Sunday, 19 June 2016

Sermon, 19 June, Galatians series wk 3: 'Make the world more beautiful'

Not at all where I'd originally intended upon going with the Galatians reading...
but in the light of this last week's events...sometimes original intentions need changed.

1st READING: Psalm 22:19-28
2nd READING: Galatians 3:1-5, 23-29  

Let’s pray:  May the words of my mouth
and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable
in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

There’s a lovely children’s book called ‘Miss Rumphius.’
The story is told by wee Alice, and it’s about the great-aunt
who she’s been named after.
Sometimes great aunt Alice is also known as ‘the lupine lady’,
or called by her formal name: Miss Rumphius.
When great-aunt Alice was the same age as wee Alice,
she’d visit her grandfather who was an artist and who also lived by the sea.
Sometimes he’d let his little grand-daughter help him when he was working.
At other times, she’d sit on his knee, and he’d tell her
stories of all the adventures he’d had travelling around
the great, wide world to faraway places.
She vowed that she, too, would live by the sea,
and that, like her grandfather, would travel to faraway places.
"That is all very well, little Alice, "said her grandfather, 
"but there is a third thing you must do. 
You must do something to make the world more beautiful." 
And so, little Alice grows up, and indeed, travels far and wide,
just as her grandfather had done.
And having come to the end of her travels, she settles down by the sea.
But she always remembers her grandfather’s words about making the world more beautiful.

It’s when she falls ill, and is laid up in bed, that she looks out of her window
and spies the lupines she’d planted the year before, swaying in her garden –
blue and purple and rose... beautiful.
And thinks again of her grandfather.
And so, Alice – Miss Rumphius – makes it her mission to plant lupines:
around her house,
around her village,
all along the highways and byways, and beyond.
As time passes and seasons change the lupines blossom into loveliness –
giving cheer to all those who see them.
Giving hope to all those who feel hopeless.
Spreading beauty just as her grandfather had asked.
The story ends with great-aunt Alice handing on the baton to her wee great niece.
"When I grow up," wee Alice tells her, "I too will go to faraway places and 
come home to live by the sea." 
"That is all very well, little Alice," says her aunt, 
"but there is a third thing you must do. 
You must do something to make the world more beautiful." 

‘Make the world more beautiful’
It’s a fine sentiment, in a world that currently feels
jangly, disjointed,
harsh, and ugly.
We see the headlines shouting at us from the newspapers,
or blaring from the screen;
hear rhetoric and hate-speech,
watch as the world seems to be careening dangerously towards
the edge of a waterfall where it may well land on jagged, pointy rocks
at the bottom and be splintered into thousands of shards.

I can’t even begin to make sense of the targeted hate-crime
against LGBT folk last weekend,
nor the horrific murder of MP Jo Cox,
nor of football hooliganism,
or the ongoing war in Syria,
and the millions of displaced, dispossessed people
struggling to escape death because of that war.
Then there’s Vladimir Putin and his dangerous posturing,
all the uncertainties around the upcoming American election,
not to mention our own referendum next week
and the vitriol and negativity and fear-mongering
coming from both sides of that particular debate.
‘Make the world more beautiful.’
It’s a fine sentiment...
but how can we when the world feels so dark and full of fear:
fear that breeds intolerance, hatred, violence;
fear that freezes the very blood in our veins;
fear that saps us of our energy and robs us our joy?
It feels so hard to fight against the fear.

And then, we read the words of Paul,
to the young faith communities of Galatia;
words written to correct some issues that had gotten a
tad out of hand, yet nevertheless, words that spoke to a climate of fear:
fear of deviating from religious rules.
Words written in a time of Roman rule:
where there was a well-ingrained fear of deviating from secular rules.
These were words written to people subjected to a mighty, conquering oppressor;
words written in a time where the distinctions of
race, culture, status, gender, and faith mattered in society –
and where Paul states that they no longer do.
It’s a time where to question the authority of Rome was to risk your life –
where you hoped you’d be okay if you just kept your head down and got on with it;
a time where emperors were supposed to be worshipped as gods
and, where to be a follower of Jesus would put you outside the
bounds of Roman Law.
A time, where, like now, it was easy to cover yourself in the clothes of fear,
even with the strange stability that Roman occupation brought.

