5 after Trinity Sermon


Trinity 5, SS Peter and Paul, the Gift of Charity. I know I promised you Mary of Magdala, but it appears my enthusiasm mistook the month, that is yet to come here in July – mark your calendars! This weekend, being adjacent to the Feast of SS Peter and Paul, marks ordination time for many in the Church, the two great Apostles, so very different in origin and character who led the church, Peter from Jerusalem and Paul with his mission to the gentile world, for the first important phase of its life. In our epistle this morning, Paul’s second letter to the small church he had founded and encouraged in Corinth on the Greek Peloponnese, he is doing his level best to show his patient and encouraging side. After some flattery on their growth in faith and knowledge and above all eagerness for the Gospel, he underlines the importance of the work of charity they are involved in. And this is where this outpost of the Gospel in Greece is connected back to the church of Peter in Jerusalem. For the great act of charity was the support of that church through money and food, donations that were much needed after several years of bad weather and drought, and bad management had brought about a famine in Israel. Right at the heart of the Gospel are two ideas, one of catholicity- that is that this is a message for the whole world, the outreach of the Gospel in God’s intentions is for everyone. The church must be world wide, i.e. catholic, and it must adhere as a unity in great diversity, made plain in the lives of the two great Apostles. So it is not many churches in many places believing roughly the same thing, it is one church in the world believing the same thing, even if locally interpreted and brought to life. And we take this message further, for the person is not a Christian living only for their fellow believers wherever they are, but a human being entrusted with God’s concern for every living person, one might even say for those outside of faith even more than those within. Corinth was a town in need of this message. The first letter to Corinth depicts a nouveau riche go-getting commercial hub, full of chancers and get-rich-quick merchants. Throughout that letter Paul draws attention to the superficiality of the Corinthians, living for money, power, riches and the pleasures of the flesh. They were gluttons who wouldn’t even share communion bread and wine, they were so divided by class and wealth that they wouldn’t allow that their faith united them with people they felt socially inferior. They were a hard sell to the Gospel of the triumph of modesty, poverty and self-restraint coupled with service of others after the pattern of Christ. But Paul made some progress and after a time spent with them he went off on his travels. Some time later he heard that they had slipped back into their old ways and wrote to them, possibly scholars think that there is a missing third epistle, but having berated them previously, and being disappointed he tried a new tack of flattery combined with tying them into a practical expression of faith – the general collection for the Jerusalem church as a result of the famine. He is not asking them to do without, he is showing them that most are so blessed there is plenty to spare. He is reminding them that the Jerusalem Christians have a legitimate call upon them morally and socially. The core message is that together we can bring about God’s intentions, separated we will find it harder or impossible. Christians have, like most groups of folk with a cause, often concentrated on what divides them than what unites. Humankind although capable of immense generosity and charity, can tend towards a my-back-yard approach. How depressing that so many wishing for our votes on Thursday are happy to inflate the so-called dangers of the migrant and outsiders, not coming here to help and do the jobs we simply won’t do, but the old trope of taking not giving. How often do charities find the need to explain the money doesn’t leave the country, or companies that their call centres are in the UK? You don’t get young Indians saying ‘ it’s kinda like this or that’. Humans have a tendency to concentrate on what is closest at hand. It begins in families who although wonderful to each other do little or nothing for their communities. We increasingly see parents unwilling to volunteer to run clubs and societies, people reluctant to join village and other social or neighbourly activities. Despite the wedding service still saying that marriage is not intended as a selfish institution, but one that strengthens society and enriches community to quote the prayer book, we find this is decreasingly the case. People might like a school or village hall, want their village taken care of and enjoy what happens within it – but ask them to get stuck on or join a committee – no chance they are too busy. The big society might be a concept a little hard to grasp these days, but it wasn’t a generation ago, and much is being lost as families and individuals draw in on themselves, and we access services as rights, rather than assist each other as neighbours and friends. Bonds that are crucial get broken, people feel it is someone else’s responsibility to get the elderly or the needy help or assistance, and all they need to do is pay that most impersonal of charges, a tax. I think we are hugely the poorer for this trend, and society’s bonds weaken and wither under its indifference. Many men and women today will begin new ministries in the church and they will be as diverse as the first two Apostles. As Paul said we need to be all thing to all people so that by the grace of God we may save some. However, we live in an age of division, where populist leaders across the world, and those who follow their lead within the church, seek not compromise, or the richness of diversity, but to impose a uniformity, it’s our way or no way. An example this week has been a frankly threatening letter to both archbishops concerning the process of LLF, which has been an extended and often tortuous process to try and finds ways to be welcoming and open to people of diverse sexualities in the church. The synods have debated, and concluded that change should happen, and small steps be taken. The letter in summary says – do that and we leave, schism. This isn’t new in the church’s history, there have been many when people refused to compromise or change, none have ever made the church better or stronger, from the East-West split that is now a thousand years old, to the Reformation with its permanent and multifarious divisions which endure and multiply even today. If Peter and Paul, as different as any two leaders have ever been, could hold to the values of unity and compromise for the sake of the Gospel. Taking seriously the difference between people as not a threat but a sign of God’s richness in creation, then I wonder why we feel so often tempted to go back to ways that never work. I pray that every one of our new deacons and priests will never forget that they were called as unique individuals, called to collaborate with everyone whilst being true to their own selves. If no-one were the ‘other’, how much better a world would it be? Amen