Sermons from St
Fr Bill Matthews
Sunday 7th April, 2019
There is much talk about ‘red lines’ at present and most of us have had enough of the ‘B’ word (Brexit). However, Lent and particularly Passion Sunday is very much about red lines – priorities putting things in the right order. and boundaries – deciding what is most important.
As we go through life there are some things that are very important. Over these past months, Eileen and I have been discussing things we’ve had for 40, 50 or 60 years and which we cannot continue to keep. They are reminders of our life’s journey and have accompanied us through many house moves so I could be accused of prioritising them.
1. God’s new thing becomes the priority.
In the book of Isaiah God’s people are not to consider the former things (don’t look back to the old things) because God is doing a new thing – something that will change everything. There will be streams in the desert and the wilderness will blossom.
The Jewish celebration of Passover has always featured thanksgiving. On Friday I was leading the end of term service for Saint Nicholas Church of England primary school. I reminded the children that this is the time of year when Jewish people are celebrating Passover, having already taught them the famous Passover song ‘Dayennu’ from the Passover Seder - a song that recounts Israel’s wilderness journey with the refrain ‘it would have been enough’. If God had only brought us out of Egypt – it would have been enough. The priority for God’s people was in recognizing that God had set His people free to go to a new place to do a new thing. Despite this, the story of Exodus shows God’s people falling out, grumbling, falling out with one another. In Scripture they are shown as ordinary folk with ordinary issues and ordinary personalities. At times they did not want to carry on to this uncertain future. Once they had left Egypt, we see them regarding their ‘redeemer Moses with some scepticism. They began to long for the things they had before. They had had to travel light and move quickly. They had only one night to leave their homes and move. So, they had no time to prepare for their escape – like refugees, their priority was to preserve life and go to a new and safer place. Like the refugees I have personally spoken to, they risked all, propelled forward by the hope of the new life. God’s people need to learn God’s priorities and God’s red lines.
2. Making God’s way the top priority.
When it comes to that encounter in the home of Mary and Martha we see more red lines. This time though, it’s the lines of an account book. I mentioned accounts when I last preached from this pulpit and you may think I was obsessed with it. However, it is something I have had to work at. Forced by circumstances to teach accounts, I rarely stayed more than a chapter ahead of the class. We cannot, however, live without accounts and we all have to be ‘one chapter ahead’ so to speak.
Here, the disciples’ accountant, Judas, was watching as Mary took the most expensive thing she had in the house (even the alabaster jar used to preserve the oil’s aroma was expensive). Mary broke it and the aroma of this essential oil, described in scripture as pure nard (sometimes translated spikenard) and the aroma filled the house.
Judas was incensed; he could just see absolutely no value in this gratuitous gesture. He asked why the ointment was not sold and the money given to the poor. The gospel writer then adds: Judas used to take money out of the common purse for himself - he was a thief. He was astonished that Jesus chastised him, not Mary. The poor will always be with you – what Mary had done was a beautiful thing, having prepared Jesus for his burial. Judas was silenced. His red lines had to move and the priority became Christ.
3. Putting Christ as the priority means serving the needy
in his Epistle, Paul, talking of his own life, should have every confidence in the flesh by the world’s value system. He’d had all the right qualifications, having attended the right schools and the right teachers and had the right background. Throughout his life he had upheld the Law. However, he counted everything else as loss, as rubbish for the excellence of knowing Christ. Those, were his priorities. He then writes: ‘not that I have already attained the resurrection’. The famous reformer, Martin Luther was troubled by the epistle of James. It declared faith without works to be ‘dead’. It didn’t neatly follow his thesis that we are saved by faith alone. As Christ’s disciples, we are called to serve God. That is our priority. Jesus tells us to give to the poor, feed the hungry and house the homeless. Throughout Scripture God calls on us to look after the needs of the marginalised. Each of us is called to make that a red line of faith – a priority in our work for Christ. Our worship results in showing God’s love for a needy world.
So, we are challenged. Where are our red lines? We can all fall short of our own red lines – our own priorities, as I did personally recently. We need the brothers and sisters in our own faith community to build us up, to challenge us, to bring to mind Christ’s claims on our lives. To love one another, to forgive one another. Not to consider not the things of old but the new thing that God is doing. Our challenge over this Passiontide, this Easter, is to identify those places where God’s Kingdom is breaking in, setting our priorities with Him as our goal and our objective - the one who walks with us on this difficult journey.