Solemn Evensong & Benediction Sunday 8 July 2012 | All Saints Margaret Street

Sermon for Solemn Evensong & Benediction Sunday 8 July 2012

A Sermon Preached by Fr Gerald Beauchamp at Evensong & Benediction on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, 7 July 2012

 

Readings: Jeremiah 20. 1-11a; Romans 14. 1-17

 

In a shed behind the family home Lars Lindstrom lives alone. His brother Gus and his wife, Karin live in the main house. Lars and Gus inherited the house when their parents died. Gus and Karin are ‘normal people’. They live in small town America; a small town dominated by immigrants from Scandinavia. Its ernest and Protestant. People know what’s what and live according to the rules. But Lars is socially inept. He’s introverted and shuns company. He rebuffs those who come to his door. He’s a loner

 

But all this changes. One day Lars announces to his incredulous family that he has a girlfriend. Bianca is coming to town. They met on the internet. She sounds exotic. She’s half Brazilian and half Danish. People can’t wait to meet her. They don’t have to wait long. Bianca arrives … packaged. She’s a full sized doll. You’ll find her sisters in the backstreets of Soho. (Or so I’m told)

 

You’d think that small town America would go into meltdown. There’d be disgust, ostracism, fear, anger. But there’s the opposite. Despite the shock (perhaps even because of it) Lars is one of them; one of their own. His brother Gus and his wife lead the way. Lars and Bianca are welcomed into their home. Gus and Karin suggest that having come from so far away the family doctor should see Bianca: give her a medical check

 

The doctor diagnoses that Bianca has low blood pressure. He asks that she come for weekly check-ups. Lars brings her. A relationship is formed between Lars and the doctor. He’s a trained therapist. He gets inside Lars‘ state of mind. The town learns to accept Bianca as he walks her around. Bianca joins a volunteering group. She goes to the hairdressers and models clothes at a Main Street boutique

 

This, as you may have guessed is not a real life scenario but the plot of an art house movie called ‘Lars and the Real Girl’. Its a simple comedy with lots of pathos. But who knows; had the apostle Paul been a movie-goer he may have used it to illustrate his point this evening

 

Paul is at a crossroads in the early church. The first disciples were Jews but the first converts came from all over the world. If Acts 2 is accurate some came from Parthia, some from Media; others were Elamites and so on. Some would have been Jews but Gentiles also heard the Good News and they responded. As the Acts of the Apostles unfolds new Christians come from all sorts of backgrounds: from an Ethiopian eunuch to the likes of St Paul himself. In hindsight this was a blessing. At the time, it didn’t seem so to some. How do people who have grown up with so many rules mix with those who haven’t? For Jewish Christians a deal-breaker was food: dietary laws

 

Today we think about cleanliness around food as a matter of hygiene (washing fruit before eating it) and general health: Have we had our ‘five a day’? But Jews in the ancient world as today attach much greater significance to eating kosher than that. Its a matter of God’s will and man’s obedience

 

Its what S Paul doesn’t say that’s as important as what he does. He doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty; he doesn’t get bogged down in minutiae. Most of the Letter to the Romans is a carefully argued study of the what faith in God is about as it is revealed in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith justifies. Had Israel been true to her ancient faith, belief in this new chapter of revelation in Christ would have been automatic. But something (blindness/sin/unbelief?) has intervened. So the Gentiles now carry the standard. They hoist the flag for those of the ancient faith to return

 

If that’s the case then as S Paul contemplates the situation (the problem of who does what and how this is perceived by others) he tries to pick his way between what he labels as strength and weakness by urging that judgements not be made by one group or the other. You can see in his tacking and weaving something of the journey of our own Archbishop of Canterbury in recent years as he’ s tried to hold together opposing views in the church on issues that create just as much passion as those who claimed to be ‘orthodox’ or ‘right’ about what church members ate 2000 years ago

 

I suspect that Rowan Williams has taken to heart one of S Paul’s watchwords, the one that began the reading this evening: ‘Welcome’. And S Paul was quick to follow this up with a warning: ‘[Welcome]… but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions’. The Greek word that Paul uses has a wide range of meanings: ‘to welcome’, ‘to take as a companion’, ‘to be hospitable’ and so on. But its interesting to note a particular use of the word in Matthew and Mark (Mt 16. 22 ; Mk 8. 32). The evangelists describe the same incident when Peter, having heard Jesus predict his passion, draws Jesus aside and begins to admonish him. Jesus famously rebukes Peter with ‘Get behind me, Satan’. The word for ‘drawing aside‘ is the same as that used by S Paul for ‘welcome’. Peter wasn’t ‘welcoming’ Jesus. He was taking him aside in order to get across his own agenda. For Paul, ‘welcome’ is unconditional

 

How do we welcome people unconditionally when they are different to us? That’s a tough one. Those of us who worship here regularly tend to have strong opinions. Margaret Street isn’t know for its wallflowers. But tradition must never let go of history. The benefit of hindsight is that it puts things into perspective. Its very difficult for us to remotely feel the heat of the controversy over food as we hear it from S Paul. Only a few here this evening will remember the controversies in this church over the end of segregated seating (men on one side and women on the other) or the end of the choir school. When life has moved on rerunning the old arguments sounds like ancient history. Last Sunday Fr Julian warned us about the dangers of nostalgia. As we all know (and its one of life’s tragedies): nostalgia is not what it was!  

 

So onwards and upwards. The past is the past. Its the present and the future that matters. In the Christian tradition the present is being molded by the future. The resurrection is not simply a past event. Its one that promises the future. ‘We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s’ (vv 7 & 8) writes S Paul this evening

 

In all the current controversy in the church perhaps we might take our foot off the pedal marked ‘unity’ and focus a little more prayerfully on the one marked ‘solidarity’. Whether we like it or not we are one with another – ‘in Christ’. Alone our lives are little. In Christ, they are great

 

That’s what Lars Lindstrom discovered: poor, socially inept Lars. Getting out more with Bianca he meets other people. Finally, he meets Margo. He finds himself torn between the two. Then, one morning Lars finds that Bianca is unresponsive. After that, its all downhill. Bianca ‘dies’ and Lars finds his real girl. He would never have found life if the frozen part of him (Bianca) had not found a welcome. We’ll never have a real church until we discover the fullness of Paul’s understanding of that word ‘welcome’

Sermon preached by Fr. Gerald Beauchamp