Sermon for Last Sunday of Trinity 2017

Sermon for Last Sunday of Trinity 2017


Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-end



I wonder if you’ve ever been travelling with a small child in the back of the car or even just spent some time in their company walking down the road or at a specific place or undertaking something like washing up or cooking with them? And I wonder if they have constantly asked questions?


I remember one particular journey with Gareth and Graeme when they were little and between them they were trying to work out how cars worked.  The questions started quite simply - what makes the car go mummy - petrol - but then they quickly progressed from that to asking questions about the internal workings of the combustion engine and a constant refrain of ‘but why?’ Was kept up all the way with me trying to explain to a 4 year old how things worked and why and gradually losing the will to answer any more questions as there was never going to be an end to them.  ‘It just does’ was my final answer to how the car actually worked.  I had lost patience with my inquisitive child and in the end effectively told him off for asking when all he was doing was trying to understand.


I get the feeling that this is sort of what is happening in our Gospel reading this morning.  We have had many parables during the last few weeks where the Scribes, Pharisees and Saducees have been shown to be authoritarian, less than generous and people who couldn’t see what was written on the wall in front of them with Jesus.  Jesus has held up a mirror to their behaviour and questioned and confronted them to the point where they want to arrest him but cannot because they fear the crowd will turn on them.  They ask him question after question in the hope that they will trick him into saying something that means they will have a legitimate reason to arrest him - this man is only a troublemaker.  They were all fine living the way they were before he came along.  The temple ran really nicely and everyone knew their place.  The money was coming in and nobody dared to suggest they were not learned men of God.  All was well with their world even if it wasn’t with others.  Therefore everything was fine.


Then along comes this upstart - Joseph’s son from Nazareth - a place of bad reputation - a humble carpenter’s son - and yet he starts to preach to them, to show them where they are not listening to God’s will, holds them accountable for the way they preach and judge people, for the way in which they run the ‘business’ of the temple, for the way in which they tread the vulnerable and the poor into the ground and raise up those who should not be given authority and power.  


Sometimes it is easy to take a side swipe at the Scribes, Pharisees and Saducees for all of this and yet I admit to feeling sorry for them too.  They were steeped in the law and learning and thought therefore that they were doing all the right things.  To hear Jesus and to take his teachings on board meant their whole world changing and turning upside down.  You can say the same happened for the disciples but they seemed to accept it more easily even if they continued to ask questions and also never quite understood what Jesus wanted from them.  Perhaps though as learned people trained in the ‘law’ of the Old Testament it would have been much harder to let that thinking go than it was for the humble fishermen Jesus called initially.


So they try again and you can imagine them urging one another on before finally finding someone who will put the question and they ask ‘teacher which commandment in the law is the greatest?’  As lawyers they would have known intimately the text from Leviticus when God speaks to Moses to lay out the law -‘ you shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’ and ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’  Jesus replies with these two commandments - you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.  He goes on to say ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’  Everything of any importance to God can be found and done if you obey these two commandments.


Jesus then turns the tables and asks them a question - Whose Son is the Messiah?  They reply that the Messiah is the Son of David but Jesus entraps them further quoting scripture at them again and asking if David calls the Messiah Lord then how can he be his Son?  And with that he shuts their questioning down.  They are too afraid to ask any more questions because every time they do Jesus shows them up.


In his own way Jesus has done what I did with the children in the car.  He has, by asking his own questions, given them an answer that they cannot come back from.   In some ways it seems to me that he has lost patience with their constant questioning and their constant mis-understanding.  Particularly as he knows exactly what they are trying to do - trying to trick him and find a way to get rid of him.


So what does this all mean for us this morning?  Surely we should be able to ask Jesus anything and we should be able to carry on questing for the truth of our faith throughout our life with no fear of Jesus getting fed up with our questioning, unlike our human parents?  And yet it might seem here that Jesus is not like that.  The difference, however, is to be found in the words of Paul to the Thessalonians - ‘for our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery…….but we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.  As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or others.’


As long as our questioning and our speaking of faith comes from a place of desire to learn how to love our God and our neighbour more then Jesus will always be there to hear our questions and to help us when we find it difficult to speak of or to show God in the world.  The minute we do it for our own ends and to impress others or to trick others into living less of a life than God has wanted for them because we think we have the truth and no-one else does then we start to find ourselves on shaky ground with Jesus.


Asking questions about the world and our faith are naturally inbuilt into us as little children show. It is the way we learn together and we should ask questions of our world, our lives and our faith.  This is how justice comes about.  Perhaps as adults some of us lose that curiosity but we should never be afraid to stop asking questions of God, of one another and of ourselves.


Sometimes the answers are not what we want to hear - God may give us another question back when we just wanted a firm answer and a pathway to follow that would make life easy rather than more complicated.  For example I remember a particular time in my life when I sat and asked God - where are you and why have you abandoned me?  Why can’t you just do x.y and z and then everything would be ok - where are you?  I sat for a long time and eventually all I could hear going round and round in my head was the question - ‘why have you been looking for me in the wrong places?’  It was an uncomfortable question and not an easy one for it meant I had to examine who I thought God was (What do you think of the Messiah?) and also the things, people and situations I had mistakenly connected to God when actually I needed to be living my life in a different way and looking for God with my whole heart rather than just part of it.


I realised a little like Jesus was trying to tell the Pharisees - you are looking for God in the wrong things and putting emphasis on the wrong things.  You are doing things in the name of God for your own glory and not actually for the glory of God.  Working out the answer to that question is an ongoing task and one I have and continue to work through with spiritual companions - those who are gentle with me because they care deeply. Nurturing and respectful.


I wonder if there are any questions you need to ask God this morning?  I wonder if you dare to do so knowing that the answer might not be easy?  I wonder if you did dare how much it would help you to grow in faith and in the love of God, your neighbour and yourself?  I wonder if you need some spiritual companions to help you?  I wonder if those spiritual companions will be judgemental or gentle?  I wonder how each one of ourselves is as a spiritual companion?  I wonder if each of us is brave enough to truly enter in a relationship with God - questing for the truth of ourselves and of the God who loves us even though we remain far off?




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