Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Homiley: Matt 11: 25-27

This is a rather tricky passage to preach on, especially if, like me you are a Unitarian.

But what I think the writer of Matthew’s Gospel is trying to say this: that God was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ.

God revealed through someone like you and me.

The technical term for this is Incarnation. An Incarnation as James Martineau saw which ‘is true not of Christ exclusively but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine.’

God, or if you prefer, Good, with us. The distant and unknowable made knowable, the unseen made visible. The Divine revealed to us as and through humanity. God is relatable. God is not distant and far off, but in each and every one of us. And Jesus recognised this too when he contrasted intellectual pride – trying to find God in books and study – with those with a simple, experiential faith.

This relationship – this revelation of the Divine - is recognised by all the great seekers and mystics: this fundamental relationship with God and that God is revealed through all people, in all times. In fact, not just through people – through the whole of creation.

Michael Servetus, one of the fathers of the Unitarian faith, in his book ‘Christianity Restored’ which was published in 1553, put it like this:

God dwells in the spirit, and God is the spirit;

God dwells in fire, and God is fire.

God dwells in the light, and God is light.

God is in the mind, inhabits the mind, and God is the mind itself.

Our soul is a certain lamp of God. It is like a spark of God’s Spirit, and image of God’s wisdom; created, to be sure, but most like that spiritual wisdom and placed within it, having an inborn luminescence of divinity, a spark of that primary wisdom, and the very spirit of divinity. The spirit of divinity is placed within man, even after Adam’s sin, so testifies God himself...

In the very fruits of the earth, in animals, stones, pearls, metals, treasures, springs, rivers, wells, rain, clouds, thunder and lightning, and winds Christ’s mystery was figured.’

God is greater than religion, beyond churches and creeds; beyond race, wealth sex, and sexuality. Even though we are many, we are all one because we all share in the one light, live in the same blessed reality. This just isn’t theology; this is a way of life, a call of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.

It’s when we lose sight of this, when he lose sight of the Inner Light of the Quakers, the Divine Spark of Wesley or the Christ Light of Martineau – not only in ourselves but in others that the problems start. Treating ourselves (and others) disrespectfully. Or,  as the author Terry Pratchett says  ‘…sin, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself.’

Let us seek our own inner light, and seek it not just here in this congregation, but across the street, in faces we do not know, recognising the inherent worth and dignity of all persons, who are all bearers and reflections of the same inner light: recognising the Divine Unity that embraces us all.

I’d like to end with words by the Rev Cliff Reed

Because God is One, Creation is one. Because Creation is one, humanity is one. Because humanity is one, my neighbour and I are one. And, indeed, each of us is one integrated whole participating in one infinitely greater yet still integrated whole.


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Homily for St Elisabeths (9-7-2014)

The other day in Manchester, on Market Street was one of these Evangelical preachers. You know the type, with a sandwich board and little handouts, haranguing everyone. Apparently we’re all off to “hell” in a handcart unless we repent. Of or from what I’m not sure but everyone other than this preacher and members of his church are off to hell.

To be honest, if there are such places as heaven and hell, I think the more interesting people would be in hell. Winston Churchill famously said he’d rather not to go to heaven if it were full of people like Keir Hardie.

What really stuck in my throat was the condemnation by this preacher of other faiths and especially of the amazing ‘Berlin House of One’ – that interfaith house of worship for Christians, Muslims and Jews. A centre of worship, of tolerance, of love.

And it struck me this morning how at odds this preacher was with what Jesus said.

In this reading from Matthew’s Gospel Jesus didn’t send out the Apostles to convert the Gentiles or the Samaritans (the religion not the wonderful organisation). He told his followers to go and find the ‘lost sheep’ and tell them the good news that heaven is at hand. In fact, a little bit later on, Jesus tells his followers that the ‘kingdom of heaven is within you.’

When Jesus preached his first sermon he did so from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring the good news to the oppressed; bind up the broken-hearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to release the prisoners.

But, hang on a minute. That's not how this piece of Isaiah ends. Isaiah 61:2 actually says: 'to proclaim a day of vengeance from our God.' Jesus skips the last line because he isn’t here to announce vengeance. He has a completely different message, and thus critiques his own scriptures. What is his message about then? Love! love not vengeance!

Isaac Pennington, an early member of the Quaker Religion put it like this:

And now this is my desire and prayer to the Lord, and the travail of my soul in his life and spirit; even that those are yet scattered from the fold of rest, that the residue of the sheep of the house of Israel that are as yet lost, as yet scattered up and down in their own apprehensions, conceivings… may be gathered out of all these into the same life, power, and fold of rest, into which God has pleased of his great mercy and tender goodness to gather us.’

To cross over narrow societal barriers and to reach out with love; to touch the untouchables. To go to the lost; the rejected; the lonely; the unloved and the unlovable. And to welcome them home as part of our universal human family. To offer, above all, love.