13th June 2021
Rev.Canon Cheryl Collins
Meeting your heroes can be a bit risky. First of all, I’d like to declare that Rowan Williams never disappoints me, but I wish I could say the same about Walter Brueggemann! Who he? you may ask. One of the greatest interpreters of the Old Testament of our age, I answer. In particular, Walter Brueggemann follows in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets by using the biblical text to challenge the world around him. But the evening I met Walter Brueggemann no one had told him to play an Old Testament prophet; so I got to have dinner with an elderly American academic who was enjoying catching up on academic gossip with our host.
The Corinthians had the same trouble with Paul. There is some evidence to suggest that he wasn’t the tallest of men or even in person the most charismatic of speakers. The Corinthians had been hoping for
someone more personable, more dramatic, less inclined to try and correct them. So, today’s passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians should be read with this background in mind. When Paul says ‘regard no one from a human point of view’ he’s talking about himself. But Paul wouldn’t be Paul if he didn’t unpack this instruction theologically. He sees the Corinthian emphasis on appearance as a sign that they are still not living by faith but by sight. He reminds them of the competing world views of ‘the world- that is human society as it usually is’ and ‘being in Christ- the perspective from which the believer should begin’.
‘The world’ is quick to judge others based on appearances and on their own prejudices and preconceptions- Paul himself was guilty of this kind of judgement of the infant church before he met Jesus on the Damascus Road.
But now everything is made new in Christ, and we are invited to use our new eyes to look again at those we meet. The light we see by is to be the love of God in Christ for everyone. We should see before us someone for whom Christ died and a potential brother or sister in Christ, however different from us they appear to be.It is good news for all of us that God has chosen earthen vessels, that is fragile and unglamorous human bodies, as the very place where God chooses to dwell in Spirit. When we look with the eyes of faith, we can discover God working in and through people, events and situations that we weren’t expecting Him to. Othwrise, our expectations often lead us to misleading and inadequate conclusions.
The same is true of Jesus’s own ministry. When people met Jesus, one of the unspoken questions they were likely to have was ‘Why do things appear as they do if this is the Messiah, the one in whom God’s kingdom is present?’ They were expecting something grander, someone more dramatic, who would free them from Roman rule and restore their status in the world. This Galilean teacher did have something about him, but he didn’t fit into their previous expectations. Could they trust that he really was the Messiah? In fact, one of the unifying patterns of the books of the Bible is God’s continual challenging of our perceptions. Again and again, God works through people who are unexpected: the poor, the women, the ignored, the damaged, the broken, the foreigner. Elsewhere Matthew expresses this in the family tree with which he begins his gospel; which unexpectedly includes Tamar who subverts sexual codes to assert her own rights and dignity, Rahab the prostitute, Ruth the foreigner, Bathsheba the adulteress and Mary the unmarried mother. This is the way God works.
In our passage from Mark’s gospel this morning Jesus tells two parables to illustrate that point. The Kingdom of God is like the seed that the Farmer plants, but whose growth he or she has little control over. It can
appear as insignificant and tiny as the mustard seed but which produces branches so large that birds are able to build their nests in them. In the same way we are called to plant the seed that God has given us. We are called to share the good news of what God is doing in our lives with those around us. Following Jesus, who always taught by example as well as through his parables, we are also called to practice the same
extravagant, life-altering, enraging, exquisite, heart-rending generosity that he practiced.
That is how we grow in fruitfulness, as branches of the true vine. The best teachers teach us through their actions and character as well as through their subject. Most of us can name teachers who were like
that for us and gave us an abiding love for what they were passionate to share. I have no doubt that some of us here have also been those teachers for others. And that is true of those of us who’ve never laboured in schools as well as the many retired teachers in our congregation. When we look upon our efforts with the eyes of the world we can feel embarrassed and disheartened. Not all of us can be Mother Teresa or Gladys Aylward or even Rowan Williams. The spiritual writer Thomas Merton tells us that just as a tree gives glory to God by being a tree, so we give glory to God by growing into the people that God created us to be. As Paul reminds the Corinthians in his first letter, not many of us are wise or powerful or of noble birth. But we are the people that God has chosen to live out his kingdom here in Sudbury in the early years of the
We will no doubt get it wrong at times and need to begin again. We will look at our efforts and find them lacking, at our results and find them sparse. We are unlikely to win any popularity contests or impress the
world around us when sin still controls its structures and the way that people are judged. But we know that God places treasure in old clay jars like us so that we can become a new creation, so that everything can become new. As we train our eyes to look at things with the faith and hope that comes from being part of God’s kingdom, of Christ’s body, we discover that God’s kingdom is present and that God is working in unexpected people and unexpected places, and that includes us.