Throughout the summer our new Rector, Lorna Brabin-Smith, will be talking in church about some very important issues and themes. These don’t just relate to people who choose to go to church on Sunday – the message is for everyone. Lorna’s talks are short, lively, often amusing … and very much to the point. Her first talk is called “Celebrating people and places” and was given at Potterhanworth on June 5th. The second is “Transformed lives and communities” and was at Nocton last Sunday.
|Plate 1 - All Saints' Church|
Sermon – Sunday June 5th 2016 – Celebrating people and places
Second Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Galatians 1:11-end and Luke 7:11-17
Someone sent me a rather touching story this last week. It goes like this:
Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play the bagpipes at a graveside service for a homeless man. He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery out in the country. I wasn’t familiar with the area, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn't stop for directions.
I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone, and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the mechanical diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch. I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late.
I went to the side of the grave and looked down. The vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play.
The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and no friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man. And as I played "Amazing Grace", the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together.
When I finished, I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. Though my head was hung low, my heart was full.
As I opened my car door, I heard one of the workers say, "I never seen anything like that before, and I've been putting in septic tanks in for twenty years."
It was just a joke – a joke that sort of links today’s gospel reading with today’s theme: Celebrating people and places.
But it was just a joke – because, well, because I think Jesus enjoyed a good joke. He enjoyed good company, loved a good meal with friends, appreciated a good story, and I’m pretty sure - laughed at a good joke.
I know that sometimes he was serious – but not all the time. He must often have smiled, chuckled, chortled, thrown back his head and roared with laughter.
There’s a great picture by a Canadian artist – a line drawing. It depicts Jesus - laughing. Its proper title is: Christ the Liberator, but generally people call it ‘The Laughing Jesus’. I wonder if you’ve seen it. It not, I wonder if you’d be surprised by it.
Most of the time – pretty much all of the time, the Jesus we see depicted in stained glass windows or in paintings by the great Masters is serious, or solemn, or sad, or suffering. You’d think his face never - ever - cracked into a smile. But I don’t think that’s how it was.
It’s just that somehow the serious nature of his mission makes people think that he must have been serious all the time. And the past maybe it somehow seemed blasphemous or at the very least disrespectful or improper to show him being anything but serious.
But I’m sure that Jesus did smile – and laugh. That he was a joyful man. That he was glad to be alive.
In fact, it’s on record that his critics accused him of enjoying the good things of life too much, said he was a glutton and a drunkard.
Because he did enjoy good food, good wine, and good company. Indeed he was good company.
People went to see Jesus, went to listen to him – maybe not just because his words were powerful, not just because he could explain the scriptures in a way that people could understand, not just because he told them the truth about God, and told them the truth about themselves … but - because he was good company.
They enjoyed being in his company. And it’s clear that he enjoyed being in their company.
And I’m not just talking about sitting quietly in one to one conversation. Though he often did that. I’m not just talking about having a sensible and thoughtful discussion with a group of friends. Though he often did that too.
I’m talking about enjoying a really good party.
Because it seems to me that although Jesus sometimes liked to be on his own, sometimes enjoyed the solitude of those early mornings in the desert – he was also a party person. He enjoyed a good party!
He turned up for family weddings – and stayed for the do afterwards. He went up to the Temple for the festivals. He celebrated the Passover with his friends. And gave them and us a shared meal – Holy Communion, the Eucharist – to do in celebration.
In celebration. There’s something very attractive about a celebration. It’s a joyful thing. And there something very attractive about people who enjoy celebrating. Because they are joyful too.
There are two repeated instructions in the scriptures. The first is: Do not be afraid. And the second is: Rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say, rejoice.
You can rejoice in many ways. You can be restrained, quiet. But sometimes that joy has to break out into something more exuberant.
Imagine the party that came after the events in today’s gospel. What a celebration that must have been. They’d come to weep, to grieve, to commiserate over the death of an only son. But the wake turned into a party, into a joyful celebration.
And they had every reason to rejoice. Jesus the liberator had come and released the young man from death, released the grieving mother from her sorrow. Set her free from the prospect of destitution without a breadwinner in the house.
And we too have every reason to rejoice. Set free as we are by Christ the Liberator. So we come to celebrate every Sunday, to celebrate in our worship, to celebrate in the thanksgiving of the Eucharist, the Holy Communion. We come to give thanks at Harvest and at Christmas, on Palm Sunday and at Easter.
We’re pretty good at celebrating. But there are other things we could also be celebrating. Celebrations we could invite other people to, and in time maybe draw them into the celebration at the heart of our common life.
We’re already doing that. We’ll be celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday next weekend – with cream teas and songs of praise. So I hope you’ll be bringing your friends and neighbours.
Then next month we’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the rededication of this church. There’ll be a gala concert, an exhibition, and a festival service. So I hope you’ll be inviting friends and neighbours to those events as well.
But are there other things we could be celebrating? Not only in the life of the church, but in the life of this village, and this parish. What is it that makes this place special? Are there events to commemorate, or people to celebrate? Past or present. What else might we do next year, and the year after that? Let me have your ideas...