Sorry I have been AWOL with the sermons lately but my computer has been acting up. I seem to be back on board now.
SERMON 18TH JUNE 2017 – 2ND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST – Matthew 9:35-10:8
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE
RACISM IS ANYTHING BUT NEW. “GO NOWHERE AMONG THE GENTILES, AND ENTER NO TOWN OF THE SAMARITANS, BUT GO RATHER TO THE LOST SHEEP OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL,” WRITES THE JEWISH MATTHEW. I HAVE TO SAY THAT IT WAS FORTUNATE FOR US PAUL CHOSE TO IGNORE THESE RACIST SENTIMENTS AND ENTHUSIASTICALLY DID ”GO … AMONG THE GENTILES” – OTHER WISE THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH WOULD PROBABLY NOT EXIST. WELL, ACTUALLY THESE WORDS WERE WRITTEN MANY YEARS AFTER PAUL’S DEATH SO IT WOULD APPEAR TO BE A REACTION BY MATTHEW AGAINST THE LIBERAL TEACHINGS OF PAUL AND THE BURGEONING CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY OUTSIDE OF THE CONVENTIONAL SYNAGOGUE; ALSO MATTHEW WROTE AT A TIME OF INTENSE CONFLICT AND MUTUAL ACRIMONY AS THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS WERE IN THE PROCESS OF SEPARATING FROM THE SYNAGOGUE COMMUNITY.
IN ANALYSING MATTHEW’S PERCEPTION OF JESUS AS WE CAN DISCERN FROM THESE WRITINGS IT IS OBVIOUS THAT DISCIPLES ARE EXPECTED TO DO TWO THINGS: BRING HEALING AND BRING LIBERATION. HEALING AND LIBERATION SHOULD NOT HAVE SOUNDED NEW TO THE DISCIPLES. THESE SEEM TO BE A SUMMATION OF MATTHEW’S BEATITUDES AND THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, FROM WHICH ALL DISCOURSE ON DISCIPLESHIP ORIGINATES. DISCIPLESHIP THAT DOES NOT DEMONSTRATE OF THESE TWO ESSENTIAL MARKS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NOT DISCIPLESHIP FROM A MATTHEAN PERSPECTIVE. GOD’S PRESENCE HERALDS HEALING AND LIBERATION; DISCIPLESHIP THAT DOES NOT PASS THIS LITMUS TEST MAY NOT HOLD UP TO MATTHEW’S EXPECTATIONS OF AND STANDARDS FOR DISCIPLESHIP. SO THERE IF YOU LIKE, IS SET OUT THE VERY BASIS OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP. HEALING AND LIBERATION – BOTH VERY POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES – AND BOTH OF WHICH MUST STEM FROM LOVE – LOVE OF THE CREATOR SPIRIT OF LOVE – AND LOVE FOR OUR FELLOW HUMANS AND INDEED THIS EARTH ON WHICH WE DEPEND FOR OUR VERY LIVES.
WE LIVE, AS DID MATTHEW, IN DIFFICULT TIMES. THE WESTERN WORLD WHICH WE HAVE TAKEN SO MUCH FOR GRANTED IS FACING POSSIBLY THE GREATEST THREAT TO ITS WAY OF LIFE SINCE THE RISE OF NAZIISM IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. WE HAVE THE TEMERITY TO SPEAK OF LOVE WHILST THE ISLAMIC JIHADISTS SPEAK ONLY OF HATRED. IT’S ALL VERY WELL FOR THE MEDIA AND POLITICIANS TO DOWNPLAY THE THREAT TO OUR PERSONS BY QUOTING STATISTICS WHICH SHOW THAT ONLY A TINY MINORITY OF DEATHS CAN BE ATTRIBUTED TO TERRORIST ACTION. I AM SURE THE FAMILIES AND LOVED ONES OF THOSE INNOCENTS RECENTLY KILLED IN LONDON FIND THAT IRRELEVANT.
LAST WEEK I READ TWO ARTICLES IN THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN ENTITLED “TACKLING DEADLY BELIEFS” AND ITS ACCOMPANYING “WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THEOLOGY”. LET ME GIVE YOU A COUPLE OF QUOTES. “…MANY CITIZENS IN SECULAR, PLURALIST SOCIETIES, SUCH AS AUSTRALIA HAVE LOST THE ABILITY ALTOGETHER TO THINK CRITICALLY ABOUT RELIGION.” BY CRITICALLY THE WRITER, ONE JOHNATHAN COLE MEANS OBJECTIVELY. I WOULD TAKE COLE’S POINT A LITTLE FURTHER. WE AS A SECULAR CAPITALISTIC SOCIETY HAVE LOST THE ABILITY TO EVEN THINK ABOUT RELIGION – LET ALONE OBJECTIVELY.
COLE GOES ON TO STATE,”RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS ARE PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF ALSO BEING POLITICAL ACTORS, HAVING POLITICAL AGENDAS AND BEING OF POLITICAL CONSEQUENCE. ISN’T THIS PRECISELY THE EXPERIENCE OF WESTERN SOCIETIES? JUST THINK OF THE IMPACT THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT CONTINUES TO HAVE IN US POLITICS”. I CAN ADD THAT THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT IS ALSO HAVING AN IMPACT HERE IN OUR OWN COUNTRY OF AUSTRALIA. WE ARE ALL ENTITLED TO OUR VIEW WHATEVER THAT MAY BE BUT JUST OBSERVE THE CONCERTED AND ORCHESTRATED OPPOSITION BY THE OFTEN DISGUISED CHRISTIAN RIGHT BOTH WITHIN THE BROADER SOCIETY AND WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TO IDEAS OF SOCIAL LIBERALISATION SUCH AS MARRIAGE, HOMOSEXUALITY, RACIAL AND SEXUAL EQUALITY, AND EUTHANASIA. JUST LIKE THE JIHADISTS LITERALLY QUOTING THEIR KORAN, THE LITERALLY UNDERSTOOD WRITINGS OF THE BIBLE ARE USED AS EVIDENCE AND IN SUPPORT OF THEIR ARGUMENTS – PROFOUND IGNORANCE IN BOTH CASES.
IN THE OTHER ARTICLE PETER KURTI MAKES AN INTERESTING OBSERVATION. HE WRITES, “WE NEED TO REASSERT THE PRINCIPLES OF WESTERN CIVILISATION, INSTILLING THEM IN EVERY CITIZEN, AND WORKING HARD TO ENSURE NEWCOMERS TO A COUNTRY ARE INTEGRATED INTO A WIDER SOCIETY”. I ASK, JUST WHAT ARE THESES ‘PRINCIPLES OF WESTERN CIVILISATION” AND FROM WHERE DO THEY ORIGINATE? I THINK WE ALL REALISE THAT BASIC ENGLISH AND EUROPEAN COMMON LAW IS BASED UPON CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES. THESE ARE BASICALLY WHAT IS SET OUT IN OUR INHERITED JEWISH TORAH AND CAN PERHAPS BE SUMMED UP BY THE ANCIENT PROPHET MICAH – “O MORTAL, WHAT IS GOOD; AND WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU BUT TO DO JUSTICE, AND TO LOVE KINDNESS, AND TO WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD”. “DO JUSTICE” – THAT’S FAIRNESS – IT MEANS TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD LIKE THEM TO TREAT YOU. “LOVE KINDNESS” – THAT’S HOSPITALITY, GENEROSITY, PITY – OR BETTER – EMPATHY WITH THOSE LESS FORTUNATE THAN YOURSELF. THAT’S ALL THE VERY OPPOSITE OF HATE AND CONFLICT. ONE CANNOT INFLICT HARM ON ANOTHER IN ANY FORM IF ONE HAS LOVE FOR THAT OTHER. THE LOVE, EMPATHY AND FORGIVENESS AS WITNESSED BY JESUS IS THE VERY ANTITHESIS OF HATE. I BELIEVE THAT UNTIL OUR COMMUNITY WAKES UP AND BEGINS TO RECONSIDER WHAT TRUE CHRISTIANITY HAS TO OFFER, IT WILL CONTINUE TO AIMLESSLY WANDER AND STRUGGLE TO FIND ANY ANSWERS TO THE HATRED AND POLITICAL AMBITIONS WE SEE DIRECTED AGAINST US BY RADICAL ISLAM. WE MUST NOT ONLY ADDRESS THAT ISSUE BUT, AS A FIRST WORLD WEALTHY AND STABLE DEMOCRATIC NATION, ALSO START TALKING ABOUT AND ACTING OUT FAIRNESS, EQUALITY, GENEROSITY AND – AGAIN THAT WORD – LOVE.
WHAT THEOLOGICAL COMMITMENTS ARE AT THE HEART OF YOUR DISCIPLESHIP? WE ALL HAVE OPERATING PRINCIPLES BY WHICH WE EMBODY OUR FAITH. BUT I SUSPECT THAT OFTEN THEY ARE NOT VERY CLOSE TO THE SURFACE OF OUR LIVES. THEY ARE SOMEWHERE IN THERE, DEEP INSIDE, BUT THE TRUTH IS WE DON’T DEPEND ON THEM VERY OFTEN OR WE TAKE THEM FOR GRANTED. WE MOVE ABOUT IN THE WORLD WITH AN UNCONSCIOUSNESS ABOUT WHAT’S THEOLOGICALLY IMPORTANT FOR US UNTIL WE ARE FORCED TO CONFESS THE TRUTH – IF WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT JESUS ACTUALLY MATTERS FOR HOW WE LIVE OUR LIVES.
DOES IT MATTER? HOW? ALL KINDS OF DECISIONS ARE MADE – IN OUR DAILY LIVES, IN OUR CHURCHES, IN OUR SYSTEMS, AND IN OUR GOVERNMENTS WITH GENERAL REFERENCES TO JESUS, ALLUSIONS TO THE BIBLE, OR NODS TO DENOMINATIONAL COMMITMENTS AS IF A RELIGIOUS MENTION IS THE SAME THING AS HAVING FAITH-BASED PRINCIPLES.
A GESTURE HERE AND THERE TO GOD, A WELL-PLACED OR CHOREOGRAPHED CITATION OF SCRIPTURE AT A WELL-APPOINTED TIME? NEITHER IS THE SAME AS HOLDING YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE TO FOUNDATIONAL THEOLOGICAL UNDERSTANDINGS. AN UNDERSTANDING AND AWARENESS OF ONE’S OWN THEOLOGICAL COMMITMENTS AND UNDERSTANDINGS WILL GUARD AGAINST THE UBIQUITOUS DUPLICITY AND IGNORANCE OF OUR TIMES. HEALING AND LIBERATION, THEREFORE, IS A GOOD PLACE TO START. MATTHEW WAS RIGHT WHEN HE WROTE, “THE HARVEST IS PLENTIFUL, BUT THE LABOURERS ARE FEW; THEREFORE ASK THE LORD OF THE HARVEST TO SEND OUT LABOURERS INTO HIS HARVEST.”
SO THIS IS NOW PERSONAL – IT COMES DOWN TO EACH OF US. THE QUESTION IS, “ARE YOU A LABOURER IN THE VINEYARD – OR AN ASKER?
THE LORD BE WITH YOU – AMEN.
SERMON 21ST MAY 2017 – EASTER 6 – John 14:15-21
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE
IN OUR READING FROM THE BOOK OF ACTS WE READ LUKE’S ACCOUNT OF THE SERMON – IF I CAN CALL IT THAT – OF PAUL WHEN HE ADDRESSES THE CROWDS AT THE AREOPOGAS IN ATHENS. A FEW YEARS AGO I STOOD AT THE ACROPOLIS AND LOOKED DOWN FROM THE NORTH WESTERN CORNER OF THE HILL AND COULD PLAINLY SEE WHAT REMAINS OF THE AREOPOGAS – THE ANCIENT COURT OF ATHENS. ACCORDING TO LUKE IT WAS IN THIS VERY SPOT THAT PAUL GAVE HIS CLEVER ADDRESS. IN IT LUKE REALLY SETS OUT HIS CONCEPT OF GOD. HE ENCOURAGES US TO VIEW THE ENTIRE CREATED ORDER AS THE PLACE OF GOD’S DWELLING. GOD IS NEAR TO US, AS CLOSE AS EVERY MOTION AND BREATH, AND WISHES TO BE FOUND BY THOSE WHO SEEK. THE LATE Dr MARCUS BORG – EMINENT AMERICAN THEOLOGIAN – HAS SAID THAT WE CAN LOOK UPON GOD AS BEING THE VAST OCEAN AND HUMANITY THE LITTLE FISH SWIMMING IN IT. I REALLY LIKE THAT ANALOGY. IT IS MOST EXPRESSIVE OF AN ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE CONCEPT.
FURTHER, ALL PEOPLE ARE GOD’S PEOPLE. LUKE MAKES NO DIFFERENTIATION BETWEEN THE CHURCH AND OTHERS. THIS INSPIRES AWE, AND ALSO REPENTANCE FOR NOT SEEKING – FOR NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO THE GOD IN WHOM WE LIVE, MOVE, AND HAVE OUR BEING. PARTICULARLY, WE ARE EXHORTED TO REPENT FROM THE HUMAN INVENTIONS WE WORSHIP IN PLACE OF GOD. IN THE ANCIENT WORLD THESE INVENTIONS TOOK THE FORM OF IDOLS- FIGURES OFTEN IN HUMAN FORM; TODAY THESE STONE AND METAL OBJECTS HAVE BEEN REPLACED BY MATERIALISM AND PRIDE IN OURSELVES AND OUR HUMAN ACHIEVEMENTS – WE ARE THE CLEVER COUNTRY – WE ARE NOW INVINCIBLE.
WE IGNORE THE PLEAS OF SOME WHO TELL US WE ARE DAMAGING THE EARTH BEYOND REPAIR – SUBMERSED IN OUR CHASE AFTER PERSONAL AGGRANDISEMENT AND GATHERING OF PERSONAL POSSESSIONS.
FINALLY, THE END OF PAUL’S VISION IS JUSTICE, BROUGHT ABOUT THROUGH JESUS, THE MAN ATTESTED BY GOD THROUGH RESURRECTION. THIS BRINGS US TO JOHN’S STORY OF JESUS’ FAREWELL DISCOURSE TO HIS FRIENDS AND FOLLOWERS. AGAIN I ASK YOU TO CAST YOUR IMAGINATIONS BACK TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH JOHN WAS WRITING IN THOSE RAW AND VIOLENT FIRST AND SECOND CENTURIES. THE YOUNG EMERGING CHURCH WAS UNDER CONSTANT PRESSURE AND PERSECUTION. JOHN WRITES WORDS OF MUCH NEEDED REASSURANCE – CERTAINLY AIMED AT HIS CONGREGATION BUT ALSO MOST APPLICABLE TODAY. I FEEL NO DOUBT THAT THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TODAY IS PASSING THROUGH SIMILAR UNCERTAIN AND CHALLENGING TIMES, AND THIS STORY – THESE WORDS – ASSURE US THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE; THIS LESSON CAN BE EQUALLY ASSURING NOW AS IT WAS THEN; TO KNOW THAT EVEN TODAY WE ARE NEVER ABANDONED BY JESUS AS PRESENT IN THE FORM OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD. THE LIMITATIONS OF THE EMBODIMENT OF JESUS ARE NO LONGER AN IMPEDIMENT, BECAUSE AS CAN BE SEEN IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, “I WILL ASK THE FATHER, AND HE WILL GIVE YOU ANOTHER ADVOCATE, TO BE WITH YOU FOREVER.” THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS BEEN SENT FOR US, AND WITHOUT ANY PHYSICAL CONSTRAINTS! THE POSSIBILITIES NOW APPEAR ENDLESS. THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT, OR PARACLETE (SOMEONE CALLED ALONGSIDE), JESUS ALTHOUGH CONTEXTUALLY AND PHYSICALLY LIMITED, CAN NOW WALK BY OUR SIDE. THE SPIRIT IS UBIQUITOUS. IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH WHENEVER AN HISTORICAL EPOCH HAS OCCURRED IN WHICH THE SPIRIT HAS BEEN GIVEN PRIMACY, THE BARRIERS OF SEXISM, CLASSISM, AND ALL SORTS OF PREJUDICES HAVE BEEN TORN DOWN. NOW THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH IS EVER PRESENT NOT ONLY TO BRING US TO KNOWLEDGE THAT WE CAN BE RECONCILED TO GOD THROUGH JESUS, BUT THAT WE WILL BE ABLE TO DISCERN VALUES OF JUSTICE, MERCY AND PEACE TO WHICH WE SHOULD ADHERE WITH THE DISCERNMENT PROCESS THAT ONLY THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH CAN PROVIDE US.
THE HOLY SPIRIT, UNRESTRAINED BY ETHNICITY, GENDER, CLASS AND SEXUALITY, GUIDES US TO PLACES BEYOND THE PHYSICAL AND PSYCHIC LIMITATIONS IMPOSED BY OUR BODIES, EXPERIENCES AND HISTORICAL REALITIES. JESUS IS EVER PRESENT WITH EACH AND EVERY HUMAN BEING AS WE WALK THROUGH THIS JOURNEY OF LIFE WITH THE UNRESTRAINED GUIDANCE AND WISDOM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. THIS SAME SPIRIT WOULD NOT ALLOW FOR THE EXCLUSION OF A WOMAN WHO WAS A SAMARITAN FROM THE BLESSINGS OF THE KINGDOM JUST AS THE SPIRIT WILL NOT ALLOW FOR THE EXCLUSION OF ANY AMONG US TODAY.
FROM THIS MOST PEACEFUL AND COMFORTABLE CONTINENT OF AUSTRALIA WE LOOK OUT ACROSS THE WORLD AND SEE OUR FELLOW HUMANS FACING ALMOST INDESCRIBABLE CHALLENGES. JUST AS IN THOSE FIRST CENTURIES WE SEE PERSECUTION AND VIOLENCE RAINING DOWN ON INNOCENT MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN THROUGHOUT THE MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA PARTICULARLY. THE SAD PART OF IT IS WE AS A NATION OF UNTOLD WEALTH AND BLESSING SEEM MORE INTERESTED IN PRESERVING OUR OWN STATUS QUO THAN SERIOUSLY REACHING OUT TO THOSE IN DIRE AND DESPERATE SITUATIONS. OF COURSE MANY ARE SPEAKING UP BUT OUR GOVERNMENT TURNS A LARGELY DEAF EAR. THANKFULLY THERE ARE MANY STORIES OF GOOD AND GENEROUS PEOPLE HERE REACHING OUT IN PRACTICAL WAYS TO THOSE IN NEED – AND THEIR REACHING OUT IS VERY OFTEN REWARDED BY THE SINCERE GRATITUDE SHOWN IN RETURN. WHAT A REWARD! TO KNOW THAT YOU HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE TO SOMEONE’S LIFE – THAT YOU HAVE HELPED LIFT SOMEONE UP FROM THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR.
YOU WANT TO FIND GOD? WELL ACCORDING TO THE ANCIENT LUKE AND PAUL AND THE CONTEMPORARY MARCUS BORG – YOU LIVE WITHIN THE VERY GOD YOU SEEK. IT’S JUST THAT WE ARE ALL SO ENGROSSED WITHIN OUR OWN LITTLE WORLD THAT WE DON’T NOTICE. REMEMBER THE WORDS OF JESUS AS WRITTEN BY JOHN SO LONG AGO – “THEY WHO HAVE MY COMMANDMENTS AND KEEP THEM ARE THOSE WHO LOVE ME; AND THOSE WHO LOVE ME WILL BE LOVED BY MY FATHER, AND I WILL LOVE THEM AND REVEAL MYSELF TO THEM.” WE HAVE THE COMMANDMENTS OF JESUS – CARE FOR THE POOR AND THE OUTCAST AND THOSE IN NEED. IT’S NOT SELECTIVE YOU KNOW – IT APPLIES TO EVERYONE ON EARTH – THE ATTRACTIVE AND THE UNATTRACTIVE – THE CLEAN AND THE SMELLY – AND IT DOESN’T JUST APPLY TO PEOPLE – WE NEED TO STOP DAMAGING THE EARTH – THE COMMANDS ARE INDEED UNIVERSAL.
YOU WANT TO KNOW THE SPIRIT OF GOD? THEN SIMPLY ACKNOWLEDGE THE PRESENCE AND OBEY THE COMMANDMENTS – LOVE WITHOUT RESERVE AND EXPRESS THAT LOVE BY REACHING OUT.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN
I hope this is helpful. Blessings. John
SERMON 7TH MAY 2017 – EASTER 4 – John 10:1-10
1 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE
THE CHAPTER DIVISIONS IN THESE WRITINGS ARE OFTEN MISLEADING – MUCH LIKE THE CHRISTIAN HIJACKED INTERPRETATION OF THEM. IN ORDER TO GET THE SENSE OF THIS PASSAGE WE NEED TO LOOK BACK INTO CHAPTER 9 WHERE JOHN TELLS THE STORY OF JESUS HEALING THE MAN BORN BLIND. WHEN THE MAN WHO REMAINS UNNAMED IS TAKEN TO SEE THE PHARISEES THEY REJECT HIM AND CAST HIM OUT. JESUS SEEKS HIM OUT AND EVENTUALLY THE MAN BECOMES A FOLLOWER OF JESUS AND THE PART OF THE STORY WE READ TODAY TAKES PLACE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ARGUMENT BETWEEN THE PHARISEES AND JESUS. THE STORY IS ABOUT BLINDNESS – NOT JUST PHYSICAL BLINDNESS BUT SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS. THE STORY CONCLUDES WITH A STRONG DIVISION OF OPINION AS TO THE IDENTITY OF JESUS. OF COURSE, FOR JOHN, JESUS WAS THE ETERNAL SON OF JAHWEH, THE ANCIENT GOD OF THE JEWS. JOHN HAS WRITTEN THIS SHEPHERD DISCOURSE REALLY AS AN INTERPRETATION OF THE STORY IN WHICH IT IS EMBEDDED – THE GIVING OF SIGHT TO THE MAN BORN BLIND.
