Sensible middle way…or sticking with things as they are? Sermon for Adel Parish church 5th July 2020.
Matthew 11: 16 – 19, 25 – end.
Goldilocks was hungry. She tasted the first bowl of porridge.
“This porridge is too hot!” she exclaimed.
She tasted the second bowl. “This is too cold,” she said.
So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge.
“Ahhh, this is just right,” she said happily and she ate it all up.
I’m sure you know the story…I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that Goldilocks belonged to the church of England. She seems to like the middle way…nothing too extreme.
A book I often dip into is Richard Giles’ ‘How to be an Anglican’. Looking at our approach to the bible, prayer, sacraments…he describes Anglicanism as ‘the middle way’. Between seeing the bible as literal truth at one extreme or useful moral stories at the other…between seeing the Eucharist as the actual body and blood of Christ or just a special remembrance of Jesus.
I rather like the idea of being the church ‘in the middle’, so I can sympathise with the crowd in today’s gospel.
John, with his strict, lifestyle and his uncompromising call to repentance, was too stern for them. Lighten up – they said – be part of the world – dance to our tune.
But when Jesus came, ready to dance…making every day a feast or a party…as long as everyone was invited…they struggled with that too. It seemed a bit too relaxed…they just wanted a middle way.
But if we look closer that’s not quite how it is. John and Jesus are preaching the same gospel…the kingdom of heaven is near and to engage with it you need to change.
John calls to people who have forgotten their need of God: telling them God’s kingdom is coming; sternly reminding them that being ready for it requires hard work…turning away from selfish worldly values. Jesus is the one who brings the Kingdom – but it looks very different to what people are expecting. Accepting it needs a serious change of perspective.
Perhaps the people rejecting both John’s harsh call to repentance and Jesus’ message of extravagant welcome and love, aren’t really looking for a middle way – but hoping to stay more or less as they are…because for most people, that’s the easy way.
The problem with taking either John or Jesus seriously was that it changed lives. Both pushed people into uncomfortable places…not of extremism…but of taking the gospel seriously. A place that required hard work and change.
And as usual the same challenge is there today. The challenge of spotting the difference between a valuable Anglican middle way…and the easy way of keeping things as they are. I think there are two issues facing the church today where we have to accept that change is needed, and there’s hard work ahead.
The first is how we emerge from this pandemic.
It’s forced us out of what we knew…forced us to be church in very different ways. We’ve been inventive and creative in our response. It feels in Adel that although we’ve lost much, faith is growing and flourishing, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Online worship is a wonderful opportunity for those who physically struggle to get to church each week. It’s been a way for the curious and nervous to tentatively engage with faith. It can’t replace worshipping together in our beautiful, holy building. But is it something we should try to hold on to in some way?
People have stepped out of their comfort zone to help lead that online worship. How do we maintain that increased lay leadership?
As things ease, there’s talk of ‘going back to normal’. But this is surely a time to be brave, to risk following our radical saviour, to dare to change. It’ll be a challenge though, and holding onto new ventures may mean letting go of some other things.
The second challenge facing the church, along with the whole country, is the realisation of how racist our society is…the question of our response to this. Have we confused taking the middle ground for hanging on to the status quo – because the alternative was just too challenging.
I look at lists of statues which upset people…not just slave owners, but the founder of scouting, explorers, greatly loved Prime ministers. I look at groups claiming to be protectors of those statues, but who are clearly just looking for violence. I think…there must be a middle way.
But although we probably do need a compromise on the question of statues…we can’t let one issue distract from the need for a radical change in the way people of colour are viewed and treated in Britain today.
I suspect the crowds listening to John and Jesus really wanted to welcome God’s kingdom…and be part of it. But perhaps they were scared of the change needed, or couldn’t face the task they saw ahead of them.
Both our reaction to racism, and our response to what lockdown has taught us, will need courage and commitment. They’re not easy, or comfortable. For most of us the easy route is the status quo. But we are followers of Christ.
There are challenging, and exciting discussions ahead about what ‘church’ looks like post-COVID. Please pray for our PCC as we begin to tackle them. Please get involved in the discussion – speak to me or someone on the PCC with your ideas. One or two of you already have – thank you.
I’ve begun to take seriously my ignorance on matters of race. I’m reading and listening. It would be good to do this in the company of others from the parish…not because we’re overtly racist, but because like many others, we’re waking up to how damaging the status quo is for many people.
I’ll be starting some discussions…do consider joining…contributing…helping this parish to be a small part of the change so long overdue.
And when this seems scary as well as exciting, remember Christ’s promise…when we are weary or heavy laden – he will share our burdens and give us rest.