Thursday, July 30, 2020
Black Lives Matter
Sunday, July 26, 2020
The Search for Wisdom
Thursday, July 23, 2020
The Power of Stories
Sunday, July 19, 2020
Weeds and Flowers
(Matthew 13.24-30, then 36-43)
Unlike our Churchwarden, Colin Hedley, I’m not much of a farmer. Unlike many of the rest of you, I’m not much of a gardener, either…which is ironic since the Diocese has decreed that I should live in a house which has 200 yards of borders to maintain! I kid you not!
Fortunately, Clare knows a little bit more about gardening than me. Unfortunately, that means I can very quickly get in trouble for pulling up what I thought was a weed, but which she tells me was an expensive plant…lovingly nurtured from seed, and planted with infinite care by her green fingers.
The trouble is that weeds are not really weeds at all. They are actually just wild flowers which are growing in an inconvenient place. At least, that’s how the Royal Horticultural Society labels them, I’m told. So, it turns out, the untrained eye finds it very difficult indeed to decide what is weed, and what is not. After all, they are both made of the same stuff. They are both green. Most weeds have some kind of flower.
This is something we’ve discovered to our great joy in St Faith’s Churchyard in recent years. For many years, Ralph Hollins catalogued the many different plants which appear there. Then, an in depth biodiversity survey was undertaken a few years ago, kindly paid for by some members of our congregation. We discovered that our churchyard actually contained over 80 native British plants, some of which are quite rare. So much so that our churchyard is now a designated ‘Site of Interest for Nature Conservation’. As you may know, we now routinely leave areas of the churchyard un-mowed, so that these plants have a chance to thrive and spread their seeds. Many of these plants would have been considered weeds, by our ancestors. But no longer, by us.
So, it seems, it’s hard to tell weeds from plants in the real world. What about in the spiritual world, as described by Jesus in today’s Gospel? Well, I have to tell you, after a lifetime of pastoring, it’s not always easy to tell the difference among people, either.
Some people present themselves as magnificent flowers to the general population. They dress well, they say all the right words in all the right places. They donate generously to the church. They might sit on the right committees, or sing in the choir. But then, some event will take place, and all their fine words and actions get blown away in some awful action or horrible words. We find that underneath their beautiful plumage, beneath the gorgeous flower they displayed to the world, their roots were rotten.
And the opposite is also true. One of the great joys of St Faith’s, for me, is that we attract people from all walks of life. And, let’s be honest, some of the people who walk through our doors are not normally our kind of people. In any other part of life, we would probably not even speak to them. They don’t play our kind of game. Or they don’t dress in our kind of costume. Or they don’t eat in our kinds of restaurant. But, when you get to know these apparent weeds, these odd plants which don’t appear to be in the right place, we so often find that they are, in fact, beautiful flowers.
So, if weeds can turn out to be flowers, and flowers can turn out to be weeds, how are we to tell the difference? How shall we react to them? Well, to this question, Scripture offers us an answer. The Bible’s unambiguous message is that Love must be our watch-word.
To the apparent flower whose roots turn out to be rotten, we offer Love. Perhaps with the balm of love, their roots can be strengthened, in the good soil of the church; so that their flower can bloom again.
To the apparent weed, whose manners and untidy appearance initially perplexes us, we offer Love; in the hope that in the good soil of the church, they will find their own flower, and learn to bloom, gloriously.
That’s all that God requires of us. Love, love, love. We feed, we water, we prune where necessary. We love.
But, wait a minute. What’s that you say? What about the weeds who will always be weeds? What about the weeds who cannot stop strangling the life out of the flowers around them? Well, yes, they are a problem. There will always be those stubborn weeds which choke the life out of the flowers. They are the Japanese Knot-weeds, which just refuse to go away, and which wreak destruction on all around them.
Well, Jesus, tells us in today’s Gospel, ‘leave them to the Angels’. It is not for us to judge, for judgement is the preserve of God alone. There are indeed some unfortunate souls who will always be weeds. We cannot know what life has thrown at them. We cannot know what poor soil they grew up in, or the harsh environment which made them what they are. Like any gardener, we are wise if we protect the rest of the flowers from their influence. But what their ultimate destination might be – that’s in the hands of the angels. Whether they will one day end up at the flower show, or on the compost heap, is something we leave in the hands of God.
