Good Morning! Welcome to this mornings CTS service.
Worship today is led by Martin Sykes and our message is from Rev Lew Greaves
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God Bless x
Thank you to all those who have been part of putting together this weeks service.
Message - Rev Lew Greaves
I don’t know about you, but I find that reading from Matthew challenging. Most of it’s fine; that parable is fine, it’s that bit at the end about the chap who gets thrown out for not wearing the right clothes even though he wasn’t expecting to be invited to the wedding the first place. It just seems like God’s being so unreasonable, and in Luke’s version of the same parable that last bit isn’t included (which might be a bit telling in itself, I don’t know). People have tried to interpret that little bit of the parable in different ways over the years; for instance, it’s not enough to just be part of God’s family – you’ve got to reflect that in your actions, in your life. Maybe – I still come away from it with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, I’m not going to lie to you. It just feels like God’s abused His power.
It’s a complicated parable because it paints a complicated picture of God, and we struggle with that. We struggle with complexity in life – we’ve got an inbuilt drive to reach for security; it’s part of what took us from living in jungles to caves to villages and so on – each one safer than the last. Complex things don’t feel safe; there’s not enough certainty in them, and I think that bothers a lot of people. We want security now more than ever, and what we do to try to get there at the moment, in complex times, is we oversimplify things – we try to make things into absolutes: Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, good guys and bad guys, and unfortunately there is a whole world of people who are out there to exploit just that – to exploit our divisions. It’s part of why society has been getting progressively more divided since the banks collapsed in 2007. Because that was really complex, and suddenly there was a loss of security, and we responded to that by trying to oversimplify things: we made it into Cops and Robbers.
Let me give you some other examples of what I mean, because I want you understand that it’s everywhere.
Okay, slavery. Now everyone knows that we were trailblazers of equal rights in this country – we were the first country to ban slavery in 1807. Well that’s not quite true: In 1807 we banned trading in slaves – you got to keep the ones that you already had. And in fact, it wasn’t until 1833 that we actually banned slavery itself, and by that point Haiti had become the first country to ban slavery. So we emancipated the slaves, but you know what else we did? We agreed to pay compensation to the slave owners for their loss, and not just to them but to their descendants as well. And we carried on paying that compensation until 2005. That means that if you were paying taxes in this great country of liberty and equality 15 years ago, some of your earnings went to pay compensation to the descendants of slave owners. Suddenly that picture of our nation is not quite so simple.
Okay, let’s try something even more unambiguous: fascism. Now everyone knows that in the Second World War we were the good guys fighting against and evil ideology. Well the ideology was evil (I’m not going to argue with that) but the problem is that quite a few of the tenets of Nazi ideology – hyper-nationalism, Aryanism (and with that, eugenics), racism and particularly anti-Semitism – were quiet common in Allied countries too, before and after the war. Some of you might be able to remember as far back as 1947; if you can, what you might remember is that throughout the summer of that year across the country there was a rash of anti-Semitic persecutions. Here in Derby in fact, during that pogrom the city’s synagogue was destroyed by arson, never to be rebuilt. This happened the length and breadth of the nation two years after the liberation of the concentration camps. We won the war despite sharing some of the views of our enemies.
And it wasn’t just here either. In the United States, they had a eugenics programme on the books until 1978, and in fact, even as late as 2010 women in the California State Prison system were being sterilised without their consent. Suddenly the good guys and bad guys picture gets a lot more complicated.
Okay, let’s bring it up-to-date. George Floyd: did he deserve to die? Absolutely not – that was an absolutely despicable injustice. But he also wasn’t the saint that some parts of the Black Lives Matter movement have made him out to be: this is somebody who had eight criminal convictions, amongst which was four years in the slammer for aggravated robbery after committing a home invasion. To repeat, he did not deserve to die, but he also wasn’t a paragon of virtue either.
I hope what’s coming across here is that it’s almost impossible to view the world in black and white, in those over-simple terms. Life is complex and full of ambiguity, so the idea of God being complex like we get in that parable, it might be uncomfortable to us, because He’s supposed to be the ultimate security isn’t He? He’s the one that we go to in complexity. But you know what? It’s also why I appreciate that parable, because if God is complex it means He is relatable and relevant in our complex lives. Without that, He’s just a comforter blanket.
But this is nothing new – this is the same thing that we get in that reading from Philippians. If you read the whole of the letter to the Philippians (and it’s not long, so you might as well at some point) then one thing that comes out is that there are two strands within that: dealing with persecution and dealing with division, trying to keep some unity together. Now that suggests two things: Firstly, persecution was going on within the early Christian Church (it certainly was for Paul – we know that for sure) and that, faced with a lack of security, people were becoming divided. Does that sound familiar?
So what does Paul offer to that problem? What’s his encouragement? What’s his unifier? Well, it’s the Incarnation, it’s Jesus Christ. You might have heard this a few weeks ago, I’m not sure, but I’m going to read to you Philippians 2:5-8:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.
The Incarnation – Jesus being born into our world – is God reaching out to each of us in love. A complex God stepping in person into the complexity of this world to lay down His own life as a demonstration of how much He loves us, of how much He loves you – your complex self. This is a God who loves you in your moments of holiness, and loves you in your moments of shamefulness. This is the God who sees you secret acts of charity, but also knows your internet history after you’ve deleted it. This is the God who knows how you would love to make the world a better place if only you could, but also knows how you abuse food and alcohol to silence your loneliness. And still he loves you, you complex, wonderful person.
I hope we continue to be a complex church; one of differing opinions and disagreement, and all for the right reasons. I don’t think it’s healthy for everyone in church to hold the same opinion and to agree with one another – we owe it to ourselves and to God to be complex. God doesn’t appeal to Euodia and Syntyche (and, by extension, to us) to agree; he doesn’t promise peace. He asks for us to be of the same mind in the Lord; He promises us the peace of God. If we can disagree without losing sight of the fact that the other person is loved by Jesus as well as us – if we can love the other person precisely because Jesus loves them – then not only will we be of the same mind in the Lord, but we will receive the peace of God which reaches into the complexity of our lives, our world, and ourselves, and whispers to each of us “You are loved.”