156 23.1.11 Little Galilee: Mustard Seeds, etc. Epiphany 3
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Matt.2 v 6 'Out of thee shall come a governor.'
Not for the first time, I have taken my text from none of today's readings, but yet it links them all. The Old Testament reading (evensong) is from Isaiah, where the prophet speaks of the honour that will be given to Galilee. The epistle (communion) speaks of there being one faith, though even then people were going in different directions. Paul was urging them not to do so. And the gospel reading, from Matthew, tells of Jesus returning to Galilee and beginning His ministry.
Galilee! A tiny, remote corner of the Roman Empire. Not the sort of place
where great decisions are made and world-shaking movements come from.
Or so you might think.
I expect you know about 'Chaos Theory': the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in the tropical jungles of Brazil can affect the weather here in the Eden Valley. Nobody can predict the effect of such small movements. Hence the difficulty that weather forecasters, for all their super-computers, have. You can make intelligent guesses, and that's about it.
Neither can we know what effect our words and actions will have.
Jesus, as we all know, often taught in parables. As I was taught at Sunday School, these are 'earthly stories with a heavenly meaning'.
The parable of the mustard seed appears in all three synoptic gospels. 'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.'
Nobody who doesn't already know about such things could imagine what can grow from that tiny seed.
And Matthew and Luke go straight on with the parable of the yeast. 'The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.' If you haven't tried it, you couldn't imagine the effect of those few grains of powder.
Well, of course, we all know about seeds and about yeast. But what is Jesus trying to tell us? Great oaks from little acorns grow - another proverb.
The more you think about it, the more worrying it might become. Anything I do or say might have reverberations anywhere or at any time. And that applies to us all. How easily we can leave someone, a child perhaps, marked for life by some careless comment, some casual put-down. Often enough it isn't meant as a put-down, but it is taken as such.
And any careless action or statement by we who care about our faith and
about our church can be taken and used in evidence against us. The world
is quick to pick up on anything that confirms their prejudices. It takes
much longer to create a favourable image.
So what about our readings and our text and 'little Galilee'? Isaiah, writing at the time of the exile in Babylon, speaks of the humbling of the various tribes of Israel, but says that 'in the future the Lord will make glorious the land beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations'; or, as the Good News Bible puts it, 'Galilee, where the foreigners live'.
We heard in the reading from Matthew that, after John the Baptist had been put in prison, Jesus returned to Galilee, and went to live in Capernaum. As Matthew saw it, this was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah. Jesus began His ministry here. Simon and Andrew, James and John found themselves called to join in. A very strange thing. We are told almost nothing of the conversation, and yet they dropped everything and followed Him. What could their friends and neighbours have made of it?
This man clearly had an colossal presence, a powerful personality, almost frightening really. Just try to picture it happening here. You are out doing your daily work (or collecting your pension!) and a stranger walks up and says 'Follow me'. What would it take to make you obey? We'd all be well-equipped with excuses. Our homes. Our families. Somebody at home not well and needing looking after. Our work. A sermon to write. The brasses to polish. Too old. Too tired..............
But you follow. Imagine it. No, you probably can't, but it happened.
This is the 'Governor' coming out of little Galilee, where the foreigners
live (or did live, at the time of the exile.)
Now if we believe and accept that Jesus is indeed the 'Governor', because of His wisdom, because of how He taught us to live; if we believe that He is indeed God incarnate, God's revelation of Himself to us; if we believe these things, why do we keep falling out? Why can we not get on with each other? Why can we not see each other's point of view?
If it is any consolation, we read in today's epistle that it has always been so.
Jesus was born a Jew, and His first followers, His disciples, were Jews. The Jews saw themselves as 'God's Chosen People'. There came a point in the the development of the Early Church where some Gentiles, foreigners, were drawn in. Then, as we all know from the book of Acts, there were disagreements, not to say quarrels. If the Christian Church was a subset within Judaism, then, some said, people would have to become Jews, with all that that entailed, before they could become Christians.
