Holy Trinity Lamorbey
17th June 2004
What Jolly Fun!
I wish I loved the human race;
No doubt at some time or another you’ll have come across this little ditty by Walter Alexander Raleigh (1861-1922) entitled ‘Wishes of an Elderly Man Wished at a Garden Party, June 1914’ or even if you haven’t, you will have felt like the author, whether it was at a garden party, strap-hanging on a broken-down train in the rush-hour, or in the Waiting Room at Outpatients where, having dutifully turned up for an appointment at 9.30 in the morning you’re told at mid-day that ‘Dr Foster has just rung in from Gloucester to say that unfortunately he’s been delayed at a meeting and cannot see any patients today.’
We seldom admit, even to ourselves, that our disposition towards our fellow human-beings is anything other than radiantly sunny and sanguine, day in and day out. If we’re honest however, the truth is that though we like some people enormously, and dislike a few with equal intensity, our attitude towards most fellow-beings wavers between indifference and mistrust. How can we know for certain that the person we can hear coming up behind us in the street isn’t intent upon doing us some mischief? And we know, don’t we, that the unknown voice on the end of the phone, from the moment she opens her mouth, is going to try and sell us something, be it double-glazing or insurance?
St Luke’s account of the healing of the Gadarene madman is a striking example of such attitudes. He sounds to have been a pretty terrifying example of humanity, often stark naked and making incomprehensible noises day and night without ceasing . Now, one might expect that the locals would be only too glad to have him cured, and grateful to Jesus for making this possible. But it wasn’t – not a bit of it! They were afraid… and the whole multitude besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear.
What were they afraid of? Well, judging by St Luke’s account, the miracle had been an unusually dramatic and spectacular one, which might partly account for their fear; but my hunch is that what they were really afraid of was the new relationship that they realised that they would now have to build between themselves and the former demoniac. Hitherto they’d either ignored, despised or perhaps made fun of him as a sub-human creature. Now he was standing in the midst of them clothed and in his right mind – every bit as human as they were!
Worse still, Jesus, as he departed, gave this man some sort of commission (or ordination) to be their spiritual leader. ‘Return to your own house and show how great things God has done for you’, were his parting words. And St Luke goes on to tell us that ‘he went his way and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done to him’. How many parishes, one wonders, would even consider welcoming a priest who had a history of emotional instability, however long ago, however brief or mild?
Think about it for a moment. As long as he was suffering from his affliction they knew where they were – at least they knew where he was: whether in the tombs, in the wilderness or chained up with fetters in some secure place – it didn’t really matter. They could get on with their lives in the comfortable knowledge that they didn’t have to bother about him except on those occasions when he had broken loose. But now everything was different: he’d become "one of them".
It’s something like this which scares people of today from having anything to do with God and his Church. Becoming a Christian involves having to relate immediately to a crowd of unknown people, some at least of whom we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves.
For God, by His very nature, loves this world and each one of its individual inhabitants in a way in which we do not naturally love all our fellow-men. He is Love, and he ‘loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son that whoso believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ Worse than that, He tells us to love them too: not just the ones we happen to like, not only our neighbour, but especially those who are of the household of faith..
That creates a whole raft of problems, between us whom God has been saving for some time, and those in whom His work of salvation is only just starting. For salvation necessarily involves bringing us all together in God’s Church. So when a newcomer finds his way into the presence of Jesus Christ, sooner rather than later it will involve him or her accepting, and being accepted by, an entirely new circle of people. No matter how hard they, or he, tries, experience proves that there is always an awkward "honeymoon period" in that relationship. Listen in to the following sort of things which people typically say to each other:
‘When I went to church for the first time nobody even spoke to me.’
‘I went to church for the first time and people I’d never met before were all over me.’
‘I wonder who that new couple were at the back. They didn’t seem to have much of a clue.’
‘I didn’t like the way that new couple seemed to behave as if they owned the place.’
‘I do think that those young mothers should keep their children under better control.’
‘I do wish people wouldn’t look so disapproving when my kids misbehave themselves.’
Well you can no doubt give other examples of the difficulties that afflict both Newcomers and Old Hands when they first come together in Church. The truth is that we human beings are diabolically complicated beings. Even if we know how we ought to behave towards strangers, it’s difficult, to begin with, facing the challenge which either presents to the other.
Following Christ is not, and has never been, easy. However, unless we grasp the rudiments of being Christ-like by learning on earth to love those whom he introduces to us here, we shall never enjoy God’s heavenly kingdom – where we shall continually find ourselves making new acquaintances.
As St Paul wrote concerning the many different people, often mutually antipathetic, people who made up the Galatian Church ‘As many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ The difficulties of Lamorbey are the same as those that faced Galatians.
Facing up to them needs the grace of God to acquire, working in us over a whole lifetime, and perhaps longer. But just imagine how wonderful it would be if we became so God-like that our immediate reaction on being introduced to someone new, (for example one of God’s Saints in heaven) were genuinely to be, ‘What jolly fun!’
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