A few weeks ago, a friend of mine drew my attention to a job advertisement. A parish was looking for a new Vicar and he said, “I`d love to apply for this place but just look at what they say”. And sure enough, there at the bottom of the page were the words, “We want someone who`ll make things happen”.
Now the advertisement didn`t say what these `things` might be. Presumably it meant `anything`; as long as some-thing should happen. It was quite difficult to fathom. To begin with I wondered if it was perhaps a sign of panic or maybe this was a parish that was a bit restless; longing for the novel, the entertaining or different. But then rather sarcastically, I remembered that the caricature of many a parish is actually the desire to have it both ways… I mean: Make something happen but don`t change anything!
Anyway, whatever was going on, my friend didn`t apply for the post and in the meantime, those words have stayed with me. And the longer I reflect on them the more I`m convinced that they betray a basic misunderstanding of not just what Christian Ministry is about (what a Vicar is for) but more especially it gets what we might call `Christian spirituality` entirely the wrong way around.
In the final verse of our New Testament reading last week St. Paul told us, “For we are God’s servants, working together; (and) you are God’s field, God’s building”.(1 Corinthians 3:9) Elsewhere he tells us that we are “God`s work of art” (Ephesians 2.10) In other words, the accent is not on US but on what the Lord God is doing and the things that HE makes happen…. We are mere collaborators… we join in. And the thing that`s already happening is what Christ calls `the Kingdom`… the reign of God coming into being “on earth as in the heavens”. It`s this that Christ is talking about when he tells us all those parables isn`t it?
You see the parables are not just amusing little tales for children… they are invitations to look below the surface of things (again) to get a handle what`s already happening. So often in the scriptures the Lord says to us “Behold!” Look! And time and again Jesus calls us to be those who have “Ears to hear”. (Luke 8.8)
It strikes me as almost perverse that we should choose and prefer the ways of anxiety and control as opposed to patience and trust… but it seems that we always want evidence. We crave signs that something, anything is happening. Rather like the child who keeps digging up the seeds in the plant pot to see if anything`s growing…. We want to force the Lord`s hand; we`ll manufacture something; anything that looks as though something is happening.
If you have a rather `activist` spirit of course, this is the point where we want to protest that this is verging on what`s called `Quietism`; the spiritual equivalent of justifying doing nothing by saying “well, something is bound to turn up”. Others would say that it`s a failure to use our God-given talents as Jesus recommends in one of his more memorable parables. But I say again, we don`t make something happen… we are those who join in with what is already happening. And we can only make the `Godly` contribution at the right time and in the right way when we have cultivated that inner patience; and when we have become those whom the prophet Jeremiah says: “Have stood in the council of the Lord, so as to see and to hear his word” (Jeremiah 23.18)
I once called on an old lady who had on her mantelpiece a little card which read “Only a deep adoring silence can truly know God”. Quite so. This is where it begins. But where does this lead us? Well this morning`s Gospel reading places us at the feet of the Lord listening to what we call his Sermon on the Mount.
We had another ten verses of it this morning… and (as an aside) know I`ve often been tempted to read the whole thing out one Sunday morning… and then listen out for the complaints about the preacher! Well he did go on a bit, didn`t he?
But in these few verses, and indeed the whole sermon it does seem to me that we`re given some pretty clear guidance as to how to get in touch with what`s really happening… with the inbreaking of God`s reign on earth. And just as you sometimes hear people say “You`re on the right or the wrong side of history” (you`re either in tune with the way things are going, or not) if you want to get a handle on what the Lord God is doing and on where the momentum of his in-breaking kingdom lies, then just look at the words of our Gospel.
You see according to Christ, the Kingdom happens to you when you don`t resist evil; but instead take the way of non-violent generosity. The Kingdom happens to you when you refuse to withdraw into hate but love your enemies and pray for those with whom you are at odds. The Kingdom happens to you when you cross the boundaries others take for granted so as to welcome the strangers, feed the hungry and care for the sick. This is how you put yourself in touch with what the Lord God is doing. It really isn`t rocket science. If you want to really see something happen…. If you want a serious engagement with Christ then try doing as he says. Refuse to rationalise or make excuses for the teaching he gives in this Sermon… just do it.
It was G.K. Chesterton who once said that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried”. And I`ve often looked at the Sermon on the Mount and thought there`s a distinct sense of “After you!” when it comes to Jesus` teaching. It`s as if we all stand back looking for one of us to go ahead and try these risky and subversive things out… “Love your enemies…? Oh, after you! No, after you!”
It seems we`d much rather wait around and admire from a distance the likes of a Francis of Assisi or a Mother Teresa and declare it all impossible for mortals such as us; …… forgetting that the only difference between them and us was their willingness to take Christ at his word.
O, and one other thing. It`s there in verse forty-five. We obey because we want to be quote, “children of (our) Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.45). “for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous”. We want to be chips off the old block… we want to be perfect as he is perfect. And this is when you start to see things happen. This is when you start to see the presence of the Kingdom; the new regime which Christ has set in train through his life death and resurrection.
You see the big question for the church today… and for congregations such as ours is not, “How can we be (what`s called) Missional?”. It`s not “How can we do more exciting things to get the numbers up?”… No in the end the only question that matters is, “How can we be more like God?”
In other words, how can we be the kind of people who reflect something of his lavish goodness, mercy and generosity to those around us… And especially to those beyond our comfortable social circle and income bracket and those who (by our humble estimation) least deserve it! It all begins here… in the quality of our common life… and in this common meal to which we, yes even we are invited.. We who are among those whom we might say, least deserve it.
As Bishop Tom Wright often says, “the significant thing about Jesus is that he didn`t give us a theory but a meal…” In other words, he majors on practical examples of what he means by the kingdom. Here is a visible sign of what God is doing… drawing together a disparate bunch such as us and labouring to form us into those he is proud to call his `body`. This is awesome stuff. Because, when Jesus says “Do this in remembrance of me” he`s not just talking about gathering for a meal such as this…. He saying let his self-giving, bridge building action give shape to our life together and the life we lead throughout the week. Do this and open your eyes. Do this and you`ll begin to see what`s happening.