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13th Sunday after Trinity – Resist your inner Pharisee
Is there a tendency, within the church, to revert to the Pharisee, to retreat into rules and constraints and the sanctuary of the few? As each generation passes religions can tend – perhaps they can’t resist – to add some extra rules of their own. What may have started as a kernel of truth, some central and pure experience of God, builds and builds, adding layer upon layer of man-made disciplines and regulations, until something beautiful and unconditional, becomes smothered and obscured with decrees and laws and conditions. Do we recognise this in ourselves? And if so, what can we do about it?
By the time he wrote his gospel, Luke knew that the people of Israel had largely not only rejected Jesus, but also the proclamation of the gospel. The problem this caused for the early church runs throughout the New Testament, but perhaps nowhere with more urgency than in Luke’s writings, indeed unlike the other gospel writers who use this story later in their narratives, he puts this episode right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. But what happens when the rejected, the outcast become those of power and influence, the ‘in-crowd’? What happened to Christianity when we moved from a proscribed sect, under sentence of death in the Roman Empire to its official and only religion within the space of just a few decades? ’Success’ presents its own challenges and problems – power is a very heavy burden to wield and bear. How did the Church live up to the challenge in the past, and can we do better in the future?
The sacraments are gifts of God to meet us all in our moments of greatest need, vulnerability and dependence on him. They are available to anyone who asks for them, anyone who needs these means of God’s grace – to feel God’s presence and blessing in their lives, at some of the most joyous and heartbreaking moments they will experience. …..except that is for some people. Support for same-sex marriage within our churches has gone from a minority opinion a few years ago to become now a mainstream point of view. It seems to be on its way to becoming the majority view. And yet this means of God’s grace is still being denied to so many. What kind of witness is that to our modern world – what kind of love and compassion can that claim to be?
Even by the standards of the time, John the Baptist was bizarre. Dressed in rags, scavenging for food including wild honey when he could find it and eating insects including locusts. No wonder the people were questioning. But the truth can come to us in unprepossessing forms and can tell us things we may not wish to hear. John’s message was unsettling to a population that previously had been assured that they were chosen, singled out, privileged and assured of God’s favour. So why was this unattractive message in an unglamorous package taken so seriously? In this service we shall look to square that circle.