Trinity 14

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Sermon: 

From the New Testament reading for this Sunday, from the letter of James Chapter 2:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?  …faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James 2:14-17

We forget history remarkably easily, and I don’t just mean the history we learnt at school, we forget our own history, the history of our lifetimes. I remember well how thrilled our eldest daughter was many years ago when she found me reading a book charting the political and social ups and downs of Ireland from 1970-2000. For many of these years I was growing up in Ireland, so it was fascinating to be reminded of much that I have experienced during those years. The exciting bit for our daughter was that the book was subtitled ‘a brief history of change’ – my formative years were now officially history.

That said, I am not a connoisseur of museums (my mother was curator of a local history museum, and I tend to avoid them like the plague). There is however a museum that I find quite extraordinary in Caen in Normandy.  It is called simply ‘Memorial’. Both the architecture of the extraordinary building and the multimedia displays inside and out, tell the story of the Second World War, from its causes to its consequences.

The last time I visited there was also an exhibition tracing the history of the post-war period from 1945 to the fall of the Berlin wall. I was shocked about how little I knew, about the causes of the Korean and Vietnam wars and about the many complex political and military maneuverings of that period, the last part of which at least I had lived through myself.  This was accentuated when I watched a television documentary made by the Canadian journalist and writer Naomi Klein tracing the recent history of economics, and how particular economic theories have led to us where we are today not just financially but also politically. I simply knew virtually nothing about it all.

I think we get very used to our experience – we get used to what we are used to and we don’t see it as in any way peculiar or noteworthy and because we are so caught up in it it is very difficult to see the bigger picture. Indeed it’s generally safer to keep our heads down and get on with our own life without worrying about things we don’t particularly understand or know how to fix. For most of us faced with the huge tides of history it’s simpler to stay in our bubble and say ‘I’m alright Jack – I’m sorry you’ve got difficulties but they are really nothing to do with me.’

The problem for us as Christians is that Jesus doesn’t let us do that! Jesus in the Gospel reshapes the way we live in the world. We are called to love both God and neighbour, we are called to reach out beyond our comfortable bubbles. The community theologian Ann Morisy speaks of the dangers of faith-formulas and the need for ‘Enacted Hope’. If someone to approach us and say ‘What is the Christian faith all about?’ we might be tempted to recite the creed to them: ‘Well’, we would say...

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is,
seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God...

...that’s what Christian faith is all about...’ Ann Morisy says that that is no good rather we need to perform our faith, we need to act out that faith and the hope that sustains us. And how do we do that? Well Ann Morisy suggests that we do it by never giving up hope for this world. There’s a real temptation for Christians to see themselves as a special group set aside who will be whipped out to the world at the end of time for a happy everlasting in heaven, but that isn’t necessarily what scripture says. Scripture speaks of a renewal of heaven and earth – the earth will be renewed; what is damaged, broken or lost will be restored; heaven and earth will no longer be separate. So as Christians we don’t give up on this world; we hold out a resilient hope for its eventual restoration to glory. As Christians we need to remind ourselves and others that it is only in our human economies that there is scarcity - in the economy of God there is always abundance.

So how do we witness to that abundance? Well, this is always the scary bit. We all tend to think that witnessing to God’s abundance requires us to do huge, massive, earth-shattering acts that an Old Testament prophet would be proud of, and feeling a bit daunted by this prospect we tend to leave it and hope someone else will do whatever is necessary and leave us in peace to get on with our lives. And this is where Ann Morisy makes the most (to my mind) stunning suggestion – she suggests that the first step for each of us in playing our part in changing the word in God’s name is a... conversation! We change the world be talking to each other, I mean really talking to each other not just gossiping! Because it is through conversations that we reach out to others, that we begin to act out the economy of abundance with others, that there is room here for both you and me. Jesus saves us by showing us how to live and Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of reaching out to, and talking with, other people. Conversations with lots of different people offer us the opportunity to build networks of relationships with a wide variety of people ‘... those who do with will of God.’ And this discovery of a wide network of people committed to the renewal of the world in God’s name gives us courage and hope and enables to build alliances through which we can do together things that we could never do alone.

“...Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

Those works don’t need to be massive global efforts. They can be simple act of friendly conversation as we say to each other, there’s room here for both you and me – things are not as bad as they seem – together we can do this.

As we emerge for the enormous destruction of the pandemic the temptation is to be miserable, but we as Christians are called to be a non-anxious presence in troubled times. We are called to reflect the bigger picture that the Gospel calls into; we are called to act out the hope of our faith in what are often called ‘random acts of kindness’; we are called, by reaching out to each other in conversation to subtly undermine that which encourages us to turn in on ourselves, that which says I am not my brother’s keeper. And in this task our history is a help, because it reminds us that we come from a shared past, that we are not really strangers; it reminds us that God works faithfully through his faithful people.

So as we seek to act out our faith, as we seek to walk the talk, we will do well to remember that simply by reaching out to others in friendly conversation we can take the first step in working with God for the renewal of His kingdom here on earth.

Almighty God,
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts
whereby we call you Father:
give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought
to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Amen.

 

Questions

  1. How do you ‘enact’ your faith?
  2. Who could you start a conversation with that might be a small step to making the world a better place?


Page last updated: 25th August 2021 3:50 PM
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