they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
During my Engineering degree we needed to get several weeks of experience working in an engineering company. There was therefore an adviser who helped us to find a suitable experience. He had various companies we could apply to, and he would look through our resume or CV, to help us sharpen them up. It seemed like a good opportunity, particularly as I was in a new country, to make sure my CV looked right. I remember going along with my previous experience delivering news papers and helping at a local youth centre You can imagine my disappointment when the advisor dismissed my two summers traveling around running day camps for primary aged kids in churches around Montreal. Experience doing things in church aren’t probably a very good thing to have on there – because, after all, he explained, everybody just agrees about everything in a church setting, it doesn’t really demonstrate any skills working with different people.
Of course, I did think he clearly had no experience in a church or with Christians if he thought Christians always agrees about everything. Since the very beginning, the church has struggled with disagreement – deep disagreement. That’s why councils have been so important. The first council is referred to as the Council of Jerusalem and appears in the Bible, in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul writes about it in his letters. It was there that Peter and Paul disagreed about whether the Good News was for the Gentiles and whether the Gentiles needed to be circumcised. Later councils met to agree the nature of Jesus, of the Trinity and of the Church. These councils led to the agreement of the creed we recite each Sunday.
It would be great to say that it was all then sorted in 4th century, but the reality is the Gospel is more challenging than that. It is counter cultural, questioning the assumptions that many might make in the world around us. The Gospel, with the example set by Christ, who was willing to sacrifice himself, dying on the cross for us, challenges us daily to put vulnerability at the centre of our lives as Christians. This questions every understanding we have of power and authority, because it is in the birth of a defenceless baby in the poorest of circumstances, that the absolute power of God the creator comes into the world. Of course we are going to disagree about how we live out that kind of vulnerability, how we live out that kind of good news. The natural instinct we have to protect ourselves and our things is in opposition of the kind of generous grace which Jesus exemplifies, and challenges us all to share. A generosity that doesn’t ask us if we deserve the price which Jesus is willing to pay for us. A grace which doesn’t ask if we’ve earned the gift of life. It’s too often too easy to join in with the world’s understanding of success, of value, of love, of right.
I remember one Christmas, before I started to work Christmas, we were away in a market town with a lovely little church and a few pubs. When we reached the church we realised that not only did the local pub have security in high-vis vests on the door, but the local church did too. Walking past the bouncers on the door and listening to a sermon about a local MP who turned away a young family who came begging at his door on Christmas eve, we felt quite upset about what message was being sent by a bouncer on the door on Christmas Eve. Talking to non-Christians who we visiting that Christmas they thought it was fare enough, but we weren’t convinced. We wrote to the rector to say we’d enjoyed the service but that we felt it was unfortunate they had felt it necessary to have security on the door and would the PCC reconsider this decision the following year.
The reply came back explaining how they had had issues with those spilling out of the pubs at closing time and that nobody had been willing to act as sidesperson for that service. All seemingly unfortunate but at some level understandable. However, the note ended with the line: ‘people are getting the message, that they need to behave in church.’… or else what? God’s love won’t extend to them? or the church won’t seem special enough? or we might be made to feel uncomfortable? I think it was an unfortunate choice of words. And there is something to be said about protecting space and time to enable everyone to have an opportunity to come into relationship with God.
But I highlight it today because Jesus is saying – I have not come to bring you tea parties and scones, village fêtes and jolly socials. I have not come to bring you peace like the world brings. Peace that hides the injustice and simply washes over the disagreements that are there. That puts the people we don’t want to see in another room so that we don’t have to think about them. Jesus comes to bring a real peace, but before we reach that there will be deep disagreements.
Jesus knows his teachings will be hard to hear, and harder to accept and even harder to live out. A fire will be kindled in our hearts by the Holy Spirit a cloud of witnesses who have experienced these same struggles of conscience, some more successfully than others, will help us. Perhaps it will always be easier to live out the vulnerable, generous good news if we know we are not alone doing it, and that is why having the body of Christ, the church, our fellow Christians around us is so important. But by that same token, we will also disagree in our understanding of what we are being challenged to do.
We will disagree with one another, we need to do so well, expressing clearly our own view, and really truly listening to one another’s view, with a willingness to be changed.
We have Christ as our pioneer, our fore-runner, our example, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us, to help us see the signs of what is to come. And we have one another to stand with us as we try to live out the challenges of Jesus call to us. And in so doing to build a kingdom in the model of Christ, full of true peace and love, with the generous and sacrificial grace of God at its center.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
8.00am Said Eucharist in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm
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