though Paul is saying, I played the flute and I wouldn’t dance. Well blame will destroy us in the end, internally or externally. But we will be saved if we turn to the Lord. Who will rescue us from this body of death, says St Paul? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Jesus reveals God to us, and enables us to share in God’s life. This alone can move us on beyond the deadly trap of blame and opposition, whether in our own selves or with others. God is not like that, so if we come to know God we will be changed and made new.
This is really very simple, a child could do it. But so often we are too complicated to do the one simple thing that we need. It has been revealed, as Jesus says, to infants but not to the wise and learned. But if we will become like little children then we can begin to know the Father. Division, conflict and blame will be overcome within us and without. This is what it means to repent. And if we do so we will find rest for our souls. 

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