It never ceases to amaze me how arrogant we all can be. Today is Mothering Sunday, and wouldn't you know the male dominated people who create the rules by which we live, even in Church worship across the road, have chosen, on this day, a day that at least gives a token nod to motherhood or, as we would say in the United States: Motherhood, the Flag and Apple Pie, is a day when they appoint for the Gospel the story of the Forgiving Father, The Prodigal Son and rather jealous Son - three males. So on the day designated as the one that we look to mothers, we have the story of three men. I suppose we are to think the mother was probably inside the house cooking the fatted calf.
But this arrogance, or perchance, is part and parcel of what I would like to try to think about with you for a few minutes as we look about the love of God, the love we share, forgiveness and all that this conjures up in our thinking, as we look at today theme in our series: transforming the world. Indeed the church exists for the sake of the world. A recent statement reads: Communion in the Trinity is the salvation of the world. Therefore, for the sake of the world, we have been called to a ministry of reconciliation and communion which is to be carried out "with all humility and gentleness.." Ephesians 4. 2-3
Of course, sometimes the world is easier to imagine, to relate to or show concern about, than what happens to the person next door or maybe the person sitting in this Church with you today. Things get too close for comfort as we say, are too demanding. We can say we will pray about and be concerned about famine and disasters in other parts of the world and put a pound or two into a collection for Christian Aid, but when we realise the person we know living down our street, in our block of flats, or wherever it might be, that they actually may need some money, some help, a shoulder to cry on, someone to take them out for dinner, whatever it might be, that really calls for some sacrifice.
But our task today is global. The world is vast, it is so beautiful, almost spectacular, yet we seem to do, in our sinfulness, all we can to mar it. In response to that carelessness, we have people who are dedicated to fair trade around the world, and bringing world issues to the forum of the more powerful countries like our very own. Indeed that is admirable and indeed many of the policies and programmes that even our government, or any government, whether it be conservative or labour or whatever, have created and try to maintain, are often based on the fact that this nation has responded to things in a Christian way, at least in its historic foundations.
Our response to a troubled mistreated creation might come out of duty in some ways or necessity, we want to survive, we want others to survive, we want it to survive. Maybe in a more positive way our seemingly first world ways in Britain, or even the USA, are, God willing, Christian values to assist and support those outside our geographic boundaries and on to the Commonwealth and for us, the Anglican Communion, we some real intent to help. As some of you know I serve the Anglican Communion and have done so for many years as the Communications Director, and often times I am able to communicate an enormous amount about sharing God's love, sharing God's forgiveness, sharing Jesus' message of acceptance and renewal, epitomised in the story of our three males today. In the gospel today, I wonder who you relate to the most - sadly for me I know my tendency is to be the self-righteous son, the poor me, but friends, sometimes what we say to each, whether one to one or over cyberspace, does hurt.
I edit a magazine, and many people refer to it as the Readers Digest or the National Geographic of the Anglican world, of the Anglican Communion. People would say that Jim Rosenthal would not recognise a controversial story if it was right in front of him. Yet the reality is, even for those charged with communicating the good news stories around the world - we are being confronted with people saying things and doing things to annoy or even attempt to destroy others, this certainly, to me, is not good to perpetuate it. It is blatantly inconsistent with what we proclaim as our faith in the person of Jesus, who St John tells us, the Book cannot contain all that we need to know about him.
I am not a trained theologian, readers, of course take a goodly course to set them at least on a good path when they get in front of people like yourselves, and not make a fool of themselves and my experience over 15 years has, I think, given me some insights into world and Anglican World in particular, but at the same time, I have to admit, that the world that we are so concerned for is being marred by the advances in technology, that are suppose to make life better and knowledge increase. Something is wrong.
How does bad news travel in our global village? It travels fast, the Internet, although a wonder of wonders, becomes an instrument of hate and prejudice and all sorts of things that catch us by surprise. And what about our entertainment. Those of you who have heard me preach before will say here we go, but look at our entertainment. Our entertainment and our news mesh into one. We find ourselves unable, at least I find myself more unable than ever before, to differentiate between fact and fiction, and therefore people in the media, people in the entertainment world, and even people in the Church have created havoc with a sense of confusion and disorder, to me creates a global abuse.
When I was in New York last week I wanted to be able to come back and say that I had seen The Passion. Constantly during the movie I kept thinking of the Bible verse that, in America, we all learn as a child, and of course is in the Prayer Book comfortable words: "God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son".
