Sermon 14 August 2016     

Imagine for a moment a question asked of a random group of people: “Why did Jesus come?”. There will be umpteen different answers, most being woolly like “to do good”, all colourless and safe and certainly without any references to Luke 12.  I guess that in many churches today an alternative Gospel will be read, something soothing and cosy, because the one appointed is difficult. It seems that Jesus claims that He is the cause of break up and violence, the sort of thing that the Western World is experiencing more and more. So what does it all mean?

The king of peace is not organising all this satanic behaviour; it is rather the reaction of the forces of evil to the power of the good. All down the ages serious religion is provocative; it is against things that lots of people hold dear and the practitioners of this religion are ridiculed, tortured, burnt, blown up and murdered at the altar.  A very sobering thought, however, is to wonder about the statistics, comparing those who were killed for their faith and those who were killed by those who thought themselves of good faith. Religion, in the widest sense, runs contrary to so much that people have been taught, threatened, or brow beaten into accepting and the authorities increase their violence as the tower of Babel collapses.

So it is a murky world that St. Luke projects us into this morning but one which corresponds to the reality preached by Jesus, not only by his words but primarily with his life. The King of Peace - about whose cradle the angels sang “peace on earth and goodwill towards men” -  33 years on was cruelly and publicly put to death.  Jesus did not know on Good Friday that on Sunday he would meet his Mother again and a bit later on cook breakfast for some of his disciples on the shore of Lake Galilee. That makes his death just as horrible as it could be, because that is what the authorities, especially the Jewish authorities demanded. The Romans would have let him off with a beating. Pilate tried this and the mob, believing themselves the righteous, would have none of it.

Divisions in families there have always been but usually murmured and not shouted from the roof tops but in the middle of all the strident and pretty meaningless shouting that makes up the political battlefield, the voice of reason, the voice of the unrepresented and the dependent is not heard. No longer is the church the government in a dog collar or a soutane even seen in Ireland. We are having to find, or rediscover, a new way of bearing witness but writing this in a week when we commemorated Sister Benedicta also known as Edith Stein and Saint Lawrence, is that once again how things have to be? Our two martyrs were murdered, Sister Benedicta because she was Jewish, although if her murderers knew anything about philosophy her position was totally opposed to doctrinaire mind games; St Lawrence offended the Roman Emperor just by being who he was and refusing to give up that for which he was responsible. By 70AD, ten years or so before the Gospel of Luke was first read, the Temple in Jerusalem was in ruins, the country in anarchy, so all the characters mentioned in the last bit of our Gospel were no more and the hearers of the Gospel would know this.

So one of the lessons we learn, with our present of hindsight, is that violence gets us nowhere. The violence thrown at martyrs strengthens the body of Christ; the violence expended on Jesus brought about the possibility of salvation for all, even the perpetrators! The violent divisions, distrust and general horror which Jesus warns his hearers about, duly happened within and outside the church. For King David nothing went right for him until he admitted his big sin of murdering Uriah in order to enjoy his wife. We are taught to believe that our sins and the sins of everybody else continue to try and thwart the work of the Spirit but thwarting is all they can do. To use another Biblical image, the sea is rough and our boat terribly small but Jesus, curled up in the stern, is not asleep; he is never asleep. Moses, when the children of Israel stood trembling on the bank of the Red Sea - and remember they hated water and despised the fishermen of Galilee who could swim - shouted to his host to go forward. They did, and the rest is history.

Aidan Mayoss CR