Saturday, 25 June 2016

All Saints Church - transformed lives and communities

Lives and communities

Throughout the summer our new Rector, Lorna Brabin-Smith, will be talking in church about some very important issues and themes. These don’t just relate to people who choose to go to church on Sunday – the message is for everyone.

Lorna’s talks are short, lively, often amusing … and very much to the point. Her second talk is called "Transformed lives and communities" and was given at Nocton on June 12th.

Jonathan Sides

Plate 1 - Flower display in All Saints' Church

Sermon – Sunday June 12th 2016 - Transformed lives and communities

Third Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Galatians 2:15-end and Luke 7:36-8:3

'I wonder if you heard the item on the news last weekend about Christian asylum seekers. Someone was protesting about the way people claiming asylum were being questioned – questioned to try to establish whether they were Christian - or not.

The problem was that the officials given that task were interrogating people with a battery of questions about the bible, as if knowing your bible makes you a Christian.

So as I understand it, the questions included:
  • Can you name the writers of the four gospels?
So, hands up if you think you could do that – I don’t want the answer, just whether you think you know the answer.

And then there was:
  • Can you recite all ten of the ten commandments?
Put your hand up if you think you could do that.

And then there was:
  • How many books are there in the bible?
Put your hand up if you think you know that, and finally:
  • Can you name all twelve of the twelve apostles?
Put your hand up if you think you could do that.

Well, I don’t think many of us would pass the test. But the news reminded me of that old question. It’s quite challenging: If someone accused you of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Which got me thinking – what sort of evidence might you look for? In other people. But more importantly, in yourself?

Or to put it another way: what difference has being a Christian made to you, or better still, made in you?

And what sort of difference has it made to the world around you? To your neighbours? To your community?

This week, we’re talking about transformation. Transformed lives and transformed communities.

So I’d like to suggest at least two ways in which being a Christian makes a difference to us - transforms us. There are more, many more, but these two connect us to today’s readings, especially today’s gospel.

The first is an inner transformation. And the second is a transformation in how we look at the world. Which in turn could transform that world.

So, Exhibit A - the first transforming difference - is that a Christian knows forgiveness. Not just know about it as an idea, not just a theory, but know themselves forgiven. Actually, more than that, first know themselves in need of forgiveness – have faced up to that terrible truth. And then know themselves to be forgiven.

Forgiveness is so often the starting point. It’s liberating. And it’s transforming.

I’ve been struck more than once by those words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. His words of joy and prophecy over his son. We know it as the Benedictus. We say it every day at morning prayer.

Zechariah said: And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation, by – by what? By the forgiveness of all their sins.

Knowledge of salvation, by the forgiveness of all their sins.

Knowledge – not just by knowing about, like you might know about the bible. Knowledge – because you’ve understood it and experienced it for yourself.

And forgiveness once experienced, transforms us. It changes us – for the better.

In our Old Testament reading David, the great and powerful king, is brought face to face with the truth of his sin – adultery, murder, the utter misuse, abuse of power – and finally realises his own need for forgiveness.

In the gospel, the woman – a person at the opposite end of the scale. She’s the least and the most powerless. But she’s ahead of David. She has already realised that she needs forgiveness – and has been forgiven – forgiven a great deal it seems.

As Jesus puts it: she has been saved – saved, rescued from guilt, from shame, from her own sense of unworthiness. She has been set free from it all. And can go in peace, to a new life. A life transformed.

But there’s something else in today’s gospel. Just a phrase, a passing phrase, a phrase we might easily miss. But it’s so powerful, says so much.

Simon the Pharisee is disgusted with the woman. Who on earth does she think she is? What on earth does she think she’s doing? She’s a nuisance, an irritation, an embarrassment.

But Jesus asks a question. He’s good at asking questions. People think that he’s always making statements, telling stories, or giving sermons … but very often, at the heart of what Jesus says – is a question. The sort of question that can challenge and change the way we think. Can transform us.

Jesus says to Simon: Do you see this woman? Do you see this woman? Do you see her as I see her? Not a nuisance, not an irritation, not an embarrassment. But a child of God, a beloved child of God. Someone that God loves, and grieves over. Someone that God wants the very best for. Someone with huge potential, created as they are in his image. Someone God has set free, as he longs to set you free.

So – if we were in court, maybe that could be our Exhibit B. Our second transforming difference – that a Christian sees things differently. Or at least begins to see things differently.

Begins to see with God’s eyes. Sees the irritating colleague at work, the shy child, the drunk in the street, the anxious mum, the blustering politician, the overworked husband, the hooligan at the football match, the layabout teenager, the nuisance neighbour, the stranger, sees them as God sees them. And sees our community as full of potential for goodness and blessing.

That would change how we relate to them, pray for them, work with them. That would have the power to transform us all.

Heavenly Father
Open our eyes to our own need for forgiveness.
Open our eyes to see those around us as you see them.
And so transform and bless us all.


Lorna Brabin-Smith

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