Toronto, so I’m told, means in the Mohawk language, something about where the waters meet. It’s a place of meeting. It really is a world city and the church tries to reflect this in terms of its commitment to inclusion. It’s music to my ears, the Southwark vision across the water, the church as the place of meeting.
It was a privilege to be asked to preach at the Anglican Cathedral for their Choral Eucharist. The lections were Amos 8.4-7; 1 Timothy 2.1-7 and Luke 16.1-13 – great, if challenging readings from which to preach. Anyway, this is the text of my sermon which reflects something of my experience so far in this great city and country.
Travel tends to produce a lot of surprises. It certainly has for me. This is the first time that I’ve been in Canada and it’s been full of surprises.
The first was that you’re all so polite. From day one I simply couldn’t get over it – you make us Brits look positively rude – but then maybe we are! The other thing was that you have to have fruit with everything. On the train from Vancouver to this wonderful city of Toronto – five days of sheer bliss – I ordered a Yorkshire Pudding filled with beef in gravy and it came complete with a slice of watermelon – what was that about! And that train journey. I knew this place was big but that was ridiculous – five days through some of the most magnificent and breath taking scenery I’ve ever witnessed. Thank you God.
But one of the other surprises has been your tax system – I’m not talking about income tax – as a visitor I thankfully know nothing of that – I mean your sales tax. So, we were wandering through China Town the other day to meet up with a friend we were meeting in Kensington Market and saw a sign – five postcards for three dollars – perfect. Of course it wasn’t that at all because a lump of tax was added at the till – not much but it was still, and always is, a surprise.
The gospel for this Eucharist is one of those shocking stories that Jesus told that makes me scratch my head at the end and say ‘so what was that all about?’ ‘What precisely is Jesus commending?’ Here we have someone thoroughly dishonest, caught out by his boss, gets the chop and then adds to his misdemeanours by defrauding his employer even more. Even in the worst days of the City of London this would be a shocking story for our daily papers to cover. So what on earth is Jesus on about?
We’re all familiar of course with the story of Matthew, Levi, called from his job collecting taxes and one of those startling people that Jesus chooses to call and chooses to call his friends – I don’t know you of course, but, I suspect, startling people like you and me.
The reason of course that the choice of Matthew was so surprising was that, apart from, one assumes, by his mother and those who loved him, he was one of the most despised figures in the community. He was working for the tax authorities so that was a downer for a start but even more than that he was working for the occupying power – he was what we might call a ‘quisling’ – and they end up hated by those they work with and hated by those they work against – a person without morals. The way of course that Matthew made his money was by slapping on top of the tax bill his own 10% – he had a cut of what he made for the Romans – and probably, in some instances more than he was securing in tax to line his own pockets.
And that’s what I think was happening in this gospel. Yes, the man was a bad manager, squandering his master’s profits we’re told. He was dishonest. But the way he would’ve made his money would have been to add his own sales tax at the till, on the bill, the bit below the bottom line that made the real bottom line oppressive.
So, he’s found out, he loses his job and then he does the right thing. Even he can do the right thing – he adjusts the bills to remove his slice of the cake. And for this he’s commended – he’s gone beyond what was called for – he lost his job but he also gave up his cut.
The reason that we’re here this morning in this magnificent cathedral is that we worship the God who creates and loves us and does more than we ever deserve. We’re here because we’ve been called by Jesus who, as St Paul said in our Second Reading,
‘gave himself a ransom for all’
We’re here because we believe in a God who holds nothing back, who never takes the extra slice, but gives more, gives all, gives himself in Jesus Christ, as the price, as the ransom, as the food, as the hope. We’re here because we believe in the God who as light and love exposes the darkness and hardness of our hearts, the God of transparent love who reveals the shadiness and hiddenness of so much of our living. We’re here because in our own dishonest living God is continually calling us into that better place, that holy place.
One of the things that I’ve seen in the life of your church, our Anglican Church in this great country, is your commitment to social justice, to endeavouring to do the right thing.
In Vancouver where we began our time in Canada and here in Toronto and I’m sure in Montreal where we go tomorrow, we’ve seen churches giving everything to the work of social justice. It’s the kind of Amos call to just living that we heard in the First Reading and you do it openly and in a way that’s truly humbling.
The other day, before we bought the postcards, we wandered into Holy Trinity and there were homeless people sleeping, some on the pews, some on the floor and getting a coffee and getting some food as they needed it and all around them were proclamations of love. I take that back home with me as a challenge to our generosity to our own street homeless in Southwark.
I’ve seen in this Cathedral and in all the churches I’ve been, banners, rainbow banners and statements about the full inclusion of all people and not least the LGBT+ community. I know that your courageous stance leads you into hot water with some others in the Anglican Communion – but all I’d say to you is do what you know to be right and what you know the Holy Spirit is calling and guiding you to – you’re a nation built by pioneers, we still need pioneers, willing to transform the wilderness in which so many live.
And I’ve seen a church working with the nation for the peoples of the First Nations and the people of every nation who meet in this city of meeting, in this most diverse city in the world.
Social justice, doing the right thing, and more than the right thing, making the response not just generous and right but sacrificial, is what it’s all about and what we see in Jesus. Matthew 25 reminds us that judgment will not be based on getting the doctrine neat and right but on whether we’ve served God in the homeless and the prisoner, the excluded, the despised, the anxious, the addicted, the sad and sorrowful as well as the joyful and successful and whole, for as the parable keeps saying
‘just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
The great Welsh priest poet R S Thomas wrote many powerful poems but amongst them is one called ‘The Coming’. It goes like this
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, A river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
That dishonest manager is commended because in the end he gave everything, just as God has given everything and God, the God who comes to where we are, does it again in this Eucharist.
The God of justice is the God of the Eucharist, of broken bread and wine outpoured, who gives his own flesh and blood to be our food and drink.
The God who comes here, comes to you, comes to me and with divine and boundless generosity gives you, gives me, everything, the full measure, the full measure of love as we come to him with open, empty hands.
And we’re sent from this place, fed, satisfied to make that known in word and action that others may be fed, physically, spiritually, that others may be loved as never before and that the world may know that we know the God who knows us, the ransomed one who holds nothing back from you, from me, from this beautiful and ever surprising world, so loved by God.