Sermon for Sunday 26 June 2022
Trinity 2 Year C
“Do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
Having the ability to command fire to come down from heaven and consume my enemies is a super power I have frequently wished I had over the past few weeks in my interaction with our internet provider G.Network.
Most of us here can easily understand the kind of anger that prompted James and John’s suggestion. When something doesn’t go your way, or someone rejects what you want to offer them, it is easy to respond with fury and rage.
But there’s more to Jesus’ rebuke of James and John than meets the eye. For this little episode is set amongst a number of other exchanges in our Gospel today as Jesus’ own call to others is frustrated or rejected.
People respond with alacrity to Jesus’s invitation to follow him… but then suddenly find things that need attending to before they commit. One must bury his father. Another must say farewell to those at home.
All these incidents seem to revolve around one simple challenge that Jesus puts to us today. Is the Kingdom of God truly your first priority?
Do you drop all other things to embrace it, or do you let other distractions get in the way? Are you really focussed on the Kingdom of God, or do you allow your own egocentric emotions like anger and pride to get in the way of what it’s really about – like James and John wanting to call down fire from heaven.
One of the things I sense a lot of people are doing at the moment is re-assessing their priorities. It’s very much in the post-COVID Zeitgeist. As we re-emerge from lock downs into a world that looks so different from what we knew just two years ago, people are re-assessing what it important to them.
Living in London is no longer so crucial for some people who have moved out to quieter places in the country. Many have chosen other jobs, or different vocations. Lots of folk want more time for themselves. Quite a lot of people have realised just how precious their friends and relatives are, whom they perhaps neglected a little or took for granted before, but whom they now value with new eyes.
As I listen people tell me about how they are re-evaluating their lives, I’m often intrigued to work out what measure they use to prioritise one thing over another. What system of values do they apply? Where does that system come from? And how do they know their new priorities will be better than their old ones?
In our spiritual lives, reassessment of our priorities is always useful. But I think the same question applies. How do we know we are applying the right priorities? How do we make sure that the Kingdom of God is our highest priority amongst the distractions and complexities of our world?
St Paul gives us some good advice in our epistle today in a rather odd but intriguing turn of phrase he uses:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another.”
If we are to find the Kingdom of God, and prioritise it in our actions one of the best ways of identifying it, is in love. For Paul, that is life in the Spirit. He tells us later on in that reading: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
So as we look at our lives and wonder whether we have set the right priorities, if we truly grasp the Kingdom of God, the simplest way of asking whether we’re latched onto the right thing is to say this to ourselves: do I see the fruits of the Spirit in this? Does this make me the servant of my neighbour in love?
Does changing my job make me kinder? Does moving to a different place give me more joy? Does devoting more time to my relationships make me more faithful and generous? Does attending the liturgy more regularly make me more gentle and loving?
If the answer is yes, then you can be sure Christ is in those decisions for one very simple reason – his Holy Spirit is there, bestowing his gifts and making present that most allusive but most precious of things: the Kingdom of God.
Fr Peter Anthony