Rev. Andrew Cunnington
1st November 2015
Looking Inside and Wondering What’s in There

“Homes Under The Hammer”. “Through The Keyhole” “Escape to the Country” “Grand Designs”

Although I work unsupervised, I do not have the time to sit in front of daytime television!

But I guess I do share the natural human curiosity of seeing inside of people’s houses.

And one of the perks of being Archdeacon is to be able to do this on a regular basis, in connection with Vicars.

You see when a Vicar moves on there has to be a vacancy inspection, which means roaming around inside Vicarages as soon as they become empty, and seeing how they’ve been left and what needs to be done.

There is a bloke on this daytime TV which I never watch, with a most irritating jack the lad sort of voice, and I see him doing the voiceover for my experience.

So..who would live in a Vicarage like this..and if this is the master bedroom, who would paint the walls in that shade of green, and down in the kitchen there’s already a sign of breakin’ and enterin’ through the little pantry window”. They’ve got just six months to get this ready and there ain’t no money! The Archdeacon’s a worried man.

Most of the properties I’ve visited, I’ve know the previous occupants of course, and what strikes me is that once they’ve gone, their home is just a shell, it does not speak to me of their presence at all, any more. It’s just a series of empty rooms waiting to be filled with somebody new.

I’ve never been the sort of preacher to quote other writers, but in between the episodes of Come Dine With Me that I never watch, I’ve been enjoying a book by Richard Rohr called “Falling Upwards” and in it he contend that life is a container. In the first half of life you are concerned with building up that container’s outward appearance. Making it strong. Making sure it looks good to others. Beautifying it. Caring for it. You note the way other people’s life containers are looking and you make sure that yours is up there with them.

Uncomfortably, Richard Rohr contends that spiritual maturity is where you no longer care what your container looks like from the outside, it’s what is inside that matters most. And he says that trouble to day is that we never get beyond the first half of life. We never stop being concerned with outward appearance and show and it is because the content of our life containers are never attended to, we end up being aggressive to one another. We end up as shallow, spiritless individuals, with little hope or optimism.

Now this is a bit of a grumpy old man example I know. But I don’t like Hallow’een. I really don’t go in for pumpkins filled with candles or little children dressed as ghouls. This season of All Saints and All Souls was meant to be a time when we think seriously about our lives. What it means to live a good life under God’s grace,..the qualities of sainthood if you like ..and what it means to think about what happens to our lives in eternity, and what it means that love never ends. But we don’t go there at all because that’s inside the container sort of stuff, instead we make it a time for dressing up and decorating, having a bit of a laugh, and that’s just staying outside the container.

I wonder how you felt as we read the ten commandments out this morning. I think it s the first time they’ve been read out in full during all the time I’ve been here. It used to be that they were read out in full every Sunday. And if you come up to the High Altar here at the top end of the church and look between the little arches in the wall, you will see the feint outline of letters and words. Now whitewashed out. Those words would have been the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

God had chosen his people. He met them when they were enslaved in Egypt and as he led them through the wilderness towards the Promised Land, so they became =more and more his own. And during those forty years they began to understand the message of the container, that life was not just about how they appeared to each other, but what bound them, what inspired them, was the content. The bit inside. This is why the commandments were given. To mark out the people of God. To give content to their lives.

When you look at this familiar ten, it’s interesting to find that most of the commandments are simple one liners, you shall not steal. You shall not murder, but three of them are qualified by longer statements.

And these are: You shall have no other gods but me. Remember the Sabbath Day and You shall not covet. And I contend these are of prime importance to us as we move towards spiritual maturity and think about the inside of our container rather than the outside.

Have no other gods but me. What makes us so preoccupied with the outside of our containers is that we have turned ourselves into our own Gods. We may not worship idols and graven images these days, but we do think a great deal of ourselves so that anything that tarnishes that self image or questions it results in negative feelings towards ourselves and others.

You shall not covet. What is it that makes us want so many things, especially the things other people have got, but we haven’t. Allowing the media actually to seduce us with their temptations that we will not be a true man or a true woman until we have gone out and bought….and so envy and greed take hold, and we’re on the front of our containers again, whilst the inside remains as empty as a recently vacated Vicarage.

Keep the Sabbath day holy was never meant to be about Sunday trading, but something deeper. If there is going to be content to your life, you have to give time, real time to reflecting on where you are and what inspires you. Take time to rest, be refreshed, made whole. Be still in the presence of the Lord. O Sabbath rest by Galilee. Love singing it. No good at doing it, we prefer to keep ourselves so busy that we can evade the possibility of being alone with God and not knowing what to say.

How shall we make this move then you and I? How shall we give attention to the content of the container rather than the appearance of it. The answer for the church, surely is, in Christ. In what Christ does for us as a consequence of Easter.

Our Gospel reading is a brief episode in the long story of the raising of Lazarus, but the verses given for us today are poignant, and the message simple.

There is a man and his name is Lazarus. He is inside a container and that container feels like death. There is nothing in there but a bad smell, and Jesus reaches into that place and calls dead Lazarus out. He turns that tomb from a place of death into a place of life. Stones are taken away, cloths and bandages are removed. The tomb is not sealed, the container is not empty. It is filled with new life, and that’s what Christ does today.

He calls us to open the door to our containers of life. Forget about the walls and the roof and window and the door and how they look to everyone else. Open the door for goodness sake, let Him come in. Make room for those life changing commandments that we have whitewashed away. Let our lives not be determined by what the world says we need, but His inside presence to meet the needs we truly have.

If we can do this then –

In spite of ourselves, we might end up being numbered with the saints.

In spite of ourselves we might end up being an encouragement to others.

In spite of ourselves we might end up being as nothing to ourselves but as everything to God.

My eldest daughter moves in to her own first house next week. She gets the keys on Friday. “ Dad are you off that day, because as soon as I’ve got those keys, I’m going straight round there, I’m going to fling the doors open and I’m just going to dance. I’m just going to dance round all those rooms”

Did you want to come and dance with me..and I thought to myself..that’s my girl…..!

Thanks be to God…

EXODUS 20:1-20 & JOHN 11:32-44