Lost and found – Sermon given by Christopher Hancock, 11th September at St Martin’s, Epsom

Follow link to view on ‘Curate’s Life’ blog

Sermon for Proper 19C  Luke 15:1-10

Personally, I never lose things – ahem.  Well not often.

In the weeks prior to my ordination earlier this year, I needed to prove I was a Christian.  To do this I needed to produce my baptism certificate – somewhat late in the process I thought but the Church works in mysterious ways.  Anyway I was sure that my parents must have it – as I knew I did not.

A lengthy discussion ensued with my mother saying very forcefully that I was baptised on Lady Day, 25th March, 1968 – but she did not have the certificate and so she must have given it to me with other important papers at some time in the past.

However, I could not find it.  I turned the house upside down, discovering all sorts of interesting and forgotten documents –  ‘O’-Level and ‘A’-Level certificates, Grade 4 bassoon exam. (Result: Merit).  Grade 5 bassoon exam (Result: Fail).  My cycling proficiency certificate, my Puffin club badge!

I did not remember ever having seen this baptism certificate and I became increasingly suspicious when, after a little research, I found that Lady Day in 1968 was a Monday.  Surely I was not Christened on a Monday?

I called the parish where I was baptised and – sure enough – they found the entry in their registers – Sunday 24th March, 1968.  A certified copy was duly produced and here I am today.

Parents of Jaime and Wilfred take note – perhaps one day your sons will be called to be ordained – don’t lose the certificate that you will receive later this morning!

Why do I say all of this?

Well – I suppose this draws together several of the kinds of loss which are explored in our Gospel reading this morning

There is the loss of an object – the certificate – and the turmoil which ensued in looking for it

There is also a loss of truth – resulting in a loss of identity – a fact about myself was now wrong (it was not quite Justin Welby finding he was the son of a different father but I felt a small tremor as I had been filling in ecclesiastical forms incorrectly for years)

There is no such thing as a simple parable and like the parable of the prodigal son which follows, the apparently simple parables which we have heard this morning explore the complex questions of what it is to be lost – to lose oneself or to be lost to others.

We can be lost like a sheep because we have strayed we have been in error – made a mistake – as we say in the Prayer Book act of confession ‘we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep’

Or we can be lost like a coin because we have got mislaid, disconnected from where we should be – we have lost our bearings and forgotten who we are – we can get lost in the woods – we can be lost in life – we can get the date of our baptism wrong or we can forget that we have even been baptised at all.

These parables also explore response to loss:

It is dislocating – emotional.  We search – turning a house upside down to find a lost coin [or indeed a baptism certificate] or we leave home and livelihood behind in or to go in search for a lost sheep.

I lost a child once – in a department store in America …

This was my first child and I had no experience of toddlers – of their speed of movement and spirit of adventure.

I was in a changing room trying on different pairs of trousers

My young son, William, was with me – in my care.  ‘Keep your eye on him!’, my wife had warned me, sternly.

Well no sooner had I removed my trousers when little William crawled under the partition wall to enter the next cubicle – so I quickly put my trousers back on and went to get him – but he wasn’t there!

I left the changing room and instead of William, I found my wife.

‘William is with you?’ I said in a hopeful tone?

I shall never forget the look she gave me.

‘You have lost our son !?!’

So we searched the store high and low – in a state of complete panic – imagine trying to find a runaway 2-year old in a forest of clothes racks

Well I am here today to tell the story so you know that we found him

But I have never forgotten this – because my wife has never let me

In fact, I was in good company – because not only did David and Samantha Cameron leave their child behind in a pub, but Jesus own parents lost him in Jerusalem, on the way back from the Passover (Luke 2[1])

Where did they find him?

In the temple – in church – in fact he had never left – they had moved on but he had remained constant –  there may be lesson for us in this – in particular for those of us who may feel that they have lost Jesus and keep on looking for Jesus in new places – but perhaps he never left the place where we first found him – ‘Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?’