And so Paul writes:
‘You are all sons (and daughters) of God, 
through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you 
who were baptised into Christ have been clothed with Christ’
In this climate of fear,
he reminds them of their baptism:
of whose they are;
of the faith they professed when they were baptised;
of the faith that broke the chains of legalism and set them free;
of the faith, and of the act, that washed the old away,
that chased the darkness out;
of the faith that stripped away the ragged clothes
of fear, of suspicion, of division
and which clothed them in Christ:
the light-bringer,
the life-giver,
the love-bearer,
the liberator.

Paul’s words remind us,
that in our baptism, we belong to Christ, just as the Galatian Christians did.
We belong to the One who lived his life
so freely,
and so fully,
that those who preferred darkness and diminishing others were driven to kill him.
I’m minded of the words of the philosopher, Albert Camus, who said:
‘the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become 
so absolutely free, that your very existence is an act of rebellion.’

Jesus’ life, was an act of rebellion.
To live freely and fully, as Christ did, and to rebel against the chains of fear,
makes this world a more beautiful place:
for it denies the power of fear its opportunity to choke the life of the world
completely into dull, deathly submission.

To live freely, to live into our baptism, and to be clothed in Christ,
is to see life differently:
to live in faith, not fear –
hope, not hate...
It is to seek the freedom of others...
to see the face of Christ in others regardless of the self-made distinctions
that society, and fear, try to create.
And to behold the face of Christ is a beautiful thing.

In the service of welcome, which greets guests at the beginning
of each week on the island, the Iona Community talks of
‘seeing Christ in the stranger’s guise’.
In our baptism, clothed in Christ, we are called to see others
as if they, too, are clothed in Christ.
In doing so, we go against a prevailing culture that seeks to put up walls,
or to name those we don’t know as
‘terrorists’ or ‘economic migrants’
or a thousand other labels...
To be clothed in Christ is to stand against the fear and hate and darkness
that wants to divide and conquer and destroy.
As a community of faith, we stand together, as brothers and sisters in Christ,
pointing to him,
pointing to freedom and light –
and that his light is never overcome...
And, clothed in Christ, as we point to him,
we show the world a different way of seeing
and of being:
we point to a different ending to the story,
as we focus on God’s love and goodness,
and, as we, through our baptism, wear that love and goodness –
share that love and goodness,
it's like the scattering of lupines...
blue and purple and rose,
bringing beauty into a world struggling so hard to find it.

Clothed in Christ, we are heirs to the promise that God made to Abraham:
we share in his blessing and as we do,
so we share the blessing as we love God and love others –
as we turn our own focus from fear to God,
whose perfect love casts out all fear.

Earlier this week, poet Maggi Smith –
no, not Dame Maggi –
published a poem online, which has subsequently gone ‘viral’ –
meaning, it’s turning up everywhere on social media.
It speaks to the complexity of the time in which we live,
and it speaks of beauty.
I’ve substituted a word, out of good manners,
but otherwise, this is what she wrote:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real [s**thole] dump, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right?
You could make this place beautiful.
                                                               Maggi Smith

Earlier in the service, water was poured into our baptismal font,
and after the service ends, I invite you to come and dip your hand -
or your fingers into the water - to remember that you have been
clothed in Christ and need not fear.
Remember: it is for freedom that we have been set free in Christ:
set free, and called to bring in the kin-dom of heaven on earth:
to make this place –
this planet, this country, this parish,
one another...beautiful.   Amen.

1 comment:

spookyrach said...

Really, truly beautiful.