Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Good News for all the earth?

This is a copy of my sermon from Sunday Last:

Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14

Interactive introduction (for a church set out with tables and chairs, rather than rows of seating - if church is in rows of seating, adapt as necessary):

Approach front table, and lay with plates and wine glasses. Pour Bucks Fizz (or sparkling wine / champagne, if your finances can support it) into the glasses. Light some candles. If you have any eats for them, lay those out as well.

Then ask the congregation whether or not they mind if you go ahead at that table, and that it's unfortunate that they weren't seated at that table. Tell them you only have enough for the one table, but you're sure they'll understand. Proceed with the celebrations at that table.


· Ask the congregation how they felt when they realised they weren't going to receive the same treatment? Ask if they felt it was unfair or not?

· Then return to the pulpit (if you need to clear the table, you can do it here, or perhaps later on in the service, during the peace).

· I'd like to tell the story about a young girl. I'm not sure of the origins of the story ... I was given it in email many years ago.

It's the story of a little incident that took place in Mainz in 1456 when Gutenberg was printing the first printed Bible:

The printer had a little daughter, Alice, who came into the printing press and picked up a discarded sheet with only one line of print. That line of print read: "God loved the world so much that he gave..." Now, those were times when popular religion was a matter of living in fear and trembling before the awesome wrath of God. So Alice put the paper in her pocket and kept on thinking of the fact of God being so loving, and her face radiated with joy. Her mother noticed her changed behaviour and asked Alice what was making her so happy and Alice showed her mother the sheet of paper with the printed line. Her mother looked at it for some time and said, "So, what did God give?" "I don't know," said Alice, "but if God loved us well enough to give us anything, then that is enough - we need not be so afraid of Him."

· And that's the point!

· We're meant to share in and share 'Good News'

· God loves you and me so much that He gave ...

· And yet ... that's not currently the message that we see many Christians sending out!

· Something has gone fundamentally wrong with the Church, with a capital "C"

    • It's become more obsessed with moral policing, with who's in the "in" crowd and who's in the "out" crowd, than with telling people the Good News of God's love.
    • Gospel means Good News. In the modern Church, we don't have a Gospel anymore ... we have doctrine.

· IF the Church is the Body of Christ, then how does the world out there ... Joe & Jane Bloggs in the street, your neighbours, the youngsters in the pubs and clubs ... how do they see the Church?

· Well - we're forcing them to regress back to a medieval understanding of God as the big Eye in the sky, watching and judging everything that you do.

· The impression we're giving them, is that if you're married, with 2.5 children, which are all in faith schools, you have a mortgage, a good job (but only one of you - the other must stay home and parent), you tithe on your good income, you belong to a midweek Church group of some sort, you primarily listen to Gospel music, you don't swear and you own your own DVD copy of The Passion of the Christ ... then you're definitely in.

· While the contrast is also true: If you're very rich, you're out; if you're very poor, you're out; if you're divorced, you're out; if you're a single parent, you're out; if you drink or smoke or use any other substance, you're out; if you're gay / lesbian / trans-gendered / transsexual / transvestite / bisexual, you're definitely out; if we can't understand your accent, language or culture, you're out; if you're in any way mentally or physically different, you're out. There's no room in the Kingdom for your sort - God is perfect and does not tolerate imperfection.

· It's abhorrent, but sadly it is the image that far too many churches are sending out to the general public.

· (Directed at the people who were at the fortunate table) How did it feel when I was laying your table? (Directed at the rest of the congregation) And how did it feel when you realised you were not going to receive the same treatment?

· It may be helpful if you mentioned personal experiences relayed to you of people being kicked out of a church, or excluded, for some reason beyond their control - perhaps a beggar, a young person, a gay person, etc..

· And yet?!

· The life of Jesus tells us a VERY different story

    • He didn't spend time with the dogmatists, he didn't spend time with the legalists, and he didn't spend time with the socially comfortable, the pious or the acceptable...
    • He was out on the streets with the scorned, the excluded, the outcasts, and brought them inclusion, hope and love.

· That's why we call it a Gospel; because it's Good News

· And we're instructed to share Good News with people,

· NOT to turn God into a malicious playground monitor.

· That's what Jesus was about

· That's what our Gospel is about

· That's what our Faith is about

· That's what today's reading is about

· We are called to share the good news that all are welcome and that all are included.

· That's why we share communion - it's an opportunity for everyone to join in the meal around the table.

· I'd like to share the words of a poster I saw on the wall of an St Columba's House, in Woking, Surrey, UK:


Here we practise the inclusive Gospel of Jesus Christ!

This means you may be mixing with tax collectors, sinners, adulterers, hypocrites, Greeks, Jews, women as well as men, female and male priests, homosexuals, lesbians, the disabled, the dying, thieves and other sinners; even Black people, Asians and other ethnic minorities, Muslims, Bishops, bigots, people of other faiths, strangers from Rome and Nigeria, heretics, etc., etc..

And yes, even you, dear guest, are most welcome.

In fact, anyone like those who Jesus mixed with.

So beware! This is not a private club! Welcome to all!

· And so, let us close with the words of the hymn (which I know may be politically incorrect in it's use of the word 'men', but I simply quote as it was written):
"We have a Gospel to proclaim
Good news for men in all the earth ..."

· Amen

© 2007. A. Marshall

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