Sermon 19th Aug
Our theme running through this morning’s readings could be guidance for holy living- as both readings focus on being close to God and how we do that as Christians. They are both pretty uncompromising readings where we are left in little doubt as to the author’s message.
Eph 5 is a very challenging passage- this morning we find ourselves in between the passage telling us to be imitators of God and encouraging us to live the life of love, and the one about wives submitting to their husbands- which I am very glad I am not preaching on. But this is a reminder also about taking care in how we look at scripture and how we take these words into our context. I was recently in Edinburgh- share Anne Hepburn’s words about how we look at Scripture.
So much of Eph 5 is about holy living, being careful how we live in relation to one another, and how to make the most of the opportunities we are given. I think it is important to remember that when Ephesians was written, the early Christians were confident that Christ would come back soon, and they did not want to be found wanting in holiness, so getting ready for Christ is a theme that keeps returning.
We are encouraged to be wise, because the days are evil, and however we define evil, we can all find examples of this in our world, things that we keep away from, but also things we are encouraged as Christians to take a stand against. However much many of us are encouraged by the Olympics and by our wonderful medals total, I was glad to see those who are trying to keep the human rights track record of some of these countries in the public gaze-stop the traffic in Trafalgar Square and Amnesty international highlighting the situation for the Russian punk band Pussy Riot in the daily papers- trying to ensure that human rights issues are not removed from the public eye during the Olympics.
We are encouraged to submit everything to God in reverence of Christ- as a community, AH has taught me so much about submitting decisions to God in terms of my ethical decisions. There are churches where it would be much easier to focus on the not getting drunk on wine but being filled with the spirit, and while this is important, we do not, on the whole, get legalistic about this, but I just want to pause on this verse a minute to think whether drunkenness can apply to anything we can’t give up- whether this is one of the things people normally associate with addictions, or whether this can be more subtle- in my time in different 12 step fellowships I have learned that while there are obvious addictions like food and alcohol, we are part of a society so addicted to wealth that it can be difficult to “opt out” – people who decide not to have a car, a mortgage, a credit card etc.
I was recently reading Richard Holloway’s book, Leaving Alexandria and he talks about one of his parishes, Old St Paul’s in Edinburgh, where the team of three clergy and their families experimented in communal meals, and the strain that put on their family time, particular when one of the priests was continually called to deal with pastoral emergencies and the others continued in fellowship without him. It was a sign of maturity in that community to recognise that in order to be effective in their ministries, something had to give, and the communal meals went, but for Holloway, one of the profound discoveries he made was a need for time on his own, walking one of the dogs or sitting in the back of church, in order to be effective. He is a man who has struggled with his own defects, whether tobacco, or as he puts it an ability to continually say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place in prophetic ways–example from AIDS ministry – Jane Millard.
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As a dispersed community, it can be hard to see how we reflect this togetherness- many of us respond individually to things close to home, or ask for support on announce etc responding when someone is in hosp- one of the things we do very much is pray for one another- thanks for support for school in the last week’s of term after a students tragic death/faithful prayer for women bishops/support through AJAR for Asylum Seekers.
This brings us to our Gospel passage- J is pretty uncompromising in his teaching about communion. There was a lot of debate in the early Christian Church about communion- what exactly it was, how often people should receive, who should receive etc, and the debate was still going on. The early Christians had to defend themselves from charges of cannibalism- how on earth to explain communion to those outside- some were clear the were sharing a meal , others believed something very special happening at the moment of communion- these debates still go on and the debates about who cn be accepted to receive communion still continue!! I often feel fortunate that there are so many places where I can receive communion!
Importance given to communion in the Gospel-because that is what J did the night before he died. Importance in today’s reading. We will all have our own feelings about what aspect of communion means the most to us- but I imagine we would all agree that there is something in what we receive at the Eucharist which is beyong our understanding- we gain strength physically and spiritually at the table because all are welcome. I hope and pray we will never lose sight of the importance of being together for communion. How we celebrate communion at AH is very important to many of us. Particularly those of us who have experienced exclusion from the table in other traditions – yet, inclusion is something we need to be vigilant about- a few of us became aware when someone with limited sight came to church a few weeks ago just how challenging our wiggly circle might be- how do we guide someone through our communion service which I sensory, but also requiring of some movement? We are very aware of the importance of using non-alcoholic wine- yet we use real bread, which could exclude someone with a gluten intolerance- we must continue to be mindful of those who come to worship and their needs.
Many of us who are Greenbelters will remember Sara Miles speaking about the importance of communion in her conversion. She walked into church as (in her words) a foul-mouthed atheist- and someone gave her bread and she found God.
Once Miles came to faith, she could not divorce communion at the table in church from feeding people in need in her community. Her church was in a part of San Francisco where many people struggled to make ends meet. After discussion, the church started a food pantry- giving away free groceries one day a week to all who came. Over time this built up to several days a week. For Sara Miles, there were two things that were particularly important- food should be given to all who came- no questions asked. The second was that the food was given out from the altar. She felt it was important to have no distinction between what happened on Sundays and what happened the rest of the week.
Important principle, but very challenging in practice for some in that community! How would we respond? What is communion for us, and what did Jesus mean when he told us to do it? Sometimes communion gets very complicated with rules in different denominations. Maybe in the moments of silence we can think about what is the essential meaning of communion for us?