The kingdom of God has come near... where?

St Mary’s Church, Thorpe


Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 21) 26th September 2021


Introduction and Call to Worship

Today we hear Jesus telling his disciples that nothing must distract them or hinder them on their journey into the eternal kingdom of God. Let us offer our praise and thanksgiving to God, praying that the words we say and sing and the thoughts of our hearts and minds will be acceptable to the Lord, who is our strength and our redeemer.


Today’s Readings

First Reading Numbers 11:4-6. 10-16. 24-29

When seventy elders are appointed to share Moses’ burden of leadership, they are also given God’s spirit which enables them to prophesy. Moses welcomes news that two men who were not appointed elders were now prophesying and indeed wishes that all God’s people would do so.


Second Reading James 5:13-end

James encourages his brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for one another in faith and to seek healing and forgiveness for their sins also through prayer.


Gospel Mark 9:38-end

Jesus teaches his disciples that the kingdom of God must have first and central place in their lives and they must not allow themselves to be distracted from kingdom work, no matter what they have to sacrifice in order to do that.


Homily “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50)


Last Monday our Parochial Church Council (PCC) met, and we decided after a really helpful discussion that we would bring back-in some of our Covid-secure protocols, as we seek to try and keep everyone safe as winter approaches. Re-introducing measure is not something we relish doing, while at the same time we desire to reassure everyone. Truth be told, sometimes there are moments when we need to rethink our priorities, decide what’s really important to us and reflect on how we want to live. Taking time to reflect, think, study scripture and pray are essential elements of our lived out Christian faith.


This weekends visit by Archbishop Justin Welby to Guildford Diocese, is part of that process of challenge, calling upon each one of us, in church or online, to examine our hearts and priorities and in the light of the Gospel change our priorities. Our Emmaus Course is another example of such an opportunity, to gather with other Christians and seeks to sort out our priorities as we seek to build God’s Kingdom.


So, we find in today’s Gospel reading, our Lord challenges us to think again about how seriously we take his urgent proclamation that “the kingdom of God has come near”. He asks if we would give everything we own, our lives, our hearts, our homes, just to be with him in God’s eternal kingdom of love. Are we willing? For He invites us to think about what prevents us from living kingdom-centred lives and to decide what to do about the obstacles that prevent us from being Christians in every aspect of our being. And His message is stark, brutal and to the point. Jesus tells his disciples that “whoever is not against us is for us”. He is responding to the disciples who tried to stop someone casting out demons in his name because he wasn’t “one of them/us”. Just as we are now part of Inclusive Church, I have to break it to you that the kingdom of God is all-inclusive too! Not a free bar, but everyone is welcome and invited, in all their diversity – our diversity. For our Lord takes a common-sense approach. If someone is acting effectively in the name of Jesus, they’re hardly likely then to oppose or undermine Jesus himself. On the other hand, Jesus utters a dire threat against anyone who actively tries to undermine the faith of “one of these little ones”. Jesus may be talking about children, but his words could also apply to the way we treat new or vulnerable believers, indeed any other person of faith, some of whom may be struggling with their journey through life. We’re not to do anything to make things too difficult or complicated for anyone.


Jesus then tells us three times that if any part of us prevents us living a kingdom life we are to sacrifice that part of us. And it will involve sacrifice if the obstacle holding us back is something we value, with our hand, foot, or eye being metaphors for the harmful habits, grudges or prejudices we secretly, or not even so privately cling to. Jesus teaches that to live the eternal life of God’s kingdom, we must be ready to give everything we own, our lives, our hearts and so much more. So, a bit like poor Archbishop Justin last night at Egham, we are faced with some challenging questions. How do we think about and treat people who are different from us and have different ways of expressing their faith or worship? Do we think we’re right and they’re wrong? If so, we need to humble ourselves and become more accepting of those we are tempted to exclude from our fellowship, leadership or community. Our inclusivity always includes diversity, which is a strength, never a weakness, and at the heart of our Anglo-Catholic living Eucharistic tradition. We have so much to celebrate here, and so much to share with those beyond the walls of this church building – among family and friends, at work and in school – wherever we are.


So, friends in faith, this week as we head into Autumn and the changing of the seasons, I am asking us to face up to a challenge. It is time to identify any aspects of our lives that prevent us from following Jesus and loving God with all our heart, mind and strength. Some of these obstacles may be obvious, for example our words or behaviour that may be contrary to God’s ways of truth and love. But there may be other less obvious things that quietly unsettle our faith and eat into our hearts and minds, taking up space in our lives that could be opened-up to God – negativity, fears, disunity, prejudice and so much more. I know that some are not ready to return to Church and feel safe, but I put it to you that we are doing all we can – it is over to you to trust, to follow our protocols and if able, start attending worship in person, among the faithful.


And then what we take from worship and this community out into our daily lives really matters. That’s why Jesus describes “salt” as good – it seasons, brings flavour. Our Anglo-Catholic flavour is wonderful, enriching, life-giving and it needs to be shared. Yes, we may use our eyes to watch and ears to hear worship, but what about our hearts and the call of Christ upon them? Together we must re-build His Church, the Kingdom today. Only we can reflect honestly on our lives and see the things we may need to sacrifice in order to live a more kingdom-centred faith daily, weekly, eternally. So, let’s heed Jesus’ call to do that sooner rather than later, because the kingdom of God is near!


SUMMARY

  1. Jesus challenges us to think about our lives and what it means to be wholly focused on the kingdom of God, sharing our faith which is salt and light.

  2. We need to be inclusive, accepting all in Christ, even those whose expressions of faith are different from our own.

  3. We are not to undermine anyone’s faith by making being a Christian seem too difficult or complicated. Our Emmaus groups is all about sharing faith plainly.

  4. We are called to give up that which distracts us or worse, prevents us from following in Christ’s footsteps, the way that leads to the Kingdom to come, which is near.


Father Damian Harrison-Miles, September 2021

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