Sermon 12th May 2019

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 12 APRIL 2019, EASTER IV (Ordination & Admission of New Elders)

Listen Here: https://soundcloud.com/user-942286720/sermon-12th-may-2019 

 

 “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” John 10

 

On Wednesday morning, in the pews you occupy today –

six or seven hundred school children – gathered for their weekly assembly.

Because we are still very much in the season of Easter, the chosen reading

was the story of Thomas, the disciple.

Episode 1: Absent, when the risen Jesus first appears to his fearful friends –

passing through locked doors and offering “Shalom” – “Peace to you.”

Episode 2: On hearing “the story”, responding:

“I will not believe unless I see for myself.”

Episode 3: Jesus, with the company, a second time;

offers his wounds, specifically to Thomas –

Thomas: “My Lord and my God.”

 

On Wednesday, the story was re-enacted/improvised by some of the children.

Jesus – played by the girl in the group;

[by chance her grandparents visiting that day.]

Thomas, finally falling to his knees, expressively, and bowing before her,

as she held out wounded palms for inspection.

Sometimes the unchoreographed, becomes the holy moment.

 

Before telling the story to that assembly,

in my mind, the summary would be:

“Scars tell a story – about who we are/what has happened to us”

and Jesus’ scars are the scars/wounds of love.

Yet, after the assembly a parent approached me.

“I liked what you said.” [Inwardly, I began to preen.]

“About how what you believe has to come from your own heart –

not what other people tell you.”

[I didn’t exactly remember saying that – but, as so often,

Much happens in the space between what is said and what is heard.]

 

The parent continued: “I wasn’t brought up in a religious home; but I married into one.

And they are always pressuring me to believe.”

On Wednesday morning, via the tableau of the children,

that adult found permission to be questioning –

edging towards the understanding, perhaps for the first time,

that doubt is not the opposite of faith, but part of its palette of colours.

Learnt, not to settle for someone else’s faith. – encouraged to strive/to find her own.

 

Jesuit priest, Anthony de Mello tells the parable of the explorer and the villagers:

A man left the village of his youth

and travelled across the oceans to a faraway land;

a land full of sights undreamt of – exotic creatures and strange painted peoples.

In time, the traveller returned to his place of origin.

There he recounted what he had seen.

The villagers were captivated by these foreign tales –

thundering waterfalls, luxuriant foliage, extraordinary wildlife.

 

Yet try as he could, the traveller could never quite find the words

for what it was really like – the fears of the night jungle,

the exhilaration of the river rapids,

dawn mist above the jungle canopy,

the hospitality of strangers.

 

And though the villagers appeared eager to understand

they didn’t know the right questions to ask – how could they?

So, in the end the explorer simply said:

To know the land beyond the seas,

you must go there yourself.

 

To help them with their journey the explorer drew a map.

The villagers were delighted and not a little proud

that it was one of their own who had had made this wondrous exploration.

The elders met together and framed the original map,

hanging it in place of honour in the town hall –

copies of the map adorned the walls of their homes.

 

To this day, they study the map and discuss it often;

the villagers consider themselves experts about the land beyond the seas

the whereabouts of the great falls and the mountain peaks.

But to this day, (or so I am told)

not one of them has set out on that journey. (See Feasting on the Word, 4th Easter, Year C)

 

It is winter time – the festival of Hanukkah – rainy season.

Perhaps they gather in the porticoes of Solomon’s temple to avoid the rain.

“If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Depending how you hear it,

the question is either that of the genuine seeker or the trap setter.

“Are you the Messiah? is a loaded political question –

especially at the time of the festival

commemorating the victorious Maccabean Revolt against foreign domination.

[At this point in John’s gospel, only one person has acknowledged Jesus as Messiah –

that was the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:26)]

 

“Tell us plainly…”

Then and now, we desire certainty; yet are the things of God simple?

Will a sound-bite or one-liner do justice to the complexities of life?

Does a single title honour the mysteries of life and faith?

Jesus’ reply suggests not:

“You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” 

Jesus declares: Belong, then believe.

Alternatively: If we don’t try belonging, how will we find belief?

Belief that we own for ourselves –

not forced upon us, not armchair, map-gazing talk-about God/Christ/life –

but setting out belief, pilgrim-traveller belief,

in the company of the Shepherd and fellow flock,

through green pastures and dark valley,

by still water and in the presence of our foes.

 

The great promise of faith is that in all those places –

tranquillity and treachery, faith and doubt –

the Shepherd accompanies his flock,

never absent, even if at times it feels so.

 

This morning we affirm our collective belonging to the Good Shepherd

and ask blessing upon those we invite

to take up new and more profound roles of shepherding

within the family of faith to which we belong –

ordaining Heather and Fraser to eldership

and acknowledging Judith’s existing ordination.

 

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities

said that to become a good shepherd we must be attentive:

attentive to those whose care we are given –

“to reveal to them their fundamental beauty and value

and help them to grow and become fully alive.”

That is surely a beautiful and Christ-like calling –

to find and affirm the beauty in each life,

however, broken and bruised;

to release its freedom and love,

however, locked down or diminished, it may currently seem.

You don’t have to be a new elder to do that.

 

On Friday night we began our Kirk Session

by singing the words of Hymn 680 You are called to tell the story

sung earlier this morning: reminding us we are all:

Called to tell the story, called to teach the dance, called to set the table.:

In all our singing, in all our dancing, in all our sharing – Christ be known:

Christ be known in all our living – our belonging and believing.

 

 

Notes: Full text of Hymn 680 You are called to tell the story

 

You are called to tell the story,

passing words of life along,

Then to blend your voice with others

as you sing the sacred song.

Christ be known in all our singing,

filling all with songs of love.

 

You are called to teach the rhythm

Of the dance that never ends

Then to move within the circle,

Hand in hand with strangers, friends

Christ be known in all our dancing,

Touching all with hands of love.

 

You are called to set the table,

blessing bread as Jesus blessed

Then to come with thirst and hunger

needing care like all the rest

Christ be known in all our sharing,

feeding all with signs of love.

 

May the One whose love is broader

than the measure of all space

Give us words to sing the story,

move among us in this place.

Christ be known in all our living,

filling all with gifts of love.