Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Tuesday Formal in the Kingdom

One of the joys of college at the moment is being part of the small but active chapel community. Being part of an Anglican chapel has been an eye-opening experience for me in a lot of ways, and our Tuesday night Eucharist services are regularly one of the highlights of my week. I wouldn't say that I'm entirely in my element, many little things continue to grate on me as a life-long protestant (and I still haven't managed to memorise a bunch of the prayers), but it's a familiar, homely group to be a part of (and of course, the chapel itself is a beautiful space)

Back in November, I had a chance to preach the homily in one of the services, and I thought that I may as well share it here as well to break my long drought of posting, you never know, it might spark my being a little more active on the internet for a while. The homily seemed well received, but I note with amusement that the preaching slots were all taken up before I had a chance to sign up this term, so there won't be a follow-up any time soon.


I've long maintained that I'm not much of a preacher, not only has it been over a decade since I even tried, but I also get too easily distracted by minutiae and my shallow scriptural knowledge tends to lead to, well, shallow preaching, but it's nice to share in an intimate, encouraging environment, and I greatly enjoyed dwelling for a while on a particular text and trying to pull out a couple of little bits and pieces out of it suitable for our little college family on a cold evening for a short homily, in the sort of environment where there's not the time to dive deeply anyway. I'm not completely convinced that it was a sermon that was going to change anyone's life but I'm at least proud enough of it to share it here.

For the uninitiated, the Anglican church calendar revolves around a common lectionary, so Anglicans everywhere are reading from and hearing sermons on the same passages each day. As a preacher, you can choose to talk from one of the two passages (or the psalm of the day), to try and relate them somehow, or just to talk about something else entirely (although I don't think the last option is encouraged). I tried in this homily to find some common threads between my texts of Romans 12:9-21 and Luke 14: 1-14, but I'll leave it to you to decide how that went.

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"Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God."

In the gospel we encounter lots of parables, we're probably all familiar with most of them. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed or a lost coin, or grain strewn all over the place or two brothers and an inheritance law case waiting to happen, and sometimes the analogies that they draw can feel pretty obscure or irrelevant to us; but here's one that you and I, living here in Brasenose in 2018, can really understand. Here's one that resonates with us just like it resonated with the Pharisees sitting around the table with Jesus.

A Feast in the Kingdom of God. We can all understand that, can't we?

Imagine. Tuesday Formal in the Kingdom of God. Cured salmon with a rocket and avocado salad. Oven roasted guinea fowl with a green peppercorn sauce or Field mushroom and polenta steak with tarragon dressing. Plates piled high with crushed new potatoes and seasonal vegetables, followed by lemon tart with Chantilly Cream.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Can you taste it already?

Unfortunately for me, I'm not booked in for formal tonight. I'm not sure what I'm having for dinner tonight yet, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't come with lemon tart and Chantilly cream.

I don't always feel like I'm living a life that I could compare to a feast. I'm always tired. I'm cranky. I'm sarcastic, particularly if I don't have a cup of coffee with me. I all too easily look at other people's lives and feel inadequate and sorry for myself. This isn't living a life of feasting.

But Paul says in Colossians 3 that when we became Christians, when we devoted ourselves to Christ because of what he's done for us, we were born into a new life with him in heaven: "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."

Friends, this means that this feast in the kingdom IS ALREADY OURS, (and it didn't even cost us £5.51p on uPay). Through the Father's mercy and the son's sacrifice, we have a place at the table. More than that, though, through the indwelling of the spirit, we ARE equipped to live as if we're feasting right now.

In Romans 12:1, just before our passage today, Paul reminds us "In view of God's mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - This is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

The spirit is renewing our minds, making us more like Jesus. But what does living like we're feasting at God's table look like?

Paul gives us a model:

"Love must be sincere." We are called to love and care for all those around us unconditionally, our brothers and sisters in this room, those we just see down the bar or out in the town, that person we intensely dislike, whatever the reason.

"Hate what is evil and cling to what is good." We are called to see the positive in people and situations, even awful situations and people that we don't understand.

"Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves." We are called to serve others even to our own detriment, to go the extra mile in order to serve our neighbours.

"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord." We are called to humbly and quietly witness our faith to those we meet at every opportunity.

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." We are called to face adversity and difficulty by taking our needs to God.

"Share with the Lord’s people who are in need." We are called to support those in difficulty who can't support themselves, with our monetary resources, but also with our time and our abilities.

"Practice hospitality." We are called to welcome people into our space and into our lives, to make room for them to be comfortable and open up to us, and to be open in return.

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." We are called to work even harder when faced with opposition, and to rise above it and to love those who detest us.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." We are called to sympathise with those around us and to join in with them in their suffering and their joy.

"Live in harmony with one another." We are called to coexist and to foster an environment in which those around us can flourish.

"Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position." We are called to build bridges that reach all the people in our society, to move out of our comfort zones and not to fear the consequences or the judgement of others.

"Do not be conceited." We are called to acknowledge our many shortcomings, to quiet humility.
What a list! And that's just this one passage!

How do you think you've gone with those today? Or this week?
On any given day at any given moment, it seems impossible. I look at myself: imperfect, crude, proud, often cruel, tired. How am I supposed to do all or even any of these?

The answer, of course, is that we CAN'T measure up to God's standards on our own. He's setting a great banquet, and we're not good enough, it’s not like we’re his fellows, or wealthy, philanthropic donors to his College, we're not on the guest list. Even if we could somehow manage to do most of the things on that list most of the time, we're imperfect, we're human.

We fall short of getting into the banquet. We're the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame on the streets of the town. The wonderful good nws, though, is that despite ourselves and our constant and repeated rebellion against him, through Christ we ARE invited in, and the house will be full.
You and I need to remember that truth. We're already in the feast, despite our poverty.

That's great news. The best news we've ever heard. That's enough for us.

But...feasting isn't everything. We're still called by Paul to offer our bodies in a living sacrifice. Thankfully, that's not something that we have to do in our own power. Remember Jesus' words in the first book of Acts:
“you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
and from our passage today "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be TRANSFORMED, by the RENEWING of your mind"

Friends, all these impossible things lists are possible through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, that our Lord promised to the apostles and promises to us.

Let this be our challenge this week. To take notice when we fall into our old habits, the actions of the old body that we have left behind through grace. when we're serving ourselves instead of others, when we are heartless and petty, and to humbly ask our Lord in prayer for his forgiveness and for the strength of his Spirit to go beyond ourselves and to offer our bodies in a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

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Well, that was a thing. I have some stuff I'd like to work on for next time, if there's going to be one, but mostly I was just pleased to be able to deliver something vaguely gospel-ish. Especially since that meant getting up in front of people and actually speaking, which is a skill that seems to have utterly deserted me over the years, but I didn't completely make a hash of that part of the operation, and it felt liberating to be able to overcome that crippling fear for a little while.

In other news: I intend to get back on the blogging bandwagon in the near future, as Mrs. Owl is getting to a bit of a crunch time in her thesis and it's probably going to be useful to be encouraging her by also actually creating something, so do let me know if you have anything in particular that you'd like me to talk about. If not, It'll presumably be business as usual around here. Except, you know, with actual business rather than just a perpetual 'closed' sign.

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