Some of us know the experience of finding God again after a period of distance, of dislocation, of loss

When you find something you think you have lost it is like receiving something for the first time – like receiving a gift – and the Greek word for joy which is used repeatedly in our Gospel reading – Chara – is from the same root as Charis or gift from which we get Eucharist – that perfect symbol of the gift we have of union with God and with all of God’s creation

A gift we shall receive afresh in a short while this morning

So there is joy in the shepherd in finding and in the sheep in being found

There is joy in finding God and Luke tells us that God also  rejoices in finding us

There is a harmony in this reciprocity, a resonance which speaks of the warm feeling we have when we feel that we are known, loved, found, understood.

A feeling I find each time I receive the Eucharist – when we deliberately remember our relationship with all creation, with God and with Christ – as we do this ‘in remembrance of Him’.

So what then might be the messages for us?

We should clearly keep a close eye on those for whom we care – putting them before ourselves and not just before our modesty in changing rooms in foreign countries!

But also to look out for the lost that may be in no-one’s care – those who have strayed themselves or been mislaid, perhaps those who have been left behind by change thinking they must move but needing to be brought back to where they began

We should rejoice too in those who are found – as we rejoice today in Jamie and Wilfred who are about to become the newest Christians in the world

In particular, we should rejoice here in Church

For this may be where we ourselves find God – where we find ourselves and where Christ finds us.

It is so much easier to find God if we are finding Him every week – so much easier to remember where He is.  I hope parents and Godparents you will hear this and bring Jamie and Wilfred in time to confirm their relationship with God through Jesus Christ and to join us in sharing this gift.

So, in conclusion, I pray that we will all keep coming here and keep finding Jesus as He promised us: ‘when two or three are gathered together in my name – there I will be in the midst of them[2].

Amen

 Sermon delivered by Rev Christopher Hancock, St Martin’s Epsom, 11th September, 2016.

[1] Luke 2:41-52

[2] Mat 18:20

 

 

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New site for time in Epsom 

It didn’t feel right to use The Word on the Hill to record experiences relevant only to my sojourn in Epsom so I have started a new blog for that – ‘A Curate’s Life’

https://acurateslife.wordpress.com

I shall, however, continue to post links to my sermons here – as this one today 

https://acurateslife.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/rules-for-dinner-parties-sermon-on-luke-14/

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“Being rich in God” – sermon given by Rev Christopher Hancock at St Martin’s Epsom (31st July, 2016)

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Gospel: Luke 12:13-21

 

Well, what a week it has been:

–         The murder of priest, Jacques Hamel in France

–         A murder in quiet Headley of all places, now the crime capital of Surrey

For me it has been a week of spending as much time here at St Martin’s as possible in advance of today – getting to know the Parish and some of its people

And now having to contend with the idiosyncrasies of this extraordinary building and its peculiar acoustic – well here goes …

So what do we think about this passage, the Gospel which we have just heard?

Personally, I think it is a little confusing – it sets you off down false trails

The opening calls to mind the prodigal son with brothers arguing about an inheritance – which suggests that it is a story about relationships – but then Jesus tells a story about a man who builds new barns in which to store a bumper harvest – but calls him a fool – which makes you think it is about the evil vanity of money.  (‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity …’[1])

Confusingly, the barn-building parable appears to recall the story in Genesis when Joseph advises the building of stores of grain to provide against a famine and wins the respect of Pharaoh[2] – surely a good thing – being prudent- taking the long term view…

But Jesus seems to be encouraging a short-term view – for you may die at any time and, as we know, we cannot take it with you.  So you should concentrate not on storing up treasures for yourselves on earth but by being ‘rich towards God’ or even ‘rich in God’[3]

So how to make sense of this?

Luke’s Gospel has an extended metaphor of money as the currency of the kingdom of heaven (think of the parables of the talents or minas as it is in Luke[4], the shrewd manager who forgives debts, even the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s prayer is equated to the forgiveness of debts).

So can we extend the metaphor from money?  How might one make oneself rich in God?

Well as an accountant and corporate financier by day, I feel as though I should be able to provide some insight here.

I know quite a bit from my clients’ experience about what it takes to become wealthy and more importantly to stay wealthy and I think there are indeed some practices and disciplines which one can read across to one’s spiritual life.

First, it is best to approach financial matters with humility and gratitude.  Those who realise how much of their wealth is a result of good fortune are likely to remain wealthy far longer than those who ascribe it to their own brilliance.

