Sixth Sunday After Trinity | Choral Eucharist

  • Preacher

    The Rev'd Canon Michael Rawson, Interim Dean

The Interim Dean's sermon preached at the Choral Eucharist on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity.

Oscar Wilde wrote that the difference between a saint and sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.  There’s a real tendency to divide people into saints and sinners. That might be on social media, on TV reality shows, in the playground or in the Church.  There are of course some who would like to reserve the church for the good people, the ones who are fully committed and squeaky clean and holy and the rest can go, well, elsewhere.  Traditionally the Church of England has always been a broad church. Yes, it has been the butt of a thousand jokes about pinning our colours to the fence and never wanting to offend anyone. But it has always been a church open to everyone - to the hot, the cold, the lukewarm, to both saints and sinners. And for that I’ve proud to call myself an Anglican. Sadly it feels that this is less and less the case and some would prefer to have a smaller, more pure and in their eyes a more orthodox body of believers.

The gospel reading this morning reminds us quite forcibly that within every human being there is a tension of contrasting, and at times, conflicting tendencies.  We are a mixture of light and darkness, of good and bad. In the words of the gospel, we are a jumble of wheat and weeds.

I wonder if you’ve seen the film Schindler’s List or read the book?  It’s a pretty harrowing tale telling the true story of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved over a thousand Polish Jews from the concentration camps.  One of the people he saved said, ‘He was our father, our mother, our only hope.’  And yet many people were surprised and shocked by the sort of man as he was portrayed in the film.  He was endowed with more than an elegant sufficiency of all the human vices and was certainly no saint.

Schindler was a mass of contradictions.  He was a womanizer and loved an extravagant lifestyle; a Catholic and at the same time a member of the Nazi party.  He often bragged that he aimed to end the war with two trunks full of money.  He exploited Jewish people as a source of cheap labour to inflate the profits of his industrial empire. 

But there was another side to him.  As the war progressed he became appalled at the horrors of the final solution.  At huge personal risk for he was arrested twice by the Nazis, he protected his workers from the death camps, showing an enormous amount of commitment and courage. A haunting line from the film is ‘to save one life is to save the world.’ Infact, he saved over 1100.  Schindler was no angel and if you want to know more you’ll have to read the book or see the film. He was essentially a good human being who had serious flaws ... very much like you and me. 

If we are being honest, within each one of us coexists good and evil, strength and weakness, loyalty and betrayal.  And when looking at others, some people find it very hard to discover that their hero, the one they place on the pedestal,  has flaws, and so once a weakness is uncovered the person is written off.  In our society obsessed with celebrity, being in the public eye is a vulnerable and uncomfortable place for many. One day you’re an exclusive story in Hello!, the next day your private life can be divulged all over the Sun. And we’ve seen numerous examples of this over the past few months.

Like the parable in the gospel, the roots of the wheat and weeds are often so intertwined that you can’t uproot one without destroying the other.  We might well ask why Jesus never weeded out Judas, or Peter for that matter?  He saw the weeds in Peter’s life, but he saw the wheat as well.  He knew that with encouragement the wheat would prevail.  And it did.  Jesus was patient and compassionate and we are called to do the same.   

We need to do this, firstly, for ourselves.  Acknowledging that within ourselves there is light and shadow, existing side by side.  Yes, we must struggle on inspite of the weeds, but confident that with God’s help, good will eventually triumph in our lives and actions. 

And that patience with ourselves will hopefully teach us humility in our dealings with others.  Even though we sometimes only see a glimpse of someone else’s life we can so often rush to hasty judgement.  We are quick to pigeonhole people and classify them as bad (or at the very least, not like us).  The gospel reminds us that it is up to God, and God alone, to judge others and God will do that with patience and tolerance. We should have enough to worry about our own situation without dwelling on anyone else’s!

The church, and we as individual Christians, are called upon to imitate God’s love. The church must be big enough and loving enough to hold everyone in its fold, if it can’t do that, it’s a pale imitation of the kingdom of God.  We sing about it in the hymn, There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.

But we make God’s love too narrow
by false limits of our own,
and we magnify its strictness
with a zeal God will not own.

The church that only admits saints makes as much sense as a hospital that only admits people who are well, or a repair shop that only accepts things that are not broken.    The church isn’t here for those who feel good, but for those who know they are not, for those who know their need of God.

So as we ponder the words of this week’s gospel reading, let us take an honest look at ourselves and our church - looking at the shadows as well as the light and seeking when we look at others to see the light as well as the shadow.