Sunday, March 17, 2024

Homo Sapien/Homo Fabula - a sermon for Passion Sunday

Clara Barton, was an American nurse. She began her career in hospitals during the American Civil War, but she also worked as a teacher, and a patent clerk. Since nursing education was not then very formalized and she didn’t attend nursing school, she provided self-taught nursing care. She became well known for doing humanitarian work and civil rights advocacy for the poorest and most excluded at a time before women had the right to vote. Following the end of the Franco-Prussian war, having seen first hand the extraordinary work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, she petitioned the US Government to recognise it. She was subsequently recognised as the founder of the American Red Cross.

Once, a friend of Barton’s brought up in conversation a cruel deed someone had done to her. Barton claimed she did not remember the deed done. Insistent, her friend exclaimed, "Don't you remember the wrong that was done to you?'

"No," she answered, "I distinctly remember forgetting that."

We’ve all heard the expression forgive and forget. We get the principle but can we get the practice as it were? It seems that Clara Barton managed to.

The new covenant that God speaks of through Jeremiah, which we heard about in our first reading,  is characterised by a relationship based on remembering and forgetting: remembering that all of God’s dispirited people are taken by the hand and married to God. It’s tender and beautiful stuff and God forgets all the times that they have been out of step with God and his will and purposes for them. The covenant is new because it is not linked to the activity of God at Mount Sinai or in freeing God’s people from slavery. It is new because God will make it with his much-loved people after they return from exile. After they make a choice to return to Him

‘...But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on

their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people…’

Ben Bullock, an ex Burnley miner, moved to Dewsbury in 1868 and began selling boiled sweets in Dewsbury market. In 1876 he formed his own company and began increasing his range of products. One of these new products was the first example of lettered rock. Ben turned out his first batch of lettered rock which sold like magic at the West Riding markets but bigger things were yet to come. 'The discovery of a paper which could cover the sticks of rock and yet be removed easily coincided with Ben's decision to take a fortnight's holiday in Blackpool. Shortly afterwards a few hundredweight of Blackpool lettered rock was sent to the resort and the novelty so caught the public’s attention that the Dewsbury firm was inundated with orders from seaside resorts all over Britain. Ben Bullock's fame spread abroad and demands for lettered rock arrived from all over the world.

When you buy a stick of rock at the seaside it’s easily identifiable. Running through it is the name of the place to which it belongs: ‘Blackpool’, ‘Hunstanton’, ‘Brighton’. Wherever you break the rock, however much or little you eat, at every point it has its identifying feature - the name of the town where it was purchased right at its core. In the new covenant, God says that God’s law will be within people, written on their hearts, at their core – running through us like the name in a stick of rock.

Through Jeremiah, God promises that His covenant will become knowable. God becomes knowable through the Incarnation, in the person of Jesus. But through Jeremiah, God promises more. Even with the best teachers, preachers, prophets and priests, God’s people were not learning the lessons of the Law. The new covenant that God offers His people will require no work on the part of the people to receive or adopt it. God will write on their hearts; God will place it within them; God will write it at their very core - it will run through the people like a stick of rock.

Friends Passiontide begins today. What I’d like to do is encourage you to come and join us for as much of the worship as you possibly can. Coming and sharing in the worship of the church over the next fortnight is really important because we are telling each other of the suffering, death, and ultimately resurrection of Jesus once again. But we aren’t just retelling a story of tragedy and hope; of disappointment, death, and then life. Whilst this story does in many ways mirror that of our own human experience; as we retell the story of Passiontide, the story indwells us again, and we rediscover the power of the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus lying at our core, written on our hearts. We are after all, as the poet and novelist Ben Okri put it, not just homo sapien (wise people) but homo fabula (storytelling people).

As we retell and hear the story of God this Passiontide, God through Jesus places his covenant love written at our core every time bread is broken and scripture is opened. But we hear that story for a purpose - God’s covenants have always been marking out people as much loved by Him and calling them to live distinctively in and amongst the people they are set. As we live amongst people beset by tragedy, God’s love calls us to live as people of hope; as we live amongst people facing disappointment God’s love calls us to be people filled with abundant life.

Friends, return from the exile that our lives can some times feel they are, sometimes far from God, sometimes far from our neighbours and friends. Return. Hear the story again. Become homo fabula again. But don’t just hear the story - be the story. Live it.