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

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Sermon at Parish Mass, Trinity II 2017

The Prophet Jeremiah, Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel 

Jeremiah 20.7-13                    
Romans 6.1b-11                     
Matthew 10.24-39
Today’s readings are not exactly a recruiting campaign that would win a PR company any awards.
Jeremiah, enticed by the Lord – or perhaps “seduced” – has become a laughing stock, the words he must speak a reproach and derision all day long. St Paul says that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death”. And Jesus says that his disciples can expect to be maligned, even killed, and will find themselves at the centre of a storm of division and conflict. God, it seems, does not promise anyone an easy ride.
And yet Jesus says, “do not be afraid”. Do not be afraid, even, of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. There is a lot about fear in today’s readings. Jeremiah says that “terror is all around”. Yet he speaks anyway, confident that the Lord who has given him the words to speak will also deliver his life.
What we are most afraid of tells us about our attachments, our priorities. What we most fear is the loss of what we are most attached to. Jesus tells us that we should be least willing to lose God, the giver of life, rather than the life that God gives. For what God has given once, God can give again.
This is part of what St Paul means when he says that we have been baptised into the death of Jesus, in order that we might be united with him in his resurrection. Those who follow Jesus are not to be afraid of death because, being identified with Jesus through baptism, they have already died. 
This is just as well, because those who are identified with Jesus will find, like him, that they are the centre of conflict, opposition, and division.  He has come to bring not peace but a sword. What does this mean? Surely Jesus preaches non-violence? Indeed he does, but that in itself is the cause of division.
Jesus speaks in a society that is ordered and controlled by fear and violence. Death is ever present as the ultimate social control. You upset the established order at your own mortal peril.
So what are you to do in such a world? Well you can accept that it is as it is, and be afraid as others are, and keep your head down. Nothing will get any better, but you might survive, even if you never actually really live.
Or you can oppose it in its own currency. Set violence against violence. How many revolutions, intent on creating a better world, have ended up simply replicating the old order of oppression under a new name?
Or you can choose a different society, a new way of being human, which is not controlled by fear, violence or death. This new society has as its deepest trust and enduring hope not any human construct or mechanism of control, but God, the Lord and giver of life. This society, which is called the kingdom of God, is what Jesus has come to preach. By its very non-violence, by its radical trust in God who cannot be killed, it stands as a reproach and a threat to all human societies ordered by fear and death. No wonder it is opposed.
Jesus is not himself the cause of division, rather he uncovers it. Division and violence have always been at the heart of being human. Even the family displays this. Jesus warns that he has come “to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”. It sounds like an episode of the Jeremy Kyle show, but it is simply saying what being human has always been like.
This is not something outside ourselves, it is part of our story, part of what the Church calls “original sin”, common to all humanity. Attachment to the family, instead of God, risks simply trapping us in the old way of being human. I do wonder if those preachers who go on about the importance of marriage and the family have ever actually read the gospels. The family, as the smallest unit of human society, needs to be redeemed just as much as does a city or an empire. The Kingdom of God establishes a new family, whose principle of being is God’s self-giving love, and that is where our true identity is to be found.
Fear violence and division are still present in our world today. Even for people like us, who have the great blessing of living in a free and democratic society, that basic human mechanism of scapegoating and casting out is ever present. The peace and order of society are fragile. Where there is disagreement, we need to express it well, but with respect, and not demonise those with whom we disagree. In many ways our country is deeply divided, and needs healing. Today the Archbishop of Canterbury is advising the Prime Minister to set up a cross party committee on Brexit, in his words “to draw the poison out of the debate”. It is indeed troubling if negotiations that will deeply affect everyone in the country are being conducted in a spirit of acrimony and rivalry, instead of seeking the common good.
Similar things apply in our workplaces and family and personal relationships. The values of God’s kingdom teach us not to be attached to ourselves and our own interests, but to model the love of God by loving one another. The teaching of Jesus, again and again, is to give way to one another, serve one another, live out sacrificial love instead of dominating control.
To do this is simply to remember our identity with Jesus in his death and resurrection. This is absolutely true for all Christians through their baptism, but that sacramental reality is lived out in many ways. For many believers in the world today their identity with Jesus may actually mean persecution and death, and we must never forget that we are one with them in our prayers, even if not in our sufferings. And we will all die, one way or another. Our conformity to Christ will be perfected in the death of our bodies, even as it is also shown forth in the many metaphorical deaths and times of suffering that will come our way before then.

In all this, Jesus says do not worry. Do not be more attached to life than you are to God, the giver of life. For those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of Jesus will find it.

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