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20th July 2014 - Sunday Morning - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Proper 11 - Trinity 5
Wisdom of Solomon 12.13, 16-19
Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

Welcome one and all!

"He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In !
This short stanza is from a poem by Edward Markham that seems to have been haunting me all my ordained life. It keeps returning to me at odd times and in different connections, but it is always about inclusivity and it says much about the sort of church I seek to serve - and I hope the sort of church of which you want to be a part too.

Some of us have been thinking hard in the last few months about Welcome and about the way we set about welcoming others into our community here in St Chad's... and don't get me wrong - on the whole, we don't do too bad a job. Newcomers do generally feel welcomed and wanted when they first approach us.

Very soon now I hope we will soon have our lovely new glass doors on the porch - making the entrance to church less intimidating and more welcoming - especially for those coming in for the first time. We are looking to enhance our worship with the sensitive use of new technology. We make a point of trying to be as welcoming as possible to those using this church for their wedding or baptism.

But that doesn't mean we cannot still be challenged and encouraged to improve in other ways. We are not so good at following up from the initial welcome. A few weeks ago at Pentecost I extended an invitation to all to come to God's table as an open table - one where all find a welcome. That is a message that the PCC were very supportive of and one that we will repeat in this church on a regular basis for as long as I am among you!

I do it - not because I do not think that church rules are important - I would hardly have spent five days last week at General Synod if that were the case (!) but because I am always conscious that the institution may at times act as a barrier to people who just want and need to feel close to God - and I know they are people that God wants to draw close to him too.

The circle that surrounded Jesus was remarkably 'open' in character. People were invited to join, not because they had already shown any aptitude or inclination for the kind of life they would subsequently lead. Others, having met Jesus in rather dramatic circumstances, simply decided to stay around. And - because Jesus got on rather well with them, there seem to have been a disproportionate number of dodgy characters and rejects among his friends and followers.

Even to speak of it as a 'circle' is misleading, because a circle by definition, has to have a circumference - an outer edge. Jesus' refusal to draw such lines was one of the things about him that infuriated his opponents.

Needless to say, you didn't have to attend a course of preparation classes, or take part in some special service or rite of passage before joining Jesus ... we tend to be a bit more formal today! But God may today be calling any one person here to do something special for him.... male or female; adult or child; young or old...

And the group that gathered around Jesus of Nazareth - people who came and went as the mood took them, had no name, no organisation to speak of (although I suppose you could say that Judas holding the common purse was a kind of Honorary Treasurer?!) and no hierarchy - apart from acknowledging the leadership of Jesus himself. It was all wonderfully ad hoc and unsystematic.

The parable of' the wheat and the weeds' is about how God puts up with us all. It certainly does not tell you how to run a farm or even a garden. What the farmer in this story does, letting the weeds flourish alongside the wheat, is about as absurd as a shepherd leaving his precious flock to look after themselves while he goes off after the one who is lost! But the parable is not about farming - but about the 'kingdom of heaven' - which is the same thing in Matthew's Gospel as the 'kingdom of God' in Mark. It means "how God works" here and now - not where you may or may not go when you die. And the way that God works is obviously not the way that we do.

Sensible farmers or gardeners pull out the weeds. Our farmer doesn't. What we see here is an example of 'God's foolishness', as St Paul will go on to call it. The mad way that God works is not to weed out anyone. That is how crazily hospitable the company of Jesus is.

The key words in this story are - "let them grow together". It is something that the Church finds so hard to follow.... that is what lay at the root of all the disagreement we have had at Synod over the years. Who can be called a Christian? Those who hold to the supremacy of the text of the Bible? Those who seek to interpret it afresh for each generation? Those who like to worship one way? Those who like to worship another? The church over the years has confidently pronounced that it knows precisely which are the weeds and which the wheat, and has sought to incinerate the former in order to preserve and protect the purity of the latter. All foolishness of course.

That is not to say that there will never be judgment of course... in the vivid imagery of the parable, there will be a bonfire and there will be a barn. But it is not down to any of us to determine who is destined for one and who for the other.

