Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Today’s Readings

Psalm 19: 7-end, Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29, James 5: 13-end, Mark 9: 38-end


Then Jesus said to John and to his disciples, “Whoever is not against us is for us”. Words we have just heard from the Gospel reading for today. Carolyn and I have just spent a few days away on the Isles of Scilly, perhaps not the easiest place to get to in this ‘package holiday’ world we live in, but as those who have been will testify, for escape from modern day living, no theme parks or MacDonalds, and for wonderful light, and clean air they cannot be bettered, in many ways life’s simplicity at its best. It is to some extent simplicity that I wish to reflect upon today. I know that in Melanie’s sermon last week she touched upon the churches Five Marks of Mission, two of which are ‘To proclaim the Good News of the kingdom’ and ‘To respond to human need by loving service’. Two messages that I am sure would have been echoed by Jesus over two thousand years ago and as he was telling John in our Gospel reading, that whoever was spreading the ‘good news’ that he was teaching…. ’is not against us’. All of which on the face of it is very simple and straightforward. Now let’s move forward to today, and look at our three main faith groups, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, all of which religions worship the same God, albeit the God of the Old Testament, and all of which teach love and compassion for those in need. Of course, if we were to stick to the simple basics of our faiths it would be fine, but over the thousands of years these faiths have developed, humankind has stamped its own doctrines and teachings on these religions. Today we have only to look at Afghanistan and what we hear and see the Taliban are doing in that country. Their leaders hold to the fact that they are simply applying Islam as they believe it is laid down, perhaps much as the Pharisees did when they challenged Jesus and his ways. Iran, as well as other Muslim countries are still very restrictive in what they allow. Perhaps before we jump up on our ‘hobby horses’ too quickly it is well to remember that there still remain sections of the Anglican Church which are less than keen on female ministry and completely against any form of diverse sexual orientation within ministry. Indeed, if things had gone more favourably for old Henry VIII, we might still have remained Roman Catholic with the Pope as our religious leader, then we would probably be without a vicar altogether, and certainly not a lady vicar. The latest independent report on all religious organisations in this country has highlighted how far short we fall from those basic Christian and other religious principles of love, care and compassion. We have in so many cases over years simply got it wrong and, in many cases, tried to sweep things ‘under the carpet’. Jesus’s warning in our Gospel reading is also very clear, “If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” If you accept God’s protection and provision, you tie yourself immediately with God’s people, with care for them and responsibility for them. We have all been given a share of God’s saving and healing power, not just Bishops or Vicars, Readers, Churchwardens or PCC members, but every single one of us. If we as believers and followers of Christ take on that path in a simple and straightforward way, then I am sure our journeys end will be more than rewarding. As Mother Teresa once said, “It’s not about how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts”. Finally, when away on one of the islands in Scilly, someone came by with a bag which had this quote from Rabbi Hillel the Elder, “If not now, when? If not you, who?” Sometimes we make things more difficult and complicated than they need be, and faith can be one of those things, and it is true that at times rules and regulations can be there more for the benefit of man than of God. Yet if we can ‘day by day’ hold on to those simple principles of loving our God and loving our neighbour, whoever that may be, and of course, caring for God’s great creation, our world, then I believe we won’t go too far wrong. Amen Michael Tonkin