Sunday Sermon - 17th July 2011

Revd Tessa Stephens

A sermon given by the Revd Tessa Stephens

Our reading this morning seems to offer gardening advice. This something that I need to pay attention to, as Gerard’s recent generous application of weedkiller on our gravel paths has meant that we’ve lost a plant that we intended to keep.

In the reading, an enemy has come and planted weeds among the crop. The slaves realise what has happened and are desperate to rush in to sort the problem out, but the Master has a longer term perspective and realises that they will ruin the crop if they are too quick to try and solve the problem.

What is called for here is patience. We might wish to solve the problem of evil and suffering right away, but if we rush in, we may cause more problems than we solve. Paul also tackles this issue in the reading that we’ve heard from Romans where he talks about the importance of patience.

The parable told by Jesus calls us to wait until the final judgment before we judge one another - when, of course, the judging will be done not by us but by God, - and Paul tells us to endure our current trials and tribulations in a spirit not of frustration but of hope. The opposite of patience; impatience, usually appears as a “righteous indignation” aimed at “those others” who mess things up for the rest of us. Spiritual impatience wants to take action now to make a better world today; preferably by lunchtime.

Jesus and his apostle Paul have good reasons to warn us to avoid spiritual impatience. We can see from history that it has often had unhappy consequences. The history of attempts to create a perfect world here on earth is not altogether a happy one – we might think for example of the suffering of the Russian people under a regime which promised to create a perfect communist paradise with slogans such as “Life is becoming more cheerful comrades” or “Every day life is becoming more joyful”.

Jesus tells us to let the weeds grow so that we don’t damage the wheat. He suggests that it is nor for us judge, since judgement is reserved for God. Paul tells us that we need to be patient when we suffer because we have the hope of victory.

The parable of the weeds

 

Above all, it is sensible to be patient. The popular serenity prayer is a summary of this: “God give me the grace to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” That wisdom is the wisdom of prudence, which is a form of patience.

Without patience, there is a danger of creating scapegoats who are forced to carry the responsibility for the sins of the whole community whilst the rest of us can sit back and feel pleased that we have solved the problem and don't need to worry about the areas of our own hearts that might not be entirely in order. Jesus tells us so many stories that warn against this behaviour - from the woman taken in adultery about whom he says "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone" to the story of the man who sees the speck in his neighbours eye and ignores the plank in his own.

The subject of looking for scapegoats is something that I've been thinking about this week whilst watching the crisis unfold around News International and the Murdoch family. The resignations of two of the most powerful people in that company are a testament to how profoundly shocking the allegations against them were.  Some elements of the press have always used what you might call creative tactics to get stories but the revelations about hacking in to the mobile phones not just of celebrities but ordinary people who were victims of crime have created a firestorm of indignation and demand for change.

So how did the journalists and executives at News International get into this mess? Well perhaps the main reason was a kind of overdeveloped self importance which allowed them to see themselves as being above or beyond the rules and standards that apply to the rest of us. In the News International world it seems as if rules were made to be broken, the police were there to be paid off and the justification for publishing all sorts of intrusive stories was that anything that interests the public must be in the public interest.

But now the story has come out, our politicians are competing to see who can be the most indignant and outraged, heads are rolling daily and Murdoch has taken out full page adverts in today's papers to apologise. A headline I saw in the Guardian yesterday said "Rejoice! Roll on the tumbrils as another News Corp head rolls, with James Murdoch next up". The tumbrils were the wagons that took the condemened to the guillotine in Revolutionary France. I suspect that the comparison with a violent revolution was not accidental.

Its right that the abuses have come in to the open and that those responsible are being held to account for what they have done. But if we apply the lessons of today's gospel to this situation then I think the call for patience is an important one. In the rush to hold wrong doers to account, innocent people are suffering too, for example some of the staff at the News of the World who had no involvement in the hacking but who have just lost their jobs anyway. In this situation, the call for patience seems more important than ever.

Problems that are deeply rooted cannot be solved overnight. There is a need to take stock and reflect. Perhaps in time there will be a new way of regulating the press in this country but perhaps what is needed above all is not so much more rules and regulations which often seem to encourage "creativity" in finding ways of getting around them as a return to the virtues of patience and humility. Perhaps then we might start to see the wheat growing tall in the field and the weeds becoming a little less evident. 

Amen

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Past Sermons
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 22nd April 2012
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 29th January 2012
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 15th January 2012
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 18th December 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 20th November 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 6th November 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 23rd Oct 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for 11th September 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for 14th August 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon for 7th August 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 31st July 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 24th July 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 10th July 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for The Priesting of Tessa Stephens
Webpage icon Sermon - Sunday 19th June 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 22nd May 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 8th May 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon -17th April 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 23rd March 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 3rd April 2011
Webpage icon Sunday sermon - 20th March 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 13th March 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 13th February 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 20th February 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 6th February 2011
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