Sermons from St Faith's     


Rev Sue Lucas, Sunday, August 30th, 2015

Milk in first, or milk in second?   Pint pot, or straight glass?  Champagne saucer or flute?  Cup and saucer or mug?  Which are you? Over the last 18 months, it’s probably obvious that I’m a mug…person!  Even though I do like a special mug for my cuppa – this summer, I added to my collection painted with scenes from Crail where I go on holiday.

There is nothing wrong with our little everyday rituals – our china cup or mug, our tankard for our beer, our special glass for our whiskey…and for Jewish people, the keeping of the kashrut about food, money and clothes, is a way of marking obedience to God and living their faith in everyday life.

So why is Jesus so critical of Pharisees?  Because these everyday rituals, these ‘doing things our way,’ if you like, have become what they can easily become – ends in themselves, endless petty rules and regulations to exclude and marginalize, to decide who is in and who is out, who does religion the right way – they regard themselves as the guardians of religious purity, and they decide who is in and who is out.  They easily become a way of guarding the herd mentality which sets ‘us’ against ‘them.’ 

It’s something that is a temptation for all churches – we in the catholic tradition sometimes need to be reminded that God really doesn’t care if the priest takes ablutions in the wrong place occasionally, or one of the servers turns the wrong way!

Jesus won’t have any of it!  It’s not simply that petty rules and regulations are enforced by annoying ‘jobsworths’: rather, they are the means by which a religious elite supports an economic system that oppresses those who are different, or difficult, or poor.

Well they might be furious that the disciples ‘do not wash their hands:’ like Jesus, they have made themselves impure in the Pharisee’s eyes by eating with gentiles and tax collectors and sinners – they have found the Pharisees out, and shown that, far from their rituals reminding them to keep the commandments, they have actually enabled them to forget them: for, as our Epistle reminds us – the point of God’s living Word is simply this: to let it take root and then to do it; and to so it means to care for the orphan and the widow – to live, that is, in the mutuality and commitment to one another, and inclusivity that is the mark of the Kingdom of God – an inclusivity that does not say who is out and who is in, but which is shown above all in how we treat ‘the widow and the orphan’ – those who are most vulnerable.  If our faith is simply about reinforcing the views we already hold, about being with people like us – then we have lost the plot.

What about today? We too live in a world dominated by an oppressive and unjust economic system – one that has built into it exactly that some are in, and some are out; some are ‘respectable’ and ‘pure,’ and others are ‘scroungers’ and feckless; in our own country, the Archbishop of Canterbury has pointed out that we have seen a ‘worrying return to the rhetoric of the deserving and undeserving poor.’

This is all very prescient for me at the moment – I’m about to take part in a series of conversations, nationally organised but regionally taking part in the Church of England, on sexuality, scripture and mission – to take forward the C of E’s thinking on some pretty difficult stuff: the aim is to bring together people of different ages, genders, sexuality, churchmanship, some lay, some ordained with very different, and sometimes perhaps conflicting views – in a spirit in which we can learn from one another, perhaps to change our views on some things, perhaps learn to disagree well on others, perhaps learn what it actually means to disagree well – partly, it’s a work of grace, that goes beyond certain topics being ‘off limits.’ 

But perhaps, in the end, we can do little; but the little that we do is of enormous significance.  For we – the body of Christ, the church, the Christian community – are a small space in which things are done differently – in which God’s economy – of love, and generosity and mutuality and sharing and learning from one another and bearing with one another, in which there is always an honoured place for the widow and the orphan – always in the end overcomes meanness and falseness and exclusion.

And every time we welcome God’s word in scripture, every time we receive God’s living Word in bread and wine, every time we go out from here to serve God in our ordinary lives, we affirm that space and that generosity.  Amen.

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