Sermons from St Faith's     

Paula O'Shaughnessey 31st August, 2014

'Man is the pie that bakes and eats himself and the recipe is separation'

That nightmarish pronouncement is a mantra from the dark, visionary novel of the modern Scottish writer, Alasdair Gray.  He portrays a society of selfish self-interest, corruption and de-humanisation.  Set in the archetypal city of 'Unthank', the care and kindness of citizen, neighbour and friend is totally absent.  The horror of this society causes the main character to lose his memory and sense of identity.  He doesn't even remember his name.

This place of darkness is it real?  What of Jesus' time?  What of today?

In Jesus' time, life was extremely harsh.  The society was a rigid hierarchy.  At the top were the rulers and below them the governing class, the merchants and below them the retainers and priests.  The retainers and priests were key they acted as a shock-absorber, keeping the people in their place, imposing the hierarchy and maintaining the status quo.  The tax collectors were part of this, keeping some money back for themselves creaming off a bit.

By contrast, there are the people at the lower end of society who are exploited or excluded.  There is the poor widow who gives the most to the temple, in terms of what she has.  She has so little, yet she continues to give when the authorities at the temple ask for more.  It should be remembered that in the society of the time the widows would lose any rights to property and would have few means.

Corruption is the thread which is found throughout the whole rotten structure, like a disease that can't be taken out cleanly, without damaging the healthy parts.

Jesus knew this and taught people that if they wanted to follow him they had to be incorruptible.  'Get behind me Satan', he says to Peter.  Jesus knows the danger that threatens the very souls of his disciples.  The 'Catch 22' of the times is a vicious circle. 

This is what the hospitality issue is about, which Paul talks about.  The extension of hospitality to others could actually mean starvation to the peasant.  To us, the giving of hospitality sounds easy.  But the economy of the subsistence peasant was so fragile always close to the brink of destitution and starvation.  The ruling elite sent their retainers to gather in the surplus with great efficiency.  There wasn't much left over for the peasant and his family.  This left much uncertainty for the peasant farmer, who could not always rely on the harvest either.

It is vital for the growth of the kingdom of God for there to be generosity of spirit and the offering of hospitality.  This would, of course, always be under threat, as the temptation to guard one's own self-interest would gnaw away at the generosity of spirit.

To be close to God, it is vital to be ever vigilant against the tendency to forsake others for one's own needs and wants.  In our society today, there are different pressures.  In this country there is comparative wealth.  We don't face the choice of 'offer a meal to someone and then starve'.  In the developing countries, though, this is not the case.  The lack of human dignity in countries where there is little sanitation or access to clean water and where people go hungry, is a sad truth.  There needs to be a change of heart in the people with privileges, to share and to not join in with the corruption and exploitation of the vulnerable.

In our own society, our moral choices are real.  We should address our consciences, in asking whether or not we show enough generosity of spirit to others in our actions.  Doe we also forgive past hurts and misdemeanours?  Do we assume the worst or give the benefit of the doubt?  Sometimes the other person may not have actually hurt us intentionally.  For instance, we may assume that someone saw us and chose to ignore us.  But stop and think maybe they didn't see us, or maybe they had had something on their mind, felt ill, or just couldn't cope with a conversation at that moment.

Paul's message today is let it go.  Let God judge it.  Offer it to him instead.  Our role is to be committed to the cause of Christianity.  To be Christ's advocates and spokes people.

In Alasdair Gray's dystopian world of 'Unthank', the needs of others, even the identity of the people are not even a thought, a consideration at all.

Isaiah's vision of God offers us hope:

'I will not forget you.  I have carried you in the palm of my hand.

This should be our mantra, our ever present thought and hope for our world.  That we will care for the world and the people we encounter or have influence with.

Jesus' words in today's Gospel, that those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will save it, is an invitation, a challenge and a warning.  We must be ever watchful, for the self-deception and the selfish choices which we need to guard against.

We can do our bit by making ethical decisions, on how we spend our money, what causes we support and how we spend our time:
* Water Aid;
* Christian Aid;
* Foodbanks;
* Make time for others;
* Listen to others;
* Avoid being too focused on material good.

Our spiritual life will surely blossom and grow, in the love and nourishment of our Christian faith.

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