THE PHARISEES WHO HAVE INTERROGATED THE BLIND MAN IN JOHN 9 ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THE SHEPHERDS OF ISRAEL, THOSE WHO CARE FOR, PROTECT, AND NOURISH THE PEOPLE. INSTEAD, THEY EXPEL THE HEALED BLIND MAN FROM THEIR COMMUNITY, REFUSING TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS AND HIS HEALING WORK COME FROM GOD. THEY ARE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT GUARDING THEIR POWER AND AUTHORITY THAN ABOUT THE WELL-BEING OF THE PEOPLE. THE MAN IS VIRTUALLY SAVED BY JESUS AND HIS LIFE IS RADICALLY CHANGED FROM BEING A BLIND BEGGAR ON THE STREET TO A MEMBER OF JESUS’ ENTOURAGE.
MORE TO THE POINT, WHAT CAN THIS STORY TELL US AS CHRISTIANS – FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST -TODAY? WHAT DOES THIS STATEMENT – “I CAME THAT THEY [THE SHEEP] MAY HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY” MEAN? WHAT IS THIS ABUNDANT LIFE? IT SOUNDS LIKE IT IS MORE THAN SIMPLY THE NORMAL AVERAGE LIFE WE ALL LEAD AS PEOPLE POPULATING THIS EARTH.
AS WITH MOST TOPICS OF SERIOUS DISCUSSION AMONGST PEOPLE THERE ARE TWO FAIRLY DISTINCT AND DISPARIT POSITIONS TAKEN WHEN THE SUBJECTS OF LIFE AND DEATH ARE DISCUSSED. THERE ARE THOSE WHO ARE ADAMENT OF A LIFE CONTINUING IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD FOR EVER AFTER DEATH. I REMEMBER THE OLD REVIVAL SONG THAT COULD BE TAKEN AS THEIR ANTHEM, “THIS WORLD IS NOT MY HOME, I’M JUST A-PASSING THROUGH”. I PERSONALLY FIND THAT ATTITUDE EXTREMELY SAD. FOR ME IT IS SELF-INDULGENT AND TOTALLY UNREALISTIC. IT INFERS THAT ONE’S MIND AND LIFE IS FOCUSSED NOT HERE WHERE WE ALL LIVE TOGETHER BUT “UP THERE” IN SOME IDEALISED CONCEPT OF A HEAVEN WHICH EXISTS SOMEWHERE ABOVE THE CLOUDS. WE ALL KNOW THAT IS AN IDEA THAT HAS BEEN PUT ASIDE MANY YEARS AGO BY THINKING PEOPLE. IT IS INTROSPECTIVE AND ACTUALLY OPPOSITE TO THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS WHICH WOULD HAVE US FOCUS ON THE WELFARE OF OTHERS.
SO, IF THIS TALK OF “ABUNDANT LIFE“ IS NOT ABOUT SOME FUTURE EXISTENCE AFTER DEATH WHAT IS JOHN SAYING HERE?
HE SPEAKS OF THIEVES AND BANDITS. CHRISTIANITY IS A BROAD CHURCH ENFOLDING MANY IDEAS AND WAYS OF EXPRESSING FAITH IN GOD AND NOT ALL LEADERS ARE HONEST. THERE ARE PREACHERS WHO PORTRAY THE “ABUNDANT LIFE” OF JOHN’S GOSPEL AS BEING CERTAINLY IN THE HERE AND NOW BUT OFFERING A LIFE OF WEALTH, HEALTH AND WORLDLY SUCCESS. THIS MESSAGE, USUALLY PROMULGATED BY THE SO CALLED TELE-EVANGELISTS USUALLY RESULTS IN GREAT WEALTH FOR THE PREACHER BUT OFTEN DECEPTION AND DESPAIR FOR THE FOLLOWERS WHO FIND THAT LIFE REMAINS FULL OF STRUGGLE.
WHAT, THEN, IS THE LIFE IN ABUNDANCE THAT JESUS PROMISES? THE WHOLE OF JOHN’S GOSPEL IS FOCUSED ON THIS GIFT OF LIFE – FOR INSTANCE:
- “IN HIM WAS LIFE, AND THE LIFE WAS THE LIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE” (1:4).
- “FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON, SO THAT EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM MAY NOT PERISH BUT MAY HAVE ETERNAL LIFE” (3:16).
- “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN ME, EVEN THOUGH THEY DIE, WILL LIVE” (11:25).
- “AND THIS IS ETERNAL LIFE, THAT THEY MAY KNOW YOU, THE ONLY TRUE GOD, AND JESUS CHRIST WHOM YOU HAVE SENT” (17:3).
- “BUT THESE ARE WRITTEN SO THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE… AND THAT THROUGH BELIEVING YOU MAY HAVE LIFE IN HIS NAME” (20:31).
“LIFE” OR “ETERNAL LIFE” IN JOHN’S GOSPEL IS NOT JUST ABOUT LIFE AFTER DEATH. IT IS LIFE THAT BEGINS HERE AND NOW; IT IS KNOWING THE ONE TRUE GOD AND JESUS WHO HAS REVEALED SO MUCH OF THE NATURE OF GOD TO THE WORLD. IT IS KNOWING THE VOICE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD WHO TRULY CARES FOR US. IT IS LIFE IN COMMUNITY, FINDING SECURITY AND NOURISHMENT AS PART OF HIS FLOCK. IT IS LIFE THAT ABOUNDS IN MEANING AND VALUE AND ENDURES EVEN BEYOND DEATH.
SO WHAT IS ABUNDANT LIFE? HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE IT? SUCCESS IN YOUR WORKING LIFE? HAPPINESS? FAMILY? RELATIONSHIPS? MONEY?
WHEN WE THINK ABOUT ABUNDANCE, OUR TENDENCY IS TO JUDGE IT BY THE WORLD’S STANDARDS, WHICH THEN, I SUSPECT, CONNECTS A CONCEPT OF ABUNDANCE TO PERSONAL AFFLUENCE. LIFTED UP, ADMIRED, AND FAVOURED ARE THOSE WHOSE WEALTH AND RICHES SEEM TO PROVE THAT THEY’VE DONE SOMETHING RIGHT, THAT THEY ARE RIGHT WITH GOD. ABUNDANCE EQUALS AFFLUENCE – BELIEVING EQUALS BLESSINGS – FAITH LEADS TO FORTUNE – AND SO ON.
THERE’S A REASON THAT PROSPERITY GOSPEL PREACHES — AND SELLS. ABUNDANCE IS BOTH DESIRED AND SEEMINGLY DESERVED. WE HAVE ALL SEEN AND HEARD THE ADVERTISEMENTS THAT TELL US THAT WE NEED TO BUY THIS PRODUCT BECAUSE “YOU DESERVE IT” – A CON IF EVER THERE WAS ONE! AND THE FACT THAT THIS PROMISED PROSPERITY ELUDES MANY PEOPLE IS ALL TOO OFTEN CAUGHT UP IN ASSUMPTIONS OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.
THE MEANING OF ABUNDANT LIFE IS A CRITICAL QUESTION FOR OUR TIME WHEN EVEN THE BASICS OF LIFE ARE DENIED TO MANY AND THE VERY SOURCE THAT MAINTAINS LIFE IS IN JEOPARDY. AS A RESULT, HOW THE CHURCH DEFINES ABUNDANCE BECOMES AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF OUR THINKING. ABUNDANT LIFE ACCORDING TO JESUS’ STANDARDS IS JUST ABOUT THE OPPOSITE OF HOW “ABUNDANT” GETS DEFINED BY CONTEMPORARY CRITERIA, WHICH IS WHY ABUNDANT LIFE FROM A JOHANNINE PERSPECTIVE COULD ACTUALLY MATTER.
ABUNDANT LIFE ACCORDING TO JOHN IS NOT THAT IMPRESSIVE WHEN IT COMES RIGHT DOWN TO IT AND ESPECIALLY IF WE COMPARE IT TO OUR ASSESSMENTS AND JUDGEMENTS OF WHAT WE THINK ABUNDANT LIFE SHOULD LOOK LIKE.
ABUNDANT LIFE ACCORDING TO JESUS? PROTECTION, PROVISION, AND PRESENCE.
WE CAN’T FORGET THAT THESE WORDS OF JESUS, “I CAME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY” ARE HIS INTERPRETATION OF THE HEALING OF THE MAN BLIND FROM BIRTH — A MAN BEGGING FOR HIS NEXT MEAL, CONSTANTLY EXPOSED TO THE ELEMENTS, A MAN WITHOUT COMMUNITY AND ALONE TO FEND FOR HIMSELF. BY RESTORING THIS MAN’S SIGHT, JESUS DOES MUCH MORE THAN MAKING HIM ABLE TO SEE AGAIN. IN THE HEALING OF THE MAN BORN BLIND, PROTECTION, PROVISION, AND PRESENCE ARE NOW HIS – AND FOREVER.
THAT’S IT. IT’S NOT VISIBLE OPULENCE – NOT ASSUMED AFFLUENCE – NOT LUXURY OR LAVISHNESS.
NO, IT SEEMS THAT ABUNDANT LIFE, ACCORDING TO JESUS, IS KNOWING THAT YOU WILL BE SAFE AND SOUND, TRUSTING THAT YOUR BASIC NEEDS WILL BE MET, AND BELIEVING THAT YOU ARE NEVER ALONE.
AFTER THE FORMERLY BLIND MAN HAS BEEN THROWN OUT BY THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS, CAST OUT ONCE AGAIN FROM COMMUNITY AND EXPOSED TO THE ELEMENTS, JESUS FINDS HIM AND PROTECTS HIM (JOHN 9:35). THE MAN BORN BLIND IS NOW ONE OF JESUS’ OWN, WHICH MEANS FOR HIM THE PROMISE OF PASTURE AND THE PROMISE OF PROVISION. THE BLIND MAN IS NOW A SHEEP OF JESUS’ FOLD, PART OF JESUS’ COMMUNITY, WITH JESUS ALWAYS. AND WHEN YOU KNOW AND EXPERIENCE PROTECTION, PROVISION, AND PRESENCE, HOW CAN YOUR LIFE NOT BE ABUNDANT?
SO, ABUNDANT LIFE IS NOT ABOUT SOME PIE IN THE SKY LIVING FOREVER – IT IS ABOUT FINDING OUR FULL POTENTIAL AS HUMANS. IT IS ABOUT THE HERE AND NOW! IT MEANS SIMPLY HAVING FAITH IN THE SO CALLED GOOD SHEPHERD AND TRUSTING IN HIM.
REMEMBER, ABUNDANT LIFE ACCORDING TO JESUS? PROTECTION – PROVISION – AND PRESENCE.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN
Here is tomorrow’s sermon. It is a bit personal for the parish but if something strikes a note with you and you are within cooee of Norton Summit please feel free ot come and suss us out. Blessings.
SERMON 30TH APRIL 2017 – EASTER 3 – LUKE 24.13-35
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there; they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
IN THE NAME OF GOD; CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE
ON FRIDAY EVENING I JOINED WITH A GREAT CROWD TO WITNESS THE INSTALLATION OF Bp GEOFFREY SMITH AS THE 10TH BISHOP AND 5TH ARCHBISHOP OF ADELAIDE. IN HIS SERMON Abp GEOFF SPOKE TO THE GOSPEL STORY ACCORDING TO JOHN OF THE “FEEDING OF THE 5000” BY JESUS. HE CONVEYED SUCH A POWERFUL MESSAGE FROM THE STORY THAT I KNEW I HAD TO SHARE IT WITH YOU THIS MORNING. IN THE VERSION FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN JESUS ASKS PHILIP WHERE COULD THEY BUY FOOD FOR THE CROWD TO EAT. PHILIP RESPONDS BY SAYING WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY. IT WOULD TAKE SIX MONTHS WAGES TO BUY ENOUGH AND THEN EVERYONE WOULD ONLY GET A VERY SMALL PORTION. SORRY JESUS, IT’S JUST NOT POSSIBLE. WE DON’T HAVE THE RESOURCES – AND HE WAS RIGHT – IT WAS QUITE TRUE – THEY DID NOT HAVE THE RESOURCES. THEN ANDREW, ANOTHER DISCIPLE SAYS “JESUS THERE IS A BOY HERE WHO HAS 5 BARLEY LOAVES AND 2 FISH” – HIS OWN LUNCH – BUT THAT IS CERTAINLY NOT ENOUGH TO FEED A CROWD. JESUS TAKES THE FOOD FROM THE BOY, GIVES THANKS, BLESSES IT AND THE REST AS THEY SAY IS HISTORY. THE STORY ENDS BY TELLING US THERE WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE TO EAT WITH A LARGE AMOUNT LEFT OVER; THE GENEROSITY OF GOD.
THE MESSAGE IS VERY CLEAR FOR US HERE IN THIS CHURCH OF ST JOHN THIS MORNING. THIS CHURCH IS NOT GROWING – IT IS STATIC. AS I SAID IN MY REPORT TO THE ANNUAL VESTRY MEETING, THERE IS AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. THIS IS SOMETHING WE MUST ADDRESS IF THIS CHURCH IS TO LIVE INTO THE FUTURE AND FULFIL OUR MISSION STATEMENT “TO BE A VITAL EXPRESSION OF GOD’S PRESENCE IN THE ADELAIDE HILLS”. Abp GEOFF’S LESSON FROM THE GOSPEL STORY WAS THAT WHAT PHILIP SAID WAS ABSOLUTELY TRUE. “SORRY JESUS, WE HAVE NOTHING – WE DON’T HAVE THE RESOURCES TO DO IT” – SO TRUE – THEY DID NOT AND WE AS A SMALL FAITHFUL GROUP OF CHRISTIANS DO NOT. WE ARE AGING, WE HAVE FAMILY COMMITMENTS TO CONSIDER, AND WE HAVE RELATIVELY LIMITED RESOURCES.
BUT IN THE STORY THEY TOOK WHAT THEY HAD AND GAVE IT TO JESUS – WHO BLESSED IT AND DID MIRACULOUS THINGS WITH IT. WE AS A CONGREGATION ARE ANXIOUS TO SEE AN INCREASE IN OUR NUMBERS HERE AT St JOHNS. Abp GEOFF WAS SPEAKING TO A DIOCESAN CONGREGATION WHEN HE ISSUED THE CHALLENGE – FOR THAT IS WHAT IT WAS – TO TAKE WHAT RESOURCES WE HAVE AND BRING THEM TO GOD – THEN TO BE LED AND GUIDED BY HIS SPIRIT IN TOTAL TRUST. JUST AS THE CROWD WAS FED – SO – IF WE DO THIS WITH SINCERITY AND IN PRAYER – MIGHT NOT WE ALSO BE NURTURED AND THIS PARISH BENEFIT GREATLY AND FLOURISH FOR GOD? MAY WE SERIOUSLY THINK ABOUT THIS AND START PRAYING THAT GOD WILL TAKE THE MEAGRE GIFTS WE CAN OFFER AND THROUGH PRAYER AND RENEWED EFFORT BRING NEW LIFE TO THIS PLACE.
TURNING NOW TO THE GOSPEL STORY FOR TODAY WE SEE THE SAME LESSON.
WE SEE TWO DESPONDENT, DISILLUSIONED AND WEARY MEN TRUDGING THE ELEVEN PLUS KILOMETRES FROM JERUSALEM BACK TO THEIR HOME IN THE VILLAGE OF EMMAUS. THEIR HOPES AND EXPECTATIONS HAD VANISHED.
THE MAN THEY THOUGHT WAS GOING TO LEAD THEIR COUNTRY ISRAEL OUT FROM UNDER THE BURDENSOME YOKE OF THE ROMAN OCCUPATION HAD BEEN BRUTALLY EXECUTED. NOTICE THAT FOR LUKE THE GUILT FOR THIS MURDER STILL RESTS WITH THE JEWISH RELIGIOUS LEADERS. BUT GUILT ALSO RESTED HARD UPON THEIR OWN SHOULDERS FOR THEY HAD DESERTED THEIR LEADER WHEN THE CRUNCH HAD COME. THEY WERE REALLY IN A VERY SORRY STATE OF MIND. “THE FUTURE”, THEY ASKED, “WHAT OF THE FUTURE? WHAT FUTURE? MAYBE THERE ISN’T ONE? WE’LL JUST CONTINUE ON WITH OUR LIVES AND TRY TO FORGET THE LAST FEW YEARS. IT WILL BE HARD TO FORGET BECAUSE WE SAW AND HEARD SO MANY MARVELLOUS THINGS WHEN WE WERE TRAVELLING WITH JESUS – BUT IT’S ALL OVER NOW”. IT’S LIKE RETURNING FROM AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF WAR. YOU RELIVE THE GOOD TIMES – BECAUSE THERE ARE ALWAYS GOOD TIMES EVEN IN THE MIDDLE OF SUCH A CONFLICT – AND THE BAD TIMES WHEN THINGS LOOKED HOPELESS AND IT APPEARED WE MIGHT NEVER GET OUT OF THIS.
BUT LOOK WHAT HAPPENS TO THEM WHEN THEY MEET UP WITH JESUS AND LISTEN TO HIM. “OUR HEARTS BURNED WITHIN US”, THEY SAID. WITH RENEWED ENERGY THEY IMMEDIATELY TURNED AROUND AND ALMOST SPRINTED THE ELEVEN KILOMETRES BACK TO JERUSALEM. THEY HAD BEEN JOLTED OUT OF THEIR DESPONDENCY, THEIR SELF-DOUBT AND THEIR LETHARGY. THEY WERE REFRESHED AND REVITALISED. THEY WENT ON OF COURSE TO CHANGE THE WORLD.
THE LESSON IS CLEAR ALSO FOR US HERE IN THIS CHURCH ON THIS 3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER. ALL THE TWO MEN HAD TO DO IN ORDER TO CHANGE THEIR MOOD AND ATTITUDE WAS TO LISTEN TO WHAT JESUS WAS TELLING THEM. THAT’S ALL – JUST LISTEN.
THERE IS NO QUESTION IN MY MIND THAT WE IN THIS CHURCH CAN DO THE SAME. WE CAN LISTEN TO THE SPIRIT OF GOD AS IT SPEAKS TO US THROUGH THESE WONDERFUL OLD WRITINGS AND THROUGH PRAYER.
LET US NOW PRAY:
“GRACIOUS AND LOVING GOD, WE COME BEFORE YOU FEELING AS THE TWO DISCIPLES WERE FEELING ON THAT SAD JOURNEY WHEN THEY FLED FROM THE DISIASTER THAT HAD BEFALLEN THEIR SMALL COMMUNITY IN JERUSALEM. WE TOO FEEL THE WEIGHT OF FRUSTRATION AND APPARENT LACK OF VITALITY IN THIS PLACE. LOVING AND FORGIVING GOD, WE ASK THAT YOU WILL RESPOND TO US AS WE PRAY FOR RENEWED ENTHUSIASM FOR YOUR CHURCH IN NORTON SUMMIT AND THE SURROUNDING AREAS. LORD, WE LEAVE THE BURDEN OF OUR CARES WITH YOU NOW. BLESS THIS PLACE AND BLESS US AS WE STRIVE AFRESH TO FULFIL OUR DEEP DESIRE TO BE A VITAL EXPRESSION OF YOUR PRESENCE IN THIS AREA. AS THE YOUNG BOY BROUGHT HIS OWN LUNCH TO JESUS MAY WE BRING OUR MEAGRE RESOURCES AND ENERGY AFRESH TO REVITALISE THIS PARISH THROUGH OUR PRAYERS AND COMMITMENT TO THE ENERGISING SPIRIT OF CHRIST. JUST AS THE DISCIPLES LISTENED TO JESUS ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS SO MAY WE HEAR YOU NOW AS WE PRAY AND LISTEN FOR YOUR VOICE IN OUR HEARTS? WE PRAY IN JESUS NAME. AMEN
THE LORD BE WITH YOU.
SERMON 23RD APRIL 2017 – EASTER 2 – John 20:19-31
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE.
AFTER READING THIS STORY FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN AN EXPERIENCE I HAD IN ROME IN 2012 CAME IMMEDIATELY TO MIND. I HAVE THOUGHT LONG AND HARD ABOUT WHETHER TO SHARE THIS STORY WITH YOU AS IT IS INTENSELY PERSONAL AND STILL VERY EMOTIONAL FOR ME – BUT AFTER MUCH THOUGHT I DECIDED TO RISK IT.
IN 2008 MY LATE WIFE MEREDITH AND I WERE IN ROME AND STAYING AT A PLEASANT LITTLE HOTEL CALLED HOTEL MONDIAL – NOT FAR FROM THE CENTRAL RAILWAY STATION – TERMINI. THIS WAS OUR FIRST VISIT TO ROME AND WE HAD A MOST ENJOYABLE TIME. IT WAS THE 14TH OF AUGUST AND ONE VERY WARM EVENING WE WALKED NEXT DOOR TO A CHARMING RESTAURANT CALLED “COTTO” TO CELEBRATE THE ANNIVERSARY OF OUR ENGAGEMENT WAY BACK IN 1964. THE STAFF WERE GENEROUS AND BELIEVING WE WERE CELEBRATING OUR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY PLIED US WITH EVERYTHING THE MENU – AND BAR – HAD TO OFFER. IN THE PREVIOUS YEAR MEREDITH HAD BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER BUT IN THE YEAR 2008 AFTER SURGERY, RADIO AND CHEMO THERAPY, IT SEEMED AS THOUGH IT HAD BEEN DEFEATED. SADLY THIS WAS NOT THE CASE AND MEREDITH DIED IN SEPTEMBER 2009.
2012 SAW ME BACK IN ROME, ALBEIT STAYING AT A DIFFERENT AREA FROM THE PREVIOUS VISIT. I WAS ACROSS TOWN IN PRATI, ADJACENT TO THE VATICAN. ONE DAY I WAS ENJOYING A LONE TOUR OF AREAS I HAD NOT SEEN BEFORE AND FOUND MYSELF CLOSE TO THE AREA WHERE WE STAYED FOUR YEARS BEFORE. SOMETHING URGED ME TO REVISIT THAT STREET AND SEE AGAIN THE LITTLE HOTEL AND THE COTTO RESTAURANT. AS I APPROACHED THE AREA I EXPERIENCED A VERY TANGIBLE SENSE THAT I WAS NO LONGER WALKING ALONE. I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT MEREDITH WAS THERE WITH ME. I FELT IT VERY STRONGLY AND HAD TO STOP BECAUSE I FOUND MYSELF TRYING TO CHOKE BACK THE EMOTION AND THE TEARS. THE PRESENCE WAS UNEXPECTED BUT VERY REAL – OF THAT I AM CERTAIN. I SIMPLY FELT AGAIN THE WARMTH OF HER PRESENCE AND LOVE AND IT WAS TOO MUCH. IT WAS NOT A GHOST AS I IMAGINE SUCH A THING TO BE – BUT A SPIRITUAL PRESENCE. THAT FEELING PASSED AFTER A PERIOD AS I FOUND MY WAY BACK ACROSS THE CITY BUT IT IS SOMETHING I SHALL NEVER FORGET. I AM NOT EASILY SHAKEN BUT I WAS THEN.
