Evensong 18th June 2017
Luke 11: 14 – 28
Sermon Sunday 18 June 2017 6:00 p.m. Evensong; 1 Samuel 21: 1 – 15; Luke 11: 14 – 28
Amongst all the terrible events and bad news stories of recent weeks, it’s been very moving to hear how ordinary people respond to sudden emergencies – the heroism shown by a number of people at the recent London Bridge terrorist attack, people who put their own lives at risk and in some cases died while they were defending others. And then in this last week the way in which people from many faiths and no faith rallied round to help those caught up in the blaze at Grenfell Tower. It seems the whole community came together very quickly in an outpouring of compassion and practical help.
Thanks to the internet it is now possible to follow much of the detail of extraordinary events of all kinds, both good and bad as they are unfolding. We are brought very close to them through the posts of those who witness them. We have almost immediate access to first hand accounts – more often, sadly, peoples’ disbelief or horror at tragic events, but sometimes also their joy. Some events – and our recent election result would be one example of this, leave people divided, confused, amazed but perplexed!
People also responded to Jesus and His miracles in a variety of ways, and the comments of onlookers recorded in our reading from the Gospel of Luke this evening might appear in our century as a series of blog posts. Jesus has just healed a man who was mute so that he can now speak by casting out a demon. There is general amazement, questioning, emotion and thoughtfulness here. Faced with similar circumstances, we might ask how such a healing is possible; what exactly has happened; was it a trick; is it real at all? But Jesus’ hearers, in a less scientific age, don’t doubt the genuineness of what has happened. Instead they want to know by what power Jesus has healed the man. Is this the power of God at work, or of evil? Jesus answers them with logic; the prince of demons, Beelzebub, is hardly likely to cast out his own demons. But he also points out that this is something they have to decide for themselves. As he puts it “if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Luke 11:20). We all have to decide how we are going to respond to Jesus.
But Jesus also makes it clear that the initial miracle of healing isn’t the end of the story, or even necessarily the most important part. If evil has been cast out, if there has been healing, something positive must take its place if the change is to be permanent. Otherwise the evil spirit may bring seven other spirits back to live in the person who was healed. Many of those whom Jesus healed become His; Mary Magdalen seems to have been a notable example of this. We have probably all come across sad stories of people who manage to turn their lives around for a short time but for whom permanent healing and change does not happen. This particularly applies in cases of addiction where ongoing support and motivation can be crucial.
To use a completely different illustration, I’ve recently been on holiday in Northern Spain. As part of this we spent a few days with some Basque friends who live in a village in the foothills of the Pyrenees. On a visit to another village they showed us several recent major capital investment projects to improve facilities in the village and encourage tourism. Unfortunately, they said, it often happens that capital investment is made without provision for ongoing maintenance, and we saw evidence in a number of places that this was the case. New facilities abandoned because there was no ongoing funding. One-off dramatic investments won’t make a long-term difference unless they are sustainable.
One of this evening’s ‘Gospel blog posts’ reinforces this further. A woman in the crowd makes an immediate and emotional response to Jesus’ words: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you,” she says. But Jesus responds “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11: 27-28).
The miraculous healing may be glamorous and impressive, but Jesus doesn’t court celebrity. Having drawn attention to the coming kingdom of God and His power by His actions, Jesus’ concern is that people should hear the word of God and obey it. This is what He seeks to do in His life and ministry. That involves long-term, persistent commitment.
Churches Together is an example of such long term, persistent commitment. It represents the quiet but obedient and continuing response to Jesus’ prayer that His followers might be united. A recent survey of ecumenism points out that most people involved in Churches Together underestimate both the amount of what they are doing and its importantce. It is certainly true both of Churches Together and of our wider interfaith work that it’s the quiet ongoing building up of trust and relationship which changes things from the ground up. This is one of the things which makes it possible for communities to respond lovingly to those in need at times of crisis – as we have seen so amply demonstrated in this past week.
“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”