Sermon: Thursday 14 May 2015
The Revd Canon Rosy Fairhurst, Canon Chancellor
Hackney Marsh has the most football pitches in one place of anywhere in Europe, and is where David Beckham honed his skills as a kid. The Ascension Day sermon which has stuck with me most was preached by Pete Hobson when I was his curate in Hackney Marsh, and Hackney Marsh featured as it was where he used to take his dog Toby for walks. Basically he was likening Jesus’ instructions to his disciples at his Ascension as this: sit, wait, fetch.
I come to Ascension having just returned from the shared regional conversations on human sexuality, facing the real and present danger of fracture in the church, people feeling that they have to leave for one reason or another. And of course with the strongest possible feelings being stirred up as human sexuality goes so quickly to the core of our sense of identity. How do we retain sense of God being in charge in the face of all this? Contemplate the risen ascended Lord.
At a certain point in the conference I felt I was all out of words and the capacity to engage with others further. I sensed we needed God’s power. Someone suggested meeting to worship while the others were talking and I thought yes, absolutely, that’s how we can get in touch with God’s power and authority in this situation. That’s what will bring a spirit of wisdom and revelation, as Ephesians puts it, in going forward in our life together.
This is the only time when Luke uses the word for worship of Jesus – the Ascension is the point when the disciples find the freedom to worship Jesus, in a way not yet seen even in the transfiguration or the cross. I felt that as we worshipped. It is in worship up to our felt need at a certain point in the conference to worshipping the risen ascended Christ that we will be able to receive the spirit of power from on high, the confidence in Christ’s victory over all the power of sin and death, where the justice and mercy expressed in the cross wins out.
Martyrs – you are to be witnesses, you are to be martyrs – you will go and proclaim and be persecuted for your faith. There will be times when you are called to absorb suffering as Jesus was.
You will receive power from on high. Dynamite.
Martyrs and dynamite – what do those two words put you in touch with? I know for me its suicide bombers.
How are we to put those two concepts together? Used the wrong way you could end up with a suicide bomber – the combination of martyr and dynamite we don’t want to see. I’m sure this isn’t a good Qu’ranic interpretation. And for a Christian, we’re asked to be something very different from a suicide bomber – but what and how?
On our shared conversation one of the facilitators came from a legal background – in fact he’d been a barrister. And he came to our assistance early on when we were struggling to find an agreed formula for what we could and couldn’t talk about from our conversations by finding a form of words which covered the different things we were trying to protect clearly. All at once I had a new perspective on why it might be a good thing to have the Holy Spirit as our Advocate – a counsel who can clarify the ground rules so that everyone feels safe, someone who reassures us as to the possibility of God’s justice as well as God’s mercy.
This barrister had moved from being a barrister to being a professional mediator because he was fed up of using words like ‘bullets’ or ‘torpedoes’ or ‘bombs’ as he had to in the way our adversarial legal system is set up. Instead he wanted to start to use words as bridges, connecting people up. As we looked at two pieces on the interpretation of scripture in relation to human sexuality we found a contrast between an approach which broadly speaking, used the scriptures as torpedoes, different verses and passages becoming bullets to exclude and tell people they were losers, and one which sought to see how the scriptures build bridge of reconciliation, opening up for us principles as to how we may participate in God’s reconciliation of the world to Godself.
So when in this passage from Luke we see that Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures we see something for a direction of travel about how we read the Bible – it’s a process of opening up, not closing down. And it’s a process which happens in community, not just individually.
For this lawyer, though, there was a balance to be had. Whilst in the cross God is reconciling the world to Godself, then it is also true that on the cross Jesus destroys the works of the evil one and overcomes death and the power of all sin. So in a sense in bringing the victory of God justice is won and evil is torpedoed. But what we have to steer clear of is torpedoing evil in indiscriminate mass bombing which has human collateral damage – which seems to be what often happens when people use the scriptures to exclude or condemn before working out first the value of each child of God, human being made in the image and likeness of God. Somehow we have to keep people safe while overcoming evil.
The suicide bomber doesn’t keep anyone safe, himself or many innocent people who die because of his way of understanding being a witness/martyr and using dynamite or POWER.
As we wait for the spirit to be given at Pentecost, the power we are asking God to release in us is a different kind of power…
It’s a power to be able to open our minds to understand the scriptures – and to allow our community to be transformed by this encounter, and to share these empowering, reconciling messages abroad. Declaring the forgiveness and justice of God. Taking on the work of Jesus in the power of his Spirit. Good news.
It’s a power to be able to share in the sufferings of Jesus on occasion as we get involved in the reconciling work of God which Jesus has demonstrated on the cross. Truly bringing peace is a difficult process, which brings us into and through conflict sometimes, rather than leaving us with an option of walking around it.
It’s a power to be able to re-align ourselves with the work of Jesus on the cross. When I go to my yoga classes, I’m constantly working on realigning my body, and to do that I have to be stretched out in very uncomfortable ways in order to empower my muscles in the right ways to support my frame. But afterwards – perhaps an hour afterwards – I start to feel that I am breathing more deeply and walking taller. As we realign ourselves with the work of Jesus we are drawn into his realigning of the world towards justice and mercy. We will find it deeply uncomfortable to participate in some of what he draws us into, but drawn into a vision of how the world could be, and how each of us benefits as the poor, the excluded and the victims are brought into realignment in God’s Kingdom.
Sit, wait, fetch – will we be good dogs. Pete and his dog Toby on Hackney Marshes. The word wait is really the word sit. We find it as hard as the dogs do to sit and wait. And yet if we don’t we’ll never know the power to be true witnesses and to be able to fetch when the Spirit comes.
© The Revd Canon Rosy Fairhurst