Sermon: October 16 2016

This sermon was delivered at Holy Trinity, Edmonton.

Jeremiah 31:27-34

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Luke 18: 1-8

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?

Words from the Gospel according to St Luke, the eighteenth chapter, the seventh verse.

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus seems to be terrible at asking rhetorical questions. Immediately, he responds to his own setup: I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them. And yet.

And yet there are desperate people everywhere, praying their hearts out, knees bloody and eyes raw with tears. There have always been, and justice has not been granted them with anything like the promised swiftness. To say that they—victims of war and colonisation and genocide and natural disaster and disease and poverty and domestic abuse—have not prayed enough, have not been found to have enough faith, is a morally bankrupt cop out, a dodgy means to cling on to our convenient and comfortable belief that we will be granted our recompense in timely fashion. But this is nonsense on stilts.

Is Luke’s Jesus wrong, then? Sure, if we can stomach saying such a thing. But, of course, we need to look no further than the Garden of Gethsemane for our proof. There, four short chapters from here, Jesus sweats blood, he prays so painfully: and all God can muster is the cold comfort of bodiless, sexless celestial beings, not even the vigilance of his brothers and friends, let alone grant him what he actually wants. What we all want: not do die in agony and humiliation.

+++

Justice has precious little to do with it, with the Christian faith, if by “justice” we mean fairness, which is the way most people talk these days.

The unjust judge does not play fair by pandering to the pathetic pleas of persistent peasants. And neither would it be fair for God to do so, not that God does. God does not answer prayers based on the fervour of the petitioners. If God did, the Church would make pots and pots of money in the racket of manipulating sports results and election outcomes. And given the baffling dalliance between Christianity and the Republican Party in your belligerent neighbour to the south, Donald Trump would probably be doing better in the polls. Thank God, God’s arms cannot be twisted by people who have nothing better to do than moan about things.

Thank God that God does not play fair, does not allow the divine will to be swayed by the likes of us. The God who plucks up and breaks down, to overthrow, destroy and bring evil, God chooses to build and to plant, despite the sins of our forebears and, God knows, our own sins.

But this is the covenant that I will make…: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people…they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest…for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

There is nothing fair about that. There is nothing fair about Jesus’s bloody prayers remaining inadequately answered for our sake, we who fall asleep, we who abandon him in his darkest hour, we who participate in the exploitation of labour and the devastation of the natural environment, not least by our everyday consumer choices; we who fail to call our mothers and make time for our families, let alone for strangers and aliens; we who exclude those different from us and therefore probably inferior to us, even if refuse to face our own prejudices and call them out for what they are. We who are nevertheless here gathered to celebrate this Mass to the glory of almighty God, for whom justice looks like an innocent body broken and blood spilt for the good of the despots and denizens who crucified him. We who are crucified with him, whether we feel it or not, who are murdered with him, drowned in the waters of baptism, and broken and offered in this eucharist; we who are living sacrifices or so we mumble, sometimes thoughtlessly, not realising that we are committing ourselves to live unjustly, forsaking our own demands, even our own rights, for even those whom we might deem our opponents.

+++

Bread and wine, or—we joke—poor imitations thereof, and yet, the most intense of moral and political symbols, the symbols of the revolution that began years and years ago and begins still even now, with a covenant a faithful God makes with a feckless people, with a promise of words inscribed into our innermost flesh, with a mother’s son bloodied and broken, dead and risen, with this most mysterious consumption of food and drink through which we give ourselves over to be consumed by a hungry world and thirsty for hope, pleading persistently, widows all of them, all of us, bereft of all manner of things. For these things to be well, all manner of things to be well, we have to repent of the injustice of exploitative consumption and convert to the injustice of reckless grace.

It is, of course, unfair of me to lay the troubles of the world at your feet. And yet, here you are, here we are, perhaps no longer wet with the waters of our baptism, but certainly, in a moment, we will have our bellies full of Christ, and we will be sent out into the world he loves, for which he died. And we will, with some luck, realise that the command to “do this in remembrance of me” is about a lot more than a piece of bread and a drop of wine, so help us God.

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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