Readings: 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11 & Matthew 25.14-30
A week is a long time in politics, they say. And it’s also a surprisingly long period between sermons, I find! I wonder how many of you remember what I said last week? Even I had to go to my blog and look it up! So, for those whose memories are as short as mine, let me just remind you of the main points.
Last week, I asked you to think about the promised return of Jesus. I suggested to you that rather than him returning on some future date (on a cloud with lots of angels and trumpets) that in fact Jesus has already returned, that he is returning all the time, and that he will continue to return in the future. I suggested that much of the end-times narrative of the Bible is, in fact metaphorical – and that what the Bible is really saying is ‘Be Prepared’! (You might recall the picture of me in my Cub Scout uniform). Be prepared, that is, at all times and in all places, to join in with Jesus’ activity in the world today, here and now.
I had a wonderful example of such preparedness, this week. I am currently supporting a Christian family in Pakistan, who reached out to us, to St Faith’s, through the internet. They are moving to Havant, to take up work in the care sector – because, God knows we need more care workers in the UK. There are lots of political issues that their decision raises – about the funding of our health service, stripping other nations of their health-care workers, and all the rest. But that’s for another day. The reality, for this particular family, is that right now they need help to acquire some accommodation, and all the furnishings they will need to set up home. I have been praying for guidance as to how to help them.
Yesterday, I wandered into church and came across someone (who will remain nameless for now) who is in the process of clearing out the house of her recently deceased mother. The kind woman asked me whether I knew of anyone who could make use of some of her mother’s things – such as bedding and the like. So I told her about the family from Pakistan, and how they were due to arrive in Havant in a month’s time, and that they will have only the clothes in their suitcase. The kind woman then said that she would start sorting out things that the family will be able to use in their new home (whenever we can find one for them!) – like kitchen equipment, bedding and towels and all such things.
What a brilliant example, of being prepared to respond in situations when Jesus is working! Kindness and generosity, in the face of worry and anxiety on the part of the Family, is a brilliant example of God at work. I feel privileged to be in the nexus of God at work in their lives, and honoured to have ‘been prepared’ to take the leap of faith to support people I’ve never met.
A week is a long time in the Church of England too. Especially, I suggest, for members of the General Synod who met this week in London. The Synod was grappling with the vexed question of issues around the marriage, or blessing, of same-sex couples. A compromise has been reached, which (as is the nature of most compromises) has left both sides in the debate unsatisfied. I won’t go into the details here – you can read all about it in your own time. But I would like to make a couple of observations, which I hope will be generally informative.
The first relates to this morning’s gospel reading. You’ll know, of course, that a talent was a coin, at the time of Jesus. Today’s gospel is therefore, on one level, about how we invest our money in the work of God. But, by serendipity, the fact that coins were called talents means we also have the opportunity to think about the talents, abilities, and innate human qualities that each Christian brings to the task of building the Kingdom. In ‘being prepared’ to join in with the action of Jesus, each of us brings the person we are, the person that God has made us to be. Whether we are English, or Pakistani (for example). Whether we are rich or poor. Whether we are differently-abled, or typically healthy. And, for the purposes of discussions about same-sex marriage, whether we are straight, gay, or any of the spectrum of genders and preferences in-between, we come as we ARE. We come as God made us, and how life has shaped us. And we bring ourselves, and the talents we have been given by the master, to the task of building God’s kingdom. Jesus receives us as we are, and welcomes ALL to his table. Jesus welcomes EVERYONE to the feast, and to the holy task of Kingdom building.
And finally, to those who want to hold on tenaciously to the Bible’s so-called ‘traditional’ views of marriage, even to the point of driving a split in the Church of England, I want to say this: please be very careful about the weight of authority you assign to the ancient Scriptures of a middle Eastern tribe of between two and three thousand years ago. As I’ve said before from this pulpit, shockingly, the Bible is NOT the word of God. Rather, it is a collection of writings, from a wide variety of authors, written across a number of centuries which all point to the true Word of God, the Logos himself, Jesus. Jesus, in the words of the letter to the Hebrews, is the ‘author and perfecter’ of our faith. He is the light of wisdom in the darkness of human ignorance.
On the topic of homosexuality, Jesus said not one word. But he did speak of the Kingdom principles of love, faithfulness, and preparedness to move where the Spirit is leading. He specifically did not want us to be shackled to ancient Scriptures, but rather to him – the God who fulfils the Scriptures. What does it mean to fulfil the Scriptures? I think it means that all Scriptures need to be held up to the Light of Jesus. If Jesus said to act this way, or that, even when such action appears to contradict the Scriptures, then we follow Jesus’ lead, not the dead letter of an ancient text. Take for example his teaching on revenge. The Hebrew Bible specifically teaches ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’. But Jesus quotes that Scripture, and then says ‘But I say, forgive your brother, constantly’.
So to any who would invite me to place religious dogma over Jesus clear instruction to love and serve one another, I say no. To anyone who would invite me to join a schism in the Church of England, over the single issue of whether two faithful, loving people can have the blessing of the church I say; “I’m prepared. I’m equipped. With the talents he has given me, I’m following Jesus. I will bless such faithful, committed, love”. And I hope you would say the same too. Amen.