231022 Pentecost 21 Exodus 33 12-21 Ps 99 1 Thessalonians 1 1-10 Matthew 22 15-33
+In the name of God, Source of all being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we welcome Cursillistas who are in Grafton as part of a special regeneration weekend let me tell you a little about Cursillo. Cursillo is a movement within the Christian Church, that focuses on helping each person to discover themselves, their relationship with Christ and with others. Christians are empowered to grow through prayer, study and action and are enabled to share God’s love with everyone. Following the Spanish Civil War at the end of the 1930’s a pilgrimage to the shrine of St James in Compostela was arranged in order to encourage the Christian faith in young people and help change their damaged society to one that was fully centred on Christ. Leaders of the pilgrimage were prepared through short courses, called Cursillos, which improved their knowledge of faith, leadership and the organisation of the pilgrimage. The usefulness of these short courses has continued and spread world-wide as a way of encouraging people to understand and live their faith. More information on Cursillo in our Diocese can be found on the Anglican Diocese of Grafton Web site under the heading “ministry”.
When we consider the bible readings for today, St Paul’s letter could also have been written to encourage all of us. Saint Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was written to strengthen their faith and to give them the assurance of Christ’s return. Thessalonica was the capital and largest city in the Roman province of Macedonia.
The most important Roman highway extending from Rome all the way to the Orient went through Thessalonica. This highway along with the city’s thriving seaport made Thessalonica one of the wealthiest and most flourishing trade centres in the Roman empire. Thessalonica was allowed self-rule and was exempted from most of the restrictions placed by Rome on other cities in the empire. With its international flavour came many pagan religions and cultural influences that challenged the faith of the young Christians there. The Christians there had stood firm when they were persecuted and their work, produced by faith, labour prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope, showed the typical characteristics that are the marks of effective Christians in any age. The gospel came to Thessalonica with power, and we know that whenever the bible is heard and obeyed, lives are changed. Christianity is much more than a collection of interesting facts. It is the power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit changing peoples’ lives for the better, helping them to believe and begin to live the gospel.
Paul, Timothy and Silas were not only preaching the gospel message, but they were also living it. They practiced what they preached, and this lived message helped to encourage the Christians in Thessalonica who suffered severely under persecution from both Jews and Gentiles. They responded to the good news of the gospel by turning to God. They served God and waited for his Son, Jesus, to return from heaven with great faith. This provided an example and encouraged the growth of the Christian message throughout the region.
All of us want to know God, to know more about God and ultimately to have a personal relationship through prayer and mindfulness with God. Moses wanted to know the glory of God so he could be reassured of the presence of God. We would all love to experience this, but God is God and because of our imperfections and humanness we would not survive in the physical presence of God’s holiness. But we can know God by what God does and how God acts, and through the example of his Jesus Christ his Son who came to earth to show God to the world.
Psalm 99 tells us that God is perfectly just and fair and that we can trust him completely. God has no weaknesses or shortcomings, and evil is exposed by the light of God’s holiness. Can we all praise God’s great and awesome name because his name symbolises his nature, his personage and his reputation. The name of God is used so often in vulgar conversation that we have lost sight of its holiness. How easy it is to treat God lightly in everyday life. Can we resolve to respect God’s name. God’s holiness gives comfort because as we worship, we are lifted from the ordinary to the divine. As we believe in God, we are made holy, our lives are changed for the better and we find help and hopefulness no matter what life throws at us. The bible records several instances where Moses, Aaron and Samuel cried out to God to help, and help came.
The gospel story today gives a glimpse into the politics of the day. The Pharisees, a religious group opposed to the Roman occupation of Palestine. The Herodians, a political party supported Herod Antipas and the policies instituted by Rome.
Normally these two groups were bitter enemies, but here they united against Jesus. Thinking they had a foolproof plan to corner him, together their representatives asked Jesus about paying Roman taxes. If Jesus agreed that it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, the Pharisees would say he was opposed to God, the only King they recognised. If Jesus said the taxes should not be paid, the Herodians would hand him over to Herod on the charge of rebellion. In this case the Pharisees were not motivated by love for God’s laws, and the Herodians were not motivated by love for Roman Justice. Jesus’ answer exposed their evil motives and embarrassed them both.
Then the Sadducees smugly stepped in to try to trap Jesus. They did not believe in the resurrection because the Pentateuch - the first 5 books of the bible have no direct teaching on it. Jesus reminded them from the book of Exodus chapter 3 verse 6 that God did not think of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as dead. God said “I am the God of Abraham”, using the present tense, which pointed to the resurrection and the eternal life that all believers enjoy in him. The Pharisees missed the point of theological victory Jesus gave them because they were more interested in trapping Jesus than learning the truth.
Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit of Christ will abide with us, help us to recognise the truth of God’s word, refresh and uplift us in our daily lives so that we live a life of faith and holiness. May we echo the Cursillo prayer which says?
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.”
The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan tssf