Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sermon at Malvern Priory

Just back from Malvern where I was presenting a Worcester Spirit Mark Bronze Award (a sign that the church is welcoming to children and young people) as well as preaching and running some creative prayers. It was a great morning and the text of the sermon is below. As they are fully digitized you can also have a listen when they pop it up on the website here. The text was Matthew 15 21-28 Jesus and the Canaanite woman who asks for her daughter to be healed and FOR ONCE I did what we always joked about in training for preaching - I began with an anecdote about a dog!

It might be useful to know that I took a stuff "puppy" toy with me but this picture of Peggy should pretty much have the same effect!

This is our dog Peggy. She is a bouncy frolicking dog who bounds up to people she’s never met and gets very excited when she sees people she has met and yet when we sit down to a meal she is a model of good behaviour – sitting perfectly with eyes that say “I’m the best behaved dog in all the world” as she watches eagerly to see if anybody drops a tiny bit of food on the floor and then she rushes in to gobble it up. When our nieces who are 4 and 1 are at the table Peggy thinks that the little one is her best friend in all the world as she is very good at dropping food. Even though Peggy knows that she gets a lovely bowl of dog food after we’ve finished eating every evening, she still waits for those little crumbs that fall like a dog that gets no other food
In our gospel today this image of the dog sitting under the table waiting for the scraps is used in rather a shocking way. What’s most shocking is that it’s Jesus who seems to be referring to this woman as like a dog “It’s not right to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs” on the surface I’m sure many of us would agree with that statement but Jesus is not just talking about children and dogs. The conversation with this woman is about the preconceptions, the prejudices that were around in those days that Jewish people and Jewish Rabbis would not waste their time on non Jews they only looked after their own and, out of character for Jesus, he seems to take this position saying in effect you’re not one of us so I’m not helping you but of course he doesn’t mean what he says instead he’s testing out the prejudice of the woman and those around him – even of his disciples. He is bringing all this prejudice into the light. Jesus’ message at the end of this passage and throughout the Gospels is clear – his love is freely offered for all. Jesus calls us to love our neighbours, to love our enemies even. God’s love is for all – not just for the Jews and that’s still true – God’s love is not just for those who are “in” – who go to church regularly, who call themselves Christians but for all people. That’s why it’s so wonderful to have people here together – some who have been to this church every Sunday for many years some who have been only a few times and some who are here for the first time. ALL of us part of God’s family. As we know family is about so much more than the people we are related to and the baptism today is all about family. Baby X has got new Godparents and more than that has been welcomed into the family of the church, into God’s family – a family that welcomes and loves everyone – all those who are in the church, those who have only stepped into this church for the first or second time today and those who have never been in this or any church.

I’m sure none of us this week have missed hearing about the violence in the streets of many of our cities. Many of us may have been tempted to call the young people involved “dogs” or worse perhaps and yet Jesus’ message today says that even these unlovely and unloved dispossessed looters are offered God’s love. This is not to say that their actions are anything but wholly unacceptable that their behaviour is excusable but it IS forgiveable as God’s love is about forgiveness – as tough as forgiving people can be. The reasons for their disaffection to society to those they call rich to those they see as sitting at the table eating a fine meal while they search for the scraps. What love have these young people received? What faith do they have in the authorities or for some in their families? What hope do they have for their future with youth unemployment at 19.7 per cent (Labour market statistics July 2011 issued by Office for National Statistics) with university fees set to be so high many will see them as unaffordable and with house prices rising so much that they will never be able to own their own home.

None of this excuses their actions – many other young people are in similar circumstances and are NOT rioting or looting but still facing tough times. Young people I know were condemning the violence on Facebook, others were in Birmingham and elsewhere helping with the clear up. Churches too were showing that like Jesus with the Canaanite women they are giving more than crumbs to those young people who no-one else cares for – Street Pastors and youth workers have been out helping to talk to and listen to young people in London, Birmingham, Manchester and in other places affected.

What is there that we can do to build up community? How can we be sure that everyone comes to the table and is welcomed to join in the feast? So that no-one is left to scrabble for the crumbs? This church does a great deal to welcome children and young people but this is not something which is achieved and then ticked off the list. Like this baptism today, it is not a one off event but the beginning of a lifetime as part of the family of God. How are you building up that family as a church and Where in your life do you see opportunities to show God’s love to those that feel unloved? Or to put it another way – who in your lie deserves more than just the crumbs?

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