OF COURSE I WANTED TO ANALYSE THE EXPERIENCE AND PUT IT DOWN TO A PSYCHOLOGICAL EPISODE TRIGGERED BY MY FOND MEMORIES AND THE FACT OF BEING IN THAT PLACE WHERE WE HAD SUCH AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE, BUT SOMEHOW THAT HAS NEVER REALLY BEEN CONVINCING. IT WAS A REAL EXPERIENCE BUT WAS BEYOND RATIONAL EXPLANATION. I WONDER WHETHER ANY OF YOU HERE TODAY HAVE HAD A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE. IF YOU HAVE YOU WILL KNOW EXACTLY HOW I FELT AND THAT WHAT I AM SAYING IS IRRATIONAL BUT INEXPLICABLE BUT REAL.
WHY HAVE I TOLD YOU OF THIS VERY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE? BECAUSE I THINK IT REFLECTS IN SOME SMALL WAY THE EVENTS TOLD BY JOHN IN OUR GOSPEL READING TO DAY. JOHN WAS A MIDDLE EASTERN JEWISH MYSTIC AND QUITE UNLIKE AN EDUCATED WESTERN EUROPEAN PERSON OF THE 21ST CENTURY. JOHN’S METHOD OF DESCRIBING AN EVENT THAT WAS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO DESCRIBE WAS TO EITHER WRAP IT IN THE STORIES FROM HIS HEBREW BIBLE OR PUT IT INTO A SEEMINGLY FACTUAL STORY. VERSE 31 – THE LAST VERSE IN THIS EXCERPT THAT WE READ THIS MORNING – SUMS UP JOHN’S INTENTIONS IN RELATING THIS STORY. I QUOTE, “… THESE [WORDS] ARE WRITTEN SO THAT YOU MAY COME TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF GOD, AND THAT THROUGH BELIEVING YOU MAY HAVE LIFE IN HIS NAME.” THREE PHRASES STAND OUT FOR ME IN THIS GOSPEL. FIRST, THE WORDS, “DO NOT BE AFRAID”, SECOND, “PEACE BE WITH YOU” AND THIRD, “YOU MAY HAVE LIFE”.
WHEN FACED WITH AN INEXPLICABLE EXPERIENCE, OFTEN THE HAIRS ON THE BACK OF ONE’S NECK RISE – IT’S A STANDARD HUMAN NERVOUS REACTION. ONE COULD SUM IT UP AS, “FEAR” – A PRIMEVAL REACTION. BUT JOHN IS SAYING FIRMLY, “DO NOT BE AFRAID”. MANY PEOPLE TO DAY ARE AFRAID TO LOWER THEIR GUARD AND ALLOW THE SPIRIT OF GOD TO SPEAK TO THEIR HEART. AS THEY TURN AWAY IN DISBELIEF IT’S SAD THAT THEY DON’T HEAR THE PLEA WHISPERED IN THEIR MIND, “DO NOT BE AFRAID” – IT IS NOT A VOICE OF FEAR BUT OF LOVE.
TODAY THERE IS ONE WORD IN OUR LANGUAGE THAT LIES BATTERED AND BLEEDING AT OUR FEET. IT IS THE WORD, “PEACE”. WE WISH FOR PEACE, WE PRAY FOR PEACE – BUT IT NEVER SEEMS TO COME. HATE AND WAR SEEMS PERPETUAL. WE SAY, “WILL IT NEVER END?” WE CAN ALL RELATE TO THAT BUT THAT IS NOT THE PEACE JOHN IS TALKING ABOUT. PICTURE HIS AND HIS COMMUNITIES’ CIRCUMSTANCES AT THE END OF THE FIRST CENTURY AND THE BEGINNING OF THE SECOND. THE ROMAN OCCUPATION WAS HEAVY UPON THE PEOPLE; THE LITTLE MINORITY CONGREGATIONS OF JESUS’ FOLLOWERS WERE SET ABOUT BY NOT JUST THE ROMAN ARMY BUT BY THE ORTHODOX JEWS IN THEIR SYNAGOGUES. BY THE TIME JOHN WROTE, THE SPLIT OF THE CHRISTIANS FROM THE SYNAGOGUES WAS WELL AND TRULY UNDERWAY; THERE WAS MUCH ACRIMONY AMONGST THE JEWISH PEOPLE. ADDED TO THOSE STRESSES WERE THE SCHISMS OPENING UP WITHIN THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH AS WELL. PEOPLE WERE PROMOTING VARIOUS IDEAS AS TO THE TRUE IDENTITY OF JESUS WHO HAD BEEN MERCILESSLY CRUCIFIED SOME 70 OR 80 YEARS BEFORE. THAT IS, BY THE WAY, AN ARGUMENT THAT SEEMS TO BE ONGOING EVEN 2000 YEARS LATER. NO, JOHN’S WAS NOT A PEACEFUL LIFE AS WE IMAGINE IT, FAR FROM IT, BUT HE CONTENDS STRONGLY THAT IN CHRIST THERE IS REAL PEACE. THAT’S WHERE WE CAN FIND IT; NOT ON THE TELEVISION OR THE ONLINE NEWS BUT IN THE PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST. THAT’S JOHN’S MESSAGE.
FOR JOHN THE REWARD OF FOLLOWING CHRIST IN LOVE AND PEACE WAS LIFE. WELL, WE ARE ALL ALIVE SO WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT? MANY THINK ABOUT THIS SO CALLED ETERNAL LIFE BEING SOME SORT OF HEAVENLY EXISTENCE AFTER DEATH BUT IT HAS BEEN SUMMED UP QUITE WELL AS REFERRING TO THE ONE LIFE WE GET TO LEAD – THE HERE AND NOW! AS HUMANS WE CAN LIVE OUR LIVES AT VARYING LEVELS OF SUCCESS AND SATISFACTION BUT TO BECOME TRULY AND FULLY HUMAN- TO REACH THE HEIGHT AND QUALITY OF LIFE TO WHICH WE WOULD ALL ASPIRE – THE ULTIMATE LIFE IF YOU WILL – WE NEED TO FILL OUR INNATE YEARNING FOR A SPIRITUAL HOME. THAT IS THE LIFE JOHN IS TALKING ABOUT – THE ULTIMATE – AND IT IS TO BE FOUND IN MEETING JESUS JUST AS HE TELLS HIS STORY OF THE DISCIPLES, AND THOMAS NEEDING TO PROVE THIS STORY TO HIMSELF. HE MEETS JESUS AND FINDS ALL THE PROMISES PROVEN.
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT, “DON’T BE AFRAID, PEACE BE WITH YOU, AND HERE IS THE REAL AND ULTIMATE LIFE.”
AFTER MY OWN EXPERIENCE I HAVE NO DOUBT THOSE PEOPLE OF OLD MET JESUS – NOT IN THE FLESH OF COURSE BUT IN SPIRIT – THE SPIRIT OF LOVE WHICH OVERCOMES EVERYTHING.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN
My sermon is a bit provocative today – no apologies!
Do play the UTube clip.
SERMON – EASTER DAY 2017 – 16TH APRIL
1 After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come; see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
SOME MIGHT REMEMBER THAT BACK IN 1972 THE THEN PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, RICHARD NIXON CREATED WORLD HISTORY WHEN HE WENT ON A STATE VISIT TO CHINA AND MET MAO TSE DUNG AND PREMIER CHOU EN LAI. IN 1987 AN OPERA WAS PREMIERED, WRITTEN BY JOHN ADAMS WITH LIBRETTO BY ALICE GOODMAN AND ENTITLED “NIXON IN CHINA” – SOME MAY HAVE HEARD OF IT AND SOME MAY HAVE EVEN SEEN IT PERFORMED. IN THE FIRST ACT THE SINGER PORTRAYING NIXON SINGS THIS: PLAY YOU TUBE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9EzSEFeyoA
IN REAL LIFE THE ASTUTE “TRICKY DICKY” NIXON WAS VERY AWARE OF WHAT HAS NOW BECOME THE 24 HOUR NEWS CYCLE. THE WORDS OF THAT OPERA ARIA REFLECT THAT: “NEWS HAS A KIND OF MYSTERY: WHEN I SHOOK HANDS WITH CHOU EN-LAI, ON THIS BARE FIELD OUTSIDE PEKING, JUST NOW, THE WORLD WAS LISTENING.”
THE WORD NEWS CONJURES UP FACTUAL REPORTING OF AN INCIDENT BUT WE HAVE SEEN THAT CHANGE, AND IN ORDER TO FILL THE CONSTANTLY REVOLVING 24 HOUR CYCLE WE NOW ARE BOMBARDED WITH NOT JUST NEWS BUT OPINIONS PRESENTED IN THE GUISE OF NEWS. ANY REPORTED INCIDENT NOW GENERATES A PLETHORA OF OPINIONS – ALL AUTHORITATIVE- ALL QUITE CONFUSING.
“I HAVE NEWS FOR YOU – SOME GOOD NEWS AND SOME BAD NEWS – WHICH DO YOU WANT TO HEAR FIRST?” WE HAVE ALL HEARD THOSE WORDS THAT IMMEDIATELY BRING TO OUR MINDS A TINGLE OF FEAR – WHAT IS COMING NEXT? THE PROMISE OF GOOD NEWS FADES INTO INSIGNIFICANCE AND WE ONLY WANT TO HEAR THE PROMISED BAD NEWS. OF COURSE WE HEAR NOTHING BUT BAD NEWS WHEN WE TURN ON OUR TELEVISIONS OR OPEN OUR NEWSPAPER OR LOOK AT THE NEWS FEED ON OUR DIGITAL DEVICE – ONCE CALLED A TELEPHONE. INDEED – NEWS DOES HAVE A KIND OF MYSTERY AND MOSTLY NOWADAYS IT BRINGS FEELINGS OF TREPIDATION AND EVEN FEAR. TO PARAPHRASE “NIXON IN CHINA” – THE WORLD IS LISTENING”. IN RELATION TO THE CHURCH AND CHRISTIAN ETHICS AND MORALS I SHOULD REALLY SAY – “THE WORLD WAS LISTENING”.
TODAY IT IS EVIDENT THAT THE WORLD IS NOT LISTENING. RESPECTED WRITER PAUL KELLY HAS WRITTEN AN EXCELLENT BUT DISTURBING ARTICLE IN THIS WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER. IT IS HEADED “A NEW SECULARISM THRASHES TRADITION”. – “PROGRESSIVE MORALITY IS ELBOWING OUT CHRISTIAN VALUES”. HE QUOTES BRITISH SOCIOLOGIST FRANK FUREDI, “ADVOCATES OF CULTURAL POLITICS HAVE SUCCEEDED IN MARGINALISING THE INFLUENCE OF TRADITIONAL VALUES AND THEIR OUTDATED LANGUAGE”.
KELLY ARGUES THAT “…THE WESTERN SECULAR DEMOCRATIC STATE WAS FOUNDED ON A NEGOTIATED HARMONY BETWEEN SECULARISTS AND CHRISTIANS ABOUT THE ULTIMATE QUESTIONS.” THIS BALANCE IS NOW BEING ERODED BEFORE OUR VERY EYES. THERE IS A NEW MORALITY THE PROPONENTS OF WHICH ARE CONSTANTLY BUILDING THEIR PLATFORM OF ISSUES ON WHICH TO MORALISE. CHRISTIANITY – READ THE CHURCH – STANDS MUTE AND SIDELINED. WHAT WERE ONCE PERSONAL ISSUES OF VALUES AND MORALITY HAVE BECOME POLITICISED AND THE LANGUAGE USED TO CONTEST THESE THINGS SUCH AS HOW YOU RAISE YOUR CHILDREN, WHAT YOU EAT, THE LANGUAGE YOU USE – ARE NOW INTERPRETED AS POLITICAL STATEMENTS. POLITICS, HE WRITES, IS INTRUDING INTO PRIVATE AND FAMILY LIFE. VALUE JUDGEMENTS ARE BEING MADE ABOUT HOW YOU LIVE IN A WAY INCONCEIVABLE TWO DECADES AGO.WE ARE NOW BEING TOLD HOW CHILDREN MUST BE RAISED – THE STRUCTURE OF FAMILY LIFE AND THE DEPLOYMENT OF MULTICULTURALISM TO WEAKEN OUR CHRISTIAN SYMBOLS. BECAUSE THE CHRISTIAN ETHOS IS IDENTIFIED WITH THE PAST AND TRADITION – PART OF THE PROBLEM – IT BECOMES A PRIORITY FOR THE PURGING. PUT BLUNTLY THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH IS IN DECLINE AND UNLESS IT WAKES UP – WILL CONTINUE TO BE MARGINALISED INTO IRRELEVANCE. I HAVE TO SAY IT DOESN’T HAVE FAR TO GO – IF IN FACT IT ISN’T ALREADY IRRELEVANT. I WAS SADDENED AT THE PLAYING OF AN AFL GAME ON GOOD FRIDAY – IS NOTHING SACRED? THE ANSWER OF COURSE IS NO – NOT WHEN MONEY IS AT STAKE. BUT MORE TO THE POINT I HEARD NOTHING – NOT A WHISPER – FROM ANY CHRISTIAN CHURCH ORGANISATION. IF IT HAD SAID ANYTHING IT WOULD HAVE BEEN IGNORED AT BEST OR RIDICULED FOR BEING OUT OF DATE AND LIVING IN THE PAST – A LARGELY ACCURATE CHARGE. THE CHURCH HAS GONE FROM BEING A VITALISED GROUP OF FOLLOWERS OF JESUS TO A LARGELY INSULAR BODY CLINGING TO ITS PAST THEOLOGIES.
THE NEWS THAT THE WOMEN ARE GIVEN IN MATTHEW’S STORY IS TOTALLY UNEXPECTED AND SHATTERING. IN HIS STORY THEY, HAVING WATCHED JESUS DIE IN AGONY WHILST NAILED TO A ROMAN CROSS, ARE NOW CONFRONTED WITH THE NEWS THEY LEAST EXPECTED TO HEAR – “HE IS ALIVE”. MATTHEW DRESSES THIS STORY UP IN AN AMAZING WAY. HE WRITES OF A GREAT EARTHQUAKE, A SPIRITUAL SUPERNATURAL BEING APPEARING AND MAGICALLY ROLLING AWAY THE GREAT STONE SEALING THE TOMB. THE GUARDS ORDERED TO GUARD THE TOMB FAINT WITH FEAR BUT THE ANGEL SPEAKS TO THE WOMEN – AND IN A BETTER TRANSLATION OF THE GREEK SAYS,”DON’T YOU BE AFRAID”. BASICALLY SAYING “THESE IDIOTS LYING IN A FAINT AREN’T WORTH WORRYING ABOUT – THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE IN JESUS ANYWAY”! THE WOMEN STILL “LEFT THE TOMB IN FEAR” BUT ALSO WITH A NEW SENSE OF RISING JOY IN THEIR HEARTS AND RUSHED OFF TO PASS THE INCREDIBLE NEWS ON TO THE REST OF THE GROUP. IT’S A GREAT NEWS STORY – BEAUTIFULLY TOLD – BUT IS IT REAL? IS THIS WHAT LITERALLY HAPPENED ON THAT MORNING IN JERUSALEM? THE ANSWER IS OF COURSE – NO. THE PROBLEM THAT MATTHEW HAD, ALONG WITH THE WRITERS OF THE OTHER GOSPELS WAS TO ATTEMPT TO PUT INTO WORDS AN EXPERIENCE THAT WAS FRANKLY INEXPLICABLE. DID THE RESURRECTION REALLY HAPPEN? DID JESUS REALLY RISE FROM THE DEAD AND APPEAR TO HIS FOLLOWERS? THE ANSWER HAS TO BE – YES – OTHERWISE HOW CAN THE RADICAL CHANGE IN THEIR LIVES BE EXPLAINED? OVERNIGHT THEY WENT FROM FEARFUL PEOPLE HUDDLED IN A CORNER TO SEEK PROTECTION FROM THE ROMANS AND THE JEWISH TEMPLE AUTHORITIES TO OUTSPOKEN EVANGELISTS FOR CHRIST – UNAFRAID TO ACTUALLY PUT THEIR OWN LIVES ON THE LINE. THAT SORT OF CHANGE DOESN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT A RADICAL LIFECHANGING EXPERIENCE OF SOME SORT.
IN ORDER TO FIND A CLUE AS TO WHAT MIGHT REALLY HAVE HAPPENED WE NEED TO GO TO THE BOOK OF ACTS WHERE THE WRITER LUKE RELATES HOW SAUL OF TARSUS – THE TENTMAKER AND PHARISEE – LEARN-ED IN THE TORAH AND A DECLARED OPPONENT OF THE BREAKAWAY SECT WITHIN JUDAISM – BECAME TRANSFORMED INTO PAUL THE MISSIONARY FOR CHRIST WHO OPENED THE WAY OF JESUS TO NON JEWISH PEOPLE AND WITHOUT WHOM THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH WOULD NOT EXIST TODAY. LUKE ATTESTS THAT – “3 NOW AS SAUL WAS GOING ALONG AND APPROACHING DAMASCUS, SUDDENLY A LIGHT FROM HEAVEN FLASHED AROUND HIM. 4 HE FELL TO THE GROUND AND HEARD A VOICE SAYING TO HIM, “SAUL, SAUL, WHY DO YOU PERSECUTE ME?” 5 HE ASKED, “WHO ARE YOU, LORD?” THE REPLY CAME, “I AM JESUS, WHOM YOU ARE PERSECUTING. 6 BUT GET UP AND ENTER THE CITY, AND YOU WILL BE TOLD WHAT YOU ARE TO DO.” 7 THE MEN WHO WERE TRAVELLING WITH HIM STOOD SPEECHLESS BECAUSE THEY HEARD THE VOICE BUT SAW NO ONE”.
I BELIEVE THAT HERE WE HAVE A STORY THAT WAS PERHAPS CLOSER TO THE HAPPENINGS OF THAT FIRST EASTER MORNING THAT WE READ IN THE GOSPELS. JESUS LIVED – YES – BUT IN SOME SORT OF SPIRITUAL WAY RATHER THAN IN A CHANGED PHYSICAL BODY. KELLY’S ARTICLE PAINTS A DARK PICTURE. BUT THERE IS LIGHT. I BELIEVE THAT WITH ALL GOOD INTENTIONS MUCH OF THE CHURCH HAS DESERTED JESUS BUT I THINK WE ALSO UNDERESTIMATE HIM.
REVD DAVID MCDOUGALL, A DOCTORAL STUDENT AT ST BARNABAS COLLEGE IN ADELAIDE WROTE THIS: ‘DON’T BE AFRAID’, JESUS SAYS TO HIS DISCIPLES WHO HAD DESERTED HIM AT HIS MOST TRAGIC HOUR, AND ‘PEACE BE WITH YOU.’… WITH THAT ALL FEAR OF RE-CRIMINATION LEAVES THE ROOM AND, I SUPPOSE, A FEAST BEGINS. CAN WE POSSIBLY BEGIN HERE – IN THIS CHURCH – WITH US? COME TO CHURCH MORE OFTEN – TURN AWAY FROM THE INFLUENCES THAT WOULD PREVENT YOU BEING PART OF THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY – COME AND HEAR THE GOOD NEWS – LEAVE THE BAD NEWS FOR THE MEDIA AND THEIR 24 HOUR NEWS CYCLE. HERE IS NO FEAR OF RECRIMINATION BUT THERE IS A FEAST OF LOVE AND INCLUSIVITY. HAPPY EASTER TO YOU ALL. AMEN
I’m sorry the Gospel reading is so long this week – but it’s not my fault! 🙂
SERMON 9TH APRIL 2017 – PALM (PASSION) SUNDAY
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. 15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” 24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. 32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.’ ” 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
THE BLAME GAME!
WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE NO ONE REALLY WANTS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR MISTAKES OR EVEN THEIR ACTIONS. WE SEE PEOPLE WHO HAVE – WITHOUT MUCH SHADOW OF DOUBT – COMMITTED THE MOST HEINOUS CRIMES PLEAD “NOT GUILTY” AND SO PUT THE COMMUNITY TO THE GREAT EXPENSE AND TROUBLE OF FURTHER CLOGGING AN ALREADY FULL COURT SYSTEM. FACTS ARE TWISTED – DOUBTS ARE RAISED BY SMART LAWYERS AND READING THE PRINT MEDIA AND SEEING THESE STORIES UNFOLD ON THE TV NEWS OFTEN SERVES ONLY TO CONFUSE US OBSERVERS – ONE ENDS UP NOT KNOWING WHAT TO BELIEVE. OF COURSE POLITICIANS OF ALL SIDES HAVE TAKEN THIS ART OF BLAMESHIFTING TO AN ENTIRELY NEW AND HIGHER LEVEL – JUST WITNESS THE RECENT TO-ING AND FRO-ING OVER THE MATTER OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA’S UNRELIABLE POWER SUPPLY.
