September 29, 2019
Categorised in: Sermons
Preached by Canon Andy Trenier using 1 Corinthians 10.23-31 Matthew 5.43-48 at Eucharist on Sunday 29th September 2019, the Fifteenth after Trinity.
I have the right to do anything.
is how opening verse of the epistle is translated
in the New International Version of the Bible.
It is a much more striking rendition for C21st ears
And translating it in this way might lead us on to sum up todays epistle
In the words of a soundbite from
what now seems some far distant political age:
No rights without responsibilities.
Our Christian liberty , St Paul advises,
is limited by the Christian DUTY-
to have consideration for others.
We may have the right to do anything.
but there are large limits on the Christian’s liberty
If you’re intended action will cause others to sin
Or will bring about dishonour to Christ
Our duty, in love, is to freely choose to constrain ourselves
So far so straightforward…
But it seems to me that this well-rehearsed paradox has a deeper dynamic
A key feature that is hidden in plain sight
and should not be overlooked.
Think about it.-
If Christ has set us free and we are to be free indeed?
Why are there limits at all?
What is it that stops us being free at once?
What is it that stops us from being automatically sympathetic
such that we would need St Pauls admonition?
It feels to me like being sold a shiny new 4G phone
only to get to your new house in Dome Alley
to find that- for you- in your particular condition
there are only a couple of bars reception …even on a good day.
This limited reception is not “glorious liberty of the Children of God”
that I was sold.
So by way of Greek Mythology and the Mongolian Bar-B-Q, I want to remember why this is the case.
And I want to remind us of the importance of taking the real conditions
of our liberty seriously.
Some years ago I was at Mongolian BBQ. Do you remember them?
They are terrific. No only do you get an all you can eat buffet.
But you can also choose any ingredients, …. in any combination,
and have them cooked to order.
It’s 4G dinner- the ultimate FOODIE FREEDOM. A CULINARY CORNUCOPEA
Overwhelmed by the apparent freedom from constraint I piled in of course.
Bit of this. Bit of that. One course. Two course. Five, six..
And in the end- being so unconstrained. (Greedy.)
It all tasted the same. And I ended up feeling pretty grotty the next day.
I don’t know what went wrong. Everything was going for me.
The pictures on the A-Board outside looked so promising.
But I seemed to lack something needful when push came to shove.
On Thursday evening we marked the Obit of Bishop Willian of Wykham
with a more sophisticated spread of worship and preaching.
The preacher reminded us of a well know Greek Myth,
In which the hero is similarly defeated by their lack of restraint.
In Virgil’s story poem, Orpheus’ beloved wife, Eurydice, having died from a snake-bite winds up in Hades;
Orpheus is permitted into Hades without losing his life
to lead his wife back to the land of the living,
as long as he did not look back during the journey.
But Orpheus could not resist a backward glance,
and so Eurydice was forever lost to him.
What the preacher didn’t highlight was the other character in the tale.
Her name is Proser-pina. -à Freedom.
The one that allows Orpheus to attempt the impossible.
watches on as Orpheus bottles it at the last
not being able to make use of her gift.
Like St Paul in Romans, and me in the Mongolian BBQ
Not only did he have REAL FREEDOM
Orpheus had the desire to do what is good,
And yet still he could not carry it out.
You see- the deeper dynamic, at work in all these accounts then?
That which is hidden in plain sight and should not be overlooked;
is- of course US and our SIN.
God is open for business but taking God up on his invitation to feast at the Smorgasbord of the Spirit is much harder than we sometimes think.
That, I would imagine, familar experience of knowing real freedom,
but not knowing what to do with it
is summed up in those famous words of St Paul:
“For I do not do the good I want to do,
but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
I think, that if we as a Christian Church, do not make a proper account
For this- our human condition- then the way out of it
Won by Christ
Will be wasted on us.
The Gospel reminds us quite plainly that SIN is still in the world.
It continues to oppose us externally
and frustrate us internally.
And so as we approach these familiar passages we should remember that they are not just about rights and responsibilities but also about reality.
The real reason why we have to be considerate of others is because they- like us- are constrained by sin.
Very quickly- let me suggest just three examples-
Of how such a consideration might play out….
Firstly- in this Creationtide- as we seek to examine our use of freedom how we live more sustainably, and in harmony with our ecosystem
We can quickly slip back into sin
by treating nature as frail and in need of our care
and ourselves as able to fix everything if only we chose to.
It is a dangerous irony this account of nature as patient and us as the doctor
that in it, we still reassume the paternalistic position,
which is the cause of our calamity to begin with…
If we don’t account for a healthy fear of our environment we’re in peril from it.
Just as if we do not account for a healthy dose of sinful resistance to our pleasant intentions-
whatever actions we intend are likely to be ill-devised and short-lived.
Secondly- in a large Christian Community- to such as we are privileged to belong we can quietly slip back into Sin
by taking the real substance of our common life for granted.
Do not be fooled by its apparently simple rhythms.
The Benedictine pattern of communal work and prayer
is not the product of doe eyed idealism.
It is a way of life that has a fulsome account of our frailty at its heart.
If we, in our time, do not humbly account for our common neediness
we are in peril and whatever good intentions we may have
also risk being undermined.
Lastly- ourselves. And some good news.
Our confession of the truth of how things really should be liberating.
We should remember to be happy-
to speak freely and humbly about our limitations .
Certainly, self- knowledge of the real conditions in which we are called
is also crucial to making a life, in God’s life, together.
But the Gospel promise is that forgiveness is the gift and destiny
of all baptised people
and our slowness to respond
is already accounted for in God’s mercy.
If, even knowing our need,
we will yet embrace God’s gift of freedom
and learn from the Master how to use it rightly
we can surely sing with the hymn writer:
“Happy are those, those that love God
Whose hearts have Christ confest.
“Who by his Cross have found their life
and ‘neath His yoke their rest.”