In The Name of Jesus

Sunday 21st June 2020
Year A, The Second Sunday after Trinity
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Service of the Word
Matthew 10.24-39

We live in a permanent state of optical illusion. When light rays hit our retina, the imprinted image is upside-down and so the brain has learned to flip the image so that it is the right way up. The same phenomenon may apply to our understanding of society. When we look at our world we generally construct a pyramid hierarchy of need and of loyalty which puts ourselves and our families at the top, with our local community in the middle and the wider world at the bottom. This is natural, we say to ourselves or, this is common sense.

But Christianity is not a religion of common sense, exemplified by our founder who had no common sense at all. He told his audiences that they were to rank following him above family and that following him meant caring for the poor. I should say at this point that, contrary to much ill-informed commentary, most of his hearers would have been well aware of the social justice required by the Book of Deuteronomy on such matters as gleaning (refer to the Book of Ruth), debt regulation and remittance and the treatment of strangers and exiles, such that its liberality was not surpassed until the 20th Century in any society that called itself Christian; Strange, that!

Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow him. Our cross is not casual benevolence; it is sacrifice. What Jesus was calling for was a set of behaviours much wider than that set down in The Law; justice was no longer subject to a set of stipulations but had to be core to living, even if that meant impairing family interests.

This idea of inverting the common sense pyramid is startling enough to us in normal times but it must seem even stranger during this period of lock-down when we are more aware than ever, partly through separation, mostly through fear for those we love, of the value of the family.

I think it is only fair to say that we have got so far down this road that a complete turnaround is near unimaginable. Long before this crisis broke out we were a country of the family although we have to be careful to point out that this is a human, not an English, characteristic; but in our case an obsession with privacy - an Englishman's home is his castle - has compounded with family to produce a society of introverts, unaware, it seems, that the price of privacy for many is loneliness. It has taken this Pandemic to uncover the huge amount of loneliness in our community and, even now, after four months, there are still many lonely people we do not know about. In such circumstances, it is even more difficult for us to imagine ranking poor countries above our own; but we should still remember that even if we think charity begins at home we should also acknowledge that it doesn't end there. 

So, if it is too difficult for us at this time to follow Jesus to the letter, we should at least put community welfare on a par with our private family interests.

Here are some big questions with a Christian dimension:

There is, too, an underlying question which has haunted me for years. Hardly a day goes by without somebody calling for more funding to be spent on mental health issues, to put it on a par with physical health; but my question is: Why is the mental health of our nation deteriorating? Or, to put the matter the other way round, what can we do to improve society's mental health? Granted, some conditions are physiological but, even then, they are frequently caused by the ingestion of pollutants; but most of what goes wrong is caused by terrible socio economic distortion, the measurement of worth by reference to wealth and the systematic degradation of the poor who lose self-esteem. An increasing amount of research shows that people behave the way in which we expect them to, so if we treat them well, they will behave well.

Put bluntly, society needs a great deal more Jesus: both our imitation of him and our enthusiasm for communicating his good news. Just imagine if we treated everybody in the way Jesus demands; and just imagine if everybody we know is aware that they will never die!

Well, it's time to stop imagining and get going. This is the time to make a new start. Bolstered by our private joys near the end of this lock-down, we need to be brave in the public sphere in the name of Jesus!