Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Sunday's sermon - in case I don't make it to church!

John 2:1-11 Wedding of Cana
(click here for text)

Have you heard the story of the hippy who tries to go to church?

Well, this hippy feels touched by God, so he thinks better go to church
So on the Sunday he gets to church and the person at the door says ‘you can’t come in here, you haven’t got a Bible’, so he goes away and says to God, ‘I didn’t know it was so difficult, better buy a Bible then’.
And so the next Sunday he turns up at church and says, ‘Look, I’ve got my Bible’, and the person at the door says, ‘you can’t come in here with hair that long’, so the hippy is a bit put out, but he really wants to go to church, so he gets his hair cut. The third Sunday he turns up at church and says ‘Got my Bible, had my hair cut..’ but the person at the door says, ‘you can’t come in here without a suit and tie’. So the hippy is a bit shocked and says to God, ‘Mmm, suppose I’d better get a suit and tie then’. So finally, the hippy turns up at church and says ‘Look, I’ve got my Bible, my haircut, my suit and tie, can I come in please?’ And the person at the door says ‘Don’t you get it Sonny – we don’t want your sort in here’. So the hippy goes away and says to God, ‘What have I got to do to get into that church?’ And God replies, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve been trying to get in there for years.’

Hopefully, churches are more welcoming than that, although I did hear a story that was meant to be true, that a Church Warden after a service took the Vicar to one side and said, ‘I saw you talking to that couple after the service, I thought you were quite encouraging them, didn’t think they were our kind of people at all’.

Or a story I know to be true that made me laugh was at my own church, which was in a small town where Rowan Williams owned a house and would sometimes come to church in his lumberjack shirt looking most un-Archbishop of Canterbury like. One Sunday he came to church and sat towards the back next to a pillar only to be met by the Church Warden’s mother who asked him to move because he was sitting in her seat.

Why am I telling you these stories? Well because I sometimes get frustrated with the church – with the difference between the extravagant love and grace of God and the smallmindedness that is sometimes a feature of church.

In this story Jesus turns water into wine, and it isn’t just a small amount of wine, it is equivalent to 750 bottles of wine by my reckoning. Not only is it an extravagant amount but it is the best wine, of excellent quality. Jesus’ first miracle or ‘sign’ in the book of John. However, Soren Kierkegaard who was a 19th century philosopher said ‘Christ turned water into wine, but the church has succeeded in doing something more difficult, it has turned wine into water’.

I suppose I get most frustrated with us, the church, when we want to have some people in, and others out. When we exclude people because of their sexual orientation, when we say women can be priests but not bishops, when we say you have to sign up to a list of beliefs before you are ‘sound’, when we insist on services being in certain buildings or using certain words that exclude others.

It just seems to fall short of the abundance of God’s grace. I wonder how many of us behave differently at church than in the company of non-church people. Do we relax more, or use different language? Do we feel like we need to keep up a mask in church?

My number one most hated phrase, which I hear all the time is ‘Oh, the Vicar’s here – mustn’t swear in front of the Vicar’.. I bite my tongue to not say back ‘why f***ing not?’

There is a true story that I love that for me epitomises church – someone who use to take home communions to the housebound got divorced and remarried and so offered her resignation to the priest. The priest paused for a moment and then asked her if she thought she was perfect before. Let us be realistic, we are all very flawed, but we are all forgiven and loved immensely, we don’t need to hide behind a religious mask.

Jesus and his disciples were always in trouble with religious people, for not fasting, for going to parties, for hanging out with the wrong types, for breaking religious laws, and Jesus was told off for allowing a prostitute to ‘turn him on’. But they had a love of life, life in all its fullness, exuberant grace. And I so want every one of us to have that joy, that inclusiveness, that feeling of abundance, that freedom to be ourselves, warts and all. I want us to follow Jesus and not the religious types who tut and suck breath through their teeth.

Sorry.. this feels a bit like a rant. So what is it that can cause us to not be willing to receive this great overwhelming grace and hence not pass it on? I wonder whether we have the voice of the critical parent in our heads that tells us off.. don’t do that, you shouldn’t be like that, who do you think you are? And I wonder whether we ascribe that negative voice to God. Or perhaps we feel unworthy, like we don’t deserve the love and grace that God wants to pour down on us.

God called you, because he wants you to be part of his church, not the person next to you, he wants you to be you, and not the person you wish you were, the real you. Lets all accept God’s extravagant grace, to be real for it is the real us that God loves, and to pass that grace on, not in small measures but in great gallons of love, joy and grace.

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