BACK IN THE FIRST CENTURY THE WRITER OF THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW PLAYED THE BLAME GAME TO PERFECTION. IT POSSIBLY HAD THE DESIRED RESULT THEN BUT HE COULD NEVER HAVE VISUALISED THE DISASTROUS RAMIFICATIONS THAT WERE TO UNFOLD DURING THE FOLLOWING CENTURIES. HIS REASONING SEEMED QUITE SOUND AND LOGICAL AT THE TIME. AT THE TIME OF WRITING THE ROMANS HAD ALREADY SUBDUED THE UPRISING OF THE JEWISH – ROMAN WAR AND HAD COMPLETED THEIR VICTORY BY DESTROYING JERUSALEM AND FINALLY MASADA IN 73. SO THE PESKY MILITANT JEWISH PEOPLE WERE NOT EXACTLY THE FLAVOUR OF THE MONTH IN ROME. TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE THE TENSIONS BETWEEN THE REGULAR “ORTHODOX” JEWS AND THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS WERE COMING TO A HEAD. THE QUESTION FOR MATTHEW WAS, ‘HOW TO DEFLECT THE IRE OF THE ROMANS AWAY FROM THE BUDDING CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY?’ AAH! IDEA! WE WILL BLAME THE ORTHODOX JEWS FOR THE DEATH OF JESUS RATHER THAN THE TRULY RESPONSIBLE PEOPLE – THE ROMANS.
WE WILL TRY TO BE FRIENDS RATHER THAN ENEMIES WITH ROME – THAT SHOULD GET THE ROMANS OFF OUR BACKS.’ WELL, IT SORT OF WORKED.
SEEKING TO SEPARATE THEMSELVES FROM THE ORTHODOX PARTY OF THE JEWS, WHOM THEY BLAMED FOR STARTING THAT DESTRUCTIVE WAR, THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS SOUGHT TO MAKE THE CASE WITH ROME THAT THEY SHOULD NOT BE PUNISHED FOR THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE JEWISH FANATICS WHO CONSTITUTED THE ORTHODOX PARTY. IT WAS A DIFFICULT CASE FOR THEM TO MAKE, HOWEVER, SINCE JESUS, THE ONE THEY FOLLOWED, HAD ALSO BEEN EXECUTED BY THE ROMANS FOR CAUSING PUBLIC DISTURBANCE.
BUT SUPPOSE, THEY SAID TO THE ROMAN AUTHORITIES THAT THE ROMANS ONLY CRUCIFIED JESUS AT THE BEHEST OF THE ORTHODOX PARTY OF THE JEWS, WHO SOUGHT TO GET RID OF HIS THREATENING TEACHING BY PORTRAYING JESUS AS A POLITICAL REVOLUTIONARY WHO WANTED TO SET UP A RIVAL KINGDOM. RECALL THE SIGN THAT PILATE ORDERED TO BE PLACED OVER THE CROSS: ‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ “THE ORTHODOX PARTY HAD TWISTED HIS MESSAGE AND MIS-REPRESENTED HIM” – THE CHRISTIANS CONTENDED TO THE ROMANS. THE SAME RELIGIOUS FANATICS, THEY ARGUED, WHO HAD EARLIER STARTED THE ROMAN WAR HAD ALSO BEEN INSTRUMENTAL IN THE DEATH OF OUR LEADER.
IT WAS A SKILFUL USE OF THAT OLD ADAGE: ‘WE SHOULD BE FRIENDS SINCE WE HAVE A COMMON ENEMY.’ ROMAN WRATH, THEY WANTED THE AUTHORITIES OF ROME TO KNOW, SHOULD NOT FALL INDISCRIMINATELY ON ALL JEWS.
HOW BETTER COULD THEY SEEK ROMAN FAVOUR THAN BY WHITEWASHING THE ROMAN PROCURATOR PONTIUS PILATE IN THEIR NARRATIVE OF JESUS’ FINAL DAYS – EXONERATING HIM OF ANY BLAME IN HIS DEATH? HISTORY TELLS US THAT THIS WAS A TOTAL MISREPRESENTATION OF PILATE. IN DESCRIBING PILATE’S PERSONALITY, PHILO WRITES IN THE 1ST CENTURY THAT PILATE HAD “VINDICTIVENESS AND FURIOUS TEMPER”, AND WAS “NATURALLY INFLEXIBLE, A BLEND OF SELF-WILL AND RELENTLESSNESS”. REFERRING TO PILATE’S GOVERNANCE, PHILO FURTHER DESCRIBES “HIS CORRUPTION, AND HIS ACTS OF INSOLENCE, AND HIS RAPINE, AND HIS HABIT OF INSULTING PEOPLE, AND HIS CRUELTY, AND HIS CONTINUAL MURDERS OF PEOPLE UNTRIED AND UNCONDEMNED, AND HIS NEVER ENDING, AND GRATUITOUS, AND MOST GRIEVOUS INHUMANITY.”
BUT PILATE, IN THE DEVELOPING GOSPEL STORY, WAS PORTRAYED AS WASHING HIS HANDS, CLAIMING HIS INNOCENCE AND REFERRING TO JESUS AS “THIS JUST MAN IN WHOM I FIND NO FAULT.” THE JEWISH CROWD WAS PORTRAYED AS ACCEPTING THE BLAME, BY SAYING: “HIS BLOOD BE UPON US AND UPON OUR CHILDREN.” THE SHIFT IN BLAME WAS COMPLETE – THE JEWS DID IT.
AS AN ASIDE, THE NAME OF JUDAS ISCARIOT, WHO PROBABLY DID NOT EXIST IN REALITY, IS THE NAME OF THE JUDAEN NATION. SO MATTHEW IS REALLY SAYING BY CREATING THIS CHARACTER THAT – JUDAH- THE JEWISH NATION – DID IT. JUDAS – AKA THE NATION – IS THE ENEMY – THE JEWS ARE THE ENEMY BUT PILATE AND THE ROMANS ARE OUR FRIENDS.
THAT IS WHERE THE CHRISTIAN PREJUDICE OF ANTI-SEMITISM HAS GROWN FROM. THAT IS THE SOURCE OUT OF WHICH ALL THE HOSTILITY OF TWO MILLENIA TOWARD THE JEWISH PEOPLE HAS FLOWED. THAT IS WHAT ALLOWED CHRISTIANS TO TOLERATE AND EVEN TO CELEBRATE A VIOLENT, KILLING ANTI-JEWISH UNDERCURRENT THAT WOULD EMERGE IN CHILLING HORROR IN THE WRITINGS OF THE CHURCH FATHERS – THE CRUSADES – THE INQUISITION – THE RESPONSE TO THE BUBONIC PLAGUE – IN THE WRITINGS OF REFORMERS LIKE LUTHER AND ULTIMTIMATELY IN THE 20TH CENTURY HOLOCAUST.
THE QUESTION FOR MATTHEW AND HIS COMMUNITY WAS, “WHO WAS TO BE MOST FEARED?” – THE JEWISH RABBIS AND THEIR FOLLOWERS OR THE ROMANS.
IT WAS AN EASY QUESTION TO ANSWER – “THE ROMANS OF COURSE – WHO COULD AND WERE CONTINUING THEIR PERSECUTIONS OF THE JEWS.”
SO, AS THEY BECAME IDENTIFIED AS A SEPARATE BODY IN THE LATE FIRST CENTURY THE BUDDING CHRISTIANS LOGICALLY SOUGHT TO MINIMISE THE PRESSURE FROM THE ROMAN ARMY AND DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM THE SYNAGOGUES.
NOW IT BECOMES CLEAR AS TO HOW THE ANTI-ORTHODOX RHETORIC OF THE FIRST CENTURY GOSPEL WRITERS MORPHED INTO THE RAMPANT ANTI-SEMITISM WE HAVE WITNESSED OVER THE CENTURIES.
HOW THEN DOES THIS HISTORIC STORY HAVE RELEVANCE AND MEANING FOR US TODAY? IT’S ALL ABOUT OUR PREJUDICES. THE ONLY PURPOSE IN RAISING THE SOURCES OF OUR PREJUDICES INTO OUR CONSCIOUSNESS IS TO ENABLE US TO EXPEL THESE PREJUDICES.
LET’S KEEP THIS PERSONAL – THE BIBLICAL TEXTS THAT WE CHRISTIANS HAVE USED FOR CENTURIES TO JUSTIFY HOSTILITY TOWARD THE JEWS NEED TO BE BANISHED FOREVER FROM THE SACRED WRITINGS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
ALSO FOR US TODAY THIS SHOULD NOT BE SIMPLY A STORY FROM ANCIENT HISTORY – IT IS NOT JUST A STORY ABOUT PREJUDICE AGAINST JEWS. IF WE ARE HONEST WITH OURSELVES WE ALL CARRY AROUND PREJUDICES OF ONE SORT OR ANOTHER – PREJUDICES AGAINST ANYONE WHO MIGHT DIFFER FROM OURSELVES IN APPEARANCE, RACE, SEXUALITY OR RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION.
HOW CAN WE THEN RESPOND TO THIS CHALLENGE? THE WAY TO BEGIN I BELIEVE IS TO RETURN TO THE CHRIST CONSCIOUSNESS THAT CAUSED THE EARLY CHRISTIANS TO ASSERT – AS LUKE DOES IN THE PENTECOST STORY OF ACTS 2 – THAT TO BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT IS TO TRANSCEND ALL TRIBAL BOUNDARIES AND TO SPEAK THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF LOVE.
IT IS TO RECOVER THE POWER IN PAUL’S WORDS TO THE GALATIANS IN CHAPTER 3 – THAT “IN CHRIST THERE IS NEITHER JEW NOR GREEK BUT A NEW CREATION”.
TO ENTER THAT NEW CREATION MAY WELL BE WHAT IS REQUIRED IF THE HUMAN RACE IS TO SURVIVE.
THIS IS A LESSON FOR ALL OF US NOW – ESPECIALLY AS WE ENTER HOLY WEEK AND AGAIN RELIVE THE PASSION AND RESURRECTION OF CHRIST OVER EASTER.
A FINAL QUESTION – CAN YOU STILL JUSTIFY FINDING SOMEWHERE TO TRANSFER YOUR OWN PREJUDICES AND THUS ABSOLVE YOUR CONSCIENCE?
THE LORD BE WITH YOU ESPECIALLY DURING THIS COMING WEEK. AMEN
SERMON 19TH MARCH 2017 – ST JOHN’S CATHEDRAL HONG KONG – CHORAL EVENSONG
EPHESIANS 6: 10-20
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
FIRST – I EXPRESS MY PLEASURE AT BEING HERE WITH YOU ALL AND DUE TO THE GENEROSITY OF DEAN MATTHIAS HAVING THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE SOME THOUGHTS SURROUNDING PAUL’S LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE
I VENTURE TO SAY THAT I WOULD NOT BE CONTRADICTED SHOULD I MAKE THE COMMENT THAT HONG KONG IS AN INTERNATIONAL CITY MADE UP OF MANY VARYING AND DIVERGENT NATIONALITIES AND CULTURES.THIS LETTER TO THE BUDDING GROUPS WHO FOLLOWED JESUS WITHIN THE SYNAGOGUE AT EPHESUS – A PORTION OF WHICH WE HAVE JUST READ – WAS ADDRESSED TO A VERY SIMILAR PLACE. IT WAS ADDRESSED TO A MULTICULTURAL CHURCH COMMUNITY– PRIMARILY A BLEND OF JEWISH AND GREEK. HERE PAUL ADDRESSES THE ISSUES THAT WERE OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO THE DIVERSE RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS WHICH WERE PRESENT IN THE EPHESUS COMMUNITY AND INDEED RIGHT ACROSS THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN REGION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
AS WITH MOST OF THESE ANCIENT TEXTS SCHOLARS DIFFER IN THEIR OPINIONS BUT IT IS GENERALLY ACCEPTED THAT PAUL WROTE FROM PRISON IN ROME ABOUT THE YEAR 62 – SOME 3 OR SO YEARS BEFORE HIS DEATH AT THE HANDS OF THE EMPEROR NERO.
CULTURAL DIVERSITY CAN, AS WE ALL KNOW BRING ITS OWN SET OF RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS BETWEEN PEOPLE.
MISUNDERSTANDINGS CAN BE COMMON DUE TO DIVERGENT LANGUAGES AND CULTURAL PRACTICES. WHAT IS THE NORM FOR ONE PERSON MAY WELL BE OFFENSIVE TO ANOTHER. THIS CAN EASILY LEAD TO CONFLICT – PARTICULARLY IF ONE PERSON IS PART OF A MINORITY GROUP. THE PEOPLE TO WHOM THIS LETTER WAS WRITTEN WERE INDEED PART OF A MINORITY GROUP. THEY WERE MEMBERS OF A BREAKAWAY SECT OF THE JEWISH FAITH WHICH WERE LATER CALLED CHRISTIANS. THIS TERM “CHRISTIAN” ORIGINATED IN THE CITY OF ANTIOCH AND IS FIRST MENTIONED BY THE WRITER OF THE BOOK OF ACTS ABOUT THE LATE 80’S OR EARLY 90’S. SO WE MUST UNDERSTAND THAT AT THE TIME OF PAUL’S WRITING THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS WERE STILL PART OF THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUE – ALBEIT LIVING IN TENSION WITH THE “REGULAR” JEWS. SO WE HAVE A JEWISH MINORITY LIVING WITHIN A SLIGHTLY LARGER JEWISH MINORITY. YOU CAN ASK – “HOW ‘MINORITY’ CAN YOU GET?”
IT IS ONLY FAIR TO SAY THAT IN THE ANCIENT WORLD IT WAS CONSIDERED THAT REFUSAL TO HONOUR LOCAL OR IMPERIAL DEITIES COULD BE TAKEN AS HARMFUL TO THE WHOLE OF THE WIDER COMMUNITY. OBVIOUSLY THIS IS WHERE THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS DIVERGED FROM THE MAJORITY – AND IT WAS A VERY VISIBLE DIVERGENCE – SETTING THEM APART IN A VERY VISIBLE MANNER.
A TINY MINORITY WITH RADICAL VIEWS OFFENSIVE TO THE MAJORITY INVITES CONFLICT. IF WE LOOK AROUND OUR WORLD TODAY WE CAN EASILY SEE THE EXACT SAME PHENOMENON.
PAUL IS EXHORTING HIS HEARERS TO CLOTHE THEMSELVES IN PROTECTIVE GEAR BECAUSE HE SEES THE PERPETRATORS OF DISCORD AND VIOLENCE NOT IN THE ACTUAL PERSON BUT IN THE GENERAL SPIRIT OF EVIL WHICH BECOMES MANIFEST IN DIVISION, HATRED AND VIOLENCE TOWARD THE VULNERABLE. THIS ATTITUDE IS NOT CONFINED TO THE DISTANT PAST NOR TO ONE PARTICULAR PART OF THE WORLD BUT IS PRESENT WITH US TODAY AND IS UNVERSAL. I, AS YOU MIGHT KNOW, AM AUSTRALIAN. AUSTRALIA, ONCE CONSIDERED A CHRISTIAN COUNTRY HAS, SINCE THE MIDDLE OF THE 20TH CENTURY EVOLVED INTO A SECULAR SOCIETY. AND AS A RESULT OF MEDIA REPORTS OF THE VIOLENCE RAMPANT IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND EUROPE COMBINED WITH THE INFLUX OF REFUGEES FROM PREDOMINENTLY MUSLIM COUNTRIES THERE IS CURRENTLY A HOT DEBATE IN MY COUNTRY AND AN ATTEMPT BY SOME TO RESTRICT OR STOP THE ENTRY OF THESE PEOPLE. MUSLIM WOMEN, DUE TO THEIR CLOTHING STYLES ARE ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE. MANY PEOPLE CONTEND THAT AUSTRALIA IS IN DANGER OF BEING SWAMPED BY MUSLIMS BUT THE 2011 CENSUS SHOWED ONLY 2.2% OF OUR POPULATION TO BE MUSLIM. HERE IS A MODERN EXAMPLE OF A SMALL BUT HIGHLY VISIBLE MINORITY BEING CASTIGATED FOR SIMPLY BEING DIFFERENT AND SUFFERING FOR THE ACTIONS OF ITS OWN RADICAL MINORITY.
SO PAUL WRITES FOR A MINORITY AND USES THE METAPHOR OF PUTTING ON ARMOUR FOR PROTECTION. SOME MIGHT VIEW THIS AS AN EXHORTATION TO PREPARE FOR BATTLE – BECAUSE FOR CENTURIES THE WEARING OF ARMOUR HAS BEEN A PRESURSOR TO ARMED CONFLICT. BUT THIS IS NOT WHAT PAUL IS SAYING. HIS ARMOUR IS CLEARLY SPIRITUAL AND IS FOR PROTECTION – NOT AGGRESSION. THE VERY NATURE OF PAUL’S ‘ARMOUR’ MAKES IT CLEAR THAT HIS MESSAGE IS A SURVIVAL STRATEGY FOR PERSONS OF FAITH IN A HOSTILE WORLD – NOT A STRATEGY FOR AGGRESSION. SO PUT ASIDE THOUGHTS OF RETALIATION AND CONFLICT BY THE MINORITY – THAT IS NOT WHERE PAUL IS COMING FROM. PAUL’S ARMOUR IS DESIGNED TO HELP HIS HEARERS STAND FIRM IN THE FACE OF AGGRESSION. STANDING FIRM – OR STANDING FAST – AS HE SAYS IN VERSE 13 – IS A VERY SIGNIFICANT PART OF HIS EXHORTATION. THE ARMOUR IS TO EMPOWER THE BELIEVERS TO WITHSTAND THE EVILS THAT SURROUND AND THREATEN THEM.
THIS ARMOUR IS PROFOUNDLY DEFENSIVE. THE ONLY PIECE DESIGNED FOR ATTACK IS THE SWORD – AND EVEN THAT WEAPON IS THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT – THE WORD OF GOD.
PAUL’S BELIEVERS ARE GIRDED IN TRUTH, FAITH, PEACE, THE SPIRIT OF GOD THROUGH THE WORD OF GOD – AND IN PRAYER FOR BOTH THEIR DEFENCE AND STRENGTH. HERE WE CAN HEAR PAUL SPEAKING TO US TODAY. BUT BE AWARE THAT SUCH A DONNING OF THE ARMOUR OF GOD IS NOT INTENDED TO MAKE US AN IMPENETRABLE COMMUNITY WHICH DOES NOT HEAR THE CRIES OF OTHERS. NEITHER DOES IT RENDER US IMPERVIOUS TO CHANGE.
INDEED, IN IDENTIFYING THE “MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL” AND CALLING UPON BELIEVERS TO REMAIN ALERT (V. 18) AND PRAYING FOR WISE SPEECH – THE ARMOUR OF GOD PROTECTS US FROM CONFUSING ‘STANDING FAST’ WITH ‘RIGIDITY’ WHICH IS DESTRUCTIVE BOTH TO COMMUNITIES AND INDIVIDUALS. DARK POWERS ADAPT READILY – EAGER TO DRAW BELIEVERS FROM A LIFE OF FAITHFUL LOVE. GOD’S ARMOUR HAS EMPOWERED BELIEVERS THROUGH THE MILLENNIA TO RESIST SUCH MANIPULATION.
IN CHAPTER 4 OF THIS LETTER PAUL WRITES: “AS A PRISONER FOR THE LORD, THEN, I URGE YOU TO LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF THE CALLING YOU HAVE RECEIVED. BE COMPLETELY HUMBLE AND GENTLE; BE PATIENT, BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE. MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO KEEP THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT THROUGH THE BOND OF PEACE.” IN OTHER WORDS THE CHURCH IS TO MAINTAIN THE UNITY WHICH CHRIST HAS BROUGHT ABOUT. ACCORDING TO NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLAR DANIEL WALLACE, THE THEME MAY BE STATED PRAGMATICALLY AS “CHRISTIANS, GET ALONG WITH EACH OTHER!”
THE ARMOUR IS BOTH FOR INDIVIDUALS AND PERHAPS MORE IMPORTANTLY, THE COMMUNITY AS A WHOLE. SO THE CHURCH – THAT’S US – IS ARMED WITH FAITH, TRUTH, PEACE, GOD’S SPIRIT, AND PRAYER. THE WORDS CALLING UPON BELIEVERS TO STAND FAST ARE PLURAL NOT SINGULAR. ONE BELIEVER ALONE DOES NOT HAVE TO BE A SORT OF ‘DON QUIXOTE FOR GOD’ IN THE MIDST OF A GODLESS WORLD – TILTING AT WINDMILLS AND NOT BEING TAKEN SERIOUSLY. THIS PASSAGE CALLS FOR CONSIDERED, CORPORATE RESISTANCE TO EVIL WHEN AND WHEREVER IT IS EMBODIED IN THE STRUCTURES OF THE WORLD ONE LIVES IN, THROUGH THE POWER OF GOD. BY ITS VERY NATURE THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST IS POLITICAL!
THE CONTENT OF EPHESIANS NOT ONLY TELLS US THAT PAUL WAS A MAN FILLED WITH PRAISE AND WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD – BUT ALSO WHAT IT WAS THAT GAVE PAUL SUCH CONFIDENCE AND OPTIMISM IN SUCH DIRE PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCES.
AS WE LOOK ABOUT US IT IS DIFFICULT TO FIND MUCH CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM IN THIS 21ST CENTURY WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE. OUR ENVIRONMENT IS SLOWLY BEING POLLUTED, ECONOMIES ARE FALTERING, MANY POLITICIANS ARE CORRUPT, AND GOVERNMENTS SEEM UNABLE TO SOLVE THE PROBLEMS FACING THEM.
BUT THERE IS ROOM FOR HOPE, FOR CONFIDENCE, FOR JOY – BUT IT IS NOT IN THE WORLD AROUND US – IT IS IN THE GOD WHOM PAUL SERVED – THE GOD OF WHOM HE WRITES, WHOM HE WORSHIPS, AND TO WHOM HE PRAYS IN EPHESIANS. THE TRUTHS OF THIS GREAT EPISTLE CAN TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE – AND THE GOD OF THIS EPISTLE CAN GIVE YOU FAITH, HOPE, AND BOUNDLESS LOVE.
I CONCLUDE BY REMINDING US OF THE WORDS WE READ FROM JOSHUA – HERE GOD SPEAKS TO JOSHUA AFTER THE DEATH OF MOSES IN JOSHUA 1: 9 – “ I HEREBY COMMAND YOU: BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS; DO NOT BE FRIGHTENED OR DISMAYED, FOR THE LORD YOUR GOD IS WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO.”
THE LORD BE WITH YOU INDEED- AMEN
SERMON – 5TH MARCH 2017 – LENT 1- Matthew 4:1-11
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE
WARNING – THE FOLLOWING SERMON CONTAINS POSSIBLY CONFUSING REFERENCES TO HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY – SO BE ALERT.
