Trinity III 28th June 2020 Year A Proper 8
When I read this short passage from Jeremiah I noticed something that I had never noticed before. That fact, that this is about two prophets having a discussion about theology and what God is going to do in the future.
In the previous chapter of Jeremiah there is much talk about the Babylonian captivity of the Hebrews and how the King Nebuchadnezzar took most of the sacred vessels from the temple in Jerusalem with him, when he invaded and subdued the people. Jeremiah reminds the people that Nebuchadnezzar did not take everything from the temple and that they should be content with what he left rather than worrying about what he took. Basically, he says that somethings would be nice to have back but stop looking in the past and look to the future.
In his discussion with the prophet Hannaiah, Jeremiah gets him on board and the two of them begin to say that same thing because they both see that in order for the Hebrews to flourish they need to begin living in the present with and eye to the future rather than harking back to a past time that will never come again.
In the verses that follow today’s reading Hananiah states that he is symbolically removing the yoke of the past from Jeremiah’s shoulders and breaking it asunder in order to allow all the Hebrews to move on, to live a fresh and to live in peace. Hananiah says that it is right to pray for the return of the Hebrew exiles but not right to stop living in the present. Jeremiah he says is a prophet of peace and he encourages the Hebrews to listen to him as he believes that in doing so the Hebrew society will prosper again and go from strength to strength.
These two prophets knew what they were about. They knew that they each had their followers and those who listened to them but that they need to work together in order to enable the Hebrews as a whole to flourish as a people secure in their beliefs and ways.
All too often in the church and in society we have competing voices and personalities who say; look at me or follow me or do as I say and ignore him or her over there and I will lead you to great things. Usually, they achieve very little. When great voices or leaders collaborate and work together great things happen. More is achieved by positive co-operation than can ever be achieved by individuals alone.
I wonder how different our governments in Westminster and Holyrood might be if our elected representatives actually worked together for the common good rather than for each party? How strong and forward looking might our church be if all denominations could work more closely together? It makes you think!
We talk a lot about ‘sin’ in the church but what do we really mean by it?
Is it a long list of things done or not done that are evil and wicked? Is it the fact that I am human and not divine? And what actually is a sin?
There are somethings that are more easily definable as sins, such as acts of terrorism, abuse, torture and conniving for the ill of others but what are my sins? If I try to live a good life doing what I hope is good, where do I sin? Are my natural imperfections a sin?
Basically I would say no. If you are trying to live a good life and to do your best then if you don’t get things exactly right then that’s not a sin; simply because you were trying to do your best for others. I think sin in our daily lives, aside from the awfully big sins that we can easily identify, might be things that get in the way of our relationships with each other and with God. That might be our pride or our inability to see that we have any faults that drive others mad or that we never say sorry for anything we may do that hurts another.
In daily life, perhaps the biggest sin we commit is when we set out to do something that does not seek to do the best for other beings or our planet. When our intentions are selfish and self-seeking or deliberately malicious that’s when we sin not when we muck it up trying to do something with the best of intentions.
Sin, I believe are those deliberate acts that seek to destroy others or harm creation in ways that serve only the perpetrator. Sin is awful, our occasional slip ups are not. What we need to remember that God is with us and offers us a choice to do good or to do evil but the choice is ours. What we have to do is listen to God and to our hearts and souls and to try and act for the good of others and not for our own ends.
Two verses from Matthew but what a message! He tells us that as a Christian as a follower of Jesus we are called to welcome all God’s people. To welcome the stranger, the known friend, those in need, to try and welcome everyone you encounter regardless of who they are or what they might be like.
You are not, Matthew suggests, welcoming in order to like everyone you welcome but you are welcoming them in order to love them and there is a big difference between liking and loving.
Liking can be quite specific - because quite frankly we all know that we get on better with some people more than others and there are always those few that we can’t abide. Some of those we like are easy to love, others take a bit more effort and some seem impossible to love at all but Jesus calls us to love them the more simply because they might just need to be loved by us more than we realise. And quite often we just might need to be loved by them more than we realised as well.
Over the years our Scottish Episcopal Church has challenged itself as to how welcoming it actually is and who is really welcome and who is not. Generally, we would say that all are welcome and that all have a place in God’s heart and on our pews but is it true?
My response is ‘mostly’ and I say this after years of seeing our wee Episcopal church trying to be inclusive of all God’s people. Not all of us will agree with things our church has said or done and that is for each of us and our own consciences to grapple. I see, however, a church that is increasingly prepared to live with difference and to try and welcome all people into faith and into our Christian communities.
Living with difference is never easy but it does lead to interesting debates and discussions and above all if Mission 21 taught me anything in the years I ran it; it was how we are all called to support each other in our welcoming.
I used to ask folk who replied that their church was very welcoming just to stop and think who they personally would be happy to see in their church and more importantly who they would happily budge up and invite to sit next to them. Who would you do that to?
It makes you think, doesn’t it? For there are always those who you might say are welcome but who tax you personally. The thing is though, that person you find difficult might not be difficult for someone else in the church to budge up for. Just as the person you budge up for might be more difficult for another individual to do so. What we have to acknowledge and do as a congregation and as a church is to support each other in supporting those we find difficult and thank them for doing what we can’t do. That way we can say we are a truly welcoming church or congregation because we take ‘welcoming’ as a corporate act and not just an individual act.
Just because you can't do something or accept someone or something does not mean that another can't either. What we have to do is to try and love each other as we try to welcome all God’s people into fellowship.