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READING - .     
6th Oct 2019     
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SERMON - Trinity 16     
6th Oct 2019     

Sermon Trinity 16 Proper 22 2019 Year C
Given at the Minster
October 6th 2019

The answer is in the question.

Who after a cold night out, rainy, chilled to the bone, dead tired, who under those conditions says, I’m going to stay in these wet clothes, sleep in a bed without covers, in the coldest room in the house, refuse any offer of a warm drink.  Who says that – a nut case – that’s who?   Would you not rather say: “Give me the shower.  Give me the double whiskey.  Give me the warm bed.”   Of course that’s the answer of anyone in his or her right mind.

Jesus starts off our parable this morning with that kind of question where the answer is self –evident except that where it goes may makes us feel a bit uncomfortable.  For starters we’re all good Christians and were not that confortable with the notion of slaves and hierarchies and people bossing people around.  Call me a snowflake!  We may be tempted to Christianise the answer.  We like to think that the slave (some translation use the word servant so soften the story but that’s probably not justified) is a child of God and deserves to be treated better (why can’t Jesus; he’s the one who gave us these kinds of ideas).  Without the slave’s labour, the master would not have food on the table and money in the bank so we want to affirm the slave, show him/her how much we value their input to our well-being.  That’s what decent Christian folks would want to do.  Isn’t it or did I get that wrong.

It seems a bit harsh.   It’s even a bit inhumane.   There is a sense that when Jesus says, “Don’t expect any thanks, just do your job, just do what you’re suppose to do”.   It seems a bit harsh, very harsh.   It doesn’t recognise the sacrifices the disciples will make, the hard work for such uncertain returns.  It’s not in tune with the psychology of our time of valuing people and their efforts.  And it seems even inhumane and prone to abuse by those in authority, especially in the field of benevolence and charity.   “Stop complaining, it’s for a good cause, you’re suppose to suffer.’  And I suspect the church has done this and prone to do it.  I think a lot of vicars feel that way, undervalued and unappreciated perhaps by their congregations, or perhaps by the hierarchy.   I’ve met quite a few embittered vicars in my time that expected something and never got it.  And besides people do like to thank people.  It’s natural.  It is rude not to.   People are thanking us all the time.   A couple of months ago, we had three Chinese boys from Hong Kong staying with us and they wrote a thank you note to us, mostly Susan.   The most touching part of their long thank you letter was when they thanked us for listening to them expressing their concerns about things (the emerging troubles) that in their minds had nothing to do with us. It surprised us that they thought that way – we were just listening, nothing more.  It’s natural to say thank you.  I remember years ago on a weekend of renewal movement called cursillo and the people helping and supporting were adamant that we should not thank them.  And when someone did you could sense the tension – “they’re not suppose to thank us.   They’re ruining it”.   I suppose we can come to depend on receiving thanks.  Receiving thanks and kudos, being liked can become a stronger motivator than doing what our conscience suggests.    I suppose not ruffling weathers, a quiet life is a strong temptation for most people (and I’m not sure I’m very keen, indeed I’m wary for those for whom it isn’t, if you get my drift.

But there’s two things are striking about this passage.  The first is how the listener, the disciple takes the part of both players.  Did you notice that?  I can’t explain why it’s important but it is; it makes a difference on how I react to this reading.  We the listeners start off as the master; “which one of you”.  We move from the master to the slave.  And we end up the slave.  And the speaker is not the church, or a bishop or a vicar, or the choirmaster or the head of the flower arrangers, but Jesus.  The speaker is the one who incarnates God’s care, God’s mercy, God’s justice, and God’s reconciling love.  The one who speaks is the suffering servant, the one who dies for our sake, and the master who becomes the servant.  The one who speaks is the one who calls us to follow him and to join in this life-giving venture, journey through this world.     The one speaking is the one who calls us out of, wakes us up from our immanence into transcendence, into this sense of something bigger and beyond ourselves, where love is even greater than our own personal fulfilment, where we are called to be persons of virtue, self-knowledge, listening to our consciences and seeking the divine deep within us. Isn’t what we expect from our politicians that they work for the common good of all and not what’s going to get them elected or make them popular even less rich?  That’s what we expect of our vicar’s, not that they will do what makes them look good in the eyes of Archdeacon and Bishops or even their congregation or pursue there own aggrandisement but what is good, true and beautiful.  We expect to want to pursue wisdom, kindness and compassion.  It’s what we expect of a parent in their love of their children, of a husband or wife of their spouse.  Should we not expect it of ourselves and the world we operate in?  In that parable and it’s expectations, harsh, open to abuse, hard to get our heads around, I still glimpse something beautiful, something to yearn for, a kind of freedom – a hope even when things seem a mess.

Don’t think for a moment I’m suggesting this is easy.  In the gospel according to Luke, from chapter 9 Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem (it will take him 10 chapters to get there).  In that journey he spells out to his followers what it means to do so (very few miracles in that section).   And they’re going “whoa!, we can’t do this, give us the necessary resources”.  And Jesus says it’s a question of faith.  And faith is not something quantifiable.  It doesn’t come in small, medium or large.  You can’t save it up like money until you have enough.  There are not some people with more faith than others, super-faith people.  I can’t give it to you.  You can’t give it to me.  Faith is like electricity from outlet.  It’s like the flow of the river.  It flows or it doesn’t.   And faith for Jesus is simply trusting in the power of God in face of anything and everything.  It’s a yes to God you’ll need to repeat often.  It is not determined by a body of knowledge that you have to master (though there is one -a body of knowledge) or skills you can pick up (though some might be useful).  .  It’s a simple yes to God.  It’s how enter into this transcendence, into this place, that journey beckons us to follow.   It’s how and where the promises Jesus makes become
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