THIS STORY OF MATTHEW’S WHICH LEADS OUR READINGS TO OPEN THE SEASON OF LENT IS WIDELY KNOWN AS THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. BUT IT IS FAR MORE THAN THAT – FAR MORE THAN JUST A TEMPTATION STORY. IT IS THE DEPICTION OF A MIGHTY POWER STRUGGLE. IT IS THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN LIGHT AND DARKNESS – EVIL AND LOVE. MATTHEW TAKES HIS INSPIRATION FOR THIS TALE FROM HIS SO WELL KNOWN HEBREW BIBLE – OUR OLD TESTAMENT.
WHAT’S THIS ABOUT FORTY DAYS? THE NUMBER FORTY LIKE THE STORY ITSELF IS CERTAINLY NOT THE RELATING OF AN HISTORICAL EVENT. THE NUMBER FORTY IS DRAWN FROM THE STORY OF THE FLOOD IN GENESIS DURING WHICH YOU MIGHT RECALL NOAH AND HIS FAMILY SURVIVED ON THE ARK FOR FORTY DAYS AND NIGHTS. AGAIN IN DEUTERONOMY AND EXODUS WE READ THAT MOSES REMAINED FASTING ON MOUNT SINAI FOR FORTY DAYS AND NIGHTS. FORTY DAYS AND NIGHTS WAS THE TIME THAT ELIJAH FASTED IN THE DESERT BEFORE RECEIVING A NEW COMMISSION FROM GOD – THAT STORY IS IN 1 KINGS. ACCORDING TO EXODUS IT WAS FORTY YEARS THAT THE ISRAELITES WANDERED IN THE WILDERNESS. AND NOW TO BRING IT RIGHT TO US IN THIS 21ST CENTURY –WE FOLLOW ALMOST TWO MILLENIA OF CHRISTIAN OBSERVANCE OF THE FORTY DAYS OF LENT AS WE TRAVEL TOWARDS THE OBSERVANCE OF CHRIST’S PASSION AND EASTER.
I SAID THIS WAS ABOUT A POWER STRUGGLE. TODAY WE ARE SURROUNDED BY POWER STRUGGLES BETWEEN PEOPLE – THE MEDIA ARE FULL OF THESE STORIES. POWER STRUGGLES ARE NOTHING NEW. THE WAR HAS BEEN GOING ON SINCE HUMANITY EVOLVED INTO OUR SEPARATE SPECIES – AND POSSIBLE WELL BEFORE THAT. THE STRUGGLE FOR DOMINANCE AND LEADERSHIP AND THE DEFENCE OF TERRITORY IS PRETTY WELL UNIVERSAL RIGHT ACROSS THE ANIMAL KINGDOM. HUMAN BEINGS ARE CERTAINLY NOT UNIQUE IN THAT TRAIT OF CHARACTER. IN THE WORLD OF HUMANITY THE MOST OBVIOUS ARENA FOR THE STRUGGLE TO ATTAIN AND MAINTAIN POWER IS, OF COURSE, THE POLITICAL. HERE IN AUSTRALIA WE ONLY NEED TO LOOK BACK OVER THE LAST FIFTY OR SO YEARS TO SEE THE MACHINATIONS BOTH ON THE PUBLIC POLITICAL STAGE AND ALSO BEHIND THE CLOSED DOORS WHERE PEOPLE OF BOTH SEXES HAVE PLOTTED AND SCHEMED TO ATTAIN THE POSITION OF PRIME MINISTER. IN FACT DURING THE LAST FEW YEARS IT HAS BEEN REFERRED TO AS THE REVOLVING DOOR OF THE PRIME MINISTERSHIP. IT’S NOT THE PRIME MINISTERIAL SALARY THAT IS THE ATTRACTION – IT IS THE PRESTIGE – THE POWER.
WE REFER TO THESE TYPES OF PEOPLE AS BEING EGO DRIVEN BUT THAT WORD SEEMS TO BE MISUNDERSTOOD BECAUSE SIGMUND FREUD ASSERTED THAT IT WAS WHAT HE LABELLED THE ID WHICH IS RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR DRIVEN DESIRES TO ATTAIN PLEASURE AND SATISFACTION AT ANY COST TO OTHERS. PLEASE FORGIVE THIS BRIEF LESSON ON PSYCHOLOGY BUT I THINK IT CAN GIVE US A LITTLE INSIGHT INTO MUCH OF THE AGGRESSION THAT SURROUNDS US AND IS WITHIN US.
FREUD ARGUED THAT THE ID IS PRESENT IN THE NEWLY BORN CHILD. IT IS THE DISORGANISED PART OF THE PERSONALITY STRUCTURE THAT CONTAINS A HUMAN’S BASIC, INSTINCTUAL DRIVES. ID IS THE ONLY COMPONENT OF PERSONALITY THAT IS PRESENT FROM BIRTH. IT IS THE SOURCE OF OUR BODILY NEEDS, WANTS, DESIRES, AND IMPULSES, PARTICULARLY OUR SEXUAL AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVES. THE ID ACTS ACCORDING TO THE “PLEASURE PRINCIPLE“—THE PSYCHIC FORCE THAT MOTIVATES THE TENDENCY TO SEEK IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION OF ANY IMPULSE.
I AM SURE THAT ANY PARENT CAN TESTIFY TO THESE TRAITS BEING PRESENT IN A CHILD WHOSE DRIVING FORCE IS FOCUSSED ON BEING FED AND KEPT WARM AND COMFORTABLE. LATER IN LIFE THE EGO ARRIVES TO REPRESENT WHAT MAY BE CALLED REASON AND COMMON SENSE, IN CONTRAST TO THE ID, WHICH CONTAINS THE PASSIONS. IN ITS RELATION TO THE ID IT IS LIKE A PERSON ON HORSEBACK, WHO HAS TO HOLD IN CHECK THE SUPERIOR STRENGTH OF THE HORSE.
THEN THERE IS THE SUPER-EGO. THE SUPER-EGO WORKS IN CONTRADICTION TO THE ID. THE SUPER-EGO STRIVES TO ACT IN A SOCIALLY APPROPRIATE MANNER, WHEREAS THE ID JUST WANTS INSTANT SELF-GRATIFICATION. THE SUPER-EGO CONTROLS OUR SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG AND GUILT. IT HELPS US FIT INTO SOCIETY BY GETTING US TO ACT IN SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE WAYS. THE SUPER-EGO’S DEMANDS OFTEN OPPOSE THE ID’S, SO THE EGO SOMETIMES HAS A HARD TIME IN RECONCILING THE TWO.
SO IN THIS POWER STRUGGLE THAT RUMBLES AWAY WITHIN EACH OF US WE HAVE THE ID, THE EGO AND THE SUPER EGO.
IT SEEMS LOGICAL THAT THE BALANCE BETWEEN THESE CHARACTER TRAITS VARIES FROM PERSON TO PERSON, SO ONE POSSESSING A DOMINANT ID IS ONE WHO SEEKS UNBRIDLED SATISFACTION AND SELF- PLEASURE WHILST SOMEONE WHOSE EGO IS STRONGER WOULD SEEM TO LIVE A FAR MORE EVEN AND OUTWARD LOOKING AND CARING LIFE.
NOW LET’S GET PERSONAL. THIS TIMEOF LENT BRINGS ITS OWN SET OF TEMPTATIONS AND POWER STRUGGLES TO EACH OF US. LENT SEEMS TO PUSH US TO THINK MORE THAN WE NORMALLY DO ON THESE TRAITS OF OUR OWN CHARACTER. I SUPPOSE I CAN REFER TO IT AS A TIME OF INTROSPECTION. MIND YOU I AM WARY OF OVER-INTROSPECTION. IT CAN BE UNHEALTHY AND UNPRODUCTIVE BUT AT TIMES SOME FORM OF SELF –ASSESSMENT AND INNER ‘HOUSE CLEANING’ CAN BE POSITIVE AND ENCOURAGING.
THIS GOSPEL STORY OF A WILDERNESS EXPERIENCE REVEALS THAT THESE TEMPTATIONS ARE A PART OF WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO BE THE BELOVED OF GOD – I INCLUDE YOU AND ME IN THAT DEFINITION. AND WHAT ARE THESE TEMPTATIONS? TO SATISFY YOUR OWN HUNGER WHEN MILLIONS GO HUNGRY.
TO INSIST THAT GOD’S LOYALTY AND PROMISES NEED TO BE TESTED ON A REGULAR BASIS. TO CHOOSE THE POWER THAT THE SECULAR WORLD VALUES OVER THE URGE TO CONTINUE ALONG THE PATH OF DISCOVERY THAT LEADS US DEEPER INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE LOVE THAT IS GOD.
IT MAY VERY WELL BE THAT IN LENT OUR USUAL UNTHINKING WAYS ARE ESPECIALLY CHALLENGED AND ONE OF LENT’S TRUE TEMPTATION IS TO IGNORE THE INNER VOICE OF THE EGO AND JUST LET THE ID RUN RIOT. TRANSLATED INTO CHRISTIAN JARGON THAT MEANS IGNORING THE MINISTRATIONS AND URGINGS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN ORDER TO LET OUR OWN DESIRES DOMINATE OUR LIVES. IT MEANS WE LOSE THE INTERNAL POWER STRUGGLE AND CONTINUE TO THINK ONLY OF OURSELVES AND PUSH TO THE EDGES OF OUR MINDS THE PLIGHT OF OTHERS FAR LESS FORTUNATE THAN OURSELVES. MAY WE ALL BECOME ALERT AND SENSITIVE TO THE DANGERS OF THINKING THAT WAY. I TRULY BELIEVE THAT LENT SHOULD BE NOT SO MUCH OF A TIME OF INTROSPECTION AND SELF-EXAMINATION BUT A TIME OF LOOKING OUTWARDS AND AWAY FROM OURSELVES AND OUR OWN PROBLEMS – REAL AND IMAGINED – TOWARDS THE OFTEN DESPERATE NEEDS OF THOSE BOTH WITHIN OUR OWN COMMUNITY AND BEYOND. THIS ATTITUDE URGES US TO ACT IN A PRACTICAL WAY FROM OUR POSITION OF PRIVILEGE AND PLENTY TO HELP THOSE IN NEED. SO THIS YEAR LET’S MAKE LENT A TIME OF EXERCISING PRACTICAL CHRISTIANITY IN THE NAME OF THE GOD OF LOVE.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU.
SERMON 26TH FEBRUARY 2017 – TRANSFIGURATION
1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE
LET’S BE QUITE CLEAR – THIS IS NOT A RECORDING OF AN HISTORICAL EVENT. THIS STORY IS FILLED WITH MYTHOLOGICAL CONTENT. PEOPLE LIVING IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD OF TIME AND SPACE DO NOT CLIMB MOUNTAINS TO BE TRANSFIGURED. THEY DO NOT TALK WITH CHARACTERS WHO HAVE BEEN DEAD FOR 1200 AND 800 YEARS RESPECTIVELY. THEY DO NOT DECIDE TO MEMORIALISE THE MOMENT BY BUILDING THREE TABERNACLES TO MARK THE SPOT, ONLY TO BE REBUKED BY THE VOICE OF GOD, SPEAKING THROUGH A CLOUD TO INFORM THEM THAT THEY DO NOT YET UNDERSTAND. ALL OF THE SYMBOLS IN THIS STORY ARE IMAGES DRAWN FROM THE FIRST CENTURY JEWISH WORLD VIEW, DEEPLY SHAPED BY THE JEWISH SCRIPTURES. NO, THE STORY OF THE TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS IS NOT HISTORY. MATTHEW KNEW THIS. IT WAS RATHER AN INTERPRETIVE STORY DESIGNED TO PORTRAY JESUS INSIDE A SERIES OF WELL KNOWN JEWISH SYMBOLS, ONE OF WHICH WAS THE STORY OF MOSES RETURNING FROM THE MOUNTAIN WITH THE NEW LOT OF 10 COMMANDMENTS – THE FIRST HAVING BEEN DESTROYED WHEN HE FOUND THE PEOPLE WORSHIPPING THE GOLDEN CALF.
RATHER THIS STORY IS ABOUT CHANGE. NOW I KNOW THAT IS A DANGEROUS TOPIC TO ATTEMPT TO DISCUSS WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TODAY. OUR CHURCH, AS AN INSTITUTION STILL CLINGS DESPERATELY TO THE CONCEPTS AND WORLDVIEWS OF THE FIRST AND FOURTH CENTURIES AS DEPICTED IN THE SO CALLED INERRANT WRITINGS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE LATER CHURCH FATHERS. SO LONG AS THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH INSISTS ON PROJECTING AND LIVING WITHIN THE IMAGES AND CONCEPTS OF THE PAST IT WILL CONTINUE TO DECLINE AND BE SEEN AS IRRELEVANT IN OUR WESTERN SOCIETY.
AT ITS CORE, THE TRANSFIGURATION STORY INSISTS THAT CHANGE IS DIFFICULT BUT NEEDED. CHANGE ROCKS YOUR WORLD – BUT LIKELY YOUR WORLD NEEDED SOME SORT OF EARTHQUAKE EVENT. CHANGE DEMANDS RE-ORIENTATION BUT SOMETIMES THE CHALLENGE TO CHANGE IS PRESENTED TO US AND CONFRONTS US BEFORE WE ARE PREPARED FOR IT AND CAN LEAVE US FLATFOOTED AND LOOKING AND FEELING LOST. IT’S LIKE SUDDENLY FINDING YOURSELF ALONE – DEEP IN THE AUSTRALIAN BUSH WITH NO MAP OR COMPASS.
THIS WEEK WE ENTER LENT. LENT IS A HARBINGER OF CHANGE – A CHALLENGE TO US TO CHANGE. IT CAN BE A TIME OF PREPARATION TO CHANGE. WE USUALLY DON’T LIKE LENT – IT’S TOO DARK – IT’S TOO CHALLENGING – IT FORCES TOO MUCH INTROSPECTION. BETTER TO COME TO CHURCH ON EASTER MORNING WHEN THE SKIES HAVE CLEARED AND THE JOY OF THE RESURRECTION CAN BE SHARED. WE HAVE A SERVICE NEXT WEDNESDAY – ASH WEDNESDAY – HERE AT 7.30PM – I WONDER HOW MANY WILL GRIT THEIR TEETH AND MAKE THE EFFORT TO COME?
IT’S NOT THAT WE HAVEN’T SEEN THE CHANGE COMING. IT’S NOT THAT WE HAVEN’T RECOGNIZED WHAT THE CHANGE MIGHT LOOK LIKE. WE JUST WONDER IF WE ARE READY. IF WE CAN WE HANDLE IT – IF WE ARE PREPARED. WE ERECT TEMPORARY STRUCTURES JUST LIKE THE TENTS PETER OFFERS TO BUILD IN THE STORY – SUCH AS TROTTING OUT THE MYRIAD OF EXCUSES TO NOT BECOME INVOLVED OR WANTING TO STAY SAFE IN OUR OLD PRECONCEIVED IDEAS OF LITERALISM AND SUNDAY SCHOOL THEOLOGY. THIS IS REALLY AND SIMPLY AN ACT OF ENTRENCHMENT. MY FRIENDS – THIS PRECURSOR OF THE TRANSFIGURATION STORY TO THE COMING LENTEN SEASON IS THE CHALLENGE WE NEEDED.
IT’S TIME TO CHANGE – CHANGE OUR THINKING – ADMIT WE DON’T REALLY BELIEVE IN OUR HEART OF HEARTS THE LITERAL INTERPRETATIONS OF THE WONDERFUL GOSPEL STORIES. IT’S TIME TO LET GO OF THE PAST AND FACE THE FUTURE. WE SAY TO OURSELVES – “WELL, IF I LET GO WHAT DO I HAVE LEFT TO CLING TO?” THERE IS MUCH TO HOLD ON TO. IN FACT, LETTING GO IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT THE ACT OF HOLDING ON.PETER SAYS TO JESUS, “LORD, IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE”. IT’S GOOD TO BE CAUGHT UP IN THE VORTEX OF A WHIRLWIND – A VORTEX IS A MASS OF AIR OR WATER THAT SPINS AROUND VERY FAST AND PULLS OBJECTS INTO ITS EMPTY CENTRE. MAYBE WE NEED TO BE CAUGHT UP IN THE VORTEX OF CHANGE – AND TRANSPORTED TO ITS EMPTY CENTRE WHERE WE CAN FIND A CLEAR MIND AND THE PROMISES OF UNDERSTANDING – MAYBE EVEN EXPERIENCE SOMETHING MORE OF THE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE WE CALL GOD.
AS WE MOVE INTO LENT, THIS SEEMS ESSENTIAL. HOLDING ON – NOT TO THE PAST WITH ALL ITS PERSONAL INADEQUACIES AND REGRETS – BUT TO THE PROMISES AND INSIGHTS OFFERED TO US THROUGH THE SPIRIT OF GOD. SO LET GO – LET GO OF YOUR OUTDATED AND INADEQUATE IMAGES OF GOD. LET GO OF CONTROL. LET GO OF CONVICTION – LET GO OF CERTAINTY – NOW THAT’S DANGEROUS!
THE TRANSFIGURATION IS AN APT AND FITTING STORY TO TRANSITION US TO LENT BECAUSE IT INSISTS THAT WE KEEP WHAT WAS AND WHAT CAN BE IN TENSION: THE POSSIBILITIES THAT ARE CONTAINED WITHIN LENT AND EASTER, AND THE POSITIVITIES OF THE PROMISES INHERENT IN THE CHRISTIAN FAITH.
WE LIVE IN CONSTANT MOVEMENT OF CHANGES IN RELATIONSHIPS — WITH PARTNERS, WITH FRIENDS, WITH CHILDREN. WE EXPERIENCE MANY CHANGES IN OUR LIVES AND WE RECOGNIZE AND REMEMBER THE MAJOR LIFE CHANGES — GRADUATIONS, MARRIAGES, CHILDREN, RETIREMENT, THE LOSS OF PARTNERS AND FRIENDS.
CHANGE, BY DEFINITION, IS A SIMULTANEOUS HOLDING ON OF WHAT WAS AND A LOOKING TOWARD THE HOPE OF WHAT CAN BE. AND THAT’S WHY IT IS RATHER EXCRUCIATING. CHANGE INSISTS THAT YOU EXIST IN A PLACE YOU DON’T WANT TO BE. CHANGE DEMANDS THAT YOU ABIDE IN A SPACE OF THE UNKNOWN. CHANGE CREATES A SENSE OF GRIEF OVER WHAT WAS AND YET EXCITEMENT FOR WHAT IS TO COME.
IT IS THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU KNOW CHANGE HAS TO HAPPEN BUT YOU ARE NOT QUITE READY. THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU HAVE A HUNDRED MILLION REASONS TO WALK AWAY BUT YOU JUST NEED ONE GOOD ONE TO STAY. THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU ARE DESPERATE TO HOLD ON AND YET YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO LEAVE. THAT’S TRANSFIGURATION. IT’S NOT THE GLORY. IT’S NOT SOME SORT OF “GET OVER IT AND COME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN” LESSON. IT’S BOTH. IT’S FAITH. IT’S THE SENSE THAT CHANGE IS NECESSARY – A TRUTH HARD TO ACCEPT. IT’S THE KNOWING THAT MOVING ON IS ESSENTIAL BUT YOU HAVE YET TO RECONCILE THE PAST. CHANGE MATTERS ARE HEART AND SOUL MATTERS. CHANGE EXPOSES. CHANGE CHANGES. BUT CHANGE MATTERS ARE THE VERY ESSENCE OF OUR FAITH.
MAY THE LORD BE WITH YOU.
SERMON 19TH FEBRUARY 2017 – EPHIPHANY 7
38 “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, “you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE
THIS MORNING WE REMEMBER THE THE BOMBING OF DARWIN, ALSO KNOWN AS THE BATTLE OF DARWIN. EXACTLY SEVENTY FIVE YEARS AGO AT 9.58AM ON 19 FEBRUARY 1942 THE LARGEST SINGLE ATTACK EVER MOUNTED BY A FOREIGN POWER ON AUSTRALIA TOOK PLACE. ON THAT DAY, 242 JAPANESE AIRCRAFT, IN TWO SEPARATE RAIDS, ATTACKED THE TOWN, SHIPS IN DARWIN’S HARBOUR AND THE TOWN’S TWO AIRFIELDS IN AN ATTEMPT TO PREVENT THE ALLIES FROM USING THEM AS BASES TO CONTEST THE JAPANESE INVASIONS OF TIMOR AND JAVA. THE TOWN WAS ONLY LIGHTLY DEFENDED AND THE JAPANESE INFLICTED HEAVY LOSSES UPON THE ALLIED FORCES AT LITTLE COST TO THEMSELVES. ABOUT 250 PEOPLE WERE KILLED. THE POST OFFICE – NOW PART OF THE PARLIAMENT HOUSE BUILDING – RECEIVED A DIRECT HIT AND ALL TEN OF ITS STAFF KILLED. THEY ARE BURIED IN THE ADELAIDE RIVER CEMETERY ABOUT 116 KILOMETRES SOUTH OF DARWIN. IT IS NOT WIDELY KNOWN THAT DARWIN WAS SUBSEQUENTLY BOMBED 64 TIMES FOLLOWING THAT INITIAL SURPRISE RAID. THIS MORNING IT IS APPROPRIATE THAT WE PAUSE TO REMEMBER THOSE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES, THOSE WHO WERE WOUNDED AND TRAUMATISED AND THEIR FAMILIES WHO SUFFERED.
IT SEEMS TO BE THE NATURAL IMMEDIATE REACTION TO EVENTS SUCH AS THIS ATTACK TO RETALIATE. OF COURSE RETALIATION DID INDEED HAPPEN IN 1945 WHEN THE TWO ATOMIC BOMBS WERE DROPPED ON HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI AND ABOUT 250,000 PEOPLE WERE KILLED OR INJURED – TERRIBLE RETRIBUTION.
