Sermon: Which of the two did the will of his father?
The Reverend David Sudron, Sacrist and Succentor; Minor Canon
Preached on 28th September 2008
by The Reverend David Sudron
St Matthew 21. 31
Preached on Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
That question was put to people who thought they were ten feet above contradiction...
And the more one ministers to the people who don't frequent the churches of the land week by week the more one realizes the need to ask it. One wouldn't want to put it in much stronger terms than that lots of ordinary people don't know quite where they stand with the Church. They reach out for her when they feel they need her - christenings, weddings and funerals - for most people that's quite enough, thank you. If one tries to look in from the outside, does one blame them? Consider the family whose son, living on the wrong side of the law, has been killed in a road accident. They want a church funeral. The vicar goes to see them. They don't really want to tell him what was really going on. What would he think? What would he say?
There are few more basic fears than of being judged by one's fellows. And, of course, it's not supposed to happen among Christian people. Jesus said so. Repeatedly. And yet it still goes on. Judgement of other people acquires a veneer of polite acceptability, particularly when it is directed at the things which strike us as plainly wrong. We quietly forget about Jesus's bold statements that the sexually and financially immoral will have easier entry to the Kingdom than the judgemental. But the Church consistently gives people whose acquaintance with her is fleeting the impression that she sits in divine judgement on the rest of society.
Now, of course we must live by a moral compass - not necessarily of the kind a politician may wish to prescribe! But the field which causes that compass to find its bearings is, for Christian people (among others) nothing other than love, for the simple reason that where love flourishes there is less room for judgement, for fear, for sin.
This was something I attempted to get over to every crowd that piled into the churches in Grimsby in which I ministered, in an attempt to reveal to normal people that the Church's life is ultimately what all our lives are about: not the endless lists of ‘thou shalt not', not the mind-numbing obsession with interfering in people's sex lives; not compaining about Jerry Springer The Opera or protesting outside Lincoln Minster because part of a third-rate novel is being turned into a Hollywood ‘blockbuster'; but about what we celebrate when an infant is christened.
I stick with that word not only because it is the one most English people use to describe Holy Baptism, but because it is resonant. Today, Catherine begins the life-long adventure of being Christ-ened. She (if she did but know it), with Hannah and Chris, are a powerful reminder of the kind of love that we are called to live, precisely because that is what their life, the life of any baby, is about. One might venture to say that the love that is shared between an infant and her parents is one of the purest human expressions we find of the love of God for all his children: a love on which life depends, which is unconditional, which is instinctive.
In christening Catherine we hallow that purity of love, and our prayer needs to be that those qualities will endure, because no matter what the twists and turns of life may make us, it is only when love is allowed to be obscured that things can go wrong. But while we may obscure it, we cannot snuff it out: love will endure when all else has passed away because love is of God. Even if we have fallen into the kind of misery symbolised by the whoring and swindling of which Jesus speaks, love can still call us back to our first holiness.
We are all called to be people who make others feel that they can do exactly that. Christ bids us to be a Church who will behave like parents towards their children: people who want to understand, to forgive, to reconcile, to console; people through whose warmth and compassion the body of the Church becomes an obvious blessing in the world instead of one occasionally stumbled upon when the vicar manages to ease the suffering of those mourning the outlaw.
As Canon Couling takes Catherine in his arms, we watch God enfold each of us in his embrace once again; as the waters alive with the power of God's spirit flow upon her tiny forehead we remember that God is the simple, pure refreshment that slakes the thirst of our spiritual dryness; the mark of the Holy Chrism reminds us by its sweet scent that we are chosen by God, a royal people, heirs of his Kingdom of love. May God guard her, guide her, and keep her, and us, in his love, now and forever. Amen.