The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Genesis 27.1-40; Mark 6.1-6
There’s a great deal of competition out there to be one of our National Treasures
When Thora Hird, of blessed memory died, the crown was passed on to Dame Judy Dench, or was it Dame Maggie Smith, and Peter Wright must have been in the running, I don’t know, they all deserve it. But there amongst the Treasures is of course perhaps the greatest, Alan Bennett. His writing, as far as I’m concerned, is simply amazing, poignant, moving, amusing, hilarious. Bennett has the perfect ear for catching a turn of phrase. His ‘Talking Heads’ are some of the most wonderful monologues; ‘The Lady in the Van’, brilliant; ‘The History Boys’ incredibly honest. But it wasn’t any of those that I was thinking of.
It was before Peter was actually here at Southwark, 1964, and the show was ‘Beyond the Fringe’. Alan Bennett had written a sketch for that show which has become a classic, a sermon, rambling and hilarious and painfully accurate. But it began with a text that we heard this evening in our First Lesson and which I can never hear without being taken back to that sketch.
‘Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man.’
It’s an amazing story of sibling rivalry. Two brothers locked in combat over who would gain their father’s inheritance and their father’s blessing. Jacob, the younger and so not the natural heir aided and abetted by his mother Rebekah hatch a plan to steal from his old blind father what he wants and so to deny his brother Esau of his birth right. On many levels it’s a dreadful story full of deceit and treachery – but then Genesis is full of dreadful and sometimes shocking stories involving the unfair treatment of women and children in these struggles for supremacy.
The fact is that scripture is not afraid to tread into the seedier side of human life. It’s the same in the Second Lesson. Jesus is rejected by the people where he grew up simply because they knew him. They knew his mother, they knew Joseph, they knew too much about him and so they’d already decided that there was no possibility that this young man had anything of worth to bring to them – he was a carpenter of carpenter stock and that was that. They were as unjust as Jacob and Rebekah were.
What we’re being reminded of is that God deals with the world as it is, God deals with us as we are, ‘warts and all’ as we might say. The doctrine of the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, the Word being made flesh, is not about the divine, about God being born into perfection but the complete opposite.
Mary gives birth in a mess, in a potentially messy place, certainly in a messy political situation, and in messy personal circumstances and Jesus grows up in this messy world and will be killed outside the city walls on the edge of a rubbish dump and laid in a borrowed tomb. One of his trusted friends will have betrayed him, another will have denied him, all but one will have run off, frightened, determined to save their own skin. But this is what God engages with. If it was all perfect then it wouldn’t need redeeming.
We are all God’s treasures. As Jesus says to Nicodemus in St John’s Gospel
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
As Friends of the Cathedral and Friends of Cathedral Music we will’ve heard this choir and other choirs sing those words so many times to Stainer’s great music. And as many times as it is sung we need to hear those words.
We are all God’s treasures, even with our imperfections, even with our failings. That is why Jesus faced the mess and faced the rejections, that is why Jesus faced the cross and the nails and the thorns, so that you and I could rise with him, so that you and I could be saved out of the mess.