WHAT MATTHEW SAYS IN THE GOSPEL READING THIS MORNING SEEMS TO GO AGAINST EVERYTHING THAT IS NATURAL TO US. “DO NOT RESIST THE EVIL DOER”. YOU MUST BE KIDDING WE THINK. “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES” – ONE CAN SAY ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO DO PARTICULARLY WHEN SOMEONE ATTACKS US OR HARMS US OR OUR LOVED ONES IN SOME WAY. WHAT MATTHEW IS ASKING IS DIFFICULT IN THE EXTREME OR SOMETIMES WELL NIGH IMPOSSIBLE TO CARRY OUT. HE IS QUOTING THE OLD TORANIC LAW. HE SAYS,”YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID…”- IN THE LAW – “BUT I SAY UNTO YOU… TAKE THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW FURTHER – MUCH FURTHER” – HE WELL KNOWS THE LAW BUT EXPANDS IT AND DOES TAKE IT MUCH FURTHER – TO ITS FARTHEST IMPOSSIBLE EXTREMITY IN FACT. BY THE WAY HE IS NOT WRITING THIS STUFF IN SOME SORT OF VACUUM OR ISOLATED CAVE IMMUNE FROM THE PRESSURES AND REALITIES OF LIFE BECAUSE HE IS WRITING IT IN A TIME AND PLACE WHERE HE AND HIS COMMUNITY ARE LIVING UNDER THE WORST POSSIBLE CONDITIONS. THEY ARE SURVIVING IN AN OCCUPIED COUNTRY AND UNDER THE OPPRESSIVE RULE OF AN OCCUPYING FORCE – THE ROMAN ARMY. MATTHEW IS ASKING HIS PEOPLE TO ACHIEVE THE IMPOSSIBLE – TO NOT RESIST – TO BE PACIFISTS. HE IS ASKING THEM TO GO FURTHER THAN THAT EVEN – HE IS ASKING THEM TO GO OUT OF THEIR WAY TO ACTUALLY HELP AND ASSIST – IN ACTUAL FACT – TO LOVE – THOSE WHOM IT IS NATURAL TO HATE AND RESENT, BE THEY ROMAN OR THEIR OWN KINDRED.
THIS CAN BE SUMMED UP IN GENEROSITY, HOSPITALITY AND LOVE. JUST IMAGINE OUR WORLD TODAY IF PEOPLE ADOPTED THIS PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE. LOOKING BEYOND OR THROUGH MATTHEW’S HYPERBOLE WE CAN EASILY IMAGINE A WORLD OF PEACE WHERE THE LIGHT OF LOVE DOES OVERCOME THE DARKNESS OF EVIL – WHERE GENEROSITY REPLACES MEANNESS AND KINDNESS REPLACES AGGRESSION. THIS IS NOT EASY TO ABSORB IS IT? I AM REMINDED OF THE FAMOUS LINE FROM THE EPIC AUSTRALIAN FILM “THE CASTLE” – “TELL HIM HE’S DREAMING!” THAT MAY WELL BE THE CYNIC’S ANSWER BUT IF WE REALLY STOP AND THINK ABOUT IT MAYBE IT IS NOT SUCH AN IMPOSSIBLE ATTITUDE TO ACHIEVE.
THAT IS JUST WHAT THE SPIRIT OF GOD OFFERS US. I KNOW MOST PEOPLE WILL SIMPLY BRUSH IT OFF AND FORGET ABOUT IT – SAYING “IT’S JUST TOO HARD AND ANYWAY I DON’T SEE MYSELF HAVING ANY PARTICULAR PROBLEM” – BUT IF THAT IS YOUR RESPONSE I’M HERE TO TELL YOU THAT YOU ARE WRONG. IT TAKES A BIT OF EFFORT TO COME TO GRIPS WITH THE REALITY OF THE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE BUT IT IS WELL WORTH THE EFFORT.
THE TERM “ETERNAL LIFE” IS BANDIED ABOUT AND GIVES THE IMPRESSION OF SOME SORT OF ENDLESS EXISTENCE IN THE CLOUDS LISTENING TO PERPETUAL HARP MUSIC. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. “ETERNAL LIFE” IS HERE AND NOW. IT REPRESENTS THE HUMAN’S ABILITY TO LIVE ONE’S LIFE TO ITS FULLEST POTENTIAL IN PEACE, LOVE AND GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT.
THIS MORNING WE HAVE A PRIME EXAMPLE OF THE GENEROSITY OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE AS WE TAKE MATILDA INTO OUR ARMS AND BAPTISE HER INTO THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE CHURCH OF GOD. I AM HOPING THAT HER FAMILY AND GODARENTS ESPECIALLY HAVE LISTENED TO MY MESSAGE THIS MORNING FOR YOU ARE TAKING ON THE RESPONSIBILITY TO LOVE AND CARE FOR HER AS SHE GROWS INTO THE BEAUTIFUL PERSON THAT IS HER POTENTIAL.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU.
SERMON 12TH FEBRUARY 2017 – EPIPHANY 6
Tommorow is the 6th Sunday in the season of Epiphany. At first glance the excerpt from Matthew’s Gospel is really difficult. Please remember it is hyperbole and strictly within the ancient Jewish tradition of referring back to the ancient writings in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). That said, enjoy the sermon. Peace, John
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder’; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 “It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be “Yes, Yes’ or “No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE.
THIS IS A VERY LONG SERMON!
DON’T PANIC – I AM REFERRING TO THE STORY IN MATTHEW’S GOSPEL NOT TO WHAT I HAVE TO SAY THIS MORNING!
THIS STORY IS ALSO A LITTLE CONFUSING BECAUSE AT THE BEGINNING OF CHAPTER 5 – THE SO CALLED SERMON ON THE MOUNT – IT IS CLEAR THAT JESUS REMOVES HIMSELF FROM THE CROWD AND RETREATS TO A MOUNTAIN WHERE HIS DISCIPLES – THE ONES HE HAS JUST CALLED TO FOLLOW HIM – JOIN HIM. VERSE 2 – “HE BEGAN TO SPEAK AND TAUGHT THEM – THAT IS THE DISCIPLES – SAYING: BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT ETC …” HE THEN SPEAKS FOR 3 CHAPTERS. AT THE END OF CHAPTER 7 WE NOW FIND “…THE CROWDS WERE ASTOUNDED AT HIS TEACHING”. I FIND IT CONFUSING – ONE MINUTE HE IS SPEAKING TO A SMALL GROUP OF MEN HE HAS CALLED TO FOLLOW HIM AND NEXT THING WE FIND HE HAS BEEN TALKING TO “THE CROWDS”.
I HAVE A NOTE THAT OFFERS THE OPINION THAT WHILST THE SERMON WAS ADDRESSED TO THE DISCIPLES; THE CROWDS OVERHEAR IT AND DISCERN SPECIAL AUTHORITY IN JESUS’ TEACHING. BE THAT AS IT MAY I THINK WE CAN TAKE THE POSITION THAT THESE WORDS WERE FOR ALL INTERESTED PARTIES AND SO WE CAN BE FREE TO DRAW OUR LESSONS FROM THEM.
FOR ME THE THEME IS RENEWAL – RENEWAL OF YOUR WAY OF LIFE – YOUR WAY OF THINKING ABOUT GOD, OTHER PEOPLE, THE WORLD AROUND YOU AND ALSO YOURSELF. JEWISH MATTHEW IS REMINDING HIS MAINLY JEWISH COMMUNITY OF THE LAWS SET OUT IN THE TORAH – THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IF YOU LIKE. HE IS TAKING HIS HEARERS BACK TO THE STORIES OF THEIR ANCIENT ANCESTORS AS TOLD IN THE HEBREW BIBLE BOOKS OF JOSHUA, EXODUS AND DEUTERONOMY. ONE OF THE READINGS SET FOR TODAY IS FROM DEUTERONOMY 30. AFTER THEY HAVE CROSSED THE JORDAN RIVER, THE ISRAELITES TWICE HOLD COVENANT RENEWAL CEREMONIES – SEE JOSHUA 8 AND 24- SOMETHING THAT WAS PRESCRIBED BY MOSES’ EARLIER SPEECHES IN DEUTERONOMY. THUS, EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE GIVEN MOSES A “YES, WE AGREE AND WILL FOLLOW YOUR WORDS” THEY REQUIRE REGULAR REMINDERS ABOUT THAT CHOICE, EVEN REGULAR MOMENTS OF RE-CHOOSING, RE-COMMITTING, RE-ORIENTING, RE-TURNING IF YOU LIKE.
WEEKLY WORSHIP CAN SERVE A SIMILAR PURPOSE IN TODAY’S CHRISTIAN LIFE AS WELL: REORIENTING OUR LIVES IN COMMUNITY TO THE SERVICE OF GOD ALONE – FOR AS CHRISTIANS WE DO NOT AND CANNOT FUNCTION EFFECTIVELY WITHIN THE BROADER COMMUNITY UNLESS WE BECOME A FUNCTIONING PART OF OUR CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. THE WHOLE ETHOS OF CHRISTIANITY IS, “IT’S NOT ABOUT JUST ME, ME, ME, AND MY PERSONAL SPIRITUAL NEEDS. IT’S NOT ABOUT JUST COMING TO CHURCH TO HEAR A SERMON AND PARTAKE OF THE COMMUNION – TO “UNLOAD” YOUR OWN INNER STRESSES AND STRAINS AS YOU SEEK AND RECEIVE THE ASSURRANCE OF FORGIVENESS AND SPIRITUAL RESTORATION. OF COURSE IT IS ALL THAT BUT ALSO MUCH MORE. THE GOSPELS AND INDEED PAUL’S WRITINGS, MAKE IT ABUNDANTLY CLEAR THAT THE LIFE JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF GOD THAT WE UNDERTAKE AS CHRISTIANS IS TAKEN IN COMMUNITY – NOT AS SOLO INDIVIDUALS.
THAT IS A DANGEROUSLY RADICAL IDEA. IF WE ACCEPT THAT WE ARE BY CHOICE AN INTRINSIC MEMBER OF A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY IT PRESENTS US WITH QUITE A FEW DILEMMAS AS WE LIVE OUT OUR LIVES WITHIN THE BROADER CIRCLE OF FAMILIES, FRIENDS AND THE WIDER – EVEN THE WORLD WIDE – COMMUNITY. IT AFFECTS HOW WE VIEW OTHER PEOPLE. IT AFFECTS HOW WE VIEW EVERY LIVING CREATURE AND INDEED HOW WE VIEW THIS AMAZING AND UNIQUE WORLD ON WHICH WE LIVE.
IT ALSO AFFECTS HOW WE VIEW JUSTICE – OR LACK OF IT – AND GREED AMONGST OUR POLITICIANS AND BUSINESS LEADERS. I WAS FRANKLY SHOCKED TO LEARN THIS WEEK THAT A MAN WHO HEADS UP A MAJOR ORGANISATION IN AUSTRALIA COULD BE PERSONALLY REWARDED TO THE TUNE OF $5.6 MILLION A YEAR – THAT’S MORE THAN $107 THOUSAND PER WEEK. MORE THAN MOST PEOPLE EARN IN A WHOLE YEAR AND MANY ARE ASKED TO LIVE ON A MERE FRACTION OF THAT. AUSTRALIA, I AM INFORMED HAS THE HIGHEST MINIMUM WAGE IN THE WORLD – A GRAND $14,900 PER YEAR AFTER TAX. IN 2009THE GROSS MINIMUM WAGE IN THE UNITED STATES WAS $7.25 PER HOUR OR – ASSUMING A 30 HOUR WEEK IS WORKED – $11,300 PER YEAR. IN MANY OTHER COUNTRIES AUSTRALIAN WAGES AND LIVING STANDARDS WOULD BE CONSIDERED LUXURIOUS BEYOND MEASURE. OBVIOUSLY I AM AWARE OF THE VARYING PURCHASING POWER AND LIVING STANDARDS IN OTHER COUNTRIES. BUT THIS IS A PRIME EXAMPLE I BELIEVE OF INJUSTICE AND INEQUALITY.
THE POSSIBILITY OF RENEWAL LEADS TO THE QUESTION OF CHOICE. WE ARE INDEPENDENT BEINGS. WE ARE QUITE FREE, AT LEAST HERE IN AUSTRALIA, TO MAKE OUR OWN CHOICES. WE CAN CHOOSE TO STAND UP AND SPEAK OUT WHEN WE SEE INJUSTICE. WE CAN CHOOSE TO OPENLY CONDEMN EXPLOITATION AND GREED, JUST AS WE CAN CHOOSE TO BE PART OF A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY.
LET’S ASK OURSELVES, HOW DO WE VIEW THIS WORLD ON WHICH WE LIVE OUT OUR LIVES? HOW DO WE VIEW THE POOR, THE HOMELESS AND THE SUFFERERS OF ADDICTIONS? HOW DO WE VIEW THOSE OF DIFFERENT COLOUR, SEXUALITY OR OF A DIFFERENT RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING? DO WE SEE THEM AS INFERIOR? DO WE CONSIDER OUR OWN VIEWPOINTS AND RELIGION THE ONLY ONE THAT IS RIGHT AND ALL THE OTHERS WRONG – MISGUIDED EVEN – WITH THEIR ADHERANTS SPIRITUALLY LOST? IF WE DO THINK THIS WE DESPERATELY NEED TO HEAR AGAIN THESE WORDS OF JESUS AS HE DRAGS THOSE LISTENERS BACK TO THEIR ROOTS AND REMINDS THEM – AS HE REMINDS US TODAY – THAT WE NEED TO SEEK RENEWING, RECHOOSING, RE-COMMITTING, RE-ORIENTING, RE-TURNING. OUR OWN CHOICES DETERMINE THE FUTURE FOR OUR CHILDREN. THE WAY WE MOVE THROUGH THE WORLD TODAY IMPACTS FUTURE GENERATIONS. CHOOSING LIFE MEANS PRACTICING LIFE AND TURNING BACK TOWARDS GOD WITHIN COMMUNITY.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU
SERMON 5TH FEBRUARY 2017 – EPIPHANY 5
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]
1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. 6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”(ISAIAH 52) — 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. 14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. 16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE
TODAY I DECIDED TO MOVE FROM TRADITION AND SPEAK ABOUT THIS LETTER WRITTEN BY PAUL IN THE LATE AUTUMN OR THE WINTER OF 53-54C.E. – BECAUSE I FELT ITS ABSOLUTE RELEVANCE TO OUR OWN TIME AND CULTURE. PAUL HAD LIVED IN CORINTH FOR ABOUT 18 MONTHS, LEAVING IN THE LATE SUMMER OF THE YEAR 51 TO CROSS THE AEGEAN SEA TO EPHESUS FROM WHERE HE WROTE THIS LETTER.
CORINTH WAS A VERY WEALTHY AND PROSPEROUS CITY DUE TO ITS POSITION NEAR THE NARROW ISTHMUS OF THE PELOPONNESE ABOUT 64 KILOMETRES SOUTH WEST OF ATHENS. BUT AS IS THE NORM IN SUCH PLACES NOT EVERYONE WAS WEALTHY. CORINTH HAD THE REPUTATION, AS WELL AS BEING A PROSPEROUS PLACE, OF IGNORING OR EVEN ABUSING THE POOR PEOPLE WHO LIVED THERE. BEING A GREEK CITY – ALBEIT UNDER ROMAN DOMINATION AND RULE – THE PEOPLE WERE VERY INTERESTED IN DISCUSSING RATIONAL IDEAS AND PHILOSOPHICAL THINKING. YOU GET THE PICTURE I THINK.
CAN YOU AGREE WITH ME THAT TAKING INTO ACCOUNT THE DISPARITY OF TIME AND EVOLVED CULTURE THERE IS A REMARKABLE SIMILARITY BETWEEN THIS ANCIENT COMMUNITY AND THE ONE IN WHICH WE LIVE IN THIS 21ST CENTURY.
WE MUST ADMIT THAT BY FAR THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE LIVING IN THIS AMAZING COUNTRY OF AUSTRALIA AND WITHIN OUR OWN COMMUNITY ARE WEALTHY BEYOND MEASURE WHEN COMPARED TO MANY COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD AND INTERESTINGLY MANY PEOPLE IN OUR GENERAL COMMUNITY TEND TO TREAT THE POOR AND UNDERPRIVILEGED IN A SIMILAR MANNER TO THOSE PROSPEROUS INHABITANTS OF ANCIENT CORINTH. NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED – HUMAN NATURE REMAINS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME.
PAUL WRITES TO THE MINORITY COMMUNITY OF CHRISTIANS WHICH HE HAS ESTABLISHED, SEEKING TO BOLSTER THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE INTO AND UNDERSTAND SOMETHING OF THE SPIRITUAL ASPECT OF LIFE. IT SEEMS THAT AFTER HIS DEPARTURE FOR EPHESUS THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH WAS HAVING LIMITED SUCCESS IN COMMUNICATING TO THE REST OF THE COMMUNITY ITS MESSAGE OF A NEW AND BETTER LIFE THROUGH CHRIST. PAUL IS RE-ASSURING THEM BY SAYING THAT NOT EVERYONE WILL ACCEPT THIS MESSAGE BECAUSE “Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age” (V6). IN OTHER WORDS – IT IS NOT EVERYONE WHO IS ABLE TO SEE THE BEAUTY AND LIFE BENEFITS OF FOLOWING CHRIST BECAUSE PAUL SAYS THERE ARE THOSE WHO SIMPLY LACK THE ABILITY TO DISCERN THE SPIRITUAL AND ARE THEREFORE UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND SPIRITUAL MATTERS. THEIR REACTION IS SIMPLY REJECTION OF SUCH THINGS. VERSE 14 – “Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they [THE GIFTS OF GOD’S SPIRIT] are spiritually discerned.”
LAST WEEK I MENTIONED A FAMILY MEMBER WHO HAS NO CHURCH ASSOCIATION BUT WHO NONETHELESS IS AN EXAMPLE OF HOSPITALITY AND GENEROSITY. WITHIN THAT SAME FAMILY THERE WAS A MARRIAGE LAST YEAR WHICH I WAS INITIALLY INVITED TO CELEBRATE. THERE WAS ONE CONDITION – NO MENTION OF GOD, PRAYER OR EVEN A BLESSING. OBVIOUSLY I WAS UNABLE TO MEET THE CONDITION SO THE MARRIAGE WAS PERFORMED [VERY WELL I MUST SAY] BY A CIVIL CELBRANT. I WAS ASKED TO DO A READING. THEY TRUSTED ME TO CHOOSE A SUITABLE READING – ALBEIT I SUSPECT WITH A SMALL AMOUNT OF NERVOUSNESS. I CHOSE TO READ AN EXCERPT FROM A WELL KNOWN NOVEL BY LOUIS DE BERNIERES CALLED CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN. THIS IS A READING I ALWAYS USE IN MY WEDDING CEREMONIES AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN WELL RECEIVED. IT GOES LIKE THIS; LOVE IS A TEMPORARY MADNESS, IT ERUPTS LIKE VOLCANOES AND THEN SUBSIDES. AND WHEN IT SUBSIDES YOU HAVE TO MAKE A DECISION. YOU HAVE TO WORK OUT WHETHER YOUR ROOTS HAVE SO ENTWINED TOGETHER THAT IT IS INCONCEIVABLE THAT YOU SHOULD EVER PART. BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT LOVE IS. LOVE IS NOT BREATHLESSNESS, IT IS NOT EXCITEMENT, IT IS NOT THE PROMULGATION OF ETERNAL PASSION, THAT IS JUST ‘BEING IN LOVE’ WHICH ANY FOOL CAN DO. LOVE ITSELF IS WHAT’S LEFT OVER WHEN BEING IN LOVE HAS BURNED AWAY, AND THAT IS BOTH AN ART AND A FORTUNATE ACCIDENT. THOSE THAT TRULY LOVE HAVE ROOTS THAT GROW TOWARDS EACH OTHER UNDERGROUND, AND WHEN ALL THE PRETTY BLOSSOMS HAVE FALLEN FROM THEIR BRANCHES, THEY FIND THEY ARE ONE TREE AND NOT TWO”.
THIS IS ABOUT LOVE – AS A WEDDING SHOULD BE OF COURSE. LOVE IS A WORD NOT MUCH USED BY PEOPLE WHO ARE DISCONNECTED FROM THE SPIRITUAL. MANY AUSTRALIANS IN FACT FIND IT EMBARRASSING. MAYBE IT IS MENTIONED AT A WEDDING OR SOMETIMES AT THE END OF A LIFE. YOU SEE, ADMITTING LOVE IS ACKNOWLEDGING A CONNECTION WITH THE SPIRITUAL – WITH GOD IF YOU LIKE. MANY FIND “I LOVE YOU” HARD TO SAY. AT THE END OF THE READING I COULD NOT RESIST MAKING A BRIEF COMMENT. I SAID THAT THE COUPLE MUST LOVE EACH OTHER OR THEY WOULD NOT BE STANDING HERE IN THIS BEAUTIFUL GARDEN AND ACKNOWLEDGE IT OR NOT – LIKE IT OR NOT –
IT IS THROUGH THAT VERY LOVE THAT THEY UNWITTINGLY PERHAPS – TOUCH SOMETHING OF THE DIVINE. I DOUBT THESE WORDS MADE ANY DIFFERENCE OF COURSE BECAUSE THEY ARE JUST NOT OPEN TO THE SPIRITUAL DUE TO UPBRINGINGS WHICH IN ONE CASE IGNORED THE SPIRITUAL AS BEING PHANTASY AND IMMATERIAL TO LIFE WHILST ON THE OTHER BEING BOMBARDED BY FUNDAMENTALIST AND LITERALIST RUBBISH. THESE ARE THE PEOPLE TO WHOM PAUL WAS REFERRING.
WE NOW HAVE PEOPLE SUCH AS RICHARD DAWKINS WHO WROTE THE BLIND WATCHMAKER IN WHICH HE EXPOUNDS ON THE ORIGINS OF HUMANITY – AND ALL THINGS FOR THAT MATTER – THROUGH THE PROCESSES OF EVOLUTION AS PROPOUNDED BY CHARLES DARWIN. DAWKINS SETS OUT TO RUBBISH RELIGION – PARTICULARLY THE FUNDAMENTALIST VARIETY – AN ARGUMENT WITH WHICH I WOULD AGREE – BUT IN DOING SO HE TOTALLY DISMISSES THE SPIRITUAL AND EXHIBITS A COMPLETE IGNORANCE AND CERTAINLY INEXPERIENCE OF THE GROUND OF BEING WE CALL GOD. DAWKINS ALSO STANDS AS A PRIME CONTEMPORARY EXAMPLE OF THE PEOPLE PAUL IS REFERRING TO.
