Sunday 22nd November 2020 St Thomas’, Overmonnow. Sermon by the Reverend Janet Bromley.
‘In as much as you have done it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me!’
For Mother Teresa of Calcutta these words had a very literal meaning. What a depth of blessing and what a height of honour that she and her sisters could see, touch and handle Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist each morning – and then continue to see, touch and handle Christ all day long as they picked up the human cast offs from the streets of Calcutta, washed their bodies, laid them on beds with clean sheets, spoon fed them with nourishing food, held them and smiled into their eyes. All of these practical and concrete tasks were sacramental: by paying them the honour of real attention, by doing the street dwellers the service they would render to Christ, they raised dead spirits from graves of loneliness.
If anything is clear it is that no one can be a follower of Jesus and not be committed to the service of others. So where are the problems, – the things that hold us back from fulfilling this part of our Christian discipleship – the things that make us say ‘charity begins at home’ and there it stops and stays.
Could it be that sometimes we limit our faith or religion to only a part of our lives – do we have our day to day life and then on Sunday we come to church. John Humphrey’s was once interviewing the then Archbishop of Canterbury on the Today programme during the Lambeth Conference. The archbishop was saying that as well as all the controversial discussions, the conference members had been very concerned with the effect that world debt was having on the poor. John Humphreys was dismissive, ‘But Archbishop’, he said, ‘that’s not what the church is about. The Church is about getting people into church on Sunday, not about debt.’
Now, where did he get that idea from – could it be that sometimes we don’t give the right message about our faith. True discipleship of Jesus has to touch more than just a part of our lives it has to be woven through the whole of it. Jesus says: ‘When I was hungry you gave me food, when thirsty you gave me drink, when I was a stranger you took me into your home, when naked you clothed me.’ The gospel is service in the whole of life.
Another way in which we can lose focus can be when we find ourselves stressing about the trivialities of religious practices, which really do not matter at all. We can become very passionate about, the seats we sit in, (when we are allowed!) the books we use and the hymns we can or cannot sing. What matters is – can Jesus Christ be made known in our world – can we get folk to believe and trust in him.
Our third problem might be that our faith can in itself become selfish and complacent. Through our faith we have peace of mind – the sense of being pardoned by God and reconciled with him. The experience of his presence and power in our lives gives us hope – a hope that even death cannot extinguish. The danger is that we stop there with our personal faith and having received we do not give back to others.
There are two sides to Christian discipleship:
For every word of comfort there is a challenge
For every truth there is a task to be done
The central message of our faith is God’s love for every human being. He loves every one of us as if he had no one else to love. If we really believe that – what a challenge it is to be in a COVID world like this – in a community like ours.
What is it like to be hungry? What is it like to be thirsty? What is it like to be homeless? What is it like to be in debt so deep that there doesn’t seem to be a way forward? What is it like to have to care long term for someone who is seriously ill? What is it like to have the security of a day centre with supportive friendships and carers suddenly threatened with closure? What is it like not to be able to visit family in locked down care homes? What is like to be unemployed, furloughed or made redundant? What is it like to live in a country where a quarter of the children die from poverty and disease? What is it like to live with a constant threat of violence through war, terrorism or just plain cruelty?
If every individual is valuable in the sight of God this gospel message is not just a message to be enjoyed – this is a challenge to be answered. The only expression of real Christian faith is a life of sacrificial service and giving.
‘In as much as you have done this to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me.’
Mother Teresa was not perfect, she certainly had many flaws and blind spots – but it is God’s delight to work with unpromising human material, such as we all are – and with patience and resourcefulness he can transform us into Christ bearing people of faith. Mother Teresa’s upbringing and personality suited her to do the things she did –
But without her great transcontinental journeys, heroic vows of poverty and distinctly wily political skills each one of us can – at least once a week – or even once a day manage to honour another human being with five minutes of real loving Christian attention.
So this week, and through the season of Advent and the very different Christmas that we will experience this year … lets all make a concerted effort not to restrict our faith to only a part of our life, lets not focus on the trivialities or choose to rest in its comfortable aspects.
In practical and concrete tasks let us try to sacramentally pay other human beings the honour of real attention and raise dead spirits from the graves of loneliness, poverty, hunger and despair. And let us become Christ bearers to those around us who are crying out for his love.
Brother, sister, let me serve you
let me be as Christ to you
pray that I may have the grace
to let you be my servant too.