Sermon for Trinity 14 – HIGH MASS Sunday 6 September 2015
Sermon preached by Father Julian Browning
Psalm 146.9 The Lord cares for the stranger – Sermon HM Trinity 14
I want to tell you about my God, because there is a God of my life, just as there is a God of your life. I want to tell you about the God of my life in non-churchy language. Many of the phrases about God we use here are tired now, a bit worn out, or maybe the old words need a polish, a deeper meaning. We talk so much here about the God we study and worship, but is that my God really? Is this your God? Somehow my God must be the God who can not be divided; He is Isaiah’s God who comes to save us, and He walks alongside those thousands of refugees from Syria, whatever the distraction of my political and religious views, whatever our fears. Who is this God?
What we can say, when we stand back a little, is that all Christians are refugees, we have left the safety of not knowing and not caring, and we are trying to be explorers of the truth, explorers in search of an absolute truth, not just the truth for today, how I happen to be feeling, but a truth which is forever real, and which can not be divided and changed. This exploring of the truth, our wanderings in the desert, our prayers in that darkness which can settle for a long time in a human life, all this turns out to be a series of conversions. Over a lifetime, when the darkness lifts a little, a different light reveals truth anew. Explorers, like refugees, don’t know what’s coming next, and neither do we, but one thing I do know about the God of my life, is that this is a relationship I find myself in, and the reason why Jesus, and so many others, tell us to love God – and what a difficult concept that is, loving God, so easy to talk about it but how do you do it, for do it we must – St Francis said “You only know so much as you do”; anyway, the reason Jesus and the saints tell us to love God, is because only Love allows God to be unknown, to be whoever He is, and so to love God means to love living with God, whoever He is, wherever He goes. So knowledge doesn’t get us to God. Love does, because in love we leave behind all those unanswered questions which floor us time and time again, and just surrender to a God who is my whole life.
Somehow Jesus knew all this. He wasn’t the only religious teacher around, but he was different, he taught with authority. How did He get to that point, how did Jesus explore the truth? Without thinking about it, we tend to see Jesus as the One who comes up with the answer to everything, but that is to deny his humanity. I believe that the parables, and the healing miracles such as the two described in today’s Gospel, show Jesus learning from the world about him, learning from those he meets, contemplating the most everyday occurrences, and in the exploration of the truth in that way He is led to a truer perception of himself and his mission. You heard the story today of the SyroPhoenician woman with a daughter possessed by a devil, and I do not intend to repeat it, but it’s a dramatic battle of wits and the woman becomes Jesus’s teacher, and his heart is opened to the idea that the Good News of the Kingdom is universal, for all people, and is not only for the lost sheep of the House of Israel.
I think that’s an attractive thought, that Jesus learns about the God of his life from his encounters with others, particularly from those who don’t belong, or don’t fit in, and who are considered by others to be unworthy of the Kingdom. That is where Jesus met the God of his life, and that is where we shall meet the God of ours. It all comes out in the earthy simplicity of St Mark’s Gospel. Jesus saw the ultimate goodness, the absolute truth, of those possessed by devils, those who were deaf and blind. What he learnt from them was a truth about the Kingdom of God, that to heal isn’t just about getting rid of disease and disability, it is about reviving those who are soul dead. Body, soul and spirit, treated as one, without the judgements that divide and wound. And we’re in this too, because when you stand back from your life, you might see that others have healed you, and maybe you have helped to heal others, putting back together again, as best we can, body, soul and spirit.
That will be impossible for us if we are ever tempted to see ourselves as a club of elite believers who think we know it all. Why? Because we shall never develop that non-judgmental awareness we need to see clearly the coming of the Kingdom. The kingdom of God, which Jesus saw as both within us and among us, is the new relationship we get into, with God and with each other. For the God of my life isn’t really mine at all, certainly not the God I come up with to suit myself. The God of my life and of yours came down from heaven and lived among us. God is in the union of us all. God has given us “the grace to see life whole” [St Gregory]. The mind of Christ is in each of us. God’s infinite word is now human, so I can understand it, and look for it now, without fear and without bewilderment, not only in my life, but in the lives of our fellow wanderers, the poor, the dispossessed, and the outcasts, particularly those for whom our empathy is nature, the Christians in Syria, and so to pray for their restoration in body, soul and spirit. “For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” [Isaiah 36.6]