Sermons from St
Fr John Reed. Sunday 3rd June, 2018
I did a Bible quiz at a Vicarage Garden party last year, and then, like they do in the local pub, I gave the answers, so everyone could mark each other’s papers, and then got the “will this answer do instead?” routine from a few people. One question in particular caused a lot of discussion. The question was “How many days of Creation”; let’s see if you know at St. Faiths? I said seven others said six. Even long serving Readers got this one wrong.
The seventh day is an important day of Creation, it may seem like nothing happened that day to the work-obsessed British, so maybe its value is suspect. But God gave it as the pinnacle of creation to his people. They had known slavery in Egypt, they had known the 24/7 week, they had known the dehumanising and devaluing effect of being Pharaoh’s property, they had known the whip of the task master.
And God gave them a whole day every week, a day without labour, a day to reflect on God’s generosity, a day for families to flourish. But with it came a responsibility, the animals, the foreign labourers and the land were all to have sabbath too. They had to learn to depend on the Creator for everything that day. No ifs, no buts everyone and everything was equal in God’s eyes.
There are many other rules in parts of the Jewish religion that ensure the sabbath is kept to the letter of the law. These were the things Jesus encountered as he went around from place to place healing and teaching. There were respected Jewish leaders following him around and trying to trip him up; just imagine if they had had Twitter or Facebook. His reputation and credibility would have been destroyed over and over again. But he was clear the sabbath was meant for man not man for the sabbath, there should be no legal bar to doing good things for others in need on the sabbath day. It was never part of God’s intention for humanity.
History has shown attempts to reduce human existence to a series of rules or a check list to be slavishly followed are doomed to failure; humanity does not fit neatly into tick boxes. And the human cost of recent attempts to do this are reported in the news: disastrous treatment of human beings, ask the disabled people, asylum seekers, benefit users or the Caribbean migrants.
True humanity is very much a theme in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He is defending himself against some “Super Apostles” who have a strong following in the Corinthian church. People are comparing apostles, and no doubt choosing the ones that are perhaps less demanding, or more exciting. Paul disavows deceit and duplicity, and is realistic about what sort of Apostle he intends to be, warts and all. Paul is quite clear that the only person who needs promoting is the only perfect human person, Jesus Christ. Apostles have treasure to share, but in themselves are like common clay jars. Beware of the apostles that do not promote Jesus and seek to promote themselves. The Gospel of celebrity and success has no part in Paul’s experience of sharing his faith in Jesus with the fledgling church in the first century Roman world.
In our Facebook, Twitter, publicity-conscious world it is a salutary warning that calls us back from the madness this world counts as success. We need like Paul to be realistic about the humanity God has given us and value it for what it is, especially when it is broken humanity. Clay jars may be common, but they are incredibly useful. God in the act of creation takes common clay from the ground, and breathes his spirit into it to make Adam. And it is God’s radical life-giving Spirit that accepts and transforms broken humanity, and reaches beyond it to others in need of God’s love. We too have a part to play in this. But we need to listen to the Spirit within. We seek to help those in need of the bread of life, not as aid workers dropped in from somewhere else with full stomachs, but as fellow human beings who too have found the true bread and are just beginning to understand what it can do for others.
From the wonderful gift of the sabbath day, with its provision for all of creation, to Paul’s clay jars, we must learn to value what Jesus was prepared to die for and seek true humanity, that will flourish if given space to, in the way God intended it too.