A sermon preached by the Revd Aaron Kennedy on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Hosea 11:1-11, Revelation 3:14-22, Mark 12:28-34
Let me take you back to New Year’s Eve 2020.
It was about 11pm,
and I was lying in bed contemplating the past year
and feeling rather depressed.
I had spent a good part of the year working my socks off,
trying to be a better person.
I had created some rules for my life,
that had me doing the right kind of exercise every week,
eating the right food every week,
spending enough time on family relationships,
getting rest, fun, and retreat in good measure,
sleeping well, spending my money well,
etc, etc, etc.
I even made sure I was praying enough.
And my great hope was that by the end of 2020
I would be fitter, happier, more productive.
It was like a real-life version of the Radiohead song Fitter Happier.
And those of you who are fans,
will know the song does not end well.
And neither did my experiment.
As I lay in bed on the eve of 2021,
the sense of failure was profound.
I had strained every sinew of my heart, mind, soul and strength,
to be fitter, happier, and more productive.
And I had failed.
And so I prayed.
Dear Lord, how did I get it so wrong?
Why can’t I change my life for the better?
Why am I so stuck in this rut?
God didn’t waste a moment in replying to my prayer.
Not with an audible voice,
but with an image.
And it was that of Martha and Mary.
Many of you will know the story,
but in brief it is this.
Jesus had dropped in to visit his friends Martha and Mary at their house.
He didn’t text to let them know in advance,
so while he rested Martha began preparing the food and drinks,
and doing all (and possibly more than) her culture demanded
to honour their esteemed guest.
Mary, however, sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him.
And Martha wasn’t happy about this.
She came to Jesus and asked,
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?
Tell her to help me!”
In Martha’s defence,
it was traditional for the women to do the cooking
and Mary was bucking this trend.
Jesus’ reply to her also bucked the trend.
Rather than admonish Mary, he said,
‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;
there is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part,
which will not be taken away from her.’
You are worried and distracted by many things.
There is need of only one thing.
This hit me like a ton of bricks.
In all my scheming and planning and strategizing,
I had forgotten that I needed only one thing.
And that with that one thing in first place,
all the other things would be given to me as well.
As Jesus says, strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.
And so I resolved then and there
to try to give my full attention to Jesus in 2021.
Now there were several obstacles to this.
And they needed to be dealt with.
Sin of various kinds,
things that I unknowingly gave pride of place to
in my heart of hearts.
And even now, as God gradually uproots and destroys those sins,
my life begins to open up, and I enjoy more and more
as St Paul says in Romans 8
the glory of the freedom of the children of God.
And it is this glory and freedom, that I want to be my last word,
here at St Mary’s Battersea.
Now, as you will have noticed from my story,
I didn’t initially see what was missing from my life.
And I didn’t have a strong conviction of sin.
It took a moment of grace
for me to begin to see my life as as God saw it.
To see the mess that I was really in,
and be convicted that my sin was not only not good for me,
but it was not pleasing to God.
I see this now as God’s judgement of me.
Now, if you’re anything like me,
the mere mention of the judgement of God,
has an effect that is similar to finding all of a sudden
that you are sitting on a sharp stone.
It is not a comfortable topic for us at all.
The passage we heard from Revelation
has a famous image for God’s judgement on the church in Laodicea.
However, before we get into that
there are four things you need to know about the city these christians lived in.
One, it was a very prosperous city.
The governors had in fact refused the offer of aid from the Roman senate
in rebuilding after a severe recent earthquake.
Two, since it was a wealthy city,
there were many who were used to dressing well.
To wearing clean, white flowing togas to keep them cool, and stylish.
Three, the city was famous for its medical school
which produced a renowned eye medication
that sold all over the Roman world.
And four, astonishingly, they didn’t have a local supply of fresh water,
but brought it in on an aqueduct from hot springs six miles away.
This, understandably, made the water warm, and gritty.
It was neither hot – which had therapeutic value,
nor cold, which would have been refreshing to drink.
So it was good for nothing. Lukewarm.
And so you can imagine that the uninitiated visitor to Laodicea,
on fisrt tasting the water there
would likely have spit it out of his mouth.
And so Jesus’ judgement on the church in Laodicea
reflects some of these local realities.
His main problem with them is that they are lukewarm.
Under the influence of the dominant prosperous roman culture around them,
they have lost their heat, their enthusiasm, their dedication to Christ.
If they, like the water supply to the city,
had been cold they would at least have avoided the sin of hypocrisy.
As it was they were lukewarm
– ticking all the right boxes, doing religion well enough,
but lacking a burning heart of love for God.
But they don’t realise this.
They are unaware of God’s opinion, his, judgement, of them.
They believe themselves to be spiritually rich, morally upright,
seeing the truth – wise and insightful.
Jesus takes issue with each one of these assumptions
and gives them his own perspective.
Rather than being spiritually rich, they are in fact dirt poor.
Rather than being clothed in clean white garments of moral purity
they are in fact totally naked, and unaware of the shame they should feel.
And rather than being full of the light of truth, wise and insightful,
they are spiritually blind,
fumbling in the dark and utterly lost.
Poor, naked and blind.
This all describes my own experience many months ago,
when, in a moment of grace,
I learned to see my own life as God sees it.
Receiving that judgement from God on New Year’s Eve 2020
was like the lancing of boil,
and ever since God has been washing, sterilising, and bandaging the wound,
which is beginning to heal.
No, it was not a happy moment,
but it was a life-giving moment, and hopeful moment,
that opened up a new horizons in my soul.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me.
I don’t think I’m in any way peculiar.
All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
All of us, if we have ears to hear
are given the grace of the judgement of God,
and all of us are called to a life of holiness,
a life that brims with the glory of the freedom of the children of God.
If there is one verse in all the Bible
that encapsulates the idea of holiness,
what the life of a disciple is meant to be,
it is the one that Jesus gave in his answer to the teacher of the law
in our Gospel reading this morning.
Love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
There is nothing lukewarm about this verse.
This verse is running hot, hot, hot!
Too hot for most of us, I guess.
If we stop to think seriously about it
and avoid dismissing it as merely hyperbole
it really is a very tall order.
If I love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, what’s left?
What part of me is left free from God,
free to do what I please,
and have my own little Kingdom, separate from God’s?
Nothing. At all.
If you’re anything like me you have realised this,
and consciously or unconsciously, settled for less.
This was what hit me like a ton of bricks on NYE 2020.
God wants all of me.
And only when I give him all of me
can he bring me to the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Anything short of that is lukewarm.
Anything short of that is compromise and mediocrity,
and not the point of life as God intended it.
As I take my leave of you today I wonder
are there any here who like me
have gotten to a place in their lives
where you feel so mired in mediocrity,
so weighed down by old habits of body and mind,
and so far past the end of your own resources
that you are willing to give God another chance?
Because Jesus didn’t come to save the healthy, but the sick.
Listen! he says, I am standing at the door, knocking;
if you hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne,
just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.’
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