12 April, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter (B) – The Christian life: avoid Gossip and the Leaven of Malice

From today’s Collect,
Almighty Father,
…grant us to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you
in pureness of living and truth.
Norman Rockwell - The Gossips
Our collect this morning employs an interesting choice of language. On the Second Sunday of Easter we should be still at the height of joyful celebrations for the resurrection of Our Lord, yet the liturgy makes us pray that we may, through God’s help, put away sinful and harmful vices, so that we may serve the Father in purity and truth. It seems that even in the midst of the Easter festival, this prayer insists on reminding us about what we do wrong. However, to do away with the “leaven of malice” is something directly connected with the celebration of Easter and to living the risen life Christ has won for us. The words of the collect are inspired by what St Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians regarding living the Christian life saying, ‘Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new batch... For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ (1Cor 5:6-8). In these words Paul warns the Corinthians that if they truly are alive in the risen Lord, as they claim to be, then they ought to put away the leaven of malice which is corrupting the Church community. If you live in Christ, then you have to strive to die to those sins that hamper the Christian life.

We ought to ask, what is this “leaven of malice” both the collect and First Corinthians speak of? Well, it could represent any behaviour, any bad habit, which is unbecoming to a Christian, such as defrauding workers of their rightful pay or oppressing the poor. But in particular, this “leaven of malice” represents those sins we commit amongst ourselves, against each-other as members of the family of faith. When we see bitter divisions and recriminations within the Church; when we see faithful exiting the church building in a self-righteous rage or having been reduced to tears; when we see entire communities severely crippled or even devastated by the toxic power of the “leaven of malice”, then we can truly identify this as gossip, slander, and talking against one-another. Gossip, slander, and murmuring, these are the “leaven of malice” that working unseen within the community, they poison it with their venom. There is a place for speaking out against things that are wrong, for whistleblowing, but if the intention is to put ourselves up over another person, if the intention is to put down people, then that is a sin – a vice unbecoming to a Christian.
We may think that gossiping is something of a minor offence, especially given the fact that we are surrounded by a culture that thrives on it; think of the countless stupid reality TV shows where people are set up against one-another for the enjoyment of the public; think of the easiness and willingness with which each one of us descends into gossip… It all seems perfectly normal and therefore acceptable – even encouraged.

Yet, the testimony of the Scriptures is very clear on this point; for example in the book of Proverbs alone there at least ten references to gossip and they all see it as one of the most insidious vices that can affect a believer. Allow me to give you a flavour from two books. Chapter 11 of Proverbs says,
‘Whoever belittles another lacks sense,
but an intelligent person remains silent.
A gossip goes about telling secrets,
but one who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a confidence.’ (Prov 11:12-13)
or again,
‘A perverse person spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends.’ (Prov 16:28)

The Book of Ecclesiasticus says,
‘Have you heard something? Let it die with you.
Be brave, it will not make you burst!
Having heard something, the fool suffers labour-pains
like a woman in labour with child.
Like an arrow stuck in a person’s thigh,
so is gossip inside a fool.’ (Ecclus 19:10-12)
or again,
‘As you fence in your property with thorns,
so make a door and a bolt for your mouth.
As you lock up your silver and gold,
so make balances and scales for your words.’ (Ecclus 28: 24-25)

Almighty Father,
…grant us to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you
in pureness of living and truth.
To pray faithfully this collect means striving to put away gossip from our lives. Gossip, slander, and talking against others, are the leaven of malice and wickedness that prevent us both from celebrating the Easter festival with lasting joy, and from leading the Christian life to its fullness.
To pray this collect means building a Church community in which acceptance, welcome, and true love for one-another can flourish, driving out anything that is hurtful and mean towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. It may take time to break these bad habits, but through the help of God and through the practice of virtues such as humility and justice, we will succeed.

I leave you with some words from Psalm 39, words we should really endeavour to make our own every day. They go like this,
‘I said, “I will guard my ways
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will keep a muzzle on my mouth”’ (Psalm 39:1).

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