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

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Sermon at Parish Mass, Trinity 11 2016

(Bible Illustrations by Sweet Media, from Wikimedia Commons)

Genesis 15.1-6Heb 11:1-3, 8-16Luke 12:32-40

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock,
for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
Sell your belongings and give alms.
Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out,
an inexhaustible treasure in heaven
that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
“Gird your loins and light your lamps
and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding,
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. 
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.
Be sure of this:
if the master of the house had known the hour
when the thief was coming,
he would not have let his house be broken into.
You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect,
the Son of Man will come.”
Then Peter said,
“Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?”
And the Lord replied,
“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward
whom the master will put in charge of his servants
to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.
Truly, I say to you, the master will put the servant
in charge of all his property.
But if that servant says to himself,
‘My master is delayed in coming,’
and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants,
to eat and drink and get drunk,
then that servant’s master will come
on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour
and will punish the servant severely
and assign him a place with the unfaithful.
That servant who knew his master’s will
but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will
shall be beaten severely;
and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will
but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating
shall be beaten only lightly.
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,

There are four platforms at Manor Park station. Normally the 08.26 London train leaves from Platform 1, but this morning, as there was engineering work, it went from Platform 3. But you would only have known this if you’d paid attention to the departure screen. Which the people running to get from platform 1 to platform 3 as the train came in probably hadn’t done.

That reminded me of this morning’s gospel reading, the master of the house and the thief arriving at unexpected times – you have to be alert, or you’ll miss them. These are parables of God’s kingdom arriving in unexpected and disoreintating ways: a master who serves his slaves, the shock and upset of a burglary.
There is a great theme that runs through our readings this morning: God’s generosity, the generosity of God who unexpectedly stoops to meet us in our littleness.
The generosity of God is something we see in his promise to Abram – later called Abraham – that his descendents would be as many as the stars of heaven. It’s a huge promise, and Abraham doesn’t see how it can happen. He and his wife can’t have children.
Elsewhere in Abraham’s story we we him trying to take control himself, as human beings often do. He thinks, God has promised all these offspring, but my wife and I can’t have children, what shall I do? I know, I’ll have some children with a slave girl. Which he proceeds to do. Remember this is a story from the bronze age, standards of behaviour were different then.
But God says, no, this is my promise, I’m in charge. I’ll do it. So then Abraham believes him, and Abraham and his wife Sarah do then have a son, Isaac, the ancestor of the twelve tribes of Israel.
That promise to Abraham was not, however, for himself, but for the future. It was part of God’s long plan to work out our salvation through the grand sweep of human history. As the letter to the Hebrews puts it this morning, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, “died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them”.
And this in spite of all the ways in which Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, kept getting it wrong. God had promised and God would deliver. Their own littleness and inadequacy was no obstacle to God. As Hebrews says, “God is not ashamed to be called their God”. What a wonderful thing that tells us about God. God is not ashamed to be the God of the weak and the stumbling and the inadequate. God stoops to us in our littleness. His promise is what we need.
Faith in God enables us to receive what God promises. Faith is the key. And it is the one we have faith in who matters, not our strength or the strength of our faith.
In a couple of weeks, should the Lord tarry, I’ll be off walking in the hills of northern Italy once more. If I’m walking on a bridge over a river or a deep valley, I have to have faith in the bridge to set foot on it. But it is the strength of the bridge, not the strength of my faith, that matters. Even if my footsteps are faltering and uncertain, if the bridge is sound, I’ll get across.
So it is with God. Our littleness is no obstacle to him. In fact our littleness is necessary if God is to be able to act. If we want to be big and fill up the space and do everything ourselves, that leaves no room for God. Jesus says to his disciples today, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
This is very important. The Church is called to be a little flock. Not necessarily small in numbers, though we should not be anxious if we are. But humble and small before God. Not clinging on to possessions or anything else that might tempt us to be big, and to think that we can build God’s Kingdom for him.
That temptation has occurred often in the history of the Church. In the years of Christendom and colonial empires Christian faith was sometimes imposed by force, or at least by persuasion heavily backed by political and economic clout.
A bit like Abraham having children with a slave girl, because he thought that God needed a hand to keep his promise, the church has sometimes made the mistake of trying to build God’s Kingdom for him. But if we do that we are not being a little flock. We are not being humble and small before God, so as to allow him room to fulfil his promises in his way.
The temptations in our own day are more subtle. Christendom is in the past. We live in a society of many faiths and many secular attitudes as well. A society that assumes equality and opportunity. But sometimes the church seems to act as though it wants the days of Christendom back. We want to be big, to swagger, to make an impact, for people to pay attention to us. But if we do that, we are not being the little flock we are called to be.
Our task is not to build God’s Kingdom. We have our Father’s promise that it is his good pleasure to give the kingdom to us. The Kingdom is his business, not ours. Our task is to be faithful witnesses. To be ambassadors for Jesus Christ. To be attentive to what God is doing, because the generosity and love of God so often come to us in unexpected ways, through unexpected paths.
In the world we live in we must be a little flock, if we are to do that. The church must be humble and small before God, and before what God is doing in this plural and diverse world. All truth comes from God, but can come through many paths. The truth of revelation in Jesus Christ, attested by the Scriptures, of course, and that is central for Christians.
But also the truths of science, of art and culture. The truths that we can see afresh, or even for the first time, through the other communities of faith that share our society. We must be dressed for action and have our lamps lit, says Jesus, because God comes to us at unexpected times and in unexpected ways, and we must be ready to receive him.

The Kingdom is God’s gift, not our construction. But God has promised it and God will deliver – if we are small and humble enough to receive it. “‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

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