VERSE13 “We speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” THIS NOW COMES DOWN TO THE VERY PERSONAL. VERSE 11” For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?” PAUL IS SAYING THAT THE SPIRIT WITHIN – THE ABILITY TO DISCERN THE SPIRITUAL – IS WHAT DEFINES US AS HUMAN. IT IS THIS SPIRIT WITHIN, AS BISHOP JOHN SPONG HAS SAID, THAT ALLOWS US TO REACH THE FULL POTENTIAL OF OUR LIVES AND TO BECOME ALL THAT WE CAN BE – TO LIVE A FULLY HUMAN LIFE POSSESSING ALL OF WHAT PAUL CALLS “THE GIFTS OF GOD’S SPIRIT”. HE LATER LISTS THESE GIFTS, SOME OF WHICH ARE: WISDOM, KNOWLEDGE, FAITH, HEALING.
THE RESULTS OF POSSESSING THESE GIFTS ARE; THE AWARENESS OF THE REALITY OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD AS EXPRESSED IN LOVE AND FORGIVENESS AND SHALOM – THE DEEPEST, MOST PROFOUND PEACE. THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO EXPERIENCE THE SPIRITUAL – TO EXPERIENCE THE DIVINE – TO EXPERIENCE GOD. MAY WE ALL COME TO UNDERSTAND, ACCEPT AND EXPERIENCE THIS. AMEN
SERMON 29TH JANUARY 2017 – Matthew 5:1-12
Epiphany 4 – the so called “sermon on the mount”
1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE
LET ME ASK YOU SOME DIRECT AND MAYBE DISCONCERTING QUESTIONS. “WHAT, FOR YOU, DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHRISTIAN?” – “HOW DOES ONE DEFINE THE QUALITIES – THE ASPIRATIONS – THE EVIDENCE (BECAUSE THERE MUST BE EVIDENCE) THAT WOULD SET SUCH A PERSON APART FROM THE HERD?”
OVER THE COURSE OF HUMAN HISTORY THERE HAVE BEEN MANY PEOPLE WHO HAVE STOOD OUT FROM THE CROWD – PEOPLE WHO HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE TO OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES AND EVEN HAVE ALTERED THE COURSE OF HUMAN HISTORY. ON A BROAD SCALE THERE HAVE BEEN PEOPLE WHO HAVE “CHANGED THE WORLD” FOR THE BETTER – WHO HAVE, SOMETIMES AT GREAT SELF-SACRIFICE, RAISED UP COMMUNITIES AND EVEN WHOLE NATIONS TO A HIGHER AND MORE GRACIOUS PLANE. ONE IMMEDIATELY THINKS OF MEN LIKE NELSON MANDELA WHO, ALTHOUGH IMPRISONED FOR MANY YEARS UNDER HARSH CONDITIONS, WHEN FREED DID NOT SEEK REVENGE AND RETRIBUTION BUT POURED FORGIVENESS UPON HIS GAOLERS AND CHANGED SOUTH AFRICA’S SOCIETY FROM ONE OF EXCLUSION AND DIVISION TO INCLUSION AND UNITY. ALSO WHILST THINKING OF SOUTH AFRICA ONE CAN’T PASS BY BISHOP DESMOND TUTU, THE NOW RETIRED ARCHBISHOP OF CAPETOWN. TUTU’S ADMIRERS SEE HIM AS A GREAT MAN WHO, SINCE THE DEMISE OF APARTHEID, HAS BEEN ACTIVE IN THE DEFENCE OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND USES HIS HIGH PROFILE TO CAMPAIGN FOR THE OPPRESSED. HE HAS CAMPAIGNED TO FIGHT HIV/AIDS, TUBERCULOSIS, POVERTY, RACISM, SEXISM, AND HOMOPHOBIA. HE RECEIVED THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE IN 1984.
JOHN F KENNEDY LATE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES FAMOUSLY SAID IN HIS INAUGURAL ADDRESS IN JANUARY 1961, “ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU BUT WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY… WITH A GOOD CONSCIENCE OUR ONLY SURE REWARD, WITH HISTORY THE FINAL JUDGE OF OUR DEEDS, LET US GO FORTH TO LEAD THE LAND WE LOVE, ASKING HIS BLESSING AND HIS HELP, BUT KNOWING THAT HERE ON EARTH GOD’S WORK MUST TRULY BE OUR OWN. “ALTHOUGH A FLAWED MAN – AS ARE WE ALL IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER – KENNEDY HERE REALLY STATED THE BASIC CHRISTIAN ETHOS AS PREACHED B Y JESUS HIMSELF.
NOTICE THAT I HAVE NOT QUOTED ANY RENOWNED THEOLOGIANS. MY YEARS OF STUDY HAVE SHOWN ME THAT, ALTHOUGH MOSTLY FUELLED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS, IT HAS BEEN MANY OF THE THEOLOGIANS AND SO CALLED CHURCH FATHERS OF THE PAST WHO IN THEIR SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH BEHIND THE HISTORICAL LIFE AND MEANING OF JESUS, HAVE BEEN RESONSIBLE FOR LEADING THE CHURCH AND MILLIONS OF ITS FOLLOWERS ASTRAY. THEY HAVE IMPOSED UPON WHAT WAS A DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE MESSAGE OF LOVE AND FORGIVENESS AND ACTION TO SPREAD THOSE INATE HUMAN QUALITIES, MANY LAYERS OF COMPLICATION, RULES AND STRUCTURES OF POWER THAT THE MAN JESUS NEVER IN HIS WILDEST DREAMS EVER ENVISAGED.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN WE HAVE THE NEW PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA WHO HAS SAID HIS PERSONAL MOTTO IS “AN EYE FOR AN EYE”. HE ALSO DECLARED HE DOES NOT ASK ANYONE FOR FORGIVENESS AND HE WANTS TO BOMB THE MIDDLE EAST UNTIL “THERE’S NOTHING LEFT”.
MANY PEOPLE DO NOT READ THIS LITTLE STORY FROM MATTHEW’S GOSPEL CAREFULLY ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND THAT IN THE STORY JESUS IS SPEAKING – NOT TO THE CROWD – BUT TO THE SMALL GROUP OF MEN HE HAS JUST CALLED TO FOLLOW HIM. TO PUT IT ANOTHER WAY – HE IS OUTLINING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A FOLLOWER OF HIS – IN OTHER WORDS – A CHRISTIAN IN TODAY’S PARLANCE. HE IS NOT SAYING THAT THE PERSON WITH ALL THE WEALTH – WITH ALL THE POWER – NECESSARILY QUALIFIES. HE IS SAYING IN FACT, JUST THE OPPOSITE. IT IS THE ONES WHO STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE, WHO ARE OUTCAST AND OSTRACISED FROM “GOOD SOCIETY” – WHO HAVE LITTLE OR NOTHING OF WORLDLY GOODS WHO REALLY MATTER. LOOK AT MATTHEW’S LIST. THE POOR IN SPIRIT – THE SAD – THE LONELY – THE MOURNERS – THOSE WHO LAMENT THE LOSS OF LOVED ONES (AND THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN MANY OF RELATIVELY YOUNG YEARS IN THE FIRST CENTURY WHEN THE EVANGELIST WROTE) – THE MEEK (BETTER TRANSLATED AS “THE GENTLE”) – THE MERCIFUL – THE PURE IN HEART – THE PEACEMAKERS – THE OSTRACISED AND THOSE ON THE FRINGES OF POLITE SOCIETY.
IN OUR COMFORTABLE MIDDLECLASS SOCIETY OF TODAY WE REALLY – IF WE ARE HONEST WITH OURSELVES – WOULD PREFER TO AVERT OUR EYES FROM THESE CLASSES OF PEOPLE. WE FIND SADNESS AND ILLNESS (PARTICULARLY MENTAL ILLNESS) EMBARRASSING AND THE SUFFERER TO BE AVOIDED IF POSSIBLE – LIKEWISE THE FOREIGNER WHO PERHAPS FOLLOWS A DIFFERENT FAITH OR SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T SHARE OUR HETEROSEXUALITY. WE SAY WE HAVE NO ILL FEELINGS FOR THESE STRANGERS BUT OUR WORDS OFTEN BELIE OUR ACTIONS WHEN WE GO TO LENGTHS TO AVOID CONTACT WITH THEM.
ON THE OTHER HAND I HAVE A NIECE IN ANOTHER STATE WHO WANTS NO CONTACT WITH THE CHURCH BUT WHO IS THE MOST OPENLY GENEROUS, HOSPITABLE AND INCLUSIVE PERSON I THINK I KNOW – FOR ANYONE WHO IS IN NEED. FOR ME SHE EPITOMISES WHAT IT TRULY MEANS TO BE – NOT RELIGIOUS – BUT A CHRISTIAN – A TRUE FOLLOWER OF CHRIST.
THE OLD PROPHET MICAH HAD IT SUMMED UP. TO PARAPHRASE THIS MORNING’S READING – IT’S NOT THE CEREMONIAL RELIGIOSITY THAT MATTERS – IT’S THE PRACTICALITY AS SHOWN IN ONE’S LIFESTYLE AND ACTIONS THAT CAN DESIGNATE US AS CHRISTIAN. (MICAH 6: 1-8) WHAT IS IT, O GOD THAT YOU WANT FROM US? WHAT DO YOU REQUIRE? JUST TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE OFFERING, AND WE WILL SURELY SACRIFICE IT — EVEN IF IT IS A RATHER EXTREME REQUEST.
THE LAST VERSE OF THIS PASSAGE — THE ONE MOST FAMILIAR TO US — TURNS THE QUESTIONS ASKED AWAY FROM THEIR FOCUS ON THE TYPES OF OFFERINGS AND TOWARD A FOCUS ON THE TYPE OF PERSON. FOR MICAH, GOD DOES NOT WANT A SPECIFIC TYPE OF OFFERING. GOD WANTS A SPECIFIC TYPE OF PERSON. THE PASSAGE CULMINATES WITH AN ANSWER. IT MAY NOT BE THE ANSWER THE PEOPLE EXPECTED. IN FACT, IT IS NOT THE ANSWER THEY WERE LOOKING FOR. THEY HAVE FOCUSED ON OFFERINGS — SMALL AND LARGE. THEY HAVE EMPHASIZED SACRIFICIAL WORSHIP – (READ CEREMONY AND RELIGIOSITY) -TO THE EXCLUSION OF JUSTICE AND KINDNESS. BUT GOD CLARIFIES WHAT IS GOOD. THE ANSWER IS RATHER STRAIGHTFORWARD: TO DO JUSTICE -TO LOVE KINDNESS – TO WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD.
NOW THAT THE CLARIFICATION HAS BEEN GIVEN TO US, THE MORE DIFFICULT TASK IS TO LIVE INTO THESE REQUIREMENTS AS GOD’S PEOPLE. REVENGE RATHER THAN JUSTICE IS PERHAPS OUR DEFAULT OPERATING SYSTEM. HUMILITY IS NOT SECOND NATURE. LET’S THINK THEN – WHAT DOES GOD REQUIRE FROM US? DO THESE REQUIREMENTS FROM US CAUSE US TO RETHINK WHAT IT TRULY MEANS TO BE A CHRISTIAN – ESPECIALLY AS WE LOOK INTO OUR OWN NEIGHBORHOODS AND CITY? AMEN
SERMON 15TH JANUARY 2017 – EPIPHANY 2 – John 1:29-42
SIGNS OF THE TIME
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed ). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter ).
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE.
WHEN YOU HEARD THE GOSPEL READING THIS MORNING DID YOU THINK THAT THERE WAS ANYTHING STRANGE – PERHAPS AN INCLUSION THAT SEEMED TO COME FROM LEFT FIELD? SOMETHING THAT AT FIRST GLANCE SEEMS QUITE UNNECESSARY – A DETAIL THAT CAUSES ONE TO SCRATCH ONE’S HEAD AND THINK, “WHY IS THIS HERE”? NO? WELL I WARNED YOU THAT THERE WOULD BE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE READING. DON’T YOU THINK IT A LITTLE STRANGE THAT THE DETAIL OF THE TIME IS INCLUDED? V39, “THEY CAME AND SAW WHERE HE WAS STAYING, AND THEY REMAINED WITH HIM THAT DAY, IT WAS ABOUT FOUR O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON – OR IN THE LATIN PARLANCE OF THE TIME “HORA DECIMA – THE 10TH HOUR”.
I HAVE WONDERED HOW THE ANCIENTS “TOLD THE TIME” AND DISCOVERED THAT THEY USED SUNDIALS – ORIGINALLY A GREEK INVENTION AND WATER CLOCKS AMONGST OTHER SMART INVENTIONS. A HUMOROUS COMMENT ABOUT THE PREVALENCE OF SUNDIALS IS ILLUSTRATED BY A CHARACTER IN A DRAMA BY PLAUTUS A ROMAN PLAYRIGHT OF ABOUT 200 B.C.E., WHO COMPLAINS “MAY THE GODS DESTROY THAT MAN WHO FIRST DISCOVERED HOURS AND WHO FIRST SET UP A SUNDIAL HERE, WHO CUT UP MY DAY.”; THE COMPARISON IS WITH THE SPEAKER’S YOUNG DAYS WHEN A CHILD IS FREE OF TIMEKEEPING. THE ROMAN DAY STARTING AT DAWN SURVIVES TODAY IN THE SPANISH WORD SIESTA, LITERALLY THE SIXTH HOUR OF THE DAY ALSO OUR ENGLISH WORD FOR MIDDAY – NOON – IS DERIVED FROM THE 9TH HOUR ALTHOUGH DUE TO SEMANTIC DRIFT NOW REFERS TO MIDDAY RATHER THAN MID-AFTERNOON.
BUT ENOUGH OF INTERESTING HISTORICAL FACTS; THE QUESTION REMAINS, WHY IS THE WRITER OF JOHN’S GOSPEL SO INTERESTED IN TIME. WE NEED TO REITERATE THAT THIS MAN WAS JEWISH AND WRITES WITHIN THE CONFINES OF A JEWISH COMMUNITY AND UNDERSTANDING – ALBEIT SOME 70 OR MORE YEARS AFTER JESUS’ LIFETIME.
THE JEWISH DAYTIME HOURS BEGAN WITH DAWN AND ENDED WITH SUNDOWN, WHICH BEGAN THE NEXT DAY. OF COURSE THE HOURS ARE SEASONAL, SO THE LENGTH OF THE DAYLIGHT HOURS VARIED WITH THE SEASON OF THE YEAR. ON THE OTHER HAND THE ROMANS BEGAN THEIR DAY AT MIDNIGHT AND COUNTED 12 HOURS TO 12 NOON AND THEN 12 MORE HOURS FROM NOON TO THE NEXT MIDNIGHT. WE STILL KEEP ROMAN TIME.
LIFE HAPPENS IN TIME AND WE REMEMBER LIFE WITH TIME. IMPORTANT EVENTS ARE NOT GENERAL REFERENCES — WE DON’T SAY, “OUR WEDDING WAS IN THE EVENING SOMETIME” OR “OUR BABY WAS BORN SOMETIME IN THE MORNING” NO, WE REMEMBER THESE MOMENTS WITH PARTICULARITY. MY WEDDING WAS ON SATURDAY THE 1ST OF OCTOBER AT 4.30PM.
NO WONDER THE TIME OF THE FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS HAD TO BE RECORDED. THERE’S NO WAY YOU COULD FORGET THAT KIND OF MOMENT. JOHN AND PETER WOULD SAY, “WELL, IT WAS ABOUT FOUR O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON….”. THERE ARE EVENTS IN YOUR LIFE THAT TIME HAS TO ACKNOWLEDGE. WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL EVENTS? WHAT ARE YOUR COMMUNAL EVENTS? WHAT ARE OUR NATIONAL EVENTS? WHAT ARE OUR GLOBAL EVENTS THAT TIME HELPS US REMEMBER – HELPS US FEEL – HELPS US KNOW THAT IT MATTERED? TIME ANCHORS THE EVENT.
TIME MATTERS IN THIS STORY, NOT JUST TO MARK TIME, BUT TO REMIND US OF GOD’S TIME.
IT WAS TRADITIONAL WHILST THE JERUSALEM TEMPLE EXISTED – I.E. PRIOR TO 70C.E. – FOR THE PRIESTS TO RUN A STRICTLY ORDERED SCHEDULE. EACH DAY IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE ANCIENT TORANIC LAW THERE WERE TWO LAMBS SACRIFICED AT THE ALTAR. ONE AT DAWN THE OTHER IN THE AFTERNOON. THE SECOND ANIMAL WAS TIED TO THE ALTAR AROUND THE 6TH HOUR – NOON TO 1PM – WAS GIVEN A DRINK FROM A GOLDEN CUP DURING THAT FIRST HOUR AND WAS THEN SACRIFICED AT THE 9TH HOUR; 3 – 4PM.
WHAT THEN IS JOHN ALSO SAYING HERE? LET’S GO BACK TO VERSE 29 WHICH OPENED OUR GOSPEL READING. “THE NEXT DAY JOHN SAW JESUS COMING TOWARD HIM AND DECLARED, “HERE IS THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!” WHAT COULD BE CLEARER? JOHN, HAVING BEGUN HIS GOSPEL BY DECLARING JESUS TO HAVE BEEN WITH GOD AT CREATION OF THE WORLD AND DECLARING HIM TO BE GOD IN THE FLESH NOW DECLARES HIM TO BE THE SACRIFICIAL LAMB TO BE KILLED TO “TAKE AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD” AND EMPHASISES THIS DECLARATION BY SPECIFICALLY TELLING US THE TIME WAS 4PM – THE TIME WHEN THE TAMID LAMB WAS BEING SACRIFICED IN THE TEMPLE. ALSO JOHN HAS THE FIRST DISCIPLES JOIN JESUS AT THE SAME TIME THE TAMID LAMB WAS BEING SACRIFICED. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. READ ACTS CHAPTER 3 VERSE 1, “ONE DAY PETER AND JOHN WERE GOING UP TO THE TEMPLE AT THE HOUR OF PRAYER, AT THREE O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON”. THE SECOND TIME OF PRAYER FOR THE DAY – ALSO CALLED THE HOUR OF CONFESSION – WAS FROM 3 UNTIL 4PM. SO IT IS OBVIOUS THAT THIS JEWISH MYSTIC WRITER TIED JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES VERY CLOSELY TO THE SCHEDULE OF PRAYER AND SACRIFICE OF THE TEMPLE.
THE SECOND THING I CAN SAY ABOUT THIS GOSPEL STORY IS CONCERNING THE WORDS “THEY CAME AND SAW WHERE HE WAS STAYING, AND THEY REMAINED WITH HIM THAT DAY.” THE WORD TRANSLATED AS “REMAINED” IS THE GREEK “MENO” WHICH CAN ALSO BE TRANSLATED AS “ABIDE’ OR ‘REMAIN’.
FOR THESE FIRST DISCIPLES, ABOUT FOUR O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON WAS THEIR FIRST TIME – BY INVITATION FROM JESUS – TO ABIDE. NOT JUST TO COME AND SEE BUT TO COME AND BE. OUTSIDE OF JESUS’ BAPTISM IN JOHN1, IN REFERENCE TO THE SPIRIT, 1:39 IS THE FIRST OCCURRENCE OF THE VERB MENO IN JOHN. USED NO LESS THAN FORTY-PLUS TIMES IN JOHN- IT IS THE PRIMARY WORD TO DESCRIBE THE INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP INTO WHICH JESUS INVITED HIS DISCIPLES AND ALSO INVITES US.
TO ABIDE IS TO BELONG. TO ABIDE IS TO BE SAVED. TO ABIDE IS TO BE ASSURED OF A FUTURE WITH GOD. TO ABIDE IS TO FEEL A REAL AND COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP. NO WONDER THEY REMEMBERED FOUR O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON. YOUR FIRST ABIDING WITH THE WORD OF GOD CAN’T BE SOME GENERIC MEMORY.
THE PRESENCE OF GOD WITH US AND WITHIN TIME IS THE PROMISE OF EPIPHANY. EPIPHANY MOMENTS NEED TIMELY DEMARCATION. BECAUSE TIME WAS MEMORABLE AND MATTERED TO JOHN AND OUR TIMES MATTER DEEPLY TO GOD.
AT THE BEGINNING OF A NEW YEAR IT’S TIME TO TAKE STOCK OF OUR LIVES AND HONESTLY FACE THE QUESTION, “ARE WE, LIKE THOSE FIRST DISCIPLES, TRULY ABIDING – REMAINING – WITHIN THE HOSPITALITY OF THE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE WE CALL GOD?” IF WE FIND IT DIFFICULT TO ANSWER THAT – PERHAPS IT IS TIME WE ADDRESSED THE MATTER. AMEN
All the best for 2017 dear friends. Stay in love and peace.
SERMON – 1st January 2017– MATTHEW 2:1-12
CELEBRATING THE EPIPHANY
The Visit of the Wise Men
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE
LAST WEEK THERE WAS A CARTOON IN THE AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER WHICH DEPICTED THE THREE SO CALLED “WISE MEN” CONFERRING IN FRONT OF A SIGN HELD BY A TRADER WHICH READ, “POST CHRISTMAS SALE – 50% OFF ALL GOLD, FRANKINCENSE AND MYRRH “. ONE OF THE THREE SAYS TO THE OTHERS, “SEE, I TOLD YOU WE SHOULD HAVE WAITED UNTIL AFTER CHRISTMAS!”
