Sermon 7 August 2016
Do not be afraid.
It is no secret around here that I grew up in a culture where it was normal to have servants. In fact even the servants had servants and there was a kind of endless pecking order. I think I am supposed to feel guilty for growing up in such a decadent world but I do not. I sometimes feel guilty that we didn’t treat our servants with the kind of respect they deserved and we could certainly have made their conditions of life better without cost to ourselves but I realise from today’s Gospel that actually our servants had quite a cushy time. The garden boys stopped work at 5.00 pm and the cook went home at 8.00.
today tells us of a different kind of servant who didn’t go home at any time.
They had to stay at the door, ready to open it whatever time the master got
home. They were, of course, slaves. They had no rights, no choice whether to
work or not and they had to be ready for the master whatever time he came home,
ready not just to open the door but to offer him a meal, or another drink, or
anything else he wanted. It is rather shocking, when you think of it, that Jesus
compares us to them. “You must be like men, waiting for the master to come
home from the marriage feast….Blessed are those slaves, who are found waiting
when the master knocks.” That’s us, waiting constantly for the moment the
in theory that is not as bad as it seems. Our master is Jesus. He is a good
master. He won’t come in drunk; he won’t beat us up just because he is
feeling annoyed. He won’t make unreasonable demands on us. Or will he? The
fact that some of us are sitting here, vowed to a most extraordinary life
- a life most people would think quite unreasonable suggests that Jesus
does make unreasonable demands on us but we are persuaded to accept them. If we
are honest, most of us will admit that there are times we don’t wait for the
next demand Jesus will make with a very good grace. That’s not just us in the
religious life but really everyone who is Christian. We learn a certain kind of
deafness which doesn’t hear the knocking at the door. We stay away from the
door where we know Jesus may want to come in. We learn not to look too carefully
at the places where he might already be working, inviting us to work with him.
Discernment for us in the Christian life means learning to see where Jesus is so
that we can join him; learning to hear when he is speaking so we can obey him. Most
of us know that these invitations to work with Jesus don’t always look very
attractive at first. Usually they turn out alright, if we’ve got it right but
at first they can look very unattractive and much better to be avoided.
disconcerting insight from our identification with slaves is that we have no
rights. Slaves had to do what the master told them to do. They could not claim
days off, time off, special considerations in the kind of work they did or
anything like that. Nor can we as Christians. We do, of course. Much of our sin
is to do with claiming time for ourselves, refusing to do what we are asked,
insisting we have rights against God, although we may not put it like that.
Christian life is a process of giving up those rights, learning total obedience
and discovering that this is not a way of misery and imprisonment but a way of
freedom and true selfhood. The more completely we serve Christ the more we are
free; the more we are truly ourselves.
that seems paradoxical how much more paradoxical is the Gospel we have just
heard. Jesus tells us of the servants who wait up all night for the master to
come home and when he does come and find them waiting he insists on serving
them. Even in our egalitarian society where servants are called staff and have
contracts and good salaries, it would seem pretty odd if we suddenly insisted on
serving them. In Rhodesia it was almost unthinkable that the master should serve
the servants. In the world Jesus is describing it is not only unthinkable; it
would be such a turn around of values for a master to wait on his slaves that
one could expect the world to come to an end, which is exactly what Jesus did
think. “I come to serve, not to be served”. Jesus
was the slave who died a slave’s death on the cross. It is a new world in
which the poor, the weak, the downtrodden are the blessed ones and we are called
to serve them; in serving them we find our joy, we find this is what life is
gospel began with the rather extraordinary saying: “Fear not little flock. It
is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”. This is always a
surprise. God wants to give us
the kingdom for nothing. Most of us think we have to earn it. Most Christian
preaching seems to suggest we must deserve it. Even our own lives seem to tell
us that we have to work hard year after year if we are going to be worthy of the
Kingdom. Even the language of slavery which I have been talking suggests a
pretty unrelenting life of labour to gain entrance to the Kingdom. Then we find
it isn’t so. God wants to give us the Kingdom for nothing. Indeed he has
already done so. The whole point of Christianity is that the Kingdom has already
started with the Resurrection of Jesus and we are inside it. We don’t have to
battle to gain entrance but we do have to discover the new rules of the kingdom
and live up to its demands. It is those demands which frighten us.
says “Fear not, little flock...” and well he might for he goes on to say
“sell your possessions and give alms. Make for yourselves wallets that do not
grow old, lay up treasure in heaven". As soon as we hear that we start
feeling awkward. Does Jesus really mean it? We start saying quickly that of
course he couldn’t mean it, except for a few saints like Antony of Egypt, or
St Francis. He doesn’t mean it for us. Doesn’t he? Some of us may assure
ourselves we have already given up all we have to be in CR and to work for the
poor and the weak. CR has vast possessions. Should we sell those and give
not going to answer that question. I don’t actually know what the answer
should be. If the Gospel simply makes us uncomfortable, makes us wonder if
we’ve understood it all, it is probably doing its job.
be afraid, little flock. The Father is delighted to give you the kingdom”.
That’s the good news, the joy. We don’t need to be afraid. God is delighted
to give us what we really want. How can we respond to him?
Nicolas Stebbing CR