SERMON: HR July 4th 2021 Trinity 5
Amos 7: 1-7; Mark 6: 1-13; 2 Cor. 12: 2-10
“What do you see?”
May I speak in the name of God: Father Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN
“What do you see?” God asks the prophet Amos today. One of the finest priests I know had a struggle with sight throughout his life. Our brother Eric remarked, “I don’t recognise the Church into which I was ordained.” He wasn’t unique, because this isn’t a complaint restricted only to clergy. Visiting my former English teacher on one occasion, Mr Cowan similarly lamented that, as a HoD, he was spending less and less time advancing his enthusiasm for literature-teaching, and rather being persuaded to do things he didn’t really want to by “them over there.” Yet both men in their respective professions, stayed the course. Both were determined to give themselves fully to their respective ministry, although neither of them were beginning to recognise their vocation amidst it. Somehow the institutions of school and Church conspired to get in the way, to overpower the simple beauty and first love of the vision. Neither Eric nor Mr Cowan were going to let that happen, however. They saw and lived beyond the strictures of corporate policy, embracing the light and freedom which had always drawn them; the exceptional space in which love rules, creates and sustains relationships, and generates life in all its fullness.
“What do you see?” It is a penetrating question in this season of ordinations and postulancies of vow-taking and renewal. So, as the church is redressed in its call and response to the voice of God: What do you see in this season?
Petertide is that somewhat ironical season of the Church’s year in which we celebrate and give thanks for the sacrament of ordination as God offers Godself through the grace of diaconal and priestly charges to the men and women of the kingdom. It’s somewhat ironical because the man, the rock upon which God builds this kingdom is flat-footed and quick-tempered, rushing in where angels fear to tread. A fool? Well that depends on your plumb-line, doesn’t it? If Peter is, it would seem that the wisdom of God favours such as these. The exceptions, the misfits, the erstwhile recognisers of heaven in ordinary. The Kingdom is opened up to those who, in not quite seeming to get it, receive it all and in receiving, manifest the true vineyard church of which Amos becomes a prophet.
In the authenticity of his visions, Amos is able give voice to God’s judgment upon Israel; to communicate beyond the sight of the naked eye the very real consequences of their sin, as God literally levels with him through the image of the plumb-line. So it is the vinedresser, grafted to his grower’s voice, who becomes the redresser of a wayward kingdom. Amos, fully himself, inhabits and opens up space to herald the way of justice and fruitfulness which is the life of God; Amos, in all his fullness, is who God sees and chooses and tasks with a call toward what cannot be seen; a call to imagine and inhabit the exceptional space where truth is revealed and the pain and glory of love lived in and lived out. Where did the farmer or indeed the carpenter’s son, get all this?
It can only come from within the exception itself, can it not? Jürgen Moltmann said, “God is… the wide space of our hope” as well as our happiness and our torment. We live in love because we make tents and teach and tend trees; it is not in spite of who we are created to be that God bears us and sends us, but because he sees beyond us into the exceptions of that wide space. – When we doubt, like St. Thomas; when we fail like Paul; when we stand on the edge at the humble midpoint of joy and sorrow. When we just simply don’t recognise.
So God comes to dwell with us; to adorn us with grace sufficient for the course; the laying on of holy-curing hands gouged with nails, daubed with mud and spit, and stretched over our unbelief to transform it with judgment and the remembrance of mercy.
We see into and inhabit the weak and wounded exceptional space who is Christ our Lord and God ever and again through the breaking of the bread in which we recognise him; we’re able to see again by faith; to love again, to become fully ourselves again. It’s in that place of transformation, in knowing our receipt of it, that we can boast with Paul’s boast when the temporal threatens to overwhelm our vision of the eternal, to obscure the vision for which we are created, how, with Thomas and Amos and Paul, we also are empowered by grace alone and called forth into the hopefulness of the true vineyard to strengthen it in the very weakness of love.
Jesus shows that paradox in himself in Nazareth once more today: “Except [for their unbelief], he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” (Mk. 6:5). This mystery of love is powerful in all its simplicity; it is incarnate in God’s habitation of our nature and forever glorified in the might of passion and resurrection. Not always paths we can follow or ways we can easily understand, but good ways; near ways and sure. Ways that like Thomas and our brother Eric, we have indeed touched and seen and will come to know again in bread and wine. “Blessed are those who have not seen indeed, and yet have come to believe.”
If there is any reason to boast in this holy season, then, it is not through orders or professions, wonderful green shoots that these are; rather let us boast that in Christ our hope and call, we see our God made visible, and so are caught up into the love of the God we cannot see; let us boast that we are each known and loved beyond mortal sight to build up his church as he is calling us, to the ends of the earth. AMEN