When I Needed a Neighbour
1 Jn 3. 17-18 ~The church of St Cliques
A ‘tongue in cheek’ look at how the congregation of St Cliques of Closed Shop Lane treats its visitors. I sincerely hope there is no church of that name in Great Britain, and certainly no congregation like this one!
The congregation are seated, facing the audience when in wanders Mr. Down-on-his-Luck! He is given three books and two service sheets by the steward at the door. He looks around for a place to sit, and decides to sit next to a lady called Mrs Fortesque-Smythe, who soon moves right away from him because he is scratching himself. She moves others along so that she can sit further away. They also begin to scratch. The itch travels all along the line to Mrs F-S!.
In comes the vicar and the service begins. They all stand, sit, kneel; sit, kneel, stand etc., in quick succession; obviously one person must lead, so that the others can keep in time. Mr Down-on-his-Luck tries to keep up with them but ends up totally confused. They sing a song as in the style of Mr Bean’s “All Creatures of our God and King”, (two verses only). No-one helps the visitor to find the hymn, and he only finds it as they come to an end. However he does try to join in with the final Alleluia, but keeps singing -ia -ia -ia before they do. The collection plate is then handed along the line, with Mrs F-S making a big show of the note she puts in. The others are suitably impressed. At the end of the line Mr D-o-h-L takes out the money thinking it is for him. No-one notices. The reading is James 2, verses 1-5 read by Mrs F-S followed by the sermon*
Vicar:- (All the congregation are extremely interested apart from Mr D-o-h-L who gradually falls asleep on the shoulder of the person next to him).
My text is taken from Luke 6:20b. Christian ethics in the disciplined reflection upon the question, “Who are the poor?” in our text and its answer. The point of departure is neither vague nor neutral. It is not the common moral sense of humankind, but the distilled ethical wisdom of the ages and of the philosophers. The methodical significance of Schleiermacher’s and Barth’s analysis of Christian ethics is that both started from a common orientation in the Reformation conviction that God’s redemptive action in Jesus Christ is the formative fact of Christian ethical reflection, AND both arrived at a recognition of the insufficiency of philosophical ideas! The insufficiency of philosophical ethics is that specifically and formatively ethical factor cannot be given rational generalisation; and without the possibility of rational generalisation, philosophical ethics cannot give interpretative structure to the ethical situation. The semantics of the matter are inconclusive, but the proleptical, historical sense of the significance of the church was informed by Old Testament memories and tradition.
BUT I AM AN OPTIMIST! (Mr D-o-h-L wakes up at this point, and begins to take notice but the others start to drift, as the sermon takes a more simplified form).
I can truly say from my own experience that the advancements in social awareness in the last decade means that there are no longer poor people in our nation! In the past twenty years in my parish, I have never spoken to anyone who does not have a job or a comfortable home! I have never met with anyone who was hungry either. I have never been invited to have a meal at a home of anyone who had nothing to eat! How could it be otherwise? You will no doubt be familiar with the words from Ancient and Modern:-
We are His flock, He doth us feed,
And for his sheep he doth a STEAK!
So is there no-one who is poor? There must be somewhere. After all our Lord himself said, “The poor will be with you always.” If we look closer we find the poor people are HERE in church (pause). We are the poor! No-one is poorer than the Church of England these days. This explains the amount in the collection plate each Sunday…… So what can WE, as the poor offer the world?
(Congregation wake up and Mr D-o-h-L gradually dozes off again. Mrs F-S beckons to the church warden to remove him to another seat away from her.)
All we can offer is our faith, to communicate the simple, ordinary, straightforward message of faith, the salvivic context of atonement, justification of faith and the eschatological dimension of Christology. This simple message is of fundamental importance and should not be lost sight of. But while not overlooking the possible simplicity of this explanation, we must not overlook the insidiousness of materialism! Indeed we must beware of demythologising the paradigm that the Lucan Christ propounds in this pericope. The vital, urgent message for the church to proclaim is that church people must beware of marginalisation and insularity through disingenuity and lack of resonance!
NOW GO IN PEACE TO LOVE AND SERVE THE LORD.
All: In the name of Christ Amen.
The vicar leaves and waits at the door to say “Good Morning” to each person
First person to leave: Good morning vicar, thank you for yet another wonderful sermon on love.
Vicar:- I shall see you later Phoebe.(He leers at her) (She exits)
Ah good morning Mrs Johnstone. And how are you?
Mrs Johnstone:- I’m really not well at all, not since my husband’s accident. I’ve been so depressed.
Vicar:- Jolly good show. And the kiddies, how are they?
Mrs Johnstone:- It’s hard to make ends meet, it’s hard to feed them all.
Vicar:- Will we see you next week?
Mrs Johnstone:- If I’m still here!
Vicar:- Jolly good, jolly good (Exit Mrs Johnstone)
Oh, and who might you be?
Mr Down-on-his-Luck: Someone who ‘ad to come in out of the rain, for a bit of warmth and comfort.
Vicar:- Well, I hope you found it, eat plenty, build up your strength. I wish you well. Good morning! (ushers man out).
Oh hello Mrs Fortesque-Smythe! How wonderful to see you again, how are you?
Mrs Fortesque-Smythe:- A little peeved vicar, especially when I saw that man sitting in my pew this morning, very near my seat.
Vicar:- Oh, how dreadful, how awful, what happened then?
Mrs Fortesque-Smythe:- I had him removed of course, by one of the church wardens …..a most undesirable character!
Vicar:- Who? The church warden?
Mrs Fortesque-Smythe:- No, no, the man who sat in my pew. A scruffy looking man, …… fancy coming to church dressed like that!
Vicar:- How distressing.
Mrs Fortesque-Smythe:- Yes, and I won’t be coming back if it happens again!
Vicar:- We’ll do our best to see that it doesn’t happen again.
Mrs Fortesque-Smythe:- See that that is so, good-day Vicar!
(Vicar smiles at the audience: gets out a feather duster and dusts pews, sprays aerosol around and goes out pleased).
*my thanks to the Revd Steven Orange of Sunderland (a fellow student on N.E.O.C) for the research that went into a sermon of this depth.