Ezekiel 33:7-11 Matthew 18:15-20
Video available on YouTube, Facebook
So who said it was going to be easy?
If we take today’s reading from Ezekiel seriously?
“If we fail to warn people of their wickedness, God says “I will hold you responsible”.
There is no watching from the sidelines for us here at St Matthew’s. Our job is to blow the whistle as loud as any test match referee and warn the wicked of their wickedness so that they change their ways to win life!
Referees are never popular!
Who said we’d be popular?
We are called to speak the truth in the face of all that is evil, in the face of all that undermines the claims of the Incarnation that offers the gift of love and forgiveness, and all that happens in response to that, as we riskily respond to God’s love and forgiveness.
Did you know in every gaggle of geese some are clearly queer, establishing same sex relationships!
Why?.....When we look closely at these gay geese we eventually realize that their job is not to hatch the eggs and bring up the children but rather to patrol the boundaries and warn of danger. To take on the role of Ezekiels. To become queer prophets. To warn the community, and that might even be the church, of danger and wickedness. Our ministry here at St Matthew’s is to become like queer geese, uncomfortable prophets, prepared to speak out, and proclaim God’s love even when it makes us profoundly unacceptable to the Church, or the City or the status quo.
Only, that is, if we dare.
For when we look at the evidence we are confronted immediately with the passion of the Christ, which shocks us every time we celebrate the eucharist here at St Matthew’s – the passion of Christ, which turns comfort on its head - where love, self-giving love, is the only response to hate, where love in the face of hate does not transform hate (much as we might wish it did) but shows us that we must tolerate it, we must hold love and hate together in the palm of our hands and survive it in fearless living, in truth telling, and inevitably in persecution, pain even martyrdom and death……
That’s the evidence!
And this evidence of passion – this passionate evidence – if we’re not careful is what we’ve tidied up – tidied away – leaving only the familiar thoughts and feelings of the comfy Jesus lest we are ourselves discomforted.
As Swinburne, the 19th century poet said – “for their comfort’s sake they served up only half a Christ”.
And how tempting that is – to serve up only half a Christ!
I want to think about passion today and I’m aware that faced with that it’s easy to become shy, reserved and embarrassed – to look for easy words and trite ideas that don’t take us over the top or too deep down – words that sidestep the full demands of the Gospel and send us home with our sensible sensitivities intact.
But that won’t do.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, the philosopher, talking about how we make meaning in our talking and in our living, said that ultimately the only thing that has meaning is what we are prepared to die for.
So what does it mean in our living out of our Christian faith to be prepared to die for what we believe.
Here I believe is the context of the passion - passion in all its varied and rich forms: passion from its root passio meaning pain and suffering, passion meaning the crucifixion of the Christ, passion meaning the orgasmic, ecstatic sexual energy of loving abandon.
Pain, death and sex have always sat close together and even embraced each other; it’s no accident that, in the Middle Ages in English and, still to this day, in French, the metaphor for orgasm is “the little death”!
Pain, sex and death then – passion’s trinity.
Are we, when we try to hide our pain, rather than see it as giving us information about ourselves and our God, are we dumming down our faith to nothing more than a harmless religious sit-com – an Anglican, Coronation Street - that helps us pass a pleasant hour or two each week at church but keeps the reality, that we tuck out of sight, from disturbing us?
In keeping passion and sexuality out of sight – when we ignore and repress the glorious sexiness that is part of Christian worship and Christian experience and history – when we ignore the sexuality that informs us and excites us whenever we get together intimately, closely, with each other – in doing all this are we shutting off a vital part of God’s incarnation at the very heart of each of us. After all we all know about passion, we are all passionate, we all have sex lives, whether it’s in our heads or in our beds?
I wonder if you’ve seen the play or the film Equus by Peter Shaffer t’s about a middle aged Psychiatrist working with a 17 year old boy - He’s a psychiatrist who lives (or perhaps more accurately just exists) in a loveless, impotent, dried up marriage, who faces himself in his work and relationship with this boy, a boy who has found passion in riding horses bareback at night – who has found passion in the divinity of horses, in Equus - who has found passion in the dark, sticky wildness of moonlight and wet grass and hot breath - a boy, who struggling to free himself from his religious, judgmental mother and sexually frustrated father, who addresses the conflict of repression and orgasm by the frenzied blinding of the horses he rides at night.
The psychiatrist says at the end of the play when the boy has been cured - exorcised from his passion, from his pain, from his God, from his ecstasy:
In the end he’ll be delivered from madness. He’ll feel himself acceptable. My desire might be to make this boy an ardent husband – a caring citizen – a worshipper of an abstract and unifying God. My achievement, however, is more likely to make a ghost.
Let me tell you exactly what I’m going to do to him! I’ll heal the rash on his body. I’ll erase the welts cut into his mind by the horses’ flying manes. When that’s done, I’ll set him on a nice little-scooter and send him puttering off into the Normal world, entirely in control. I doubt, however, with much passion……Passion you see can be destroyed, it cannot be created.
How easily, I reckon, that can happen - that does happen – passion gets destroyed - without guile, without manipulation, in good faith, in so many ways, but destroyed none the less.
I know how much of a temptation this is in the work I do as a psychotherapist, the temptation to help people fit into this passionless world – the temptation to meet the desire of the patient for help to survive an unsatisfactory, dull, painful life – unsatisfactory, but so familiar – rather than risk the unknown, the unfamiliar chance of a life of passionate intensity and creative living.
How easily we can do that in the church as well – offering people an anodyne, safe, exorcised experience where it’s safe to belong because little is demanded and little is celebrated other than the sanctification of the normal – the passionless - where inclusive means anything safe – where acceptance means no one is ever challenged to tell their real story and be their real selves.
I’m not saying that we have to rush off and ride horses at midnight nor especially that we should blind horses, actually or metaphorically – enough of that goes on already. What I am suggesting is that we look for that place in ourselves, that part of us as a community and as individuals where passion lies hidden, where we can feel it tentatively, an echo of how things once were, and still might be, and rather than hide the pain and the ecstasy, risk showing it, encouraging it, letting it live, letting it transform us into the passionate, ecstatic people we can be.
When I mentioned the play Equus earlier in the sermon, I originally included an encouragement to get the video out for you to watch it. I realized, though, that by suggesting that, I was falling into the very trap I’m warning you about.
It’s not a case of going and sitting in front of a video watching actors acting passion. My invitation is not to see the film, but to live it - to incarnate the passionate God, to risk it ourselves. AMEN