Sunday, August 19, 2012

A traditional game of pass the parcel.

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.

It’s Tessa’s birthday party
and you’re sitting in a circle
ready to play pass the parcel.
Tessa tells everyone that
 this is a very special game of pass the parcel
 as the final prize is very unique
and very valuable.
Considering that her dad is a billionaire,
you can be sure when Tessa says “valuable,”
she means valuable!

So the game starts
and after about 6 or 7 goes,
the parcel lands in your lap
 just as the tortured strains
of the Birdie Song stops.

just before you take off the next layer of wrapping,
you notice that it looks as if
someone has tampered with the wrapping paper.
 There seem to be some tears in the paper already – big ones!

Of course, you play your part
and take off your layer of wrapping
but, just as the music starts up again,
you notice that the next layer shows
 the same signs of tampering.
Those tears in the paper
may go all the way down
to the box containing the prize.

How confident are you that the special,
valuable prize is still there?
Can it have been stolen
or lost or replaced,
or is it just that the wrapping paper is torn?
How can you tell?


It would not be unreasonable
to lose confidence in this game of pass the parcel.
Your enjoyment of the game is a little tarnished
and the possibility that there is no prize at the end
spoils the point of the game.

What has caused you to lose confidence
in the first place?
Well, surely it is those tears
in the wrapping paper.
They are signs that something isn’t
as it should be.
They break with our expectations.


It is important for us to be able
 to be confident in our Christian belief.
 Every eleventh Sunday after Trinity,
St Paul hands onto us
that which he has received.
This is the blessing of possessing
 the Holy Scriptures as we do:
we are passed a most valuable prize,
 the Good News of Jesus Christ.

However, there’s a little problem with this Gospel.
 St Paul writes in Greek, not English,
so how do we know that the Gospel
has been translated properly?
Of course the translators of the Greek
passed on what they received
and produced the Gospel
in a language we can understand.

They did not tear the wrapping paper!

 They were steeped in the same Tradition
as St Paul and the Gospel writers,
 passing the parcel faithfully.
The prize is still there and intact.

 This is the beauty of our Tradition.
 If we are faithful to it,
 then the Word of God can go out into all lands
and to the end of the world His message.
Yet things aren’t as simple as that.


Every year,
usually around Easter or Christmas,
 there is some archaeologist
or Biblical translator coming in
pushing forward a new interpretation
 of the life of Lord Jesus.

Some will deny that Jesus was ever born;
others will deny that Jesus regarded himself as the Messiah,
and still others will claim
that He married Mary Magdalene,
was crucified and died
without resurrection. 

Whom can we trust?
Are these scholars passing onto us
what they received intact
or are there tears in the wrapping paper?
 Is the prize still there?

We also are faced with the temptation
to change what we believe by making the liturgy
more understandable,
 by taking out the difficult bits of the Gospel
 which others think
are tricky to understand,
are not politically correct or,
to others,
 seem downright offensive.

We are also faced with the temptation
to reinterpret the Gospel to be in line with
modern thinking.

Many Christians do just that and,
 in doing so.
 fail to pass on all that they have received.
Are these all just tears in the wrapping paper,
 or has the long-awaited prize been lost?


Our Lord Jesus says to each one of us,
“Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God”.

 How can we see God
 if we have muddied
the pure, clear waters of our Tradition?
St John tells us that
we shall be like God
for we shall see Him as He really is.
How can we be like Him
if we have completely changed the way we see Him
from what we have received
from the Christians who have gone before us
 in order to make Him fit
our way of thinking?

Can we be sure that our god
is the same God as for all the Christians
who came before us?

It is a fine and marvellous thing
 to hear God speak to us in our society
and in the context of our modern lives. 
It is quite another
to try and interpret His will
to fit our modern thinking and expectations.

Some modern scholars look down
on the thinkers of the past
and give thanks to God
for being more enlightened than they were.
But then. the modern thought trumps
 the thoughts of the past, doesn’t it?

Yet, the Pharisee looks down on the Publican,
and who goes home justified before God? 

Followers of the Gospel of Christ
are convicted of sin by that Gospel,
 but find in that same Gospel
the love and forgiveness of God
in Christ Jesus Our Lord.

In following the Traditions
and the patterns that God laid down for us,
we find ourselves receiving
 the prize of Christ Himself.

It is our duty then to pass
on to the next Christians
what we have received
with care and diligence.
Anything that we add or subtract may be
evidence of hubris and a complete lack of humility
 before God.

If we are faithful to what we receive,
 we will find ourselves
in the presence of the One
 whose Gospel we have spread.
There is no greater prize than that!


One day we shall peel off the last layer
of wrapping paper from the parcel.
What will we find beneath it?

No comments: