Sung Eucharist with Baptism; Gospel Luke 15, 1-10
Let me start by asking a question: have you ever been given anything that you really treasure; something so personal that if you lost it you would move heaven and earth to find it?………
Well, today’s Gospel reading is all about God’s desire to find us and befriend us. The message is really basic and straightforward. All of us are uniquely loved by God. God looks at you and me as his treasures. I suggest we need to know this. Knowing that we are loved by God, in the words of Buzz Lightyear, ‘to infinity and beyond,’ is the basis for both healthy self-esteem and, our ability to keep the commandments to love God and, to love our neighbour as ourselves. We can’t love our neighbour as ourselves unless we first know ourselves to be loved and treasured. It’s a simple, and obvious, formula.
It’s a formula that the Irish priest-poet captured as follows:
‘You need to be generous to yourself in order to receive the love that surrounds you.
You can suffer from a desperate hunger to be loved.
You can search long years in lonely places, far outside yourself.
Yet the whole time, this love is but a few inches away from you.
It has been at the edge of your soul, but you have been blind to its presence.
We must remain attentive in order to be able to receive.’
In a few minutes I am going to baptise Baby George and in doing so I will be expressing God’s abundant love for him.
As I baptise George can I urge you all to remember the voice that came from heaven at Jesus’ own baptism; ‘you are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ We are all beloved of God, we are all the lost coin, the treasure that God values beyond price and wants to find. So this week can I encourage you to pause a couple of times a day and remember this, maybe even saying to yourself ‘I am God’s beloved,’ and just see what difference it might make. It might just make an enormous difference.
But, now we turn our attention to George, a true treasure, and soon to become a baptised member of the Church. Amen
Evensong: ‘One World.’ Readings: Amos 5, 4 & 11-15, Luke 16, 19-end
Do you remember where you were on September 11th 2001?
I was in my office at Old Mutual Asset Managers on Cheapside in London. When we became aware that the first tower had been hit we assumed, like the vast majority of people, that a horrendous accident had taken place. As we watched Bloomberg News on the giant television screen which was permanently on, it became clear, as the second tower was attacked, that what we were witnessing was raw, undiluted, violence; violence that its perpetrators were later to seek to justify by reference to their religious beliefs. Of course true and real religion can never, ever, endorse or validate violence and atrocity. Fifteen years later and we, the world that is, continue to witness religiously inspired hatred on an almost daily basis.
I would want to suggest that all people of faith need to think very clearly about what it means to be a member, a follower, of a religion. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all Abraham religions; we share a common heritage. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in ‘Not in God’s Name,’ an absolute must read, stresses that men and women of faith all share a common vocation: ‘to be a blessing to the world.’ Sacks suggests that Abraham always sought to be ‘true to his faith while being a blessing to others regardless of their faith.’ Abraham was recognised as a true and Godly man by the pagan priest Melchizedek and by the Hittites. How seriously do we take our vocation to be a blessing for all, irrespective of human identity markers? If we really care about peace, reconciliation love and justice I would want to strongly suggest that we need to develop the capacity to look beyond…...beyond difference. This doesn’t mean ignoring difference, after all as a Christian I want to own my distinctive set of beliefs and experiences, but it does mean seeing each and every person as worthy of God’s blessing, as a member of the human family.
This point is stressed in our readings: the Rich Man doesn’t recognise Lazarus the poor man at the end of his drive as being worthy of compassion and inclusion. He wants to exclude him, he wants to live in his own gated residence, entirely on his terms. He is of course able to do so; but just consider the eternal consequence.
In the Old Testament reading the prophet Amos urges the religious community to: ‘seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord the God of hosts will be with you…..hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate.’
We must strive to pursue all that leads to the common good and to be a blessing to all in our own community and, we must pray for and help assist in material ways those who seek to be a blessing to some of the world’s most vulnerable people through our works of charity. This is how we exercise the ‘dirty work of holiness.’ We must never use our religious beliefs and faith to exclude but rather always to include, for that is how we exercise ‘hospitality,’ and, we must always look beyond obvious differences, seeing each and every person as a child of God, for that is how we offer affirmation and, ‘healing.’
We may not be able to put an end to religiously inspired hatred and violence, but what we can do is to commit to making this place a place of true religion; a place of real blessing, a place where God is known for his abundant goodness. To do is in fact our vocation; yours and mine, Amen.