Sunday, 23 November 2014

What makes Jesus cringe?

Address given at Kinnitty, Shinrone & Aghancon on Mission Sunday, 23rd November 2014, the last Sunday before Advent year A, 

This is Mission Sunday.
It is the day each year when the Diocesan Board of Mission appeals to us to give generously to the good causes it supports. But it is also an opportunity for us to think about what we mean by mission, and why it is so important.

The word ‘mission’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘sent out’, but I think it is really more about ‘calling out’.

In the past people thought about mission mostly in terms of sending out missionaries to foreign lands to convert the heathen savages. But the reality of mission is very different, certainly these days. Mission is not so much about sending out missionaries to make converts and grow the church, but much more about calling out all Christian people to reveal the Kingdom of God to our fellow human beings, wherever and whoever they may be.

As Christians, Jesus calls us all to continue his ministry by making the kingdom of God visible. But how are we to discern what it is that we should actually do? At the Mission Evening in Adare ten days ago Salters Sterling suggested an excellent answer to this question.
In order to discern where Christ is calling us to mission, we should look about us to find places where people are suffering the kind of injustice that would make Jesus cringe.
And then of course we should work together to do something about it.

Today’s Gospel, the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31-46), can help us to see where to look.
Jesus is teaching his disciples when they are alone with him, he is not speaking to the crowds. He tells them, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory … he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. … Then the king will say to those at his right hand,
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you …
for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
And when in their surprise they ask when they had done this, the king will say to them,
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Jesus was accustomed to refer to himself as the Son of Man. Here he uses the imagery of divine judgement to teach his disciples what they must do to be blessed by God and accepted into his Kingdom - they are to comfort and support even the least member of God’s family who is in any kind of distress or trouble.

And God’s family is inclusive. Every human being is made in God’s image, and hence is a member of God’s family - whoever they are, wherever they live, whatever they look like, however they worship, whether they are friends or enemies. Every person is our neighbour, and Jesus commands us to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

So you and I, as Jesus’s disciples today, must take his call to heart. Where we encounter any kind of injustice, injustice that would make Jesus cringe in Salters’ words, Jesus calls us to do something about it, to shine something of the light of God’s kingdom on it. We too are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the prisoner. If we do so, we will be blessed by God and inherit the Kingdom. If we do not, we are accursed.

This is why mission is so important to us as Christians.

80% of our Mission Sunday collection will once again go to Luyengo Farm in Swaziland.
Swaziland is a place where people really are suffering injustice that would make Jesus cringe. It is one of the poorest countries on earth, with more than a quarter of adults infected by HIV, and all the problems of orphaned children and families headed by children that go with that.

We can feel proud as a diocese that since 2011 we have raised nearly €60,000 for Luyengo Farm. The Farm is a success story. When we started there was nothing but bear earth, now it is producing carrots, lettuce, beetroot, pigs and other commodities, for sale in Swaziland and South Africa. This provides local employment, and the money raised supports AIDS relief and feeding stations run by the Diocese of Swaziland.

Our efforts have helped the Diocese of Swaziland in a very concrete way to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and educate Swazi children. We have opened a window to let the light of God’s kingdom shine through, and we are blessed by it.

Now the Board of Mission is calling us to make one final effort to meet our diocesan commitment to clear the debt incurred to build the reservoir – they need just €5,000 to do so.

The other 20% of the collection will be returned to the parish for local mission work.
Why is this? The Board of Mission is seeking to encourage parishes to look about them in order to identify and support a project in our own communities which will shine the light of God’s kingdom on people in our own communities who need help.

Heaven knows, there are enough people here in Ireland that are suffering injustice that would make Jesus cringe:
·         People who go hungry because their money does not stretch to the end of the week, and children who go hungry to school in the morning.
·         Homeless families in B&B accommodation, or sleeping on friends’ sofas or in cars.
·         Travelers and immigrants who are not made welcome and suffer discrimination in shops and pubs.
·         People whose naked bodies are exploited for profit and pleasure in the sex industry.
·         Frail and lonely elderly people confined to the house with few if any visitors.
·         Patients waiting on hospital trolleys, or on endless lists for under-resourced public health care.
·         Refugees for whom living in direct provision for years on end feels like imprisonment.

If we address their needs, we do the same to the Son of Man and we will be blessed. If we don’t, we deny the Son of Man and we are accursed. Which of us would wish to be judged for not responding to their needs? So what are we going to do about it?

Most of us, I’m sure, already give generously to local charities. But this question, ‘what are we going to do about it?’, is one we need to talk about within our parishes. We need to seek creative answers, as for instance people in Tralee have by establishing a Soup Kitchen & Food Bank, and people in Kenmare have with a very successful Men’s Shed.

We Church of Ireland folk can sometimes feel discouraged. ‘What can we do?’, we say to each other, ‘we are so few and dispersed’. But we do not have to do it all by ourselves. God’s family is inclusive. When we begin to do things we will probably find that we are doing it with people of good will from other Christian traditions, from other faiths, and from no faith. And we may hope that what we do will reveal something of the kingdom of God to them as well.

So to finish, let us respond as generously as we can to the Diocesan Board of Mission this Mission Sunday
If we usually pull out a note from our wallet, let us make it a bigger one. If we usually put a coin on the plate, let us make it two.

And I pray that we will also start the debate within this parish about where and how we are being called to make the kingdom of God visible, where and how we are being called to mission.

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