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

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sermon at Parish Mass, Trinity 4 2017

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

“To what will I compare this generation?”, asks Jesus. The reason why he asks this is that he has just been speaking about John the Baptist, who was sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, but people refused to accept him. So Jesus cites a children’s game. “We played the flute and you didn’t dance, we wailed and you didn’t mourn.”
At that time John was in prison, at the mercy of the fickle and arbitrary Herod. And in fact John’s fate will be sealed by a child, Salome, dancing, as the flutes play; and when he is dead his disciples will mourn for him. So this children’s game in the market place has dark overtones that are about to unfold.
Play is a very important aspect of learning. Both the joyful things of life, and its darker side, can be acted out in play, in a way that is safe. Children learn about everything from weddings to conflict and death by acting them out in pretence. No-one gets harmed, so long as the game doesn’t get out of control. But the goal is good learning: how to live well, with regard for others, how to be safe, how to practice self-restraint, how to handle conflict non-destructively.
But games can go toxic, if we forget that they are games. “We played the flute and you didn’t dance, we wailed and you didn’t mourn.” In the society Jesus is criticising it has become a deadly serious game about identifying two groups, insiders and outsiders, those who keep the rules and those who don’t.
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. They proclaimed an alternative to the world as it was, but this can only be accessed by repentance. The hearers of the message need to change heart and direction. Human society has to give up the blame game, has to give up that destructive dynamic of us against them. But when that doesn’t fit with the game that people want to play, the prophets end up getting killed.
We have other games in our world. Politicians play games called “Twitter” and “Austerity”– and there seems to be an awful lot of the blame game in both of those. Within the church, there is a temptation to play a game called “Purity” – our flutes play the only tune that is allowed, you must dance to it or leave. It’s a game equally suited to certain conservatives who don’t want to recognise gay and transgender Christians, or to those liberals who see no room in the church for people who don’t accept the ordained ministry of women.
But there is hope. Jesus compares his generation to children, but then says that it is the Father’s gracious will to reveal himself to mere infants. Jesus is not dismissing his generation as hopeless, but rather saying that there is hope, so long as they understand that they are children.
To be children is to know that we need to learn. It is not so for the wise and intelligent. Those who think they have power and control have forgotten that they are, in fact, children. They think they know how the world is, and therefore they are not able to learn that the way the world is is wrong. Their games are acted out in deadly earnest. And when games go toxic the prophets, who inconveniently point out that the wise and intelligent are actually children who need to learn, get killed.
But we are not to learn from them. “Learn from me”, says Jesus. And we can learn from Jesus, because he is the One who reveals the Father. We cannot know God, except as God is revealed in Jesus. And we can know God in Jesus because he is the Word of God, the expression of the Father, the Second Person of the Trinity.
And here we have in Matthew a teaching of Jesus that sounds like it belongs in John, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”. But, as we saw a few weeks ago on Trinity Sunday, in fact the Trinity is there on every page of scripture, if we know how to look, that is, if we learn from Jesus.
We learn from Jesus because he is the One who reveals the Father. And what is the Father like? He is the One who hides himself from the wise and intelligent and reveals himself to infants, that is, in the society of Jesus’ time, to people of no account at all.
He is the One who draws to himself all those who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and gives them rest. He is the One who is gentle and humble in heart. No wonder we have to be infants to learn that! The wise and intelligent cannot learn it, because they are too attached to the game that ends up killing the prophets.
But if we learn that we are children, then we can begin again.
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. And this applies both with others and with ourselves. As 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.
But children can learn, children can be saved if we turn to the Lord and begin again to learn from him. “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”, says St Paul. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”.

Learning from Jesus is very simple, an easy yoke, a light burden, a child could do it. In fact, we have to be children in order to do it. If we think we know how the world is, if we think we are wise and intelligent, we will not find our way in. But if we will become like little children then we can begin to know the Father. Our games will not go toxic, and so will help us to learn from Jesus. This is what it means to repent. And if we do so we will find rest for our souls.

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