Second Sunday after Trinity

25 jun 2017

9am & Choral Eucharist

Preacher: Canon Stephen Hance, Missioner

Readings: Jeremiah 20.7-13, Romans 6.1b-11, Matthew 10.24-39


If Christianity is all about a new world of peace and love, then it has to be said, it’s not going very well.

For those of us who thought 2016 was a pretty dreadful year, then 2017 hasn’t exactly been an improvement. You probably don’t need me to run through the litany. Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge. Egypt, Syria, Iraq. Finsbury Park. Grenfell Tower. And that’s before we get on to politics in the UK and the USA, and whatever else might be going on in your life or mine.

A thoughtful agnostic, looking at all this, might well say what I said as I began.  If Christianity is all about a new world of peace and love, then it has to be said, it’s not going very well. Come to that, those of us who call ourselves Christians might say something similar too. If God is loving, benevolent, on the throne of heaven, how come the world, human experience, looks like it does?

Perhaps the problem is that Christianity is not all about a new world peace and love. Or, at least, it is about that, but that’s not all it’s about.

In our Gospel reading, we heard Jesus say this:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

And then he goes on to talk about conflict, family members against family members, children against parents and parents against children.  It’s not a text we like to read very much. It’s not a text I especially want to have to preach. Yet there it is.

Jesus is making a specific point and then a general one.

The specific point is that his coming will cause people to divide and fall out, even testing and breaking the closest of relationships. A person will choose to follow Jesus, to become a Christian, and as a result, they will be at loggerheads with their family. This might not be your experience or mine, but it is true for many Christian converts from other faiths today, in other parts of the world, but also in our own country. Many Christian disciples choose to follow Jesus knowing that this costs them the deepest and most important human relationships of their lives.

The general point is that the coming of Jesus and his Kingdom does not mean that the world gets better and better, more and more peaceful, more and more just. It would be nice if that were true, but it isn’t. That has more in common with the 19th century confidence in progress than it does biblical Christianity.

The fact is that the impact of coming of Jesus is to inspire his followers to work for peace and justice, but to do that in a world which although it progresses in some ways also continues to be a place of considerable darkness. And even that is Christians at their best. Christianity also has the power to inspire people to do terrible acts in its name, just as every faith has. We saw an example of Christianity at its worst in the report on the Peter Ball affair this week. Heart-breaking and awful to see how a person who is trusted by the Church – a priest and bishop at that – can use that trust to do terrible things, while the Church ignores the evidence and pretends nothing is happening. So our faith has that potential too.

So where does that leave us? We might feel a bit like Jeremiah – out there communicating the word he feels God has given him to communicate, and then furious with God when it doesn’t seem to come true as expected. In Jeremiah’s case that word is one of judgement from God. In our case it might be one of the peace and justice of the Kingdom. In both cases it may feel like God hasn’t come through on his part of the bargain. It might all feel a bit hopeless so far. But it isn’t.

Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans is part of a dense and complex argument which I do not have time to do justice to now. But even without delving deeply, some of what Paul wants to say is clear. There is death – but there is also life. There is darkness – but there is also light. There is sin – but there is also grace. There is crucifixion – but there is also resurrection.

Those who have, as Paul puts it, been baptised into Christ have been baptised into his death. But it is because we have been baptised into his death that we can know we are also baptised into his resurrection. In other words, our experience that leads to the hope of new and eternal life begins with a profound experience of death. So we are not surprised by the death and darkness of the world. Grief-stricken, yes. As Jesus wept over Jerusalem, so I am sure he has wept over London and Manchester and so many other places this year. We join in his weeping. We do not minimise the evil which has inflicted and continues to inflict such pain in our world.

But we do insist that evil does not have the last word. We do insist that where there is death, there is also life; that where there is darkness there is also light; that where there is sin there is also grace. And that where there is crucifixion there is also a resurrection to come.

That’s a hard message to hold on to in testing times. We proclaim it, and then sometimes we don’t see it being fulfilled and we lose heart, like Jeremiah. But in faith, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we then proclaim it again.  And more than that, we seek to live it, to be the good news we are called to proclaim. We have seen that this year too, the church being the church in London and Manchester and elsewhere, offering support, caring for the broken, drying tears, being the hands and feet of Christ.

Paul says, in verse 8 of our Romans reading, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” As our world, our city, has tasted death, so we know that it will taste life – the life that Jesus promised, the life in abundance that his followers are called to live and breath and speak, for the sake of Christ, for the sake of the world.