This fundamental attitude of humility and thanksgiving is the essential first step on the road to holiness – as it is written, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’[5].

Secondly, having recognised one’s good fortune, the most important thing you can do with money is to keep an eye on it – to regularly review it – to keep accounts (as an accountant I would say that wouldn’t I – but it’s true).  This has its analogue in the regular – ideally daily – spiritual practice of self-reflection and criticism which has it paradigm in the Ignatian examen – a daily keeping account of what is Godly and pleasing in one’s life on one hand and on the other what feels ungodly and causes pain.  The idea is that by taking note of these things one can look to accentuate the former and eliminate the latter.

Another important thing to do with money is to use your brain and make a study of it – stay up to date with tax and changes in the world, do an MBA or become a chartered accountant (I am beginning to sound like a brochure from the Institute).

For those who would be holy this means studying the Bible – the history in our culture of man’s experience of the divine – perhaps joining a Bible study group and sharing the learning process with others.

Finally, and most importantly in my experience, those who have achieved most are those who have worked together rather than going it alone.  The smart entrepreneur is the one who shares the risks and rewards with a team – the largest companies in the world are those owned by many public shareholders not single individuals.

Moreover, those who are truly rich in their lives are those who share their wealth for philanthropic purposes and thereby lead a life which enrichens others.

It is this last point which I think provides the key to the short parable in our reading.

It is not the receipt of the great harvest which makes the rich man a fool – nor even the building of new barns.

It is the failure of the barn-builder to share what he has – to be isolated and selfish in his enjoyment of his good fortune that marks him out for contempt and indeed folly.

‘I will relax, eat, drink and be merry’ he says in a self-satisfied way that reminds me of what we might call the Barbecue Society which is so prevalent amongst the home counties middle class.  We can easily fall into being content in our small circle of friends to eat, drink and be merry without engaging in wider society or even with the neighbours beyond the garden fence.

But the reality is as we have seen in Headley and St Etienne de Rouvray and just as John Donne taught us, ‘no man is an island entire of itself’ for we are all involved in mankind – it is our relationships which matter and the true currency of the Kingdom of God is love.

This is what angered Jesus about the brothers wanting him to help them divide their inheritance with which we began.  They wanted him to enter a dispute – but Jesus is the opposite of a judge or arbiter who divides.  He is a unifer – something which we shall recognise in our Eucharist this morning as we form the body of Christ to remember Jesus.  Jesus, who taught us to love one another and to work together.  To form relationships and to honour them in his name.

Now if I were to do an examen of my week then without doubt the highlight would not be the time that I have spent in saying the offices of morning and evening prayer here (though I have indeed enjoyed that) – nor even in the couple of pints that I have sampled in Ye Olde King’s Head opposite (though I have indeed enjoyed that).

By far the highlight of my week was the pastoral visit that I paid with Canon Adrian to visit a long-term faithful parishioner, Peggy Hanley, as she approached death in Leyton House nursing home around the corner on Burgh Heath Road.

This once strong and vigorous lady was now very frail and the end was clearly near.  After praying with her for a while, giving thanks for her service to this community and saying the words of Commendation, Adrian lent over her bed and kissed her gently on the forehead.  In a week which has seen continuing death and division in the world, that seemed to me to be the very epitome of love – and that my friends is what it I believe it means to be rich in God.  Amen

Sermon given by Rev Christopher Hancock at St Martin’s Epsom, 31st July, 2016

 

[1] Ecclesiastes 1:2

[2] Genesis 41

[3] William Tyndale translation

[4] Luke 19:12-28, Luke 16:1-8; Luke 11:2-4

[5] In fact it is written twice: Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10

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New wine


Giving my first sermon as Reverend Christopher Hancock to the unsuspecting friends and relatives gathered for my Ordination to the Diaconate 

3rd July, 2016

  

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Shepherd’s Market revisited – Jesus pastors the sinful woman

Sermon at Grosvenor Chapel – 12th June, 2016

Image result for woman anoints jesus feet

 

Readings for Proper 6, Year C

OT:             2 Samuel 11:26-12:10

NT:             Galatians 2:15-21

Gospel:      Luke 7:36-50

 

Sermon

May I speak in the name of the living and loving God whom we know as + Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen

Well, what a pleasure it is to be here on a Sunday

To put myself in context – I am a weekday Parishioner

I work at 29 Farm Street and I normally only ever come here Monday to Friday – I try to get to as many as possible of the Masses which Fr Richard faithfully holds for a few of us at lunchtime.

