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SERMON: Jesus, the New Creation, and us (Blob Refugees)

by Revd John Davies

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 18), 6 September 2016

Sparkford, Weston Bampfylde, West Camel (TeaTime)

James 2.1-17Mark 7.24-37

 

Opening Activity – Blob Refugees

[1] 

BLOB REFUGEES

What do you see happening in the picture?

Who in the picture do you feel sorriest for?

Who in the picture do you feel angriest towards?

Who in the picture do you feel is most like you?

 

In Mark 7, Jesus heals a girl with an unclean spirit and a deaf-mute man. The girl’s mother is an outsider – from Syrophoenicia, as well as being a woman. And the deaf-mute man is an outsider too, as all the broken people in that society were, that society regarding them as unclean in the eyes of God, unfit to share in the benefits of the community. They were desperately seeking help and security, and saw Jesus as one who might have the mercy to help them. So this is a passage which brings us close to the realities of people suffering in this world – and reminds us of Jesus’ concern for those on the margins; his longing to make them ‘a new creation’… [2]

I confess to you that this is the Jesus I first fell in love with… it was a real awakening for me when I realised that this Jesus was not an airy-fairy idea or some sort of winning spiritual formula, but a real man with real love for real people, expressed practically. At that point I knew that this Jesus was one I wanted to follow.

And this is the Jesus who helped me through hard times… when I was unemployed at the age of 21 and lumped into the category of people who the tabloids delighted in calling ‘shirkers’, and so on, when our situation had been created by others and we longed to be free of it. Finding in Jesus, acceptance of who I was and a sense of purpose and direction in life – made ‘a new creation’ of me. A time of unemployment became a time of reinvention and redirection, salvation through the suffering.

It would make sense that the followers of this merciful Jesus, would always be involving themselves in acts of care and mercy towards the outsider and the struggler and the lost. But in the letter of James this early church leader finds himself needing to take the Jerusalem congregation to task over their ‘acts of favouritism’ – not towards the outsider and the lost, but towards the wealthy and  the powerful.

Sadly, as we know James didn’t have the last word on this, and the history of the church has been marked by ‘acts of favouritism’ which have looked completely at odds with Jesus’ words and actions: a simple example from our own history is those old country churches where, over the centuries the wealthy have been given permission to build chapels and memorials to their honour, and to purchase the best pews in the body of the church whilst paupers have been traditionally excluded, left outside in the church porch. [3]

Now, we know that life is complex and we all have mixed motives for what we do. [4]

We are – more than we care to admit – driven by our desires – to be accepted and loved by others, to fit in with the crowd, to be successful in our family and our field. Our loving, even in the best of us, can be shot through with selfishness and twisted by these desires.

That’s why our instinct is to favour those who we think will be best for us and to avoid those who we think may harm our reputation etc.

That’s why Jesus taught his disciples that, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God’.

What do we mean by ‘purity of heart’?

It means being able to see God, face to face, in all things, to let God be our first desire, untangling our hearts and setting our desires on God our final destination, our ultimate happiness, our spiritual homecoming.

Jesus also said, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy’.

Mercy is not a popular virtue in today’s society:  think of the prevailing attitudes towards the world’s migrants and the poorest people in our own country. But Jesus invites us to transform our relationships with others: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy’, he tells his disciples. Mercy goes beyond mere toleration, to forgiveness and total acceptance.

In the medieval church, Christians believed in the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ – of Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth.

But they also tried to follow the ‘Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy’:

  • Feeding the hungry
  • Giving drink to the thirsty
  • Clothing the destitute
  • Housing the homeless
  • Visiting the sick
  • Supporting prisoners
  • Burying the dead. [5]

These are seven practical ways in which we also can show mercy. I’d like to share with you a news item from last week’s Church Times [6].

Truro church lends a hand in Calais

A WEEK after a church in Truro appealed for aid to help migrants camping in squalid conditions outside Calais, volunteers were able to deliver more than 100 boxes and bags of supplies to them.

