"A warm welcome for all"

St Mary’s Church, Thorpe

Fifth Sunday after Trinity – 4 July 2021

Introduction and Call to Worship

Let us prepare ourselves to take part in today’s service not as distant spectators, but as a people who have come together to meet with the living God.

Today’s Readings

First Reading Ezekiel 2:1-5

Ezekiel was an exile in Babylon along with many of God’s people. God had given him an incredible vision of divine glory and, in our reading, goes on to call him to be a prophet.

Second Reading 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Paul is concerned about false prophets leading the church in Corinth astray with their boasts of great spiritual experiences. Paul says he could brag about even more incredible things than them but thinks it folly to do so.

Gospel Mark 6:1-13

Jesus returns to Nazareth, where he was brought up, but he does not receive a warm reception.

HOMILY “He was amazed at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:6)

What does it mean to be inclusive and how can we further our mission that all will be welcome in this place of prayer and fellowship?

In the case of today’s Gospel, Jesus was preaching in his hometown, Nazareth, where he had lived since childhood – remember how he was from the household of a Carpenter, so it is possible his family were well-known. Even though we might expect this to mean he was received back with warmth and enthusiasm, he experiences prejudiced from some in the faith community. Perhaps his words of challenge were too poignant for them – they cut too deep? Jesus, the son of a carpenter, is now teaching like a Rabbi? Some in the community may have remembered something of his birth: perhaps in their eyes he was the illegitimate son of Mary, the woman who had got pregnant out of wedlock, indeed some scholars have suggested this is why ‘they’ refer to Jesus as “Mary’s son” and not Joseph’s - even if Joseph had passed away, the norm was still to address a boy as the son of his father. If this is so, then their words should be understood as something of an insult. Jesus knew rejection in his life, he knew what it is like to be judged for things about yourself you can’t change, and he spoke out, with today’s Gospel relating the faith leaders and synagogue’s lack of inclusive welcome - a lack of faith; “And he was amazed at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:6) This last passage implies that some have a lack of faith and consequently “Jesus could not do any miracles there.”

If we read on in the Gospel, our Lord goes on to teach his disciples about their call to mission, and he sends them out in two’s. “He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”” (Mark 6: 10-11). The disciples witnessed our Lord’s rejection in the synagogue and then, when being sent out immediately afterwards to preach in pairs, they were taught how to respond if they were not made welcome, by shaking the dust off their feet. How would we welcome those disciples today?

Living in the 21st century, we strive to be a Church family that is always inclusive of everyone, that is generous in every possible way, that is joyful and full of courage, inspired by the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus Christ for all. And that means we should not discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, gifts, talents, or sexuality – any grounds. As the Americans would say, “Period.”

Interestingly, in Paul’s new Christian communities, outsiders are invited in without requirements. For Paul, that was the radical nature of God’s grace, there are no hoops to jump! Grace drives out all requirements, for through Christ Jesus we become reconciled into his body, the Church and not because we ourselves are holy, by doing good deeds - “the works of the law”—but by grace through faith.

But even greater than faith, says Paul, is love. “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13) For Paul, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). Indeed, the great command of Jesus to love trumps the law every time, it is the command given by our Lord to his disciples at the last supper, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 34-35)

Friends, we find ourselves today in similar circumstances to the first-century church, when regrettably some choose to judge others rather than love, and those on the outside 9and the devil) use our petty divisions as a way of claiming we are irrelevant. Today the Church of England seems divided by holiness requirements, that if we are honest, can be used to justify division, and cause some to be rejected. In other words, a harsh or blunt application of scripture can stand in the way of full acceptance of all people, which is counter to the call of Jesus, whose primary command is to love all. It is 10 years since we came through a very rocky period as a Church and since then, as we have sought unity among ourselves, and here at St Mary’s Church we have sought the full inclusivity of all, perhaps most poignantly marked by Mother Jo being among us, a woman called to the equality of priesthood.

Unlike the faith community in Nazareth that rejected Jesus, his inclusive teaching and miracles, my prayer is that we may be truly receptive to Christ’s ‘Word’ to us, which calls upon us to be inclusive of all, to be a church which celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate. And that we may be willing to repent of the times we have failed to include, to love and to serve others. We can be both inclusive and remain scripturally faithful, recalling a new generation to our biblical roots, while we seek to proclaim the Gospel afresh in each age. And, as our own church website reminds us, we seek the discernment of the Holy Spirit in all things, leading us into truth and allowing us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Jesus Christ is for all people.

Our church Vision statement reminds us that ‘We offer a warm welcome for all’. As we begin to emerge from the Covid-19 Pandemic, welcoming all into a relationship with Jesus whose very nature is love, must be our priority. Therefore, I am recommending to Thorpe PCC at our next meeting on Monday 19th July, that St Mary’s Church affiliates with the national organisation known as “Inclusive Church.” Nearby parishes including St Paul’s Egham Hythe and All Saints Woodham have already taken this step and they too share our catholic tradition. So, I believe it is time for St Mary’s Church to join the national organisation that speaks, within the Church of England and beyond, truth to power, and stands for the inclusivity of all. If you would like to talk this through then do get in touch and of course, share your thoughts and ideas with any of our PCC members.

Father Damian Harrison-Miles, July 2021.

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