We are left with the two questions in the story.... "Where did these weeds come from?" the servants ask. I ask the same question about my garden where all sorts of things grow of their own accord... and of my world, fashioned to be so beautiful but everywhere polluted and broken - largely through the efforts of humanity - through our violence; through our obsession with money and power and personal gratification; through our lack of care of innocence and beauty.

But the servants have a second question - not "Why is it a wicked world?" but "What should we do about it?" That perhaps is a question to ponder and to act on in the here and now.

"He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In !

20th July2014 - Sunday Evening- Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Proper 11 Trinity 5 - 2014 - evening

1 Kings 2.10-12 3.16-end
Acts 4.1-22

Furthering the "Uncommon Good"

As you all know, last week I was in York attending the General Synod. And I know you will have all seen the images of people celebrating following the main debate on Monday, concerning Women Bishops. My own emotions following the vote were mainly those of relief and quiet satisfaction that 9 long years of sitting in debates at GS had finally produced the only sensible decision possible - once the church had decided to ordain women to the priesthood, that is.

Following the News reports, you might have been forgiven for assuming that was all that we did last weekend.... far from it. That debate was certainly much on everyone's minds, but we had many other issues to discuss - which is how it should be.

On the Saturday afternoon and again in the Minster on Sunday morning, we heard a voice from America - that of the Revd. Jim Wallis, addressing us on the subject of the Common Good - essentially all that the church and her people undertake to alleviate injustice and inequality in our society. Everything from manning and contributing to Foodbanks; to running youth clubs and youth organisations; to lunch clubs for the elderly and visiting prisoners. He commented that he was not aware of any Church in the world doing as much work on the subject of the Common Good as the Church of England. This is probably as much a product of our history as our theology, but it also is rooted in both the Evangelical Revival and Catholic Social Action and much that was done in the 18th and 19th centuries to try to counter poverty and misery for ordinary people. Everything from the abolition of slavery to the origins of the Welfare State - can be traced back to a heavy influence of Christianity, whether Anglican or non-conformist.

Jim Wallis also reflected that the Common Good had - around the world and especially in his own country, become quite un-common. The largest growing religious affiliation in the States was.... what would you think?

None (those ticking the "no religion" box). Most of these, if questioned further, would say that they still believed in God - or some sort of supreme being - but they no longer want to affiliate with religion, because of what organised religion has, or has not, done. They were attracted, however, to "those who are doing something to change their communities."

At their best, church communities can make our common life together better. Much of society is shallow and selfish; people are turning inwards if we are not carefull, - wanting to look out for just ourselves, and our families, or our tribe, our group, our class, our race. What happened to looking out for one another?

Loving your neighbour as yourself should mean that you care for other people's children as much as your own. That was the wisdom that Solomon was tapping into. Would he have gone as far as to see through his threat to divide the child between the two mothers fighting over one baby? We will never know. But the threat alone was enough to uncover the real mother - the one who would give up her child, before she could see it killed before her eyes to settle a squabble.

Peter and John are ordered by the authorities to do no more good works - it is inconvenient for the lame to be cured in the name of a convicted and executed criminal! But Peter and John cannot be silenced. The common good of the people outweighs the political sensitivities of the Religious establishment.

Jim Wallis reminded us that churches make a big mistake when their primary public emphasis is on protecting themselves and their own interests. But if we take the Gospel imperative to love our neighbour seriously, then we will care about all people - even those who do not look like us, or speak like us or worship in the way we worship. And if and when we do that, then people begin to say "Huh, I wonder why they do that?" and Christianity becomes attractive. It can be 'caught' but not 'taught'. We may well have underestimated human sin and selfishness in economics, politics and our great institutions; but we also underestimate the "radical power of hope, which is our best contribution to a changing world." And it is my sincere wish that with men and women freed to work alongside each other - to lead the church together - we can make that contribution really begin to count.

So at the start of another week when the world looks a pretty bleak place; where there is yet more bloodshed between Israeli and Palestinian; where Christians are being evicted from their homes in one of the oldest Christian communities in Iraq; where families across the globe are united in grief that their loved ones have been blown from the skies; where the young women abducted weeks ago in Nigeria remain separated from their families and concealed from the world, the question remains for each and every one of us, "What are we prepared to do, in our daily lives, in our workplaces and our homes to make that radical power of hope a reality? That would truly support the mission of God in the world and the church.