30 May Sermon: Easter 4 (Year C)
Many years ago John Bell of the Iona Community wrote a series of short ‘playlets’, Eh… Jesus. Yes Peter…? Dialogues between the apostle Peter and Jesus. In the one called A Serious Question Peter is reporting that the disciples have been displeased by Jesus saying that they should become like little children; that there was no place for them in the Kingdom unless they did.
Jesus asks Peter how he would describe children.
“Eh…they’re naïve…innocent…harmless, I suppose…oh, and a bit wet sometimes!”
“…innocent, harmless, wet…Peter, how many kids do you have?”
“Jesus, thanks to you I haven’t seen my wife for three years. But at the last count we didn’t have any.”
“Then the quicker you have some, the better. You’ll soon see that they’re not innocent, naïve or harmless. Anyone who thinks differently must have nappies over their eyes.”
Jesus goes on to remind him of some of the children they have met, after which Peter concludes, “So, to be like children we should be happy, trustful and generous.”
“There’s something else,” Jesus replies. “Do you remember the crowd of men who surrounded me wanting to ask me very intellectual questions? …Do you remember who came through the crowd?” “You don’t mean the wee girl with jam on her face?” “I most certainly do!”
“Do we have to get jam on our faces to get into the Kingdom of Heaven?”
“No – but think of what her mother said when she came to take her back… she said, ‘I’m sorry, mister, she’s awful curious.”
“Jesus, is curiosity one of the things we should learn from children?”
Jesus responds with a very definite “YES!”
To get into the Kingdom we need to be curious – but how does that play out in real life?
As a community we are doing some work with a facilitator, and she is encouraging us to be more curious. We all have different ways of seeing things, different temperaments, and different cultural backgrounds. When people disagree with one another, the usual assumption is that we are right and therefore they must be wrong. Instead, she is encouraging us to be curious and to ask: ‘Why might they think like that? And to ask questions like, ‘So, how do you see whatever it is? What does this mean to you? We will learn a lot and be the richer and wiser for it – and the unity of the Community will be stronger and deeper.
‘Be curious’ – and be curious about our faith. We take so much for granted, and therefore so much remains unexamined and superficial.
“‘tis mystery all…” we sing in John Wesley’s hymn. With our limited human brains, we will never understand completely, but if we are curious, we can explore the Mystery. The words we use are familiar, but in them there are great depths to be plumbed.
Take the last sentence of this morning’s Gospel reading from the Gospel according to John, for example. “The Father and I are one.” In what sense are they one? How curious are we to know what Jesus – or the evangelist – intended us to understand by that brief, enormously pithy statement?
Later, in the same Gospel we hear Jesus praying for us to the Father:
“I ask not only on behalf of these [his disciples] but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their words [and that includes us!] – that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us. … The glory [the essence of the divine nature] – the glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.”
When we stop to ponder this – if we are curious about the amazing mystery we are caught up in – the questions will come tumbling in: How? Why? What does it all mean? Is it really true – in real, ordinary everyday life? What are the implications for my attitudes, for the way I live and the way I relate to others?
Jesus continues his prayer for us: “Righteous Father, I have made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them” – and remember, it is John who describes God as ‘Love’: “God is love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them.”
Jesus is praying that the God who is ‘love’ may be in us, that he himself may be in us. Are we curious?
And then there is St Paul: “It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.” And he develops this in words that have become so familiar: “We are the body of Christ.” ’t is Mystery, indeed! To become one as Jesus and the Father are one, with the God who creates the vastness of the Universe dwelling in us, closer than the air we breathe.’
I haven’t read it yet, but Delia Smith’s latest book is not about cookery but about how we can begin to make sense of all this – what to do with our curiosity as the scientists, philosophers, theologians, musicians, and poets reveal more and more about the deep truths of God, Creation and our part in it all. Though she has sold many millions of cookery books, she had a hard time finding a publisher to take this one on, as she tries to go behind the familiar language and imagery of the Scriptures, Liturgy and hymns – most of which comes from many centuries past – and encourages us to ‘be curious’ about the awesome complexity and wonder of our life, caught up as it is so intrinsically in the life of God.
St Athanasius, writing in non-inclusive language, says of the incarnate Christ: “He became man that we might be made God.”
It’s mind-blowing, but I reckon that’s worth being curious about!