Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 6 September 2020.
• First Reading: Exodus 12: 1-14 (The first Passover – to be observed in all generations)
• Epistle: Romans 13: 8-14 (Love is the fulfilment of the law. Let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light)
• Gospel: Matthew 18: 15-20 (Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven)
There is a difference between solitude and loneliness, love and desire, living and surviving, listening and hearing, perceiving and seeing.
In each case it is the difference between actively engaged and being reactive or just passively present. One draws on our sense of being part of something while the other is remote, distant and even detached.
I suppose that for me the difference between these things was in school games, for as one with no hand-eye or foot-eye coordination and no interest in any kind of ball game then each time I was there was a time to be endured before the reality of the world was re-engaged.
The plea that ‘It is only a game’ never really cut much ice. Rather, for many, the game was God or more important that God.
It was a rather strange take on the nature of life and existence.
But then our lessons give us something else.
First of all, there was the Passover, ordained by God and instructed by Moses. But it was still a household celebration. It was for the family and in the subsequent laws of Israel, it was the youngest person of all who was accorded a special place,
Here the youngest was as active a member of the household as anyone else, and there was none of the old ‘Be seen but not heard’ routine.
Not only that but every member of the household was precious to God. The babe in arms was the future while the head of the household was the source of order and strength.
No member of the household was to be neglected or excluded, and it is perhaps in the light of this that we can appreciate St Paul’s understanding of and commitment to the church as a body of organs and limbs, of senses and functions all held together by the headship of Jesus Christ.
And this was not a purely temporary arrangement. It was to endure for all generations.
In eternal terms, it was the model for the sacrificial death of Jesus and is the basis for our celebration of the Eucharist today.
But it started as a command of God and was for the nation of Israel, to be observed family by family.
Then there is Paul’s understanding of love as the fulfilment of the law.
To be devoted to God and to serve Him in serving the neighbour was always going to fulfil the law of Israel. The washing of hands and the maintenance of personal and social hygiene was for the protection of the community, and should never be burdensome.
If anything it was going to be a daily celebration of faith in the Lord and service to Him in the practical things of daily life. Each moment could become a moment of love and of worship.
Take the Lord out of it and it would become drudgery and vain repetition. Meaningless compliance with no heart or mind.
But Paul takes it further by saying that outward compliance is never going to substitute for a heart that finds its meaning in its commitment to the person of Jesus, as it put on Jesus like a cloak.
An outward covering that provides personal warmth and protection, consciously adopted and received. An attitude of being that finds itself only within the life and being of Jesus Himself.
In the gospel, Matthew given us some aspects of the love of the community of faith.
It is not only the procedure to be adopted when a member of the church is openly and clearly acting contrary to their own faith and that of the church.
It is also there as the community gathers in faith and commitment.
Jesus does not put a lower limit on access to Him in prayer. Even two people praying together are a gathering whose hearts are open to Him and whose prayers are heard before Him.
It is true that the gathering is to be in His Name – in His presence and in accord with His purposes.
This is a gathering that believes and trusts in Him, despite all circumstances and personal misgivings.
It is a joining of purposes when all else may be dark and forbidding, when the outlook is confused and threatening and when others doubt or even ridicule their faith.
In these days when so many feel isolated and vulnerable, this is the time to draw close to the Lord and to one another.