Sunday 14 August

1ST SERMON

MORNING HOLY COMMUNION                  TRINITY 12      Preacher: Rev Lynn McKeon

Isaiah 5: 1-7
Luke 12: 49-56

In my late grandfathers house there were two sacred rituals of the day, watching Neighbours and then the weather forecast. The phone ringing at that time would be ignored, the pans could boil dry while he settled down to watch. He loved all the weather forecasters and indeed used to copy Michael Fish’s woolly jumpers, but above all he adored Sian Lloyd. She was to him a goddess and oracle. Sian was always right, and even if you were standing with him in a force ten gale, wet to the skin, he would always say stoutly that Sian had said it would be nice and that it would be, somewhere, sometime. With her lilting Welsh voice and battery of scientific charts, Sian made him feel that the future was predictable and safer.

We all like to feel that the future might be predictable. That if we only knew how to read the signs, then we could know how things would turn out. Waiting for events to happen, waiting to see how things unfold is terrible, and sometimes, when someone is ill, or there is a worrying situation, people turn to anyone who offers to tell what the outcome will be. And goodness me, people really want to know the future! As I have probably remarked before, the huge queues on a Sunday morning are not outside churches but outside psychic fairs. There, all kinds of crazy methods of prognostication are offered to those credulous enough to pay.

I suppose it has always been the same. False prophets vary in style over time but they have always been around. The traditional gypsy asking for their palm to be crossed with silver has been replaced by a numerologist. But the outcome is the same, false information about the future is offered and paid for. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah was angered by people parading around as prophets, muddying the spiritual waters with false predictions. He uses this wonderful phrase that they “prophesy the delusions of their own minds”. This suggests that the “false prophets” didn’t mean to mislead but were misguided and dangerous. I suspect that it is the same with a lot of astrologers, the so called psychics of today. Many of them are genuinely good people who just want to feel important and be useful by making up predictions. They play upon the vulnerabilities of those who are feeling uncertain about their future, to the extent that they will believe anything.

For an age of agnosticism, people seem all too ready to believe a lot of nonsense.   A really prime example of this credulousness is the modern fashion for psychic investigation. In a pathetic attempt to fill the TV channels there have been and are numerous ghost shows, where a motley crew of psychics, “sensitives” and paranormal investigators gather in a so-called haunted venue. Nothing ever happens… week after week, no-one sees a ghost, takes a picture of one, records their voices. Nothing, Nada, zilch. Apart from a dubious character in a cravat going into a kind of trance and making stuff up, nothing.

Why do people go on watching? Because I believe, everyone knows in their hearts that they have a spiritual dimension. There has been a decline in church-going; people are not encouraged at home or in school to read the Bible; dare I say some are simply too idle to go to church or to pray, so they watch so-called ghost shows to find out if they have immortal souls.

 Three hundred years after the Age of Enlightenment, with all our scientific advances, why are people still throwing away good money to have their Tarot cards read? Because they can’t bear the uncertainties of human existence. Do people ever learn anything concrete from Tarot cards? The name of a Derby winner? Where Lord Lucan is? Whether Marconi shares will plummet? No, because if it worked, fortune tellers would all be riding around in sports cars! False prophets, useless predictions. Thousands of pounds each month are spent on psychic telephone lines, paid into the greedy hands of charlatans. Because people, especially at difficult times, long for certainties and outcomes.

We can’t know what will become of us. It is hard. But it is a fact of life. We have to live, not knowing if we will die before our partner. Not knowing if our child will be safe, back-packing in Thailand. Not knowing the outcome of the thousands of worries that we have in our lives. And despite the false prophets, there is still no satisfactory way of finding out what will be. We must live with our ignorance and place our trust in God.

In the passage from Luke, Jesus is plainly impatient with those who wilfully miss the point about foretelling the future. We don’t know what will happen in the then, but we do know how to live the now. We have a set of guidelines on how to navigate human life, which tell us how to live good lives, how to interact with our fellow humans and how to serve God. Forget what will happen, what may happen! Do not let that distract from the realities of your spiritual journey. Read the good Book, follow the instructions! Although following the Christian Way is challenging: the truth isn’t mysterious or veiled. The principles are embodied in Jesus and the life He lived: love God and love each other. And the truth is tried and tested. Those who have gone before us, Paul calls them the “cloud of witnesses”, have lived the Way, have tested the method, have suffered, have prayed and have loved God and been loved by God. They have lived lives worthy of our respect and are worth copying. These wise good people died in the faith that they would continue in the light of God’s love. It takes effort, discipline and thought to live the Way of Christ, but Jesus is a certainty that we can cling to and His life and death gives us a future worth having.

 

2ND SERMON

EVENING  PRAYER                     TRINITY 12            Preacher: Rev Lynn McKeon

2 Corinthians 8: 1-9
Matthew 20: 1-16

A million pound golf tournament was held which drew contestants from near and far. Many experienced golfers who had worked for years and years on their game came for their shot at the jackpot. The winner would be the closest to the pin. Golfer after golfer tried for the hole, and one skilled veteran made it within six inches. Not too shabby.

Then he watched as a certain hacker came to the tee, and swung the most horrible looking swing he had ever seen. But luck was with this amateur. His ball bounced off a nearby photographers’ cart and landed just one inch from the hole. He won the contest. He won the money. Who ever said life was fair?