I am also an Ordinand in the Diocese of Guildford – God willing, I will be ordained Deacon on 3rd July and will begin my curacy as an ordained local minister in the Parish of St Martin’s Epsom

As such I commute here and I usually walk from Victoria Station, across Green Park and through Shepherd’s Market to get here.

Shepherd’s Market has changed somewhat in the 25 years that have been working in London.  It is rather smarter and less edgy.

Juice bars and fashion outlets have replaced the rather more bohemian art dealers and gone are the days when you would often see a woman in a dressing gown hanging out of a doorway with a cigarette in her mouth who looked at you in a very particular way.

All of which serves as a rambling and perhaps rather obvious introduction to a discussion of this remarkable story in the Gospel of Luke, for we assume that this woman of the city, ‘who is a sinner’, is a prostitute.

It is interesting that women who are ‘sinners’ are usually assumed to be misbehaving in the area of sex.  Whether adultery or prostitution.  Tempting men to sin by their feminine wiles is a story as old as Adam and Eve.  Perhaps the Old Testament reading with the story of David and Bathsheba serves to remind us that in these matters men are at least 50% and perhaps more of the problem.

The last module in my training course is in Pastoral Care and the first thing that we are taught in Pastoral care is to be aware of our prejudices and predispositions.

We have to understand those prejudices in order to avoid making assumptions about others.

This story raises the issue of such assumptions – the woman is known in the city to be a sinner.  But who really knows that someone is a sinner?  If she is a prostitute then the only people who know that for sure are her clients – perhaps Simon the Pharisee is one of them?

In any case Jesus avoids the temptation to prejudge and whatever she may have been or done, he asks us to see her as she is today.

The next teaching for a pastoral encounter is to be alive for unusual behaviour and try to make sense of it – the woman’s treatment of Jesus is unusual in any circumstances – it is hyperbolic.

What husband has received such treatment ?  With his feet washed with tears, dried with the woman’s hair and anointed with perfume?

This goes some way beyond the famous injunction to young wives from the 1950s to prepare for the homecoming of their husband

Prepare yourself: Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking.. Make him comfortable: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes.[1]

This woman leaves the good wife of Housekeeping Monthly firmly in the shade – let alone the normal way to treat a dinner party guest.

So why might she be acting in this way?

Attachment theory would encourage us to understand her behaviour in terms of how the woman normally forms relationships.

If indeed she is a prostitute, then she is used to giving of herself physically in exchange for money – a form of transaction.

For her, love has a value.  She shows her gratitude with the love that she values.

This putting of a value on love and forgiveness fits within the framework not just of this reading  – where 500 denarii of forgiveness are compared with 50 – but indeed the whole of Luke’s Gospel where sins are equated with owing money, the forgiveness of sins compared to a forgiveness of debts and greater gratitude with greater forgiveness and greater value – think for example of the story of the story prodigal son.

The manner of her showing this gratitude would seem to lie at the hidden heart of this encounter.  Her solicitude is very intimate – even erotic.

As such this would certainly seem to stretch the limits of what would be considered best practice in pastoral care where there is an ever increasing focus on delineating and observing boundaries – both physical boundaries and those of time.

Notice how she comes to Jesus at dinner – interrupting his personal time – perhaps this was Jesus’s ‘day off’.  If so he ignores it.

Instead Christ allows a high degree of intimacy and so gives scope to the woman’s ministry.

I am about to become a Deacon – one who serves – and she serves just as Christ will later describe himself as ‘one who serves’ (Luke  22:27) using the same metaphor of waiting at table.

In order to serve others then we have to be given scope to do so – and Christ allows the woman this service.

I recently made a formal confession ahead of my ordination and in that explored some of my besetting sins.  What my confessor explained to me is that our sins are often found close to our talents and strengths – it is when these are misdirected or followed slavishly that they cause us ill.

