Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Shepherd and sheep
September 12, 2010, 12:07 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , , ,

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, 12th September 2010

When I looked up my old sermons for this Sunday Gospel, I realised that I preached here nine years ago, when we were reeling from the news of the attack on the twin towers, and rejoicing in the news that Fr Keith Newton, then priest-in-charge here, was to be the new Bishop of Richborough. Nine years on, where are we?

As far as the fallout from the terrorist attack is concerned, we have seen the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which are still far from over. We probably feel even less safe from terrorism than we did nine years ago. If politicians had reacted differently, less violently, nine years ago, would things have turned out differently? Better or worse? We cannot know, but the debate certainly continues.

As far as Bishop Keith is concerned, nine years have seen both frustrations and new hopes. The provision of “Flying Bishops”, which has worked well across the country, in the Ebbsfleet area and in the Richborough area, is now under threat as the General Synod seems intent on dismantling it, and putting nothing very much in its place. On the other hand, it is no secret that Bishop Keith regards Pope Benedict’s proposals for an Anglican-style “Ordinariate” ( a sort-of diocese, like Ebbsfleet or Richborough, but more so) under his auspices to be an ecumenical breakthrough that has to be taken seriously. “Watch this space”, as they say.

Can we see any guidance for our human and our Christian situations in the Gospel? The stories of the good shepherd seeking his lost sheep, or the woman looking for her lost coin, are familiar to us. They tell us two things, surely? First, that God values us; and second, God allows for the fact that we fail always to value him, and go astray after our own desires. God expects human beings to make a mess of things, but he does not give up on them on that account. He goes after them, he seeks to bring them home again, even at a cost to himself.

In the Old Testament, when the people abandoned the true God and worshipped idols, the sacred writer took it for granted that God would be angry, would be tempted to write off that rebellious people and start again with Moses. Moses had to remind God of his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to make their descendants a great people. Moses is depicted almost as God’s conscience, holding him to his word. Some Christians talk still as if God’s first impulse is to destroy sinners, but Jesus takes on the punishment. In fact, there is no opposition between Father and Son in this matter. God, in his Wisdom, made mankind free and capable of following his own desires rather that the way he set before them. In doing so, he accepted the likelihood that mankind would, as often as not, go his own way. But his love and his wisdom were more than capable of including such disobedience in the total plan of the world, and ensuring that in the end everything would contribute to his loving purpose.

St Paul experienced this in his life, too. His zeal for righteousness according to the ancient Law had led him into intolerance and cruelty towards those who followed a different way. There would have been no excuse for that, even if Paul’s understanding of the Law had been correct, and the new Christians were wrong. In fact, to his horror, God revealed to him that the Christians were right! How ashamed of himself he became- but also how grateful to God for not leaving him in his ignorance and bigotry, but leading him to a wider understanding of the truth, and directing his zeal into building up rather than pulling down.

Fanatics like Al Qaeda and the Taliban- or like the Florida pastor who wants to burn the Koran- simply do not understand that God is a God of mercy and forgiveness, who knows our weakness and even our wickedness at times, but loves us all the same. “God loved the world so much that he sent his Son, so that those who believe in him should not be lost… He sent his Son not to condemn the world, but to save it.” Mankind as a whole, and men and women individually, wander from the pathway that God has outlined, the way that leads to fulfilment and happiness. As a race we are lost, not knowing where we are, or which way to go. In ignorance, the worst actions are done for what are claimed to be the best motives. Into the darkness God comes in the person of Jesus Christ, to show us what we have done to ourselves and to one another, and to lead us back to safety.

We can apply this to our individual lives, and to the community, whether political or religious. When we forget God, we become divided from our neighbour too. Nations are divided and at war with one another. The Church is divided, too. We need God himself, we need Christ, to overcome our divisions and rivalries. In the political world, there is perhaps little we can do to influence events; but in the Church at least we must be alert to new opportunities and new invitations to put aside our own ideas, and allow our Lord to lead us into the unity that he wants.

“God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself,” -that is what he has done once and for all- “and he has entrusted to us the news” – the Good News, the Gospel- “that they are reconciled.” That is now our responsibility.


1 Comment so far
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It’s so funny that I’ve stumbled across your site, last night our family had to clear out the entire downstairs in preparation for re-decorating. As we went through all the stuff we had collected over the years, we found something that we hadn’t looked at much over the years at all, our family bible. Funny too that when we decided to open it on a random page that page talked about moses and the worshiping of idols… all of us covered in dust from unsettling all these idols we had kept around the house. I think we’ll be going with a more minimalist theme from now on!

Comment by Johnathan mcGee

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