Cheddington – Sunday 28 October 2012
Reading Ephesians 2.19-22
You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Gospel John 15.17-27
When the Gospel is announced the reader says
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.
Jesus said: “This is my command: Love each other.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’
“When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.
You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. That’s the promise conveyed in the letter written to the Ephesians.
Sounds like Downton Abbey. Jesus upstairs – chief cornerstone. Saints living in grand apartments, isolated from the world. Us – below stairs – butler, cook, kitchen maid, chauffeur, valet, or nursery maid. Rigid hierarchy, even amongst servants.
Who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’? On the face of it, we were ‘out’ – foreigners and aliens – but now we are ‘in’ God’s household. Slaves perhaps, serving him. But not in a servile way. Children. Heirs of the promise. Sisters and brothers of Jesus himself. Sons and daughters.
And his command for this household? Love one another. Quite a contrast to the bickering above and below stairs at Downton.
It all sounds cosy, but are we really ‘in’ or are we ‘out’? from the world’s perspective, we should indeed be ‘out.’ Rejected. Not belonging. Persecuted. Treated with contempt. Not listened to or obeyed. Reviled and hated without a reason.
If, though, we are not hated, but pillars of the community – liked, elected to club membership, accepted, part of everyone’s favoured inner circle, life and soul of the party, invited out to everyone’s dinner parties – what then? Is this cause for concern? If we are not sidelined, avoided, disliked for what we stand for, should we be worried that our faith has become lukewarm?
Yes and no. Our society is mainly benign, founded on Christian principles, albeit that they are being eroded. Often, we can exist as followers of Christ without the need to make waves. But sometimes, holding back, not speaking out, not being prepared to stand up and be counted when something is plainly wrong, not siding with the poor and dispossessed as we should, putting our own comfort before the manifest needs of others – all these can make us lukewarm.
The fate of the church in Laodicea is a salutary lesson to every church. In Revelation 3, it says:
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
It’s an indictment to us all. We consider ourselves rich, yet in God’s eyes we are poor, blind and naked. I remember Mike talking about a church which advocated tithing 10% of each member’s income. The richest woman said “Surely that doesn’t apply to everyone. In my case, 10% would be a huge sum. There’s got to be an upper limit.”
I laughed, like everyone else, but afterwards thought – yes, but isn’t that what we all feel, each in our own way? And if we are comfortably off, and want for nothing, do we still put a £1 coin in the collecting box of a worthy cause? Should our giving not only be more sacrificial, but also personal – giving of more than our small change, but our time, intelligence, commitment, dignity, and time?
I’m not pointing any fingers here – indeed, my own finger is pointed mainly at myself. Of course I should do more. Of course I should get stuck in. Of course, others in much greater need should take precedence. But don’t.
Mike went on to talk about the rich young ruler, who turned sorrowfully away because he had great wealth. Why was he asked to give away everything he had? Why were others asked for half, and some for none at all? What is your faith asking of you? What is my faith asking of me?
I don’t know, but I am sure of two things. One – now’s a good time to find out, as we prepare for the onset of Advent. Two – it’s got to be more than I give now, much more, not of charitable giving, but also self-sacrifice.
Perhaps the answer lies in the Spirit of Truth – the Paraclete or Advocate who stands alongside us, convicting us, testifying to the truth, comforting, advising, representing, and pleading for us with the Father. For in this household, of which we are members, as it says in today’s reading, in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. What is God’s Spirit saying to you? What is the Spirit saying to me? Amen