By way of a topical example, on the occasion of the Queen’s 90th birthday, we are mindful of her unstinting service to God and country and the honouring of tradition.

However, we also remember that the low point in her reign came when, for a while, she allowed tradition to stand in the way of a natural act of respect in allowing a flag to fly at half-mast following the death of Diana Princess of Wales.  She recovered and for that act of humility and a relaxation of her boundaries won back the love of the nation.

Our story in Luke seems to perfectly illustrate this point – this woman appears to be someone with a talent for showing physical love – she is self-actualised in the bestowing of kisses and anointing with perfume.

Christ provides the scope for her to show that love – not in a back alley, a brothel or between adulterous sheets, but rather in a public act of love and worship.  It is in turning to Christ and showering her love upon Him that she is saved[2].

There are lessons then for us in this Gospel.

Christ offers us the perfect model of pastoral care – receiving without prejudice, allowing an intimate encounter within boundaries which may be stretched beyond convention but not beyond morality, and then sending out to serve Christ, released with love.  – ‘Your faith has saved you’ he says, ‘go in peace.’

In turn, the woman offers us the perfect model of the recipient of Christ’s redeeming love – acknowledging our weaknesses, turning our talents from self-gratification to offer them to Christ in love such that, in the words of Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

So may it be for us

Amen

Grosvenor Chapel, 12th June, 2016

 

[1] The Good Wife’s Guide, from Housekeeping Monthly (May 1955)

[2] The causality in Lk 7:47 is the subject of scholarly disagreement and is perhaps deliberately vague

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Preacher abroad


Until I take up my curacy at St Martin’s, Epsom I am currently roaming the country worshipping and occasionally preaching in a variety of places

This Sunday (12th June) I will be preaching at 11:00 at Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, London (as above – a church made famous for its role in the film Love Actually.)

http://www.grosvenorchapel.org.uk/

If you are in town for the Queen’s birthday celebrations it would be great to see some friendly faces in the congregation.

 

 

 

 

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‘Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire’ – celebrating Pentecost, Sunday 15th May 10:30 St Mary’s Headley 


Come celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit with us this Sunday as we say farewell to Rev Linda Harknett, Priest in charge, Parish of Headley Box Hill, 2007-2016. 

Festival Eucharist – 10:30am 

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Keeping the Novena in Parish of Headley with Box Hill

 In response to the call from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to see a “a great wave of prayer across our land, throughout the Church of England and many other Churches”

We are keeping the Novena, the nine Days from Ascension to Pentecost (from 6th-14th May), as a special time of prayer and meditation on our Christian Mission and the building up of the Kingdom of God in our Parish.

 

Ascension

You can support this by attending the services being held  daily 6th – 14th May:

  • Morning Prayer held daily at St Mary’s Headley at 9:00am
  • Evening Prayer held daily at St Andrew’s, Box Hill at 6:00pm (except 6th May at St Mary’s)

 

Pentecost ikon

We will be using the  standard form of Common Worship for Morning and Evening Prayer which can be found on the web.

On the website you can also download an app for iPhone or Android so you can follow along yourself even if you cannot get to church

Daily Prayer on the web

As well as praying for the whole Church of Christ Jesus, we will also be saying these prayers for our Parish:

 

Collect for the Parish

Heavenly Father,

We give you thanks for the blessings of this Parish – its landscape and scenery, its plants and animals – all the wonders of your creation which are to found here.

We pray for all those who live and work here, for those who pass through to enjoy its beauty and those who stay and call it home.

Through your blessed servants Mary and Andrew many found their way to you through your son Jesus Christ,

help your Church to point the way so that the people of this Parish may find you, and so we may become

Disciples of your truth,

Ambassadors of your love and

Messengers of your salvation to the world.

Amen

 

Jabez Prayer (1 Chron 4:10)

Lord, bless this Parish

May your hand be over it

May you extend our boundaries

and enhance our ministry

May you keep us from all hurt and harm.  Amen

 

 

For more information about the Archbishops’ appeal, visit: www.thykingdom.co.uk

Read the Archbishops’ letter here.