“It was incredible,” Lydia Remick, who is training to be a Reader at All Saints’, Highertown, said. She had organised the collection. “We made it very clear that our reason for going was purely humanitarian — the immigration side was something for others to handle… We never expected the level of support. People didn’t just turn up with a small carrier bag: most arrived with two or three binbags full.”

Within an hour of her appeal on local radio at 8 a.m. on 9 August, a bag appeared in the church porch. Two days later, the Sunday school was full; and then the church hall became a store.

Mrs Remick and the Priest-in-Charge of All Saints’, the Revd Jeremy Putnam, initially planned to take a carload to a London aid distributor, but they soon decided to hire a van and deliver it directly to “the Jungle”, as the migrants’ camp has been called. [After an eight hour trip they arrived at] a depot outside Calais run by Secours Catholique, part of the Roman Catholic charity Caritas, one of the few groups working with the migrants.

Later, they visited the camp, where Mrs Remick described conditions as “dire”. She said: “I have seen camps in Sri Lanka and Zambia which were pretty ramshackle, but this was something else. There are piles of rubbish and dirt everywhere. It was just incredibly bleak.

“But the people seem so happy. When you hear their stories of what they have fled from, you start to understand how they can be happy, because they are safe there. . . They were grateful that we had come to help, and wanted to get across a message that they are not violent, or animals, or looking for benefits.”

The group also visited the Ethiopian Orthodox church that the migrants have built from timber and canvas. “There was an incredible sense of God’s presence in there,” Mrs Remick said. “To be able to pray in that place for those people was special.”

Reflecting on the trip, she said: “We achieved something worth while, but there was a feeling of ‘It’s not enough,’ which is really hard, as you know that whatever you do is never enough. We do want to do more — and we will.”

Mr Putnam said: “We felt this was a challenge we should get involved with. It’s about carrying the message that these are human beings. Our beliefs are a far stronger bond than our passports. Currently, 5000 immigrants are living in diabolical conditions, suffering awful health problems as a result. The UK Government’s answer was to build a wall one mile long. Europe does not need another wall. It needs compassion.”

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes, ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!’

Praying for purity of heart means praying that God will untangle our complex inner conflicts so that we can fix our desires on him and see him face to face.

Being people of mercy means that we pay attention not to what we feel but to what we do, and that we re-order our lives with actions of compassion and love towards others.

I end, by way of praying about these things, with two verses from the poem The Divine Image, by William Blake: [7]

For Mercy has a human heart,

Pity, a human face,

and Love, the human form divine.

and Peace, the human dress… 

So may God help us to be merciful, compassionate, loving and peaceable….

And all must love the human form,

in heathen, Turk or Jew;

where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell,

there God is dwelling too… 

So may God bring mercy, compassion, love and peace to those who need them..

 

Notes

[1] Pip Wilson and Ian Long, Blob Refugees, sourced from www.pipwilson.com. I’ve used Pip’s blobs in group exercises for a very long time; they’re great at opening out people’s conversations  towards what what Pip calls ‘Level Five’ communication.

[2] See my sermon James 2, Mark 7: How do people know what you believe? for more on this.

[3] See eg, Steve Hindle, ‘Destitution, Liminality and Belonging: The Church Porch and the politics of settlement in English rural communities, c.1590-1660’ in Christopher Dyer, ed, Social History of Rural Communities, 1250-1900.

[4] Beatitudes passage of this sermon based on material from Pilgrim Course, Follow Stage, The Beatitudes, Session Three: Living Transparently, reflection by Robert Atwell.

[5] See Adam R Shannon’s Seven Deadly Sins website for more on the sins and virtues.

[6] Paul Wilkinson, Truro church lends a hand in Calais, Church Times, 28 August 2015

[7] William Blake: The Divine Image. Beautifully interpreted musically by Lies Damned Lies, here.
By | 2017-03-30T00:42:03+00:00 September 7th, 2015|Sermons|0 Comments

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Rector of the Cam Vale Benefice

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