Apparently there’s an old farmer’s saying about people who just stumble into good luck without working hard – “The dumber the farmer, the bigger the spuds”. It’s another way of saying, life is not fair.

“It’s Not Fair!” said the servants.    Jesus knew the same, that life isn’t fair. And so he told a parable about it

The parables of Jesus are masterful. He takes a common situation and tells a story we can remember. He puts heavenly meaning into earthly things. And we can all relate to it. This parable is no different.

The situation is common enough – an employer is hiring. As was the norm in the ancient world, and even in some places today – the employer hires day-labourers. The vineyard owner hires men to help him at 4 different times during the 12 hour work day. Now this is a little strange. Especially the hiring at the 11th hour.

The first workers are promised a denarius, a typical day’s wage. The terms of the subsequent hiring's are a bit vague, though. “whatever is right” will be what they are paid.

When payment time comes at the end of the day, those working longest begin to wonder – what will I be paid? “Whatever is right!” in their mind, was more than those latecomers. So when they received the same – they were upset. And we can relate to that feeling. It didn’t seem fair. But after all, it was the agreement they made, it was the owner’s money, and his right to pay others in line with his own sense of fairness.

Where is Jesus going with this parable? What does it mean? He’s talking about fairness in the kingdom of God - the vineyard, that is. God, of course, is the owner.  And we are the workers.  But what kind of workers, and what is a fair price? It seems this parable raises many questions. Chief among them, “what is fair?”  Let’s ponder fairness today in light of God’s work in Christ, and gain a deeper understanding of just how unfair – and just how fair – our God is.

When we say “It’s Not Fair!”  fairness is a concept we Brits are familiar with. From an early age, we learn what “fairness” is all about. Soon after the words “No!” and “Mine!”, children learn that handy phrase, “It’s not fair!”. And we find ourselves echoing our own parents, “Who ever said life was fair?” Still, we have an expectation that it will be! When someone cheats and gets ahead of us, we feel indignant. Slighted. It’s not fair!   …. “I’ve been at this company for years, and that young upstart gets the promotion while I’m passed over? It’s not fair.”….“I’m a good parent. I really, really love my children. How come everyone else has perfect kids, and mine have all the problems? It’s not fair!”…..“I lived a good, clean, life. No smoking – I tried to eat well. And now the doctor says I have lung cancer. But my sister-in-law has smoked a pack a day for 40 years, and is just fine. It’s not fair.”

Or how many other examples of un-fairness could we think of? In the end, our sense of fairness is most keen when we feel WE are the victims of an injustice. Or when we feel someone is treated more favourably than we are – for no good reason.

The common thread in this thought process is this: 1) I am good. I deserve good things. 2) I am not receiving good things. 3) Something must be wrong. 4) Who’s going to fix it?

But is this the way the Christian should think? 1) Am I that good really? Not according to the law, and my sins it shows. 2) Am I receiving good things? We all do, in abundance. Sometimes just not the ones we want when we want them.
3) Is something wrong? Yes, but with us, not with God. 4) Don’t worry. God will fix it. He already has.

God Says, “You’re right, it’s NOT fair!” God is supremely unfair and supremely fair at the same time.                                                                                                 

Unfair – “he does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities”. Some would say this is not fair. You might look at the sinner over there and WANT God to punish him or her. You might expect that a fair and just God would mete out due punishment to THOSE people.  If he doesn’t,  it’s not fair!

But if the bank error is in YOUR favour, you are usually not the one to complain about it. Was the servant who came last to the field the one complaining about receiving an entire day’s wage? No. It is the other servants who felt they deserved more – they spoke up.

Perhaps one lesson in this story is the great danger in comparing ourselves to others. We risk losing sight of our own faults and failings.

So which servant are you? Which one am I? We should see ourselves , with humility, as that final servant – the one who deserves it least. We should all say with Paul, “I am chief of sinners”. For, in all fairness, none of us deserves the blessings God gives. Perhaps this is where the extension of the parable must end – for workers deserve a wage, but sinners deserve punishment, not grace. We deserve damnation not glory. Even our so-called “good work” is disgusting to God on its own. For us to receive a wage at ALL is definitely not fair.

So God is, in a sense, unfair. He is unfair to US, and that is something to be thankful for. But God is, in another sense, ultimately fair.

Fair – he demonstrates his justice in Christ, who bears the wages of sin for all men. God’s divine wrath is meted out, but it is focused on many, channelled through his cross. All the righteous anger and punishment that – in all fairness, we deserve – is executed. But not on us! That’s the wonderful twist in God’s sense of fair play. He satisfies his own demands himself.

So now, in Christ, we rightly claim a place in God’s kingdom. We claim the                  inheritance of sons. We have, by Christ’s work, an earned credit with God. His work on the cross, and his perfectly lived life – we get the credit for all that. Like the workers who slaved in the fields all day, and the latecomer benefits from their efforts – how much more do we latecomers benefit from the work of Christ? In fact we bring nothing to the table.

We are beneficiaries of his “unfair fairness”. Reflecting on this parable of Jesus, we could say: In God’s kingdom, life isn’t fair. If it were, we would all be in deep trouble. But Jesus took what we deserved, and gave us what we don’t. He satisfied God’s sense of fairness, and brings us the wages of His death – which are eternal life, forgiveness, and peace. It’s not fair! Thank God. In Jesus Christ.

Amen.