Notes from the sermon by Nigel Greenwood 24th June 2018
Reading Luke 11:1-28
It’s interesting how certain words become popular for a time and then fall into disuse ….. I recall that years ago, when I was a child, antidisestablishmentarialism was often used in spelling tests – yet I have to confess I still don’t really understand its meaning!
But occasionally a word brings something really special as it summarises a particular theme or trend. For me, one such word is “inclusive” – it can mean many things, but most importantly in a social context it has a profound, extensive and vital significance when referring to an “inclusive society”. For us as Christians, it is surely central to how we put our faith into practice – loving our neighbour as commanded by Christ, and there is of course the organisation Inclusive Church – a charity, Anglican in origin working in partnership with different denominations and churches to explore ways of becoming more inclusive and today I would like to consider what it means to be fully inclusive in expressing our faith.
Our Gospel reading this morning describes the occasion when Christ was asked by one of his disciples how to pray. In his reply, Jesus began with a single, powerful phrase: “Our Father” – surely the ultimate expression of being inclusive. No if’s or but’s, no get out clauses – just two simple words which draw all God’s people together. Jesus goes on to express adoration then aspiration: “Hallowed be Your name – Your kingdom come” ….. before asking for food and forgiveness – but He then emphasises our own duty to forgive others – ending with our request to avoid temptation or a time of trial. This is a familiar passage which covers not only one of the cornerstones of both our worship and everyday living, central to our discipleship, how we put faith into practice in our daily lives and our interactions with others and relationships – but also makes clear our duty to respond to need wherever it exists,
As always, we receive guidance and support in order to do so: “ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you”. Inspirational words which draw together asking, giving and receiving – so as we are strengthened through our faith, we are also obliged to carry this through by living the Gospel in our responses to people in need … by being inclusive.
The Lord’s Prayer gives us a rule of life, but in his reflection on the text, David Rhodes goes much further, saying if we speak the word ‘Abba’, Father, and believe what we say, we are instantly out of our depth, for it means that the Almighty and Everlasting God, whose name is Hallowed, loves each of us personally in the sacrament of the present moment. It means that there are no barriers with God – no barriers at all. Everyone we meet is held within that over-arching love – for this God is Abba to them too.
This reflection both motivates and challenges us as it offers what is surely the ultimate concept of inclusion, before David goes on to describe the Lord’s Prayer as dangerous and revolutionary – because in its first word, it demolishes the boundaries between all of us.
I really like this concept of the Lord’s Prayer being revolutionary, for in today’s troubled world, the demolition of barriers is central to becoming inclusive, whether physical or practical in our attitudes or responses to situations or people.
So, where do we start ? Well, an inclusive church is built upon an open and welcoming congregation where all God’s people are treated with warmth, dignity and respect in a way which reflects God’s own unconditional love for everyone – where people are not subject to discrimination, not just accepted but appreciated, valued and cherished for who they are regardless of superficial considerations. If I may say so, here at All Hallows you certainly model this with a congregation among the most inclusive in the land, and I recall a previous Bishop of Knaresborough saying every diocese should have a church like All Hallows.
Scripture abounds with relevant quotations compelling us to follow this vital principle of inclusion, so, if we are to reflect God’s own inclusive power and love in our daily lives as believers, living the Gospel as disciples, part of an inclusive church, we have much to learn. Isaiah restates the depth of God’s decrees: my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Then, Jeremiah proclaimed God’s judgement on the nations “thus says the Lord – amend your ways and your doings and let me dwell in you”. He then offers an underpinning principle of becoming inclusive, saying “truly act justly with one another”. If only everyone were to follow this clear principle, the world would be a far better place, but too often our best intentions are compromised by human frailty. Jeremiah’s clear words are reinforced by Micah’s inspiring phrase that the Lord requires us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul uses powerful words to cover God’s own inclusive power and love: “those who were not my people I will call my people – they shall be called children of the living God” … So, as refugee week again draws to a close for another year, it is particularly relevant as it compels us to welcome all asylum-seekers and refugees, not only on humanitarian grounds but as an expression of our faith – “those who were not my people I will call my people – children of the living God”.
You may recall a frequently-used political catchphrase from a few years ago: “we’re all in it together” – perhaps a euphemism for being inclusive and undoubtedly true at one level, but rather too simplistic to reflect the underlying divisions in society. Everyone has moral responsibility to contribute to the common good in society, but for Christians it goes much deeper as a full expression of our faith, truly acting justly with one another as we are told by Jeremiah. David Rhodes concludes his reflection on the Lord’s Prayer by saying: “this one, small word ‘Abba’ – Father, blows apart the idea that prayer is a religious activity disconnected from life – for while I pray as I live, I must also live as I pray !”
This Gospel imperative sums up the essence of what it means to be a Christian in the world today … for our Gospel ends with a clear assurance from Jesus: “blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it”.
I pray as I live, but I must also live as I pray – and we can all surely say Amen to that.