In the end, for us, the command is to Love. We keep on watering. We keep on feeding. We keep on loving, trusting that God has the future safely and securely in his hands. Amen.
Thursday, July 16, 2020
The Yoke of Jesus
Sunday, July 5, 2020
What does Love have to say?
Matthew 11.16-19 & 25-30. Romans 7.15-25.
It is a sad an inevitable fact of life, that some people just won’t get what you try to teach them. Every parent knows this. Every teacher, youth worker, doctor and priest know this. There is some quirk of the human brain which means that even the very best ideas are not automatically picked up. Tell them about basic hygiene. They don’t get it. Tell them the planet is over-heating. They don’t get it. Tell them gambling, drinking and drugs will ruin them. They don’t get it. They find themselves caught up in the classic dilemma that Paul outlines to the Romans…the conflict between behaving how I know I should behave, and the way I actually behave. (Rom 7.15-25)
This morning’s gospel reading is just part of a much longer section in which a whole host of people entirely fail to ‘get’ Jesus, and what he’s talking about. First there is John the Baptiser, who had baptised Jesus and had even heard the voice of God calling from heaven that this was His son. But even after that, John still didn’t get it. He had to send some of his disciples to Jesus, to ask “Are you the Messiah we were promised? Or should we wait for another?”
The towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum – where Jesus had time and time again performed mighty miracles which declared the dawning Kingdom of God – they didn’t get it. They rejected him.
And then in the gospel reading we heard today, we see that scholars and the wise could explain much, but they missed the living Wisdom of God in their midst. They didn’t get it. For a start, they didn’t get why Jesus didn’t do the things they thought he would do. As Jesus said, they were ‘like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn” ’. In other words – you just haven’t done the things you were expected to do!
You see, Jesus turned out to be something very different from the Messiah they were expecting. For Jesus, Rome, or Roman occupation, just wasn’t the issue – even thought it was very much THE issue for the leaders of the people. When challenged to incite the people to rise up again Rome, and to stop paying their taxes, he simply said “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. Jesus knew that empires will rise and fall – by his time in history, the world had already seen the Egyptian, Greek and Babylonian empires rise; and then crumble. No, the overthrowing of empires was just not on Jesus agenda. He was much more concerned about the issues in people’s individual lives – issues which were stopping them from living their lives to the full.
Jesus’ solution to the world’s problems was actually very simple…so simple that it could be grasped by a child, or by someone with child-like faith. Which is precisely why, in the Gospel reading, Jesus thanked his father that he had hidden ‘these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants’ (Mat 11:25) What was it he said on another occasion? “Unless you receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a child, you will never enter it” (Mat 18:3, Mk 10:15, Lk 18:17)
Jesus' solution was simple…almost childishly simple. It wasn’t about complex theological somersaults. It wasn’t about over-throwing political powers. It didn’t rely on complex philosophy for its underlying truth.
It was very very simple.
So what was it? What was the amazingly simple message that Jesus had…a message so simple that an infant could grasp it? It was this…Love God and One Another.
That is it. Understand that basic, fundamental truth, and you’ve grasped the very heart of Jesus’ message to the whole of humanity. Love God and One Another. That’s it. Nothing more. Done and dusted.
So what does this mean for us? It means that everything we do, as individuals and as a church, needs to be set against the yardstick of Love.
Shall I continue to nurse the bitterness I feel, because someone overlooked me, or insulted me? What does love have to say?
To what should I give my money, my energy, my time? What does Love have to say?
Shall I buy goods made in sweat-shops by wage slaves, to save a few quid? What does Love have to say?
Shall I buy that new car, or take that expensive holiday, when I know the money could transform the lives of hundreds of children? What does love have to say?
What one thing can I do today that will increase Love in the world?
And for us as a church – what does Love have to say about the right time to open a building, while a worldwide pandemic is still declared?
What does love have to say about the way we spend our collective money? Shall we, for example, pay the people who serve us the cheapest wages we can get away with, or pay them the Real Living Wage? (Which is what we do, by the way).
If we get these choices right, living by the yardstick of Love, then Jesus promises his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. “Come to me, he says, all you who are carrying heavy burdens of worry about this and that…and I will give you rest.” Focus on me, and on my central message of Love, and you will find rest for your souls”.
Do you get it?. Amen.