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Pastoral Principles: Fear and bypocrisy

Preached by Revd Vicky Maunder on Trinity 15: 12 September 2021

The girls and I watched the live action Disney film Mulan last week.  It’s about a young woman who is talented at martial arts.  She loves to practice outdoors, and it fills her with joy.  She is agile and energetic and adventurous.  But in her culture, she is expected to follow quiet indoor pursuits and to look to prepare herself to make a good marriage.  There is a very entertaining scene where she fails to perform a tea ceremony correctly!  She is desperate to use these wonderful gifts she has been born with so when every family is told to send a man to fight for the emperor against invaders, and because her father is elderly and frail, she disguises herself as a young man and secretly runs off to join the training programme.  And of course, she proves to be an exceptional warrior.  But she is always held back because she lives with this fear that she can’t tell them about herself because she’ll be rejected.  But eventually she speaks up and tells them who she is.   And she is rejected and banished.  But she doesn’t give up and because of the relationship of care and respect she had built up with the group of soldiers she was closest too, later they do accept her.  She has challenged the prejudice and pathed the way for others. 

Today is the second of a three-week sermon series where we are speaking about the pastoral principles which have been produced by the Church of England to help us live well together.  To be a community that is as Christ like as possible.

We are invited to consider six pervading evils which are often present in communities and which destroy the quality of relationships –  hurting people, holding back our growth as Christians, and creating barriers that stop our churches from growing into communities of welcome and belonging.  Last week Rev’d Linda spoke about acknowledging prejudice and speaking into silence and today I’m speaking about casting out fear and admitting hypocrisy. 

We may never have had to disguise ourselves as a member of the opposite sex but perhaps we have experienced times when we didn’t feel we could speak up and share something about ourselves out of fear.  Perhaps the fear of being judged.  Or challenged about our way of life.  Perhaps fear that we will be laughed at or that people won’t be interested in what we have to say.   Perhaps, if we are a member of the LGBTI community, fear of being rejected because of views about our sexuality.  We might also have fears of those who are different from us, who we don’t feel we understand or who don’t fit our expectations. 

Our Christian faith teaches us that every person is made in God’s image and immeasurable precious to God.  And Jesus tells us ‘to love one another as he has loved us’.  We are called to work hard at building a church community where everyone feels safe to speak.  Where there isn’t fear but trust, that whenpeople speak they will be listened to with love even if we disagree.  A community of welcome where we value each other as God’s children no matter how different we are, where we respect each other and treat each other with care.   We each need to play our part in working at this.  

Of course we are human, we sin, we mess up and need forgiveness and we need to continually recommit ourselves to this work.   What can really make a difference is prayer and our worship together.  Prayer shapes us.  Just making time regularly, perhaps at the beginning and end of each day for prayer, can make a difference. To be still, to listen to God, to say thank you for the gift of the day, to ask God to help us to be attentive to him as we go about our daily tasks, to ask God to help us bring his love and hope in some small way by our words and actions to the people we meet.

In our worship we are brought together in a special way as a community.  Our voices join together in praise and prayer.  And at the Lord’s table we are brought into communion with Christ himself and with each other as we share bread and wine or make a spiritual communion – though we are many we are one body because we all share in one bread.  None of us is worthy, we are all sinners, but through God’s grace and love we receive.   It is a bit different now because of covid, but before, everyone would kneel shoulder to shoulder at the altar rail and in my previous parish everyone stood shoulder to shoulder in a circle around the altar – both ways a beautiful sign of our togetherness as we receive, and of our equality as God’s children.  And at some point we will do this again. 

And that togetherness in our worship needs to flow out into our community life.  Perfect love casts out fear we read in the first letter of John chapter 4.  Can the love we receive at the altar, God’s amazing love for us shown in Jesus on the cross, help us to cast out our fear and build a community of love? 

And a very brief word about the pastoral principle of admitting hypocrisy. 

We read in Matthew 7:5 ‘You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye’.

We are reminded we need to look at our own lives first.  We can be quick to judge others, but what do I need to change?