Lay Reader Ann Robinson preached the Sermon this Sunday
The reading that we heard from St Matthew’s gospel this morning comes at the end of a chapter where Jesus is setting out the directions for the disciples to go and preach the Kingdom of Heaven, heal the sick and drive out demons. He then goes on to tell them that they will be like “sheep among wolves” and will be persecuted. Hardly an advert for an easy life! Nothing to make you want to sign up! Jesus did not promise an easy life either for the disciples or for us.
But Jesus states that there will be great rewards for even the smallest good action, a drink of water, nothing huge but very necessary and it shows kindness. Here he is speaking of hospitality but not as a one-off as love is not a one-off! Jesus doesn’t give us a script but we speak through the way we show love to those we meet. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked how it was that she could continue to tend the sickest and most wretched of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, India. She said that as she looked at each person for whom she was caring she tried to imagine that she was tending the Lord Jesus’ wounded body – His nail-scarred hands, feet, and side. A hard thing to do.!
When Jesus sent the disciples out, He told them that they were doing God’s work. In Jewish law there was what was known as the principle of Shalia. If a nobleman sent a representative it was as if the man himself was there and should be treated with the respect deserved. Much as ambassadors of other countries are treated here. Any kindness shown to the disciples was shown to Jesus and so to God and likewise the opposite! The disciples were not out to sell themselves but to show the love of God.
The picture given is not one that encourages sign up! The world was and often is a hostile place but in the service of Christ there are no undercover agents and there is no blending in. It calls for active service and to be on the front line. It is not easy and we are often distracted but we can make that journey.
Our journey with God can be likened to a labyrinth. A labyrinth is different entirely to a maze. A maze is deliberately confusing whereas a labyrinth is a meandering path to the centre. The pictures on the screen show the labyrinth on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France It was often used as a symbolic journey to Jerusalem and was walked as a pilgrimage, a journey searching to be nearer God. If you print the diagram out and follow it you will find that there is one way in and out but the path meanders, a questioning and searching journey in the hope of coming nearer to God. Often you are further away from the centre but need to keep going to eventually reach the centre of complete love.
We are all on a pilgrimage, searching for something. Huston Smith in Phil Cousineau’s book “The Art of Pilgrimage” states “The object of a pilgrimage is not rest and relaxation—to get away from it all. To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life.” That is what we are asked to do as Christians; challenge everything we do and say. Perhaps some of you have watched the series on television about groups of people who travel one of the old pilgrim ways such as the Camino de Santiago, the way of St James. The groups are very disparate, some committed Christians, some of other faiths and some of none. But the effect of the pilgrimage on most of them was amazing and even those who professed atheism were profoundly affected by the faith and holiness encountered. We all have the need to find a deep love beyond ourselves and it is that love which Christ offers each one of us.
But once you have found the love at the centre of your life you have to return to the mundane world and give out that love to everyone you meet. We can’t scare people into the arms of God but we can love them there. Maya Angellou who wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings states: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel”.
During the last few months during lockdown, I have received incredible kindness often from unexpected sources and I’m sure many of you have found the same. In most cases the actions have not been huge but so necessary to making life easier. Many have commented on the hope that this will continue when we are back to our usual busy lives and that is the responsibility of all of us. Christ needs the saints and those who do great things. But he also needs those who show their love in creating welcoming homes, the hands that care for those many would find unlovely, the hearts that show Christian love. Robert Browning wrote in “Pippa Passes” ‘All service ranks the same with God’. No act done in the name of Christ is too small.
We are all ambassadors for Christ with all that that entails, the hostility which the world can send our way, but the reward is the great love of God which is ours for the accepting. The pilgrimage continues throughout our lives as we move ever nearer our God. Stephen Cottrell once a canon at Peterborough and now Archbishop-elect of York went on the 700km pilgrimage to Santiago and wrote in his book “Striking Out” about his journey:
“Why are you walking, oh why are you walking? What is the reason and where is the way?
To learn how to stop, is the reason I’m walking, the reason I’m leaving, to learn how to stay. Oh why don’t you join me and we’ll walk together, each step a blessing and each road a way.”
Let us pray:
Lord, help us to walk in your way, to walk together and to find your peace and love. Amen.