The sermon for Trinity 2: Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
One of the things that perplexes so many Christians is why so many people seem so totally unresponsive to faith. I’m sure we all know people, and have many friends who just don’t see the point or seem unable to get to first base. I’m sure we all lament the fact that there are not a whole lot more people in church today than there are. Sometimes we can get a bit despondent. I get like that myself from time to time.
So I think it should be a kind of comfort to us that even a spiritual giant like Jesus encountered exactly the same situation in his day. Not many people seemed to be responding to him either and frankly it made Jesus a bit tetchy as well.
He compares people to behaving like children in the playground unsure whether they wanted to play funerals – and lament their sins with John the Baptist or play “weddings” with Jesus and rejoice over the dawning of the kingdom of God.
And people also dismissed not only the message but the messengers as well. They easily dismissed John the Baptist as a crazy ascetic wandering around the desert, but they also easily dismissed Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard and morally lax because he liked parties, a drop of wine and enjoyed the company of a rough crowd on the margins of society that included prostitutes and the hated tax collectors.
You see, nothing much changes – just the times and the characters. If an Archbishop makes a statement they might attack what he says – but they are also adept at character assassination as well. Easier to dismiss something if Rowan Williams is being simultaneously stereotyped as a “hairy lefty”.
So we can worry about public opinion, fret and get anxious about the future, and try things like employ deanery missioners – ha ha!
Some of you may have read a poem I printed mid week by a friend of mine in Bulgaria – Karen. In it she talks about her lack of hopes and plans – about her lack of striving after things – a certain lack of control - something which scares her friends. The illusion of complete control is something we all need to shed. Of course we do have a measure of control but we actually have much less control over what happens to us than we like to think. We can keep these illusions going for an indefinite time as well but these illusions come crashing down when we are plunged into crisis, usually by a major illness, or redundancy, or insolvency or a death or a natural disaster.
There is a lesson for us here I think as a congregation and a church. We have much less control over what happens than we would like to think. What we do have a certain amount of control over is our own self understanding and perception of our role. An anxious church worried about its future is an unattractive church. What we need to concentrate on is our own spiritual development, both personally and corporately. Then, and I think, only then will we become the open and attractive community that has a good chance of attracting people to it. Joy attracts.
It might be a perverse thing for the deanery missioner to say – but actually traditional mission is I think pretty dead. To be fair, I never hid the fact that mission in my view started within the church communities themselves. Enlightenment – salvation – call it what you will - has to be seen and experienced and lived here in the churches first. You cannot draw water from an empty well.
Perversely, I think if we just forgot about how big or small we are, how much or little influence we may still have, stopped being so anxious about attracting more people and entered a phase in the church’s history (which might need to last years!) of concentrated spiritual development of the people already within the churches, then paradoxically I think in forgetting about the problem the problem would eventually solve itself.
I think Personal spiritual development is the way forward for the church. Giving people what they need – the spiritual knowledge that will enable them to live and grow and enjoy a much fuller life.
If in the great scheme of things relatively few people ever seem to get the message – well that is just one of those things. It was the same in Jesus’ time as well. Jesus told parables about it. Some falls on stony ground. Some falls in shallow soil. Some falls among thorns. But SOME, just SOME, falls in good soil and grows and flourishes. Many are called but few are chosen.
It would be lovely if many more people came to us – but history has shown us that this is never going to happen. Accepting that. Becoming less anxious about it is important. Of course we should always remain welcoming and rejoicing at the arrival of new people but at the same time accepting that we may always be a small community and that is exactly as it should be and will be. There is a freedom there. Be free. Mission starts at home. Let Go and let God.