25 June 2017
Revd Jonathan Cain
Romans 6: 1b-11, Matthew 10: 24-39
Age divided UK in General Election more than any vote since the 1970s. This was the front page headline of the London Evening Standard a few days ago. The newspaper article highlighted research by Ipsos Mori which suggests that Labour’s vote share was swelled by the under-44s, with the biggest swing among 25 to 34-year-olds. This coincided with a swing to the Conservatives among the over-55s, resulting in the biggest age gap since Ipsos Mori’s records began in 1979.
I wonder if this was the sort of inter-generational conflict that Jesus had in mind when he spoke the words we heard in the Gospel today … “man against his father, … daughter against her mother, … and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Perhaps we shouldn’t use Biblical text so directly, but I do think there might be one way in which the strangeness, and for many the unexpectedness of the election statistics might serve to remind us about what is sometimes called ‘the strange new world of the Bible.’ There is much talk at the moment about a fundamental political shift. When we read the Gospels we must keep in mind that what they point to is radical; more radical than anything else in the whole of history; not just a fundamental political shift, but nothing less than a new creation.
When we read Matthew we have to keep in mind two time-frames running together. There is the narrative time-frame – the setting for this morning’s gospel reading is Jesus’ instruction to his twelve closest disciples to take the good news that “the kingdom of heaven has come near” to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And then there is the other time-frame – the time-frame of the new creation; the new creation born when God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ; the new creation that is emerging. The Gospel of Matthew is there to teach us to perceive these two time-frames, these two realities at once. The theologian David Hart imagines one world within another …
“[There is] the world we know in all its beauty and terror, grandeur and dreariness, delight and anguish, and the other world in its first and ultimate truth, not simply ‘nature’ but ‘creation’, an endless sea of glory, radiant with the glory of God in every part, innocent of all violence. To see in this way is to rejoice and mourn at once, to regard the world as a mirror of infinite beauty, but as glimpsed through the veil of death; it is to see the creation in chains, but beautiful as in the beginning of days.”
Put simply, with the gospels as our guide we see, we live the day-to-day joys and sadnesses, and through them we glimpse the emergence of the new creation. With the Gospels as our guide we see that history has a direction and a destination. A destination that is the redemption and the renewal of all things, God’s reign of justice and righteousness realised, peace on earth. Some days justice, righteousness and peace might seem far from us, but the claim that this is God’s good purpose for creation is the claim at the centre of our faith; the hope that creation has been redeemed and is being renewed is our hope. As Christian disciples we are called to hold onto this faith, and to proclaim this hope.
In the letter to the Romans, the apostle St Paul makes the claim that we have been baptised into Christ, and that through our baptism we might walk in newness of life. As baptised Christians we are living parts of God’s new creation, and we are called into a life that is free from sin. That is not to say that we can in our own strength live sinless lives. We are not free of sin, although by God’s grace we may make progress in this direction. It is to say that as repentant sinners we are assured of God’s forgiveness and we are therefore free from sin. Free to serve and please God in newness of life. This is what we pray for in this service each week.
So what might serving and pleasing God in newness of life actually look like? Well the great commandments to love God and neighbour are obvious starting points, but in the Gospel Jesus goes further. Serving and pleasing God includes acknowledging Christ before others; being faithful witnesses in words as well as in deeds. This might involve discomfort and embarrassment; it might involve standing apart from the crowd; it might even involve a bit of familial conflict. For one of our political leaders it recently involved standing down from his job … which takes me back to that general election …
Picking up the intergenerational theme I have, both before and after the recent election, picked up a variety of conflicting opinions from within this community at the Priory. There are those who say that the young are spoiled and foolish; that they’ve never had it so good; that they should stop whinging and start working. There are others who say that the young have got a raw deal – poor schooling and education, limited career opportunities, crippling debt and little prospect of ever owning a house. One even said to me last week that he yearned for the young to rise up, which I suspect would be a scary prospect for many. I could at this point ask for a show of hands, but I have no interest in sparking inter-congregational conflict! At least, not this morning while the Rector is away.
In conversations with my children and their friends I find similarly diverse and robust views expressed about their elders. If we hold on to the central claim of our faith that we are moving towards the destination of the new creation, then Jesus words about intergenerational conflict are at once prophetic. Perhaps we start to see conflict between generations as part of the the process of bringing the new creation to reality. Perhaps it gives new meaning to these words of Jesus, words that we often say at a baptism service …
“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”