Thursday, 5 April 2012
Unity and Harmony with all people, not just tolerance
(A sermon given in Newham, East London)
First of all, I would like to thank everyone for allowing us to participate in this amazing church in this amazing community. Newham has shattered many of my preconceptions; far from my idea of it being hostile and unwelcoming, we have been welcomed by wonderfully warm and friendly people. The diversity has been really positive; I far prefer this diversity to where I came from, Herefordshire, where committed Christianity was probably in the minority and other religions and cultures were almost non-existent. On this joyful day of Palm Sunday, celebrating the entrance of Jesus into His Kingdom and celebrating the coming of His Kingdom right now and today, to be fulfilled in the future
On a dry, dusty road coming up to the Mount of Olives, in the heat of the sun, Mary and the other friends of Jesus stood with Him, resting under a large, old tree. She could barely believe Jesus this time. He had told two of his friends to go into the village ahead of them, where, apparently, they would 'find a colt, a donkey, tied up that has never been ridden', which they were supposed to just untie and bring back to them! What Jesus was up to this time was beyond her...
He had kept talking to them a few days ago about how He somehow 'had' to be killed in Jerusalem, but, again, she had had no idea what He was going on about. Neither did the disciples; they'd been talking about it amongst themselves and had come to the conclusion that Jesus must have only been talking about a danger of Him being killed.
Mary, however, was sceptical about the disciples' ideas. Jesus indeed had appeared deadly serious when predicting His rejection and death, and, whenever He discussed it, His eyes had seemed to glisten with tears. Maybe He indeed would be killed, although Mary couldn't bear to think about this possibility; she just wished that Jesus, who must have been the most amazing person that she had ever met, would turn round and stay in the safer villages. Why was He going to Jerusalem if He knew that it would result in His death?
Mary knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the promised King, with all His wisdom and His wonderful miracles. However, for a King, He behaved very strangely. He wasn't demanding, He didn't dress in expensive clothes, He welcomed the poor more than the rich, He cared little about having money or possessions, and He was far from indifferent to the wrongdoings and sufferings of others, but, far from being aggressive and angry, He would calmly demolish the arguments of self-righteous people by His words. Mary rather appreciated this new style of Kingship.
Just as she had been contemplating to herself, the two disciples came back, clearly exhausted, leading a small, dusty but happy, donkey. Jesus and the other disciples quickly gathered round, leaving Mary struggling to see from the outside. What was Jesus going to do now?
Incredibly, the exhausted disciples said that they had found the animal just in the right place, and, although some people had asked them why they were taking it, no-one stopped them. Even more incredibly, Jesus walked over and sat on the animal, which was not exhausted in any way, and seemed suddenly delighted. It immediately began walking at a fast pace along the road, almost knocking a few of Jesus' friends over on the way. Jesus let out a deep, joyful chuckle.
Mary was startled, and speechless. A King wasn't meant to come in on such a humble animal! Jesus had really made his point this time... He really wasn't going to be what everyone thought that he was going to be. His very presence brought peace and joy and harmony amongst His followers, and it seemed as though even animals realised His importance.
He was amazing: He accepted everyone who came to Him humbly: He never maltreated or shouted at a woman, although He would often argue with arrogant men such as the Pharisees. He was always accepting of women. Gender was no cause for division or excuse for harsh or inferior treatment in His Kingdom. Just because someone is male or female does not mean that they should be treated differently, for there is no male nor female distinction in value in God's Kingdom.
He accepted those who disagreed with each other on the condition that they would be humble enough to work with one another as brothers and sisters. We can and should accept differences in doctrine and opinion; what is more important is that we love and work with one another.
Jesus welcomed and had special compassion for the disabled, and some of His greatest words were said to the poor and those who struggled under oppression from others. Clothing or smartness or cleanliness or disability or amount of money that a person owned were no reason for harsh treatment, and God has special concern for the poor. Indeed it is the poor who are amongst the most blessed by God, for Jesus turns the world's way of doing things upside down.
Jesus also particularly accepted those on the fringes of society, those who were hated because of crimes that they had committed (such as the tax collectors whom He ate with) or because of disease (such as the lepers that He healed). Forgiveness of those who have wronged a community or a person is a massively important part of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus opened His Kingdom to all races and languages and nations, wanting them to love one another as He had loved them and intending that they be living in complete harmony with one another. Nothing at all, not race nor ethnicity nor nationality nor where you live nor age nor doctrine nor politics nor gender nor amount of money owned should be allowed to divide us from one another, or cause one person to be treated worse than another. The unity that there should be within the Church, regardless of denomination, is a key theme of the New Testament and in Jesus' teaching
As Jesus was carried by the donkey along the road, excitement began to grow. All the disciples were united in praising God, young and old, male and female, of all financial backgrounds. They allowed nothing to separate them from one another. They were like brother and sister, passing each other large palm leaves from the nearby trees. Mary joined in, passing a few more to some of the children who were there. Like a sea of joy they waved their palm leaves and cried out, 'Hosanna'. Even though the religious authorities began to grow jealous, the disciples allowed nothing to spoil their unity and harmony and joy in worshipping Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, God Himself in human form. Mary was the most joyful that she had ever been in her life!
What an amazing model this is for us today!
How wonderful it would be if we could be this united together and in harmony with one another, and with other churches here in Newham and across the UK and the world!