I HAVE RECEIVED QUITE A NUMBER OF CHRISTMAS CARDS AGAIN THIS YEAR, MANY OF WHICH DEPICT THE THREE SO CALLED “KINGS” OR “WISE MEN” ARRIVING IN BETHLEHEM ON THEIR CAMELS. IT IS REALLY A COMPRESSING OF A COUPLE OF ANCIENT TRADITIONS INTO ONE. WITHIN THE BROADER COMMUNITY NO ONE HAS HEARD OF EPIPHANY OR IF THEY HAVE HEARD THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE WORD MEANS. IN OUR TIME CHRISTMAS HAS BECOME SO COMMERCIALISED AND IMMERSED IN NORTHERN HEMISPHERE WINTER SNOW THAT MANY NOW SIMPLY PAY A NODDING ACKNOWLEDGEMENT THAT IT COULD HAVE A SOMEWHAT DEEPER AND MORE THOUGHTFUL MEANING AND REALLY LOOK AND THINK NO FURTHER.
THE ENGLISH WORD “EPIPHANY” MEANS A MOMENT WHEN YOU HAVE COME TO UNDERSTAND SOMETHING HITHERTO VEILED OR MISUNDERSTOOD – IT IS THE “AHA” MOMENT.
MATTHEW IS THE ONLY GOSPEL WRITER TO INCLUDE THIS STORY OF THE MAGI AND HEROD. BOTH THE EARLIER MARK AND LATER LUKEAND JOHN MAKE NO MENTION OF IT AND YET IT HAS BECOME A VERY CENTRAL PART OF THE CELEBRATIONS SURROUNDING THE BIRTH OF JESUS.
I BELIEVE THAT MATTHEW WANTED HIS HEARERS TO ABSORB A NUMBER OF LESSONS FROM THIS STORY.
FIRST LET’S THINK ABOUT THESE MEN FROM THE EAST. BY THE WAY WE ARE NEVERTOLD THAT THERE WERE THREE. THAT NUMBER HAS SIMPLY COME FROM TRADITION – PERHAPS A REFLECTION OF A LATER DEVELOPED DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITARIAN GOD. THE MEN WERE NOT KINGS BUT THE GREEK WORD USED – MAGI – MEANS ASTROLOGERS. THIS STORY RELFECTS SOMETHING OF THE STRESSES AT WORK WITHIN THE ROMAN EMPIRE AT THE TIME. THE MEN ARE POSSIBLY FROM PARTHIA. THE PARTHIAN EMPIRE WAS A MAJOR IRANIAN POLITICAL AND CULTURAL POWER IN ANCIENT IRAN AND IRAQ. IT WAS FOUNDED AROUND 247 B.C.E. AND LASTED UNTIL ABOUT 224C.E. – ALMOST 500 YEARS. IT WAS AN ENEMY OF ROME BORDERING AS IT DID THE FAR EASTERN BORDERS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. THE FACT THAT THESE MEN HAVE LATER BEEN GIVEN THE TITLE OF KINGS SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT THEIR POWER AND THEIR ACCESS TO THE POWER OF THE PARTHIAN EMPIRE. THEY WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN THE MOST WELCOME PEOPLE IN THE ROMAN PROVINCES. ASTROLOGY WAS A MAJOR INFLUENCE IN THESE ANCIENT TIMES. PEOPLE TOOK THE ASTROLOGERS’ PREDICTIONS VERY SERIOUSLY. A THREATENING OR DARK PREDICTION COULD HAVE A VERY DESTABILISING INFLUENCE ON THE RECIPIENT. YOU CAN NOW SEE WHY HEROD – THE CORRUPT AND VIOLENT PUPPET RULER OF ISRAEL – WAS UPSET AT THE THREATENING PREDICTION THE MEN BROUGHT TO HIM. ANY INDICATION OF A POTENTIAL NEW CHALLENGER WAS ENOUGH TO GREATLY CONCERN HIM. HIS ROMAN MASTERS WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN PLEASED IF AN UPRISING OCCURRED UNDER HIS WATCH. THESE MAGII’S ACTIONS IN APPEARING IN JERUSALEM, THE SEAT OF HEROD’S POWER AND INQUIRING ABOUT A “KING OF THE JEWS” WERE THREATENING TO HIM IN THE EXTREME. ALSO MATTHEW ALONG WITH THE OTHER SYNOPTIC GOSPEL WRITERS HAS STRONGLY LINKED JESUS WITH THE REVERED KING DAVID – A PAST HERO OF ISRAEL WHO RULED AROUND 1000 YEARS B.C.E. AND IS REPUTED TO HAVE UNITED THE SOUTHERN KINGDOM (JUDAH) AND THE NORTHERN (ISRAEL). HEROD SENSES A FIGURATIVE RETURN OF THIS POWERFUL ISRAELITE – JUDEAN KING IN THE BABY JESUS AND PLANS TO ACT ACCORDINGLY. MATTHEW TELLS A WONDERFUL STORY HERE AND IT WELL REFLECTS THE TIMES IN WHICH HE AND HIS COMMUNITY IN ANTIOCH LIVED.
SO WE CAN SEE THAT HE IS PAINTING A STRONG PICTURE OF JESUS AS KING – AS MESSIAH – AS THE ONE WHO WAS TO SAVE ISRAEL FROM THE ROMAN OPPRESSION – AS NOT JUST A THREAT TO HEROD BUT ALSO TO THE ROMAN EMPIRE. THAT WAS NO MEAN THREAT! BUT WHAT A CONTRAST WE SEE BETWEEN MATTHEW’S POTENTIAL KING AND THE KING HEROD. IN MATTHEW’S STORY HEROD REACTS WITH HORRENDOUS VIOLENCE – WHILST JESUS EXUDES NOTHING BUT HEALING, LOVE AND FORGIVENESS.
ONE OTHER IMPORTANT LESSON COMES FROM THIS STORY. THIS IS THE FIRST ACCOUNT IN ANY OF THE GOSPELS OF NON JEWS – GENTILES – TO WORSHIP JESUS.
THE MAGI WERE NOT JEWS AND THAT SET THEM ASIDE FROM THE BUDDING JEWISH / CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY OF MATTHEW BUT THEY ALSO CAME FROM A COUNTRY THAT WAS NO FRIEND OF THE ROMANS AND THAT COUNTED FOR A LOT. EARLIER IN THE FIRST CENTURY WE SAW HOW PAUL SAW IT AS HIS GOD GIVEN TASK TO CONVERT THE GENTILES TO FOLLOW THE JEWISH JESUS AND THERE FOLLOW STORIES IN THE LATER GOSPELS THAT TELL THE SAME STORY. I THINK IMMEDIATELY OF THE STORIES OF THE SAMARIAN WOMAN AT THE WELL, THE CENTURIAN’S SERVANT AND THE SYRO-PHOENICIAN WOMAN’S DAUGHTER.
NOW SOMEWHAT OVERLOOKED IN THIS FAMILIAR STORY OF THE MAGI IS MATTHEW’S INTRODUCTION OF GENTILE WORSHIPPERS OF JESUS. THE STORY AND PROMISES OF JESUS ARE INDEED UNIVERSAL FOR THE WRITERS OF THE FIRST CENTURY AND ALSO TODAY. I ASK MYSELF , WHY IS IT THAT IN THIS SAVVY WORLD OF 2016 WE STILL FAIL TO GRASP THIS ANCIENT TRUTH IN THE GOSPEL STORIES? WHY IS IT THAT WE STILL INSIST ON PRACTISING EXCLUSION AND DISCRIMINATION BASED ON A MYRIAD OF FLIMSY EXCUSES? DIFFERENT POLITICS, DIFFERENT FAITH, DIFFERENT SKIN COLOUR, DIFFERENT SEXUALITY. LET THIS APPARENTLY SIMPLE STORY FROM MATTHEW TEACH US A LESSON AS WE CLOSE ANOTHER YEAR AND PREPARE TO ENTER A NEW ONE – ALBEIT ONE SEEMINGLY FILLED WITH UNCERTAINTY.
SO MANY OF THIS WORLD’S PROBLEMS STEM FROM DISCRIMINATION AND EXCLUSION. CAN WE RESOLVE THAT IN 2017 WE MIGHT TRY TO DO SOMETHING TO CHANGE THAT – BECAUSE IF WE SAY WE FOLLOW JESUS THAT IS CERTAINLY WHAT HE WOULD HAVE US DO? AMEN
SERMON CHRISTMAS 2016 – Luke 2:1-14
1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE.
HISTORICAL FACT ASIDE THIS STORY BY LUKE OF THE BIRTH OF JESUS IS STILL ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL STORIES EVER TOLD. THAT IS WHY IT HAS REMAINED, BEEN SPREAD AROUND THE WORLD AND HAS BEEN RE-ENACTED COUNTLESS TIMES OVER THE CENTURIES. IN REFLECTING ON THIS I HAVE COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT IT IS NOT JUST THE BEAUTY OF THE TALE BUT THE FACT THERE IS SOMETHING MORE TO IT THAT ATTRACTS US EVEN TODAY. THE BIRTH OF A CHILD IS THE CULMINATION OF A LONG – AND SOMETIMES FOR THE MOTHER – SEEMINGLY ENDLESS PERIOD OF ANTICIPATION AND HOPE – HOPE THAT THE CHILD WILL BE BORN WITHOUT DIFFICULTIES OR HANDICAPS AND HOPE THAT THE NEW PERSON WILL BE ABLE TO THRIVE AND BRING FURTHER JOY AND PRIDE TO THE FAMILY AS THEY MATURE INTO ADULTHOOD.
THIS WORD HOPE – I FOUND MYSELF PONDERING THAT. HOPE IS DEFINED AS A FEELING OF EXPECTATION AND DESIRE FOR A PARTICULAR THING TO HAPPEN. WE SAY, “I HOPE YOUR TREATMENT IS SUCCESSFUL” OR “I HOPE YOU HAVE A LOVELY CHRISTMAS”- “I HOPE TO SEE YOU AGAIN SOON”. WE ALL HOPE A LOT! HOPE IS AN INCREDIBLY POWERFUL FORCE WITHIN ALL OF US WHETHER WE STOP TO ACKNOWLEDGE IT OR NOT – BECAUSE WHEN ALL LOOKS DARK AND UNCERTAIN WE ALL LOOK FORWARD IN HOPE. WHEN CERTAINTY HAS GONE WE ACTUALLY SAY, “WE CAN ONLY HOPE”.
BUT I ALSO SENSE A DANGER IN JUST RELYING ON HOPE. WE CAN BECOME BOGGED DOWN IN HOPE. WE RUN THE RISK OF BECOMING COMPLACENT IN HOPE. HOPE MISUSED CAN ALLOW US TO ABSOLVE OURSELVES FROM THE REALITIES OF TAKING OWNERSHIP OF OUR OWN LIVES. I WANT TO TAKE US BACK TO SOME WORDS OF THE ANCIENT PROPHET ISAIAH, “She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us‘). THESE WORDS ARE TAKEN TO REFER TO JESUS. IF WE ACCEPT THAT IS WHAT IT IS SAYING, JUST AS PAUL WROTE CENTURIES LATER, “GOD WAS IN CHRIST …” WE START ON A WAY THAT CAN CHALLENGE OUR COMPLACANCY. WHAT IF THE WORD IMMANUEL IS BETTER TRANSLATED “GOD IS IN US”. I KNOW THAT’S SCANDALOUS BUT THINK OF THE IMPLICATIONS. IF GOD IS IN US WE HAVE THE POWER TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE FEAR – THE INJUSTICE-THE GREED THAT IS DESTROYING HUMAN SOCIETY. AS WE CONTEMPLATE THE CHILD JESUS WE CAN SEE OURSELVES. IT IS A WAKEUP CALL – WAKE UP TO THE SPIRIT OF GOD WITHIN YOU AND STOP JUST LAZILY WALLOWING IN HOPE – HOPE THAT INFERS SOMEONE ELSE WILL DO IT.
IN A FEW DAYS MOST OF US WILL HAVE FORGOTTEN CHRISTMAS AS WE PREPARE TO CELEBRATE THE DAWNING OF A NEW YEAR AND WHEN I THINK BACK THROUGH THE PAST YEAR IT IS EASY TO SAY THAT I HAVE LITTLE LEFT BUT HOPE FOR THE FUTURE. CERTAINTY HAS GONE OUT THE WINDOW. NOTHING IS SURE ANYMORE. THE DREADFUL CARNAGE OF THE WARS IN THE MIDDLE EAST KEEP PUSHING THEIR WAY INTO THE HOUSE VIA THE TELEVISION AND RADIO REPORTS, THE REAL THREAT OF VIOLENT TERRORISM WITHIN OUR OWN AUSTRALIAN COMMUNITY, WHILST THE DIFFICULTIES SURROUNDING THE POSSIBLE CHANGES WITHIN THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE REAL FEELING OF UNCERTAINTY FOLLOWING THE AMERICAN ELECTION ALL MAKE THE COMING YEAR LOOK FRANKLY UNAPPEALING.
ALSO IT HAS JUST BEEN REPORTED THAT 2016 WAS THE HOTTEST YEAR SINCE RECORDINGS WERE BEGUN. IT FOLLOWS ON THE PAST 3 YEARS WHEN EACH YEAR HAS HELD THE RECORD. THE EARTH’S CLIMATE IS CHANGING WHILST WORLD POLITICAL LEADERS LARGELY DITHER AND ACQUIESE TO VESTED CARBON FUEL SUPPLIER’S PECUNIARY INTERESTS.
IT SOUNDS NAÏVE TO SIMPLY SAY WE HOPE FOR BETTER THINGS – FOR BETTER TIMES – ALMOST AS THOUGH WE JUST MOUTH THE WORDS – BUT INWARDLY REALLY WANT TO – IN THE WORDS OF ANTHONY NEWLEY’S 1960’S MUSICAL – STOP THE WORLD I WANT TO GET OFF! I ASK YOU – DO YOU FEEL THE SAME WAY ABOUT THE FUTURE? AND HAVE YOU COME INTO THIS CHURCH TO FEEL SOMETHING OF THE BEAUTY AND JOY AND HOPE AND – DARE I SAY COMFORT – THAT IS EXUDED BY THIS LOVELY CHRISTMAS STORY?
I AM SURE THAT IS AT LEAST SOME OF THE REASONS WHY YOU HAVE COME. SO CAN WE REALLY FIND THE COMFORT WE SEEK HERE? WHEN WE SING THE OLD 15TH CENTURY CAROL WITH THE WORDS: “GOD REST YE MERRY, GENTLEMEN, LET NOTHING YOU DISMAY, REMEMBER, CHRIST, OUR SAVIOUR WAS BORN ON CHRISTMAS DAY, TO SAVE US ALL FROM SATAN’S POWER, WHEN WE WERE GONE ASTRAY, O TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY, COMFORT AND JOY, O TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY” WE WANT TO TAKE THOSE PROMISED FEELINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY INTO OUR HEARTS AND MINDS?
I SPEAK OF HOPE AND THAT IS CERTAINLY WHAT WE CAN TAKE WITH US FROM HERE BUT AS I HOPE I HAVE MADE CLEAR WE CAN ALSO TAKE A NEW SENSE OF THE AWARENESS OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD WITHIN US. THAT TAKES US BEYOND – DARE I SAY – MERE HOPE. IT BRINGS US TO A POINT OF REALISATION THAT WE HAVE THE POWER TO ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING POSITIVE. NOT TO CHANGE THE WORLD OVERNIGHT BUT TO BEGIN IN PERHAPS A SMALL WAY TO EXERCISE THAT SPIRIT OF POSITIVITY – THAT SPIRIT OF GOD – THAT IS IN US.
THE BIRTH OF JESUS – NO MATTER WHAT THE REALITY OF HIS BIRTH – HAS PROVEN TO BE ONE OF – IF NOT THE – MAJOR TURNING POINTS IN HUMAN HISTORY. FOR TWO THOUSAND YEARS PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ARGUING AND TRYING TO DETERMINE THE REALITY BEHIND THE LEGEND. IT HAS BECOME CLEAR THAT THE REALITY IS A MAN WHO RADIATED UNBOUNDED LOVE AND FORGIVENESS TO ALL THOSE AROUND HIM – INCLUDING THOSE WHO MURDERED HIM. ONE MORE THING BECOMES CLEAR – THIS IS NOT A BABY WHO GREW INTO AN AVERAGE MAN OF HIS TIME. I BELIEVE IT IS A GREAT TRUTH WHAT ST PAUL WROTE IN 2 CORINTHIANS 5:19 – THAT “GOD WAS IN CHRIST RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF”. RADICALLY I PUT IT TO YOU THAT GOD IS ALSO IN US. IT IS AN IMPOSSIBILITY TO DEFINE THE SPIRIT THAT WE CALL GOD BUT IT IS CERTAINLY POSSIBLE TO EXPERIENCE THAT SPIRIT. WE CAN FIND IT IN THE BEAUTY, THE JOY AND THE HOPE OF THIS BABE AND THIS MAN WE KNOW AS JESUS OF Nazareth WHOSE BIRTH WE STILL CELEBRATE SOME 2000 YEARS AFTER THE EVENT.
MAY THIS TIME OF CELEBRATION BE FOR YOU FILLED WITH THE BEAUTY AND THE LOVE AND THE JOY AND THE HOPE AND DARE I SAY AGAIN THE POWER TO ACT FOR GOOD – FOR THE LIGHT – THAT IS FOUND IN CHRIST JESUS. AMEN
SERMON 18TH DECEMBER 2016 – ADVENT 4 Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE
I DON’T THINK I WOULD HAVE MANY DISAGREE WITH ME IF I SAID THAT WE LIVE IN AN EVOLVED AND EVOLVING WORLD. WE ARE PRODUCTS OF AN EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS DESPITE WHAT SOME PEOPLE CHOOSE TO BELIEVE. OF COURSE IT IS NOT ONLY LIVING CREATURES WHO ARE PART OF THE EVOLUTIONARY CHAIN. IDEAS AND CONCEPTS ALSO EVOLVE, OFTEN BECOMING MORE AND MORE COMPLEX AS TIME AND THOUGHT GOES ON.
LET’S GO BACK TO THE MIDDLE OF THE FIRST CENTURY AND REVISIT THE APOSTLE PAUL. PAUL WAS THE WRITER OF THE EARLIEST DOCUMENTS WE HAVE THAT HAVE SURVIVED TO BE COLLATED INTO THE NEW TESTAMENT. HE WROTE BETWEEN EIGHTEEN AND THIRTY FOUR YEARS AFTER JESUS’ DEATH. LET’S LOOK AT TWO OF HIS LETTERS – FIRST, 2 CORINTIANS 5.19. “IN CHRIST GOD WAS RECONCILING THE WORLD”, AND ROMANS 8.39 – “NOTHING IN ALL CREATION WILL BE ABLE TO SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD”. READING THESE WORDS IT BECOMES CLEAR THAT PAUL WAS USING ECSTATIC LANGUAGE. HE HAS BEEN SO MOVED BY HIS EXPERIENCE OF CHRIST THAT HE IS STILL TRYING TO EXPLAIN IT TO OTHERS. BUT IT’S IN HUMAN NATURE TO SEEK EXPLANATIONS.
“THE VERY MOMENT WE MOVE FROM ECSTATIC PROCLAMATION TO EXPLANANTION, THE PRESUMPTIONS, DEFINITIONS AND STEREOTYPES OF THE AGES BEGIN TO SHAPE OUR WORDS” SO CREEDS AND THEOLOGY ITSELF EMERGES FROM THIS SEEKING AFTER EXPLANATION – SO WHAT THE CHURCH HAS PRESENTED FOR GENERATIONS AS TRUTH IS REALLY VERSIONS OF TRUTH DISTORTED BY THE TIME AND CULTURE IN WHICH THEY WERE FORMED.
IN THE LETTER TO THE ROMANS PAUL BEGINS TO DEVELOP HIS ATTEMPTS AT EXPLANANTION. IN HIS INTRODUCTION (ROMANS 1:14) HE WRITES “JESUS CHRIST … WAS DECLARED TO BE THE SON OF GOD WITH POWER ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT OF HOLINESS BY RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD”. SO IT IS EVIDENT THAT FOR PAUL, JESUS BECAME THE ADOPTED “SON OF GOD” AT THE TIME OF HIS RESURRECTION – THE EASTER EXPERIENCE.
NEXT CAME MARK – THE EARLIEST GOSPEL – WRITTEN ABOUT TEN YEARS AFTER PAUL’S LETTER TO THE ROMANS. IT OPENS WITH THE DECLARATION “THE BEGINNING OF THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST – THE SON OF GOD”.
MARK HAS PICKED UP THE INFLUENCE OF PAUL BUT HAD TO ADAPT HIS STORY TO SUIT HIS OWN CONCEPT OF CHRIST. SO HE SETS THE SCENE OF JESUS’ DESIGNATION AS THE SON OF GOD EARLY IN HIS STORY – AT JESUS’ BAPTISM. HE ALSO LITERALISED PAUL’S “SPIRIT OF HOLINESS” INTO THE FORM OF A DOVE AND THE VOICE DECLARING JESUS AS GOD’S SON. NOW WE COME TO TODAY’S GOSPEL OF MATTHEW – WRITTEN ABOUT TWENTY YEARS AFTER MARK. AGAIN THE STORY HAS CHANGED AND EVOLVED.
NOW IN THIS MORNING’S GOSPEL READING WE SEE MATTHEW’S ANGEL APPEARING TO JOSEPH AND DECLARING THAT MARY’S CHILD “CONCEIVED IN HER IS FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT” (V20).SO WE SEE THAT FOR MATTHEW JESUS WAS THE SON OF GOD RIGHT FROM THE TIME OF HIS CONCEPTION. MATTHEW ADDS THAT “ALL THIS TOOK PLACE TO FULFIL WHAT HAD BEEN SPOKEN BY THE LORD THROUGH THE PROPHET”. REMEMBER I SAID EARLIER THAT “THE PRESUMPTIONS, DEFINITIONS AND STEREOTYPES OF THE AGES BEGIN TO SHAPE OUR WORDS”? HERE IS A PRIME EXAMPLE OF JEWISH SCRIBE MATTHEW’S JEWISHNESS EMERGING AS HE LOOKS BACK INTO THE ANCIENT PROPHESIES OF ISAIAH.
SO WHEN WE LOOK AT THESE WRITINGS CRITICALLY AND PLACE THEM IN THEIR TRUE CONTEXT – THE RESULTS CAN BE EYE OPENING. BY THE WAY, THE LATER LUKE TOOK THINGS FURTHER AGAIN, GIVING MATTHEW’S ANONYMOUS ANGEL THