Sermons from St
Paula O'Shaughnessy, Sunday 8th July, 2018
A couple of weeks ago I was at a civil service conference in Blackpool. It was a shock – everywhere was so rundown and poor. Down one street it was all boarded up shops, nowhere was there shade from the blazing sun. At lunchtime, I was looking for a place to take refreshment. Nowhere, it seemed offered a refuge of comfort and relaxation. It had been a tiring week, and I needed such a place.
Then, like a gift from God, I found THE place – it was an upstairs café, attached to the Methodist church. Like an oasis of calm it was – soft chairs and quiet tables, I enjoyed a cup of tea, whilst gazing into the back of the chapel. And yes, the tea was delicate and reviving. I read the first of a 9 day prayer booklet – the visitation of the archangel Gabriel to Mary. The meditation picture was of a Dalit (in the Indian caste system – the untouchables) Madonna and child.
The image resonated with Blackpool – the deprivation and the poverty. Yet, in the image, there was the certainty of the worth of the Dalit mother and child. I noticed too, how busy the church café was – This was the place of refuge for the elderly gentlefolk of the town of Blackpool.
In our daily lives, we often yearn for refuge. When we find those moments, they are so precious. Like the Dalit mother, how often do we feel outcast, or marginalised? Or that life is cruel? And how often do we inflict those feelings on others? With a thoughtless or unkind word or gesture. Maybe, it is isolated, or maybe more systematic - part of the way of being.
In the Old Testament reading today, from Ezekiel – we hear how the prophet accepts his mission from God, to be the watchmen for the people. That they are rebellious and suffer the consequences of their own defiance of God. That they have found themselves exiled from Judah, by the Babylonians, is a consequence of their own rebellion against God.
Ezekiel offers warnings to the people and commands them to keep the law of God. There is though, also hope and protection in the words of the prophet. To keep their spiritual integrity, that is what must be maintained, above all. This is to be done, in all circumstances. Faith in God, and obedience to God – is the goal of each follower.
Ezekiel is very much there with the Jews, in exile. He is one of them, though he is an intermediary for them, with God.
There is profound peace to be found in just reading scripture. The power of the word of God, reflecting upon it – bringing it into everyday life, is without measure.
But it brings its challenges too. They are not just reassuring words of comfort, but ask also for sacrifice and humility. Exercising judgement is not easy, when the pain and suffering of earthly life grab us. How can we respond truly as people of God?
The Jewish people, in their centuries of persecution have known bitterly the reality of being outcast.
We should have courage, be ready to discern the will of God and to respond with action, inspired by the Holy Spirit. This may mean having to accept some deprivation, to rely upon God for strength. To see God even in the deprivation, in the brokenness.
In today’s Gospel passage from Mark, Jesus is tasking his disciples with going out and ministering, healing and spreading the Gospel. This is also our discipleship. We cannot be passive, just waiting to be fed. We need to bring the hope of the Gospel message to the world, to be a small light ourselves. If we open our eyes and ears, we will experience God – lifting our senses, not look inwards. Seeing God in the world around us. But, as Jesus says, we often don’t recognise the prophet in our midst. Instead, we think it is somewhere beyond our sphere. In this, we may fail to see the reality of God with us, and the Holy Spirit at work, and alive in the world. We do not become charged instruments ourselves, but remain passive and inert.
Immersing ourselves in pray and scripture, we become more open to the reality of God in the world. When we engage in this way, as disciples we can seek the way to bring the kingdom of God into reality. In the quiet time of pray and reading of scripture, we are re-grounded and renewed in the holy spirit. The fever of our minds and hearts is calmed and rebalanced.
The person of Christ, as he was when he was among his disciples, brought divine leadership and direction to their lives, their mission and their purpose. The old ways of Jewish law, were no longer enough. Jesus was asking more of the disciples, less of a strict rules and observance way of life. But with a more fundamental self-sacrificing and dangerous mission. For the disciples, this would have been a daunting task – with real threats to themselves and lying ahead.
Jesus means for us to join in the mission too, however we can. Though we need to pray and read scripture, we also need to see what is happening in the world around us. By bringing a prayerful understanding to the world, we can be different in the world, making it a better place, one where we can witness to our Christian faith. That it is not just a physical place, but also one where the Holy Spirit dwells and is alive.
There is much suffering and deprivation in the world, we do not have to look far to see it. Sometimes it is hidden, when a person does not want to let others see their agony, for the sense of shame. The ill-tempered person we encounter may be that person. The brokenness of some of the places and lives – be it Blackpool town centre, or the homeless people on the streets. It is our Christian mission to do what we can to ease suffering in the world and live not just for ourselves. To be prepared to open ourselves up to God and ask for divine grace and enduring faith. That is our mission today.