 

 

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Beating the Bounds – 2nd May, 2016

Beating the Bounds.jpg

Beating the Bounds - Itinerary

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Finding the Lost Son – The value of love and the cost of discipleship

Prodigal Son - Charlie Macksey

The Return of the Prodigal Son (Small Bronze) by Charlie Macksey

 

“A man had two sons”…

This is Luke’s brilliantly concise opening for a story of family strife.  ‘A man had two sons’ is a recurring biblical situation that brings to mind Adam with his sons Cain and Abel, Abraham with Isaac and Ishmael, Isaac with Jacob and Esau.  Each of these is a story of competition for favour and inheritance.  Generally, they do not end well.

It is a situation to which I have always found it easy to relate, as my father had two sons.

I was the older one – the good one – as in the parable –  staying at home – I mowed the lawn and helped my father with his DIY projects.  One summer I even repainted the house.

Meanwhile my brother, my younger brother, liked to go out and see his ‘friends’ in fact, he was always going out, and seeing his friends.

And as soon as he was old enough, he learned to drive and then asked to borrow the family car.  He would then disappear off to see other friends further afield– sometimes all night

And I would stay at home – deeply disgruntled.  I was the older one – it should have been me who was off out ‘with friends’.  It should have been me driving the family car.

It should have been me worrying my parents: “where is he?” they would say – “surely he should be back by now?”

And when eventually he reappeared much later than he had promised – far from castigating him and punishing him.  They smiled and laughed – they were glad to see him.  And, of course, glad to see the car!

I wasn’t – I skulked in my room and refused to come down for dinner – claiming to be revising for exams, but actually seething.

It was not until I was a parent myself that I began to understand the realities of a parent’s unconditional love.

It does not matter what your child has done – what pain you are put through – you keep on loving – keep on giving.

That generosity is one of the messages of this parable – the father has been waiting for this day, looking out for his lost son, scanning the horizon and when he sees his son in the distance he runs towards him – pulling up his skirts, in a way most unseemly for an old man – his heart leaping for joy in his chest.

He showers his returning son with hugs and kisses, giving up his own coat, his ring, the sandals from his feet – killing the fatted calf and laying on a party to celebrate.

It’s all about giving:  and the abundant, even excessive generosity of the Father is the generous forgiveness of God.

It is not a trivial point that at the heart of forgiveness is the word ‘give’.

But the father had two sons…

We turn then to the older son who remains aloof, unreconciled.  When all others are celebrating he refuses to join the feast.  Like the Pharisees with whom Jesus has been arguing.  He keeps himself apart.

This parable explores ideas about distance.  Following on from stories of the lost sheep and lost coin.  It shows how you can be lost when you away in a distant land or lost when you are locked in your room at home.

So it ends on a pastoral cliff hanger – with the older son shown the way by the father – the way of sacrifice and love.  Will he take it?

What is his problem?  Well as the older son I have some sympathy for him.  He has done nothing wrong and yet he feels mistreated.

He is weighing the actions of his father and trying to measure the ‘love’ which he is receiving against the love which is being shown to his brother.  He feels he is receiving less love than he deserves.

But you cannot measure love – you cannot weigh it on a scales, attach it to a meter, or measure it with a ruler.  A physicist will tell you, there are no SI units for Love.

Nor does it have a monetary value – you cannot make a love deposit in a bank, trade it for goods, or sell it on a market.  You cannot buy love and you cannot sell it.

[NB It does not matter how much you have spent on your mother’s day flowers – it genuinely is the thought that counts!]

Love, the love that comes from God, is infinite and indivisible.

And so the father tells the elder son – “All that I have is yours”.  My love for you is unlimited.

The challenge for the older son is to respond to the love which he has received from his father and show it in turn to his brother.

Sometimes that can be difficult when we feel we are in the right.

I saw an example of this during the week.  I was travelling down the M25 late at night and they were closing some of the lanes for roadworks

You know the scenario.  Over the space of a mile, four lanes had to become one.

There is lots of warning and some people immediately start slowing down and moving over to the indicated lane.  These are the good citizens, the dutiful older sons. (I bet they mowed the lawn for their parents and helped with the DIY!)

