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

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 5 2016

Image credit: The Spectator

1 Kings 19.15-16,19-21
Galatians 5.1,13-25
Luke 9.51-62

It’s been a turbulent week in our national life, to put it mildly, and I doubt if it is over yet. When we enter a time of turmoil and change which is leading us into an unknown future, when we are seeking security, as Christians we might well turn to the Bible for comfort and guidance. But what do we read today?
Today’s gospel reading presents what seems to be a message of disturbing insecurity. Jesus is setting his face to go to Jerusalem, to be “taken up”; that is, this is his journey towards his death, which he foresees.
To someone who wants to follow him, he says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”.
Attachment to family, perhaps the most foundational unit of human identity and belonging, is ruthlessly rejected. “Let the dead bury their dead”. Nationality, race and religion – be they Jewish or Samaritan – are seen as stumbling blocks in the way of the Kingdom.
The message is uncompromising. Where do we truly belong? The Kingdom of God. Where are security and safety to be found? Nowhere at all on the way.
Why? Because of what we are leaving behind. Look at the long list of sins with which St Paul regaled us in the extract from Galatians this morning, what he calls the works of the flesh: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing”.
What are all those things but ways of seeking our security and safety, not in God’s Kingdom, but in things that we possess and control and the idols that we have to defend? And what do they lead to? St Paul says, biting and devouring one another. Because if we seek our security in possessions and other transient things, then we end up wanting what the other person has got and getting into conflict with them.
We see this in the episode that opens our Gospel reading today. Jesus sends messengers to a Samaritan village, but they refuse to receive them. Why? Because the Samaritans sought their security and identity in defining themselves over against the Jewish people. They were attached to their own identity and religious customs, and therefore rejected those who adhered to the Jewish identity focused on Jerusalem.
And James and John are just as bad: they are attached to their Jewish identity, and so want to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans. But Jesus rebukes them. We must not become attached to transient things on the way to the Kingdom, or we will never get there.
The mistake of James and John is understandable, in a way. In the Old Testament the Land and the religious laws feature strongly as part of Israel’s identity. The Land of promise was the home of those who had received God’s promise of salvation. The religious laws defined who they were.
But the New Testament looks out beyond the boundaries of Israel, to the whole world. The New Testament does not see Earthly kingdoms and empires as ends in themselves, but does acknowledge them as useful if they serve the universal message of salvation.
So, the chosen people of Israel have faithfully carried God’s promise of salvation down through the centuries, sometimes in their Land and sometimes in exile. And the Land is the place where the Gospel begins – “beginning from Jerusalem”, says Jesus. But this promise is for the Gentiles too. It must go out into the world, and cannot stay within one people or place.
Again, in the New Testament the Roman Empire provides the context of a united Mediterranean world with good roads, a single currency and a common language, in which the Gospel could spread rapidly. But beyond that usefulness the New Testament has no interest in the Empire as an end in itself. And it acknowledges that the Empire could be an oppressive power as well as a useful one.
The landscape through which we travel on our journey to God’s Kingdom can offer many things which are useful and expedient, if they serve God’s Kingdom and its values. Earthly political structures, countries and states, are part of that. But if we become attached to them, if we turn them into idols and a cause of sin, then we have turned aside from the way of God’s Kingdom.
In Britain we now look to an unknown future for our country and for Europe. The UK has voted to leave the EU, for better or worse. For some people that is a cause of celebration. For others it comes as a great shock and is deeply distressing. And there are all the reactions in between. But Jesus reminds us that we must not become attached to passing institutions and structures, be that family or country or anything else. They are useful and of value insofar as they serve the Kingdom of God, but they must not become obstacles in our path.
We as Christians must seek to embody the values of God’s Kingdom in the new political reality that will unfold over the coming years, whatever form it may take. Those Kingdom values mean that we must focus attention on the poor, the marginalized, the vulnerable; we must stand for a radical commitment to peace, justice and human rights. All these things may come under threat from those attached to their own idols. It will be our task to bear a different message, a message of hope and love that points to God’s Kingdom and keeps us going on the way.
We are to be free from attachment. This is what St Paul means when he says “you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters”. He doesn’t mean freedom to do as we please, but a freedom from attachment that enables us to live in love and service to one another.

If we are seeking the Kingdom of God in all things, then we will see the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. That applies whether we are living in Judea, or the Roman Empire, or Great Britain, or the European Union, or somewhere else altogether. But, wherever we are, we are to use our citizenship of this earth to forward the purposes of God’s Kingdom, because it is there alone that our true citizenship and lasting identity are to be found.

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