Others insisted that this was not necessary, and thus, gradually, the
Christian Church became a separate body from Jewry. No doubt some of the
diehards were left very unhappy with that.
In our epistle reading we have, as ever, only Paul's side of the story. No letters to him have survived. But it's pretty obvious what is going on. 'I follow Paul.' 'I follow Apollos.' 'I follow Cephas.' 'I follow Christ.'
You all have the doubtful privilege of listening to sermons from me and from Stewart. And some of you might hear Phil Dew or Paul Dunstan. I suspect that we are all quite different from each other. I can see that some of you might prefer to listen to one rather than another. The style suits you. The way things are put makes things clearer to you.
I hope that we are all preaching the same message. I hope that none of
you would say 'I follow Stewart' or 'I follow David.' At the very least
I'd be greatly embarrassed if that were the case. In my Methodist youth
it was, I'm afraid, quite normal to look at the Plan and decide which
preacher you wanted to hear, or indeed decide to stay at home.
Actually, it's broader than that. We are in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a week each year in which we focus our prayers on the divided church. Few of us look for uniformity. We are all different, and thank God for that. It would be very dull if we were all the same.
But we are not entitled to insist that 'my way is the only way.' God speaks to us all, if we will listen, in different ways, according to how He thinks we will understand. Some like one kind of service and some like another.
Historically, the Church of England has gone through many shapes and forms. For long enough, for example, Morland Church had no cross or crucifix. There was a rood that was removed at the time of the Reformation. It took over 350 years for a crucifix to reappear, in the reredos which was installed less than 100 years ago.
And we could cite endless changes in our forms of worship: eucharist, non-eucharist, mattins, evensong, Mass, Vespers, informal and unwritten worship, long sermons, short sermons, no sermons, and on and on.
I fear that those who say that 'it has always been like this' simply
do not know their church history. That applies whether we are talking
about Bibles, Prayer Books, music, pews, women bishops or any of the other
things that people argue about.
So as we pray for Christian unity, may that prayer be for mutual understanding and acceptance. May we be willing to stand up for our faith. May we be willing to speak up for it whenever the chance arises. May we avoid dissension and quarrels. Without being dishonest, may we ensure that in our public face, in particular, we emphasise all that we agree on, which, after all, is the greater part.
As I said earlier, it's so much easier to create a negative impression, so much easier to let the world believe its prejudices. We must work hard to create the positive images that we would like to share. We must work hard to steer the world away from its prejudices.
And we need to start with our own. Another parable: Matthew 7 v 3-4. 'Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye but not see the log in your own?' Not strictly a parable, I suppose, rather a metaphor. Jesus is telling us that we must not judge others. I don't suppose that many of us could claim to have followed that one without fail. Of course I'm right and you're wrong. If you can't see that you're obviously stupid as well as wrong.
And before I round off, there is another element which is prominent these days: Islam.
There is nowadays a growing body of inter-Faith understanding, thank God. Jews, Muslims and Christians all proclaim the same God. If we believe that God has revealed Himself to us throughout history in all sorts of ways, who are we to say that our way is the only right way?
I have not read Baroness Warsi's speech this week in full, but I cannot
agree with her that there is harm in identifying people of any persuasion
as 'moderate' or 'extreme'. On the contrary, I rejoice that the moderates
are speaking out. I rejoice that Muslims in Egypt were willing to form
a human shield around a Coptic Christian church while those Christians
celebrated Christmas. Of course, it is immensely sad that it was necessary.
But if some good, some understanding, comes out of that, that's better
Back, then to my text: 'Out of thee shall come a Governor.' Out of little Galilee. Like it or not, every single one of us, young or old, of every station in life, has a responsibility. We must all be true to our faith and honest, and yet understand each other, as well as those of other faiths and no faith.
I don't know whether I should apologise, but you are going to have this message sitting on your coffee tables for the whole of February. It is on the front of the new Newsletter when you get it. It reminds us all about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, but leads us all to Lent, coming up on March 9th.
That's when the church gives us the opportunity to think and to pray
and to put our lives right.
May we all grasp that opportunity with both hands!