Rev. Andrew Cunnington
18th August 2019
The Two Worlds of Faith

How was it for you at the dentist? When you were a small child?

For me it was a right old doddle.

I’d get an hour off school. I’d go with my Mum and sit in this lovely waiting room at the back of a big old house in Broadwater Road Worthing. There were toys to play with and books to look at and then I would be called in to see a lovely old chap whose name was WT Burnham-Sage.

He’d give me a ride up and down in his massive dentist’s chair, he check inside my mouth without ever touching my teeth or gums . He would ruffle my hair and tell me that everything was just “ticketty boo” in there and for being a good boy he’d offer me a barley sugar from his sweetie tin.

But I could sense that all was not well in that surgery for other boys and girls who had to visit the other dentist in that practice.

For Whilst I waited happily to see Mr Burnham Sage – I noticed other children in the waiting room holding their mother’ hands and gently wimpering. And when their names were called they cowered and they shook.

They were the patients of Mr Vaughan, whose surgery was upstairs.

I didn’t know what went on up there, but sometimes as I sat sucking on my dentist’s barley sugars – I could hear the whirring of some high pitched drill – the occasional sound of screaming and wailing and the sound of running footsteps from one end of the room to the other.

Mr Vaughan, where fillings and extractions were administered with little warning and no anaesthetic.

Once on my arrival I was told Mr Burnham Sage was sick – but that Mr Vaughan had a free slot and could see me now – and I remember this tiny man hovering in the shadows – in a white coat spattered in red already with drill in hand….( or so it seemed to me)”No , no its OK, I’d rather see Mr Burnham Sage if it’s all the same to you”.

There are two ways of looking at our Christian lives and the way we mature in faith.

One is to make sure we keep it all light and fluffy. Concentrating on the familiar stories. Making sure we are in church for the happy festivals of Christmas and Mothering Sunday and Harvest… and the end bit of Easter.

When we overdo this emphasis, we can do untold damage to people’s growth in faith. For at the first sign of personal alarm in our lives, of the need of serious recourse to God in our prayer, we can fail to find Him in the sugar coated Gospel we may unwittingly administer.

In comparison, we find this morning’s less than comfortable Gospel reading.

Is this really OUR Jesus, saying all these things?

Casting fire upon the earth? Coming to cause division rather than unity. All about reeking mayhem rather than bringing peace? To be apprehensive about what lies in the future – rather than assured.

“This Jesus sounds my sort of bloke” I can imagine Mr Vaughan saying as he tests out his drill ready for the next patient.

What do such outbursts mean?

I think that Jesus was speaking to those who had been attracted to him as an easy option in the first place. They loved the way he attacked the scribes and the pharisees who had held their lives in a firm vice of “thou shalt not” – identifying wrong doing and rooting it out without mercy.

Jesus knew opposition was mounting against him. He surely saw Calvary looming at this stage. He knew that those who followed him were going to be drawn into that passion and he wanted them to be under no illusions.

Jesus is saying that in order for new possibilities to take their shape in your life, they can only emerge from some measure of destruction and turmoil. For love to have its way – it’s not a matter of just following the easy option.

In the wonderful reading from Hebrews – there is the shining vision of a “great cloud of witnesses” who surround Jesus and seem to be beckoning us forward to join them. The call is to run to him for our lives to be perfected. Run to him for the home we long for. Run to him and feel the sins that cling so closely simply fall away.

But to get there -to run that race – the cloud of witnesses were part of a tough tradition.

The destruction of the Egyptians through plague and flood.

The crashing down of the walls of Jericho with not a single living soul left there in the end.

Heads in the mouths of lions. Swords put to the throat. Torture and imprisonment. Forced to be homeless and rootless. Hiding in caves. Gasping in the desert.

So much had to be torn down before love could build it up.

In our world good and evil each has to be recognised for what it is – and the unravelling of one from the other is a complex business in a time when one person will tell you one thing and another will tell you the complete opposite.

God’s Holy Word as the point of reference for making the right move. It’s the only way.

More than once have I mentioned the story of a full church waiting for the start of the Family Crib Service. Away in a Manger is playing softly in the background. All the children are dressed as characters from the nativity and just before the service is about to start the Vicar strides to the front of the church with two pieces of wood and a hammer and some nails – and on top of the beautiful crib scene in which the baby Jesus would soon be laid… he noisily hammers a large cross.

“That’s the trouble with our Vicar” says one long standing member of the congregation to another “he ruins everything”.

To attract summer visitors into Norwich Cathedral – a giant helter skelter ride has been set up in the nave. In another place – a Crazy Golf Course has been set up.

The message for today is that we must not let the cutting edge of our gospel become blunted. If we do we will find ourselves unable to follow very far and we will find that the message we proclaim won’t get anyone else very far either.

I think I drifted away from dental appointments in my teenage years. I knew everything was ticketty boo inside my mouth thank you very much.

I think it was only when we had children that I thought I’d better get them checked. My new dentist sighed when he looked at my gnashers. “Did you go to the dentist when you were a child” he asked me and I told him I had been very regular indeed…

”Well whoever that dentist was… it doesn’t look as if he did you any favours” he said and he began that fateful litany – I have since come to loathe “Upper right partially erupted…2 3 4 – cavity indentation… 5 6… root canal damages… 7 8… filling needed… 9 10… wisdom tooth collapsed…

There is unbridled joy to be proclaimed from the faith we share. We must praise our God to the rafters. We must witness to him faithfully in the places he puts us.

For we are to be counted amongst that great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews.

And yet we bring all that into the midst of an increasingly embittered world where people’s fearfulness shows itself in many different ways. And we bring our Jesus as he is into the heart of it and if he was crucified for that, there is no way we ourselves can expect to remain unscarred.

HEBREWS 11: 29-12:2
LUKE 12: 49-56