Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 11th October 2020
Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:12-14,19-20; Matthew 22:1-14
Feasting is an important aspect of life in our churches. It is one thing we do very well, whether it be the All Saints Dinner at the Town Hall, the Harvest Supper, the Lent Lunches, our special lunches for Candlemas and Ascension Day or our Christmas Bar at St Peter’s. Holding these special events gave us a reason to issue invitations to people to. This was until March a very important aspect of parish life, and we hope to be able to return to it.
That aspect of parish life has had to be put on hold. At present we cannot even offer the most basic and cherished aspect of hospitality: coffee and biscuits after Mass. How difficult this is, as personal interaction is so important, especially for those of us who live alone; fellowship is a key part of church life.
We follow the example of Jesus, who is recorded many times in the gospels having meals with various people in different places. The Pharisees complained that his disciples were always eating and drinking and that he ate with tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus did so deliberately because to share a meal with someone was a signal of his acceptance of them.
During my eighteen years in ministry, I have been continually thinking of ways to bring people together, to create community in increasingly individualistic times. As one lady at Winterton used to say ‘Fr Adrian keeps coming up with ideas to drag us away from our television sets.’ It is frustrating not to be able to think like this, to be pro-active and creative in creating events for the immediate future.
However we must be thankful that we are still able to gather at the altar, the eucharistic table. That invitation can still be given out and taken up; the invitation of the Lord to come unto him all who are over-burdened and heavy-laden.
Some of our restrictions have brought advantages. The Diocesan Synod currently meets via Zoom. Instead of 100 vehicles guzzling fuel to drive across Norfolk for a meeting, we all stayed at home. These virtual meetings are increasingly used, along with other aspects of home-working. There has been some comment about how we should approach them, and complaints about people attending formal meetings in pyjamas or scruffy clothes. The way we dress and present ourselves says much about how we regard the person we are meeting whether virtually or in person. It is good to keep up standards. It proves that we still value and respect the other person and that what we are doing with them is important.
The man at the end of the parable who got the dress code wrong and was thrown out of the banquet might seem to have been harshly treated; having been brought in at the last minute, how could he have had a chance to change? Some scholars suggest that we should treat these as two parables that have been joined together over time. This man has disrespected his host, by not bothering to dress appropriately for an important occasion.
I heard recently about a special occasion where three generations of a church-going family were celebrating significant wedding anniversaries, among them the grandparents celebrating their diamond wedding. Three ministers from the team each gave a couple a blessing but the oldest couple were mortified to see their minister dressed in a shorts and a t-shirt with a stole flung over it. It showed them how much their church had changed, and not for the better. Their relationship with that church was never the same.
We should take care over both our external and internal appearance. St Paul tells us to put on Christ, as we would a garment of clothing, to dress ourselves in him, that we may be smart on the outside and equally presentable on the inside. The outside and the inside should match. If we have really put on Christ then we are dressed properly and are ready for anything.
It is not easy in these times to be hospitable, and we must inevitably be prepared for more restrictions to return, I fear. It is always important that we do not just lament what we can’t do, but think about what opportunities we actually have. We can use this time to see how well we are dressed in Christ, and ask ourselves if there is more of him that we need to put on. We can continue to display his hospitality and valuing of others by reaching out to other people with care and concern.
In God’s economy nothing is wasted. One who realised this most especially was St John Henry Newman whose feast day we marked on Friday. He wrote: “I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”