Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sermon Preparation Matthew 18

It is a detail from a 14th Century illuminated manuscript. Set within the Capital 'C' the artist has set an image of the last supper. Everyone is there, held within the circle, and at the bottom, marked with the dark 'halo' is our friend Judas.

I say 'our friend' because there is the dark side in all of us and in contemplating this image I have also to recognise myself and those traits that I would not like to admit to the world - or for that matter to myself.

Then, if I take this on a slightly different tack and see in this image an icon of the community that is the church, our friend Judas is the one who makes us see the church differently. Is the church better without Judas or does it need him? Judas is that awkward, wayward, destructive presence at the table - do we put up with him or urge him to leave? The fact is that community life would be more comfortable without this destructive presence - but he would leave a gap. It may be that the test of Christian community is how we put up with the one who seems to be destructive. It may be that this is also the one from whom we learn something ... the one whom strangely and uncomfortably ... we need.

All of this of course is all partly by way of sermon preparation - the gospel is Matthew 18 tomorrow with its guidelines on how to manage conflict in the church. I suppose it may be reassuring to remember that the early church surely had its problems and the provisions of such guidelines, as much as the presence of the dark-haloed one in the letter C, are a reminder that human nature has remained remarkably constant over time.

I had hoped to have done the sermon much earlier than this but Friday turned to custard and my plans to attend the conference today on the New Atheism have had to be abandoned.

But this is not just a matter of sermon preparation it is also about my friend X who frequents the cathedral and is frequently a disruptive presence. X can appear intimidating and of late his behaviour has become unacceptable as others don't feel safe or comfortable under his tirades. He is largely unable to amend his behaviour. It can't go on: so I look at the letter C and feel uncomfortable as I accept that this seems to be one of those moments when I must set a limit on the scope of our community and effectively remove someone from the table.

Our circle will be broken ... we will be less.

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