There are others, however, who want to keep moving quickly – their lives are clearly more important, their time is more precious, rules are not made for them – and they leave it to the very last minute to cut in.

They get right up against the cones and then start indicating. They look out of their side windows trying then to catch the eye of the people in the continuing lane.  Pleading to be let in.

These are the younger sons begging for forgiveness at the eleventh hour.

Those in the correct lane, meanwhile, hold the wheel firmly and look straight ahead using all their driving skill to stay as close as possible to the car in front in order to avoid having to let them in.

And so what happens?  Everyone gets stressed and it takes ages to jockey through the narrowing gap.

This is a process of reconciliation – of two different positions being harmonised

In these situations, full reconciliation only occurs when someone gives way – someone has to make the first move.  Someone has to give up a position, write off the debt – something they care about or feel strongly about.  Someone has to make a sacrificial act for the good of all.

To be forgiven is an easy thing; to forgive – to be like God – turns out to be much harder.

This is what is meant by the costly grace of which Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his great work on Christian discipleship[1].  The easy bit is to repent and to receive God’s generous grace.  The hard bit is to be like God and to forgive in return.  The Cost of discipleship is to follow God in forgiving.

A man had two sons – a manager had two employees

I have direct experience of this in my working life – I was made redundant by a manager who fired me to save the position of one of his long term friends.  I found another role but could not bear the sight of the manager after that.

I would try to avoid him – turn around in corridors – get out of lifts at the wrong floor. He in turn would avoid my eye.  He knew that he had done wrong.

Then one day several years later, I saw him in the street.  I crossed the road to meet him.  I walked towards him and shook his hand.  I don’t know if he ever knew what that took for me, what it meant for me – but only then was I at peace.   And I think perhaps he was too.

Desmond Tutu, who knows a thing or two about reconciliation, speaks of forgiveness becoming a habit, a way of life:  a life changing way of life.   He writes:

‘When I develop a mindset of forgiveness rather than a mindset of grievance, I don’t just forgive a particular act.  I become a more forgiving person. … When I have a forgiveness mindset I start to see the world not through grievance but through gratitude.  In other words, I look at the world and start to see what is right.  …. What was once a grave affront, melts into nothing more than a careless word or thoughtless act.  What was once a cause of rupture and alienation, becomes an opportunity for repair and intimacy’[2] – even for love.

Wendy spoke two weeks ago about the benefits of living in community – living in relationships brings with it the need to be reconciled with others when inevitably relationships go wrong – whether in families, in church, at work or in the world at large.

Sue talked last week about finding a rule of life, well one such rule might be to focus on our relationships and strive to be reconciled to all.

In this we become true disciples and follow God who, as St Paul reminds us ‘has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation’[3].

When we follow him and are reconciled to others then we become true disciples, even in Paul’s words, ‘ambassadors for Christ’[4]

God has made the first move in his self-incarnation and self-sacrifice in Christ so that all can be reconciled to him.

Nowhere is this more clear than in Christ’s celebratory feast of reconciliation when we share not the fatted calf, but one bread and one cup.

Our mission, our discipleship is to take that reconciliation received through Christ at the altar and lead in sharing it with others in our lives outside this place.

We must be irrationally generous in the giving of our forgiveness

We must be prepared for it to hurt, for it to be sacrificial.

We must be prepared to seek out reconciliation not to avoid it.

To smile at those who cut across our path

To scan the horizon for the lost and cross the road to meet those who have done us wrong.

Amen

Drawing all of these thoughts together, Common Worship offers this as an alternative post Communion prayer

Father of all, we give you thanks and praise, that when we were still far off you met us in your Son and brought us home. Dying and living, he declared your love, gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory. May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring life to others; we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world. Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us, so we and all your children shall be free, and the whole earth live to praise your name; through Christ our Lord.   Amen.

Notes from a Sermon given at St. Mary’s Ewell, 6th March, 2016

[1] Bonhoeffer, D.,1948. The Cost of Discipleship.  London: SCM Press

[2] Tutu, D. and Tutu, M., 2014. The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.  New York: HarperOne

[3] 2 Cor 5:18

[4] 2 Cor 5:20

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