A sermon preached at the
Readings: Hebrews 13:1-3, Mark 7:1-8
Left: St Gregory
Below: Angel of the North; Paris Street Market
Hymns: “Praise my soul, the King of Heaven” (13)
“Where cross the crowded ways of life” (431)
“Jesus calls us here to meet him” (Iona)
“Lord Jesus Christ” (617) – with Mint orchestra
“Love Divine [Blaenwern] (267) – with Mint orchestra
Mk 7:4 “ When they come
from the market Place,
they [the Pharisees] do not eat unless first they wash”
The Pharisees and the Market Place
If you ever go visiting in the RD&E Hospital,
you will be very familiar with
the squirty bottles of antiseptic handwash outside each ward.
Notices tell you to use them as you go in and out
in order to stop the spread of MRSA infection.
Imagine if you will a man comes into a ward
and stops carefully to scrub his hands.
He then goes in to see a very sick elderly relative.
Others in the ward notice he looks sullen
and doesn’t seem to have a civil,
let alone a loving, word for the lady he visits.
Indeed soon he starts to shout at the old lady and call her names.
Then he gets up, kicks the bed and storms out.
As he gets to the door of the ward,
he stops, carefully washes his hands again, and leaves.
Gospel passage is one of several where Jesus
criticises the Scribes and Pharisees
for their approach to ritual cleanliness.
they are hypocritical –
they are obsessed with external washing –
but inside they are sinful and corrupt.
They keep their hands clean but have unclean hearts.
says: It is no good having clinically clean hands for eating
if you have a sinful and dirty heart
which spews out evil and sin in your words and actions…
sometimes said that cleanliness is next to Godliness.
But for the Pharisees their obsession with cleanliness
actually led to ungodliness.
so concerned about their own ritual purity
that they would go to great lengths
to avoid the touch or (as they saw it) the contamination
of those who were sick and dying or whose faith or lifestyle
they believed to be ungodly.
Pharisees simply said
“Here is someone who is unclean –
we cannot touch them for fear of becoming unclean ourselves.
Priest and Levite on the Jericho Road,
they avoided those they considered
the wrong kind of people altogether if they could.
If they could not do that, well,
as soon as they got home from the Market Square
they washed to remove the unholy taint.
St Gregory and the Market Place
interesting to compare the Pharisees in the Market Place
with one of the Saints of the early Church – Gregory the Great.
Gregory was consecrated Pope on 3 September 590,
and this day Sept 3rd, is the day when traditionally
we commemorate Gregory’s life.
The most famous story of Gregory
tells of his trip to the Market place1.
Like many Market Places before and since,
it was doubtless pretty dirty both physically and spiritually.
There in the market place Gregory sees slaves for sale.
They are from Britain –
a far off non-Christian land on the Barbarian edge
of what had once been the Roman Empire.
Gregory asks their race.
He is told they are Angles
(that is, one of the races which in due course
combined with the Saxons and others to create the English race).
But according to tradition, Gregory looked at them and said
“Non Angli sed angeli” – “Not Angles but angels”.
A Pharisee and a Saint in the Market Place:
“Too men look out from prison bars.
One sees mud, the other stars”
Two men go to the Market Place –
the Pharisee, sees sinners and dirt –
threats to his holiness and godliness –
people to be kept at arm’s length and then all traces washed off.
other, a saint, also sees sinners and dirt –
but beneath the dirt and the chains of slavery,
beneath the alien faith and lifestyle,
he sees an angel!
knows that every human being
is a child of God, made in God’s image.
He knows that within each human life
there is that spark of the divine.
He knows that the needy are
not to be shunned but embraced.
Gregory arranges for some of the British slaves to be released –
they are trained in the Church
and in due course some go with Augustine,
sent by Gregory to evangelise the British Isles.
we give thanks for St Gregory –
often described by the early writers as
“The Apostle of the English”.
thanks for his vision,
and for his openness and his love towards a barbarian people
in the midst of that civilized Roman market place.
The Market Place today
We too –
like Pharisees and saints of old –
also find ourselves each day in the market place,
jostling with those who buy and sell,
love and hate, enslave and liberate….
those in our society and even some in our Churches
who would encourage us to ignore, ostracize, reject,
or even demonize those of other faiths or races or lifestyles –
whether it is
· refusing to fly with Arab Moslems on a Spanish holiday flight
· or refusing to hand our fire safety leaflets to those of differing sexuality
many ways to wash your hands of others
and walk by on the other side.
calls us to another way –
to see in each and every member of the human race:
made in the image of God
and loved by God
angel, a divine messenger, who –
whatever their faith or lack of it -
has something to tell us of God
Child of God, who needs out love and our Gospel,
not our abuse or our rejection.
you walk down the street to the market square,
never forget we follow a Lord
who ate with sinners and collaborators.
And it is there that you will find him!
In the words of George Macleod of Iona:
“I simply argue that the Cross be
at the centre of the market place
as well as on the steeple of the Church.
Jesus was not crucified in a Cathedral between two candles,
but on a cross between two thieves;
on the town garbage heap;
at a crossroads so cosmopolitan
that they had to write his title
in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek…
at the kind of place where cynics talk smut
and thieves curse and soldiers gamble.
Because that is where Churchmen should be
and what Churchmen should be about”
run from the market place
to wash our hands before supper –
No, let’s stay -
we will meet an angel…..
those wonderful words of advice
about hospitality in the letter to the Hebrews:
“Let brotherly love continue.
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers:
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
1Bede: Ecclesiastical History:
“Nor must we pass by in silence the story of the blessed Gregory, handed down to us by the tradition of our ancestors, which explains his earnest care for the salvation of our nation. It is said that one day, when some merchants had lately arrived at Rome, many things were exposed for sale in the market place, and much people resorted thither to buy: Gregory himself went with the rest, and saw among other wares some boys put up for sale, of fair complexion, with pleasing countenances, and very beautiful hair. When he beheld them, he asked, it is said, from what region or country they were brought? and was told, from the island of Britain, and that the inhabitants were like that in appearance. He again inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism, and was informed that they were pagans. Then fetching a deep sigh from the bottom of his heart, "Alas! what pity," said he, "that the author of darkness should own men of such fair countenances; and that with such grace of outward form, their minds should be void of inward grace. He therefore again asked, what was the name of that nation? and was answered, that they were called Angles. "Right," said he, "for they have an angelic face, and it is meet that such should be co-heirs with the Angels in heaven.”