RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD IN TIMES OF CHALLENGE

Sermon delivered on the 15th October 2017, the 18th Sunday after Trinity by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes at the Holy Eucharist at St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Isaiah 25: 1-9     Philippians 4: 1-9     S. Matthew 22: 1-14

Phil 4: 5f : "Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."

PREVAILING WITH GOD'S GRACE
In all the challenges of our lives there is a major difference between on the one hand trying to tackle them in the light of God's presence and in His power and grace, and on the other running along bound by one's own concerns and not submitting them to Him. If there is one experience that virtually all of us have in common, that major difference is probably it, felt by each of us, no doubt, in greater or less degree. Perhaps many of us can identify some particular challenge that is or has been important to us. Perhaps also, many of us can think of times that in response to what we have felt was guidance from the Lord, we made a particular decision about it. It might have been a difficult decision, and it might have been personally costly in some way. It might even have been contrary to our habitual ways of doing things. But because it was a decision taken responsibly towards God, we felt a measure of peace about it. Whether or not the results of the action we took in this way seem to be good, we can trust that a greater purpose can prevail in the end through the decision we made. Some of us may be constantly meeting various challenges, or even seemingly the same challenge day after day, and time after time the need arises to make one’s decisions responsibly before God and His intentions, rather than on one’s own.

PREVAILING IN THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE
We must apply this to the Church's mission generally. Over the years we have often considered that it is part of the mission of the Church here to strengthen what sense there is in society of being a Christian community. Now as we know there are serious challenges to this, both locally and from overseas. It is easy for us to apply our own human logic to prove, or at least to assume and to fear, that this is an impossible mission. But then we have to remember that the God we have is the unmatched specialist in the "mission impossible". We just have to reflect on the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus to see how true that is. The evil forces in the world were concentrated upon one point, the body, mind and spirit of the Son of man, who came from God to humanity to lift it up to God. At the point of crisis the body and it can even be said the mind and heart of the Lord were broken, yet it was a challenge that had been God-given and one that the Lord accepted obediently for our sake. As the result of Christ’s responsible decision-taking - and when I say "responsible" I mean answerable (making a response) to a higher authority - it was the purpose of God that in the end prevailed, and not the purposes of evil.

For us to be constant in responsible decision taking, we can hardly do better than to have a constant echo of the prophet Isaiah’s words from our Old Testament lesson in our minds: “O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” Thou hast done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure! If our lives seem to be humdrum or meaningless, or if we contemplate some issue we are concerned about in our lives or others, or in the society we live in, that has taken a turn for the worse, or if we are in mourning, we do well to take some time letting such words sink deeper into our soul. Whatever our circumstances, the deep truth of God is that He has done wonderful things. No matter how uncertain we feel, the deep truth of God is that His wonderful plans are formed from of old, formed from before the beginning of time. Moreover in spite of all of whatever pain and distress we go through, the deep truth of God is that the intent of His plans is constant, as constant as His character, faithful and sure. If this word is in our soul when we take decisions in regard to our challenges, we are sure to take good steps rather than bad ones. We must not look only to the challenge itself: we must look to that which is more constantly present to us than any challenge. After all, if the challenge displaces God’s presence and pushes it to one side, then the challenge has become for us a kind of idol.

The prophet Isaiah goes on to depict God’s faithful plans for his society that was, like our own, threatened with internal and external perils. In the end, the external perils, arising from the world city of a human civilisation that rejected God's will, would prove not to be a match for the eternal plans of God. In the end, the Lord would fulfil His purpose for the holy mountain, mount Zion: there He would host a feast for all peoples, there He would absolutely dispose of death and wipe away the tears from all faces, and there the reproach of His beleaguered people would be lifted. We may not fully understand such expressions: but that does not matter so much as knowing that God will always be God and will prevail over the challenges of our time and our lives.

God may even in our own day grant His forbearance and grace, to give opportunity for the disorder we are challenged by to be restored to the workings of His purpose and plan. So we must ask that even now, the intercession of the Church for the communities of the world may be made part of the Priestly intercession of Christ Jesus to His Father, that they may be restored to reckoning upon His presence, His rule and His grace.

Then, as St. Paul indicated, the things that are true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, of excellence, and worthy of praise will be held up, not for ridicule, scorn and dissembling (as today's television often demonstrates) but for honour and praise. St. Paul shows also that to us as the church, reckoning on the Lord's presence yields a prayerful spirit. "The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

May we make our requests for our lives, our families and our communities, therefore, known to God, and so begin to apply salve to our anxieties.

THE LORD'S IS THE BEST PARTY
Let us remember too that as the Gospel today reminds us, and in agreement with the words of Isaiah, it is God's Kingdom that is the biggest and best party, being likened, as it so often is in Jesus' teaching, to a marriage feast. In this case it was a king who gave a marriage feast for his son. Our Lord used an image whose meaning was not in doubt, and about which there should be no dissembling whatever in the church to this day. Ultimately, the happiest of persons and the healthiest of communities are those who have the strongest reckoning of the Lord's presence. It is those who make light of that, who go wrong and take a destructive path. Jesus’ parable recounts that when the king issued his invitation to the feast repeatedly, “they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” Not only did these individuals isolate themselves from the great and wonderful thing to which they were invited, presumably for the sake of idolising their own particular circumstances, but they seemed to think that there would be no consequences when news of their irresponsibility reached the king himself. For whatever challenges we have, individually and corporately, we only can do well to reckon strongly that the Lord is at hand. In the world crisis that in one way or another is affecting us all, that is our primary vocation.