Yet the reality is the World is too big for us to continue to show how much we care about it, and the level we should. We are overwhelmed. We are deemed overwhelmed because the very foundations of who we are as church and nation, in our own congregation, in our own neighbourhood, in our own national church, our own international church, are not as strong as they could or should be to carry us forward in our global tasks.
If our own sense of support and enabling on the local level or in the immediacy of the world in which we live and move in day by day, isn't strong, how can we possibly try to influence a world that, although getting smaller, in its sense of that global village, is becoming so unmanageable and the needs so great, that we simply throw up our hands. So what we do as a community, has an impact on how we are able to respond to each other, to the world that God so loved as we read in John 3.16. Creation. whether we know or like it or not, is God's gift to us, and God has given us power over it and the privilege to want to conserve, preserve, and prosper our handiwork.
No time or room for arrogance. Transformation, yes!
God's world - can we try to make it more beautiful - rather than more dreaded, more fearful, more anxious. There are universal images, I think, that keep us, as Christians, aware of the world. Looking again at the movie, The Passion, the notion of crucifixion is one that you can not take lightly, even though some of us tend to prefer gold crucifixes to those found in churches in Spain, or in this film. Maybe it does take the goriness, the absolute shock value of a Mel Gibson movie to bring us back to some sort of centre point where we can actually understand that like Jesus, people today are still be crucified for trying to do what they believe is right, what they think will help others and indeed what they will do to help to themselves to fulfil their vocation and ministry. Our world is a world where people are still crucified, literally, in places like the Sudan,
A story. One friend of mine was a cancer doctor here during the War and when patients would come in and they would asked what religion they followed as they were registered? If they said none, the scribe entered C of E. If you were sitting in a Government office in Khartoum and wrote down Anglican, it could mean imprisonment, starvation or death. No exaggeration.
So where do we go with all this? What do we do? Well what I believe we can do is simply place the challenges here in our growing container, suitcase, or purse, or maybe our hearts, with all the other challenges presented in our Lenten sermons, and bring it all with us as we, together, journey through the Passion and finally approach the great day we call resurrection.
But who will help us carry our load?
Now men, I ask you listen with care. I would dare say that the universal global need for care and forgiveness and faithfulness in our world, in our Christian world, especially in our Christian world, has always been sustained, initiated, and accomplished by women. Remember 3 women are chosen to be first to encounter the resurrection.
Back to The Passion, the film. For me the academy award for best actress and the best role, of course, goes to the Virgin Mary, one we think of especially today, the Mother of us all. There were very few lines, she says very little, but she is there, the tears flow, the anger wells up. She is there, she makes sure she gets through the crowds, as she continues to do for us in the communion of saints and as many mothers have done even under the most incredible circumstances, especially in our society where all seems topsy-turvy when it comes to faithfulness. All faithfulness should be rewarded, yet what the church does for the 90% of the people in our midst that are heterosexual, struggle with those issues of family, marriage, partnership and more, is not doing its job.
Recently a senior Bishop in this Church, responding to a question, albeit loaded question, said in public that the House of Bishops did not have time to talk about the cares and concerns of heterosexual community - as we all see divorce rates soar into new heights and people, single parents, couples, struggle in ways that some of us can't even comprehend in this day and age. When the Church says no to anyone, I think it is saying no to Mother Mary, and to her son. So don't let anybody fool you, because the Bible, if you remember the quote from St John: "The book cannot contain all that needs to know about Jesus" - so neither can we comprehend the world, but we must try. After all God so loved the world....
What we must resist to any attempt to limit God. Some of us try to limit our world, we try to control God, control ourselves, control those around us, and boxed it up all so neatly, only relating to those like us.
Friends, communications, travel, tourism and all has made the whole round world a new commodity. Get on the tube, the bus, or walk down the street. The world is there, at your finger tips, especially in a melting pot like London. we have been programmed over the last 2 weeks to be alert and I think fearful...remember you are not alone in such fears. We know that our faith is about liberation, it is about newness, renewal, and forgiveness, as the gospel reading today clearly tells us. We also know it is uncomfortable, but pray God on this Mothering Sunday, as we give thanks for the faithfulness exemplified in that gift of motherhood, that role in life that we can rejoice exceedingly about on this Rose Sunday. Today we pause in penitence and say - well we can't go as far as the A word, but we certainly can be grateful and thankful for the world and what it affords us and the opportunities it creates to make life for those who come after us - even better and better -- and more and more exciting.
May God give us strength to serve one another through all those systems and ways before us, that even in their frailty, and our sinfulness, we do all we can to try to encompass the world with love and empower it by love.
For the love of God is stronger than the measure of our minds
Yes, God so loved the world...so should we.
© James Rosenthal