Sermon 7th June 2015

Trinity 1 2015                                 1Sam 8:4-11 2Cor 4:13-5:1  Mark 3:20-end

In 1954 William Golding published his first novel ‘Lord of the flies’ about a bunch of British boys stuck on an uninhabited island who try to govern themselves with disastrous results. It examines human nature and opposes individual welfare against the common good. Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies was Golding’s first novel. Although it was not a great success at the time—selling fewer than 3,000 copies in the United States during 1955 before going out of print—it soon went on to become a best-seller. Until I looked it up I had not realised that it was a reaction to the young persons’ novel The Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne, which is about the civilising effects of Christianity, 19th-century British imperialism in the South Pacific, and the importance of hierarchy and order. The two books might have been written on the floor of the House of Commons!
The group of boys marooned on an island in the middle of a nuclear war try to govern themselves but all the difficult and negative parts of them come to the surface. One of them finds a severed pigs head crawling with flies and it becomes the symbol of the battle for power. The moment gives its name to the novel. Golding presents an implicit argument that the Christian faith has offered more opportunities for conflict than it has healed. The Hebrew word for Lord if the Flies is ‘Beelzebub’.
Jesus had healed a man with a withered hand and got himself into trouble by doing it on the Sabbath day. He finds it strange that the people are not simply pleased with the healing. After this huge crowds of people begin to come after him. He draws away to a mountain and there chooses the twelve who would be close to him and whom he would teach to understand the difference between religion and faith. Going home the crowds follow him and we catch up with the passage from St. Mark we have just heard. The religious establishment accuse him of being in league with Beelzebul. Beelzebul means ‘Lord of the high places’ the first syllable referring to the Baals, the gods worshipped by many over the years and with whom Old Testament people of faith like Elijah were threatened. It is a double insult. The term is a corruption of Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies and prince of devils, so two layers, devils and rotten devils, a New Testament pun. A divided house which Jesus refers to.
Jesus speaks of a sin against the Holy Spirit. That seems to be the willful rejection by the Pharisees of the action of God, even though they purport to believe it. It is not that God will not forgive them but that they will not accept the forgiveness either for themselves or believe that anyone else could be forgiven. They will try to catch Jesus on fine points of Jewish law, not because they wished to keep the law but because they wished to keep their own positions of power and influence.
Mother comes along, no doubt thinking that she could take some heat out of this situation but Jesus just gives the pot another stir. It is not what you are but who you are that counts. The other week talking about baptism I thought about who you know being important, here it is what you are. Not the sort of what which means an achieved position in life and society but the sort of what which is character and response to God. The Pharisees had become hung up on who there were in relation to each other rather than in relation to God, under whom they were all the same and the same as the people they despised.

The boys on the island find a fallen fighter pilot’s body in which they vest their fears of a beast and when one of them gets lost they destroy most of the place with fire.  Finally they revert to being young frightened children.
There has been the battle between the belief that everything is achievable by violence and the opposing view that violence only destroys. The accent of the intellectual Piggy betrays his differing social class, so although he has insight it is not valued. When he is killed the conch, which is the symbol of democracy, is smashed.

The society Jesus found himself incarnated into was complex.  The inspired and evolved law of the Jews was smothered by the brutal though tolerant law of the Romans. The Sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees fought it out at the altar, the ordinary people carried on making a living. The reminder of creation and the creator’s will and wish for peace and justice stood before them questioning the ways and living of religion.

Just now we can look round the world and see it all, pharisaical religion stultifying the development and freedom of people, power and status fought for in spite of all, fear of humanity’s likelihoods played out over the young, so many kingdoms divided against themselves. There is inability to forgive and the shifting of blame. What used to be responsibility is now blame, who is to blame? This week in the news about the Alton Towers accident the question being asked is not about where the responsibility lies but who is to blame. If, as a society, we can pin the blame on one person we will.

Jesus rests the destiny of the world firmly on our shoulders. You are close to each other as the closest bonds of family he tells them. You can get to know and accept each other and your differing lots or you can fight each other. You can work to change the world for everyone or you can worry only about yourself. You can think about order and law or about law and order.

 

© Frank Wright 2015

 

 


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