A Sermon from Sherborne

Born to fly!

A sermon for the Parish Eucharist at Sherborne Abbey, preached on Sunday 22 October 2017 by Canon Tim Biles

 

We all heard in the gospel story [Matthew 22. 15-22], the pressure mounting on Jesus. The Pharisees were out to trap him. It’s a well-known story: we are all familiar with it. But there was a second trap in the Gospel, not so easy to see. The first trap was blatant, the second was subtle.

In the first trap it was clear: if Jesus answered their question about taxes by saying ‘Yes, taxes should be paid to Caesar’, he would be a collaborator with the Roman occupier and every Jewish nationalist would turn on him. If he said ‘No, taxes should not be paid to Caesar’, he would be arrested by the Romans as a rebel. A classic political trap!

But something more subtle was going on as well, of greater concern to Jesus. He was being side-tracked. He had come to bring abundant life to the common people, not to be caught in the tittle tattle of the political elite.

His message was about abundance of life in all its richness, the freedom to fly, not to be caged in the Brexit issues of his day.

I am born to fly, you are born to fly…who isn’t? Why is it that along the way our wings are clipped and a cage prepared?

I first saw what was happening at College. They were going to make me a priest by telling me how Aquinas and Abelard, Anselm and Augustine argued. I didn’t want to argue or learn to argue, I wanted to fly!

Who wants to know as they lay a-dying how Athanasius answered the Arians? Who wants to know when a son is in trouble that God is the homo-ousion and not the homo-ousios? (Or was it the other way round?). With such words they clipped my wings and prepared for me a cage.

Couldn’t those clever men, those professors, those scholars see that I was born to fly?

They knew the facts, oh yes. They analysed the thoughts, oh yes. But did that help me fly? Oh no! Their wings were clipped; they too were in their cage.

So I turned to the preachers, but couldn’t they see the blank faces, glassy eyes, empty pews? Couldn’t they hear the shuffling feet, bored cough, stage whisper? Didn’t they know they clipped our wings, held us in their cage?

So I went to a parish, and what did I find?

 

Buildings to repair, money to raise, meetings to chair;

Forms to fill, records to keep, meetings to chair;

Cocktails to drink, courtesies to pay, meetings to chair;

Reports to read, complaints to hear, meetings to chair;

No flying there, but from our cages, meetings to chair.

 

Lord, why should this be?

Such clever people, professors and preachers

Such good people, priests and parishioners,

Born to fly

Caught in cages?

Lord, are we any nearer flying

Than those Pharisees and Herodians?

 

My son, when the bird wants to fly

It has to dare the leap

Which is death or glory.

My son, will you dare?

 

Lord, what is the leap that is death or glory?

 

My son, the leap is opening your heart.

Many will come in, the poor, the lame and the blind; the lost, confused and troubled, and they will crush you and you will fall and fall and as you fall I will enter: your wings will spread and you will rise again. The leap of death will be the gate of glory and you will fly my son, you will fly.

 

Jesus, in today’s Gospel had reached the last week of his life. He had tried to give people the choice between closing the heart and living in a cage or opening the heart and taking the risk of falling crushed – but with the hope that he would come ‘and we will fly together with healing in our wings’.

Oh blessed day! Devoutly to be wished.

Open our hearts, Lord: complete your work and enter in! Amen.

Canon Tim Biles 22/10/2017
The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, Sherborne