Sermon for Pentecost 12C – 28th August 2022

Proverbs 25:6-7; Ps 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

R S Thomas

The Kingdom by R. S. Thomas 

It’s a long way off but inside it 
There are quite different things going on: 
Festivals at which the poor man 
Is king and the consumptive is 
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look 
At themselves and love looks at them 
Back; and industry is for mending 
The bent bones and the minds fractured 
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get 
There takes no time and admission 
Is free, if you purge yourself 
Of desire, and present yourself with 
Your need only and the simple offering 
Of your faith, green as a leaf. 

The Kingdom” by R S Thomas

By all accounts R.S. Thomas, the Welsh clergyman and poet who was born a little over 100 years ago and died 20 years ago at the age of 87, was a miserable old so-and-so whose life appeared to be full of paradox. He was a fierce defender of Wales and the Welsh language and yet wrote his poems in English. Like Wordsworth, he was inspired by nature and the land and yet in his work, but was not very positive about the people who lived and worked on it. He married an English woman and sent his son to an English boarding school although he despised England and the English and when in his 70s he wrote his autobiography in Welsh, he entitled it Neb meaning nobody and referred to himself throughout in the third person as the boy or the rector.

In his poem “The Kingdom” which I read just now, he breaks each line before the end of the sentence, which makes it tricky to read. The result maybe underlines the paradox of the Christian life: we await the coming of the Kingdom (like the end of the sentence), anticipating it, but not quite seeing it …

Luke tells us this morning about a parable that Jesus told whilst receiving hospitality from a leader of the Pharisees. He’d noticed two things about the gathering – how, perhaps with the honourable exception of himself, those present were the great and the good and also that they all jostled for places of honour at the table. So he told them the parable of the wedding banquet. 

Jesus’s parables aren’t generally studies in social manners. So this parable isn’t really about how to decide where to sit at table, when you’re out for dinner and there isn’t a seating plan, nor is it really about who to invite to your dinner parties though it does have implications for both these things. The parables of Jesus generally illustrate aspects of the Kingdom of God. So this parable tells Jesus hearers that the way that God values each of his beloved sons and daughters isn’t by the same standards that the world uses to value people.

If we assume that we’ll have an exalted position in God’s Kingdom, as a result of what we think isimportant, we might be in for a shock, as we find that our Host gives the place of honour, that we’ve assumed is ours, as a result of pride, to someone that we’ve overlooked, to someone that we didn’t give a second thought about, to someone who seemed to us to be of little or no importance.

R S Thomas wrote that as a priest he “moved in unimportant circles, avoiding, or being excluded from the busier and more imposing walks of life.” He claimed that the critical praise he received for his writing was due to “a small talent for turning my limited thoughts and experience and meditation upon them into verse.” Despite having a “small talent“, he’s often ranked among the most important Welsh poets of the 20th century.

Since I was ordained, I’ve been blessed to work amongst people that’ve welcomed and nurtured me. In that time, I’ve learned a great deal from clergy but more importantly from congregations, that is from each of you, whether or not you knew that you were one or my teachers. But that’s the point of the parable, R S Thomas, +Mark, Simon, and I don’t by virtue of our ordination have a special place in the Kingdom. We, like each and every one of you, and also all those who we encounter in the streets of our towns and villages and on buses, on trains and in shops, are welcome at the wedding banquet where honour is based not on worldly status but on the criteria of God’s Kingdom.

We get some idea of what those criteria might be from Jesus teaching. Today, Jesus pretty bluntly calls on those around him to renounce self-righteous pretensions and humble themselves before God and to show love to all. The Kingdom of God isn’t an exclusive club for the pious, it’s open to all, no matter what their status in society, no matter what possessions they have, no matter what they may have done, no matter what they look like, no matter what their race or colour, no matter what.

Or as the book of Proverbs and the Letter to the Hebrews put it:

Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Jesus taught His disciples that they should share their resources and excess with others so that they don’t starve or become ill and are properly clothed, love enemies, bless those who curse them, pray for those who abuse them; if someone steals their coat, give them a shirt too, give to all beggars, and lend with no expectation of repayment. The Spirit anointed Jesus (and us) to bring good news to the poor, release of the incarcerated, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.

Wealth and position are a blessing when shared and used for the betterment of humanity, but we mustn’t confuse privilege with blessing.  Individually and collectively we need to remember all this when during the coming autumn and winter, many in our communities including teachers, nurses, civil servants and others that aren’t usually thought of as in need of food banks and other assistance, won’t be able to afford the rises in the cost of living and will need whatever help they can get.

The Kingdom as R S Thomas put it is:

… a long way off, but to get 
There takes no time and admission 
Is free, if you purge yourself 
Of desire, and present yourself with 
Your need only and the simple offering 
Of your faith, green as a leaf.

The Kingdom” by R S Thomas

 Amen.

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