Notes from the sermon by Heston Groenewald 29th July 2018
Reading – Luke 13:31-35
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32 He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when[c] you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”’
Here is Jesus, with tears in his eyes proclaiming judgement on his beloved city. With its people (his people) keen to pick a fight with their Roman occupiers, in the name of Jewish nationalism.
Which is very very interesting in the light of our ‘Brexit’ situation today, with our (slim) majority of EU referendum voters who chose the ‘wide door’ – the popular path of reclaimed national sovereignty and wealth.
And of course 21st century Britain is not 1st century Judea, but there are parallels. In both cases the marginalised in society are the worst affected by a nationalist agenda. And in our day and age, we have a similar prophetic role to that of Jesus amongst his contemporaries.
Jesus’ message was, don’t get so caught up with Jewish national identity, that you lose sight of (or deny) God’s bigger picture – which is about fullness of life for ALL of humanity. And God’s intentions besides, you just can’t rebel against the Romans! If you stick to your guns (swords) there is only heartache and horror in store for you. They are far too powerful, and if you look for God’s kingdom down this popular path (through this wide door) there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and you will be thrown out. All of which happened as Jesus predicted, in 70AD when the Romans decimated Jerusalem and scattered the Jewish people.
Jesus said, my beloved people, please please look through a different (narrow) door for a glimpse of the far better future that God wants for you.
Reading – Luke 13:22-30
22 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, 24 ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” 26 Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” 27 But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’
The last will be first and the first will be last! Since the time of Abraham and Sarah, God’s chosen people (the Jews) had understood themselves to be ‘first’ – and therefore the Gentiles (everyone else) to be ‘last’. Jesus, in word and deed, announced that this understanding had had its day. He offered a different path, a different (narrow) door through which a different vision of God’s kingdom could be glimpsed. And in this kingdom, there was no room anymore for Israel’s national identity. God’s work within creation may have started with Israel, but was always for the sake of ALL humankind.
And so we find Jesus in the gospels challenging and expanding Israel’s ‘national identity markers’ – the Temple, the Torah, the Promised Land, and Jewish genealogy. Jesus tells his people to give up these ‘Israel First’ symbols, and to follow him through the narrow door into a far bigger future. The narrow door leads to a demanding and difficult road – the road of self-abnegation and trusting God’s power rather than the (more visible) power of the sword. But this road would lead in time to St Paul’s writing: ‘In Christ there is now no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free.’ Fullness of life for ALL humankind.
How do we apply all of this to ourselves today?!
There are many ‘wide doors’ through which we can seek God’s kingdom. Lots of distractions and tempting offers which promise ‘heaven’ when we buy this item, or go on that holiday somewhere faraway and sunny, or be more like this celebrity whose life is amazing. Anything but the real day to day life that we actually live. Similarly with friendships: we can have hundreds of facebook friends or twitter followers, but they never demand the real relational hard work of one-to-one day-to-day friendship – getting to know one another, annoying one another, forgiving one another, sitting down to eat and talk with one another.
But Jesus offers us a different (narrow) door to God’s kingdom. A door called Incarnation. God meets us in a specific human body, in a specific time and place, stays with us through our darkest sickest situations, bears our pain and overcomes our self-centeredness, and offers us a whole new kind of life – both before and after death. God commits to this creation, this world, this human race, this nation, this family, this set of circumstances and reality. It’s hard work and not as glamorous as the fantasies and faraway holidays (this is partly what Jesus’ ‘temptations’ are about) – but if Jesus is right, perhaps all these things that glitter are not necessarily gold.
In the words of a colourful wonderful desert anarchist (!) called Edward Abbey, ‘only petty minds and trivial souls yearn for supernatural events, incapable of perceiving that everything- everything!- within and around them is pure miracle.’
Within and around us is precisely where God wants to meet us and shape us into Christ’s image- in the daily situations and relationships and joys and annoyances and reality that we call normal life. There are millions of escapisms and fantasies on offer, but if we can narrow ourselves down to committing to this workplace, this set of people, these circumstances, these heartaches with a neighbour, this real present demanding tedious joyful miraculous life- this is where God wants to meet us.
And it takes discipline to shape our lives to better pay attention to God’s presence. But as we do, so we can be freed from distraction and fantasy to meet God in the present moment, and in the miraculous nitty gritty of real life. ‘Am I centered, grounded, and ready to listen deeply? Do i prepare and come ready to share? Am i mindful and present to others? Choices around healthy eating and exercise, giving time to someone in need, turning off our radios TVs and mobile phones, being truly present to family and friends, and choosing to do without more possessions, are all [good training!] (Laura Swan OSB)
There is a corporate aspect to this discipline – the shaping our life as a church – and so I am excited about our All Hallows Vision Day on Sunday 25 November.
And there is a personal aspect to this – shaping our lives as individual disciples. Labyrinths are an ancient Christian ‘tool’ for symbolically centering our lives. Jesus said, ‘where I am there my servant will be also’, and tracing the labyrinth journey can help focus us on Jesus’ presence (God’s presence) WITH US in our journey through day to day life. Wanting us to know how deeply deeply loved we are – just for being who we are, not for the things we do or for how popular we are. God loves you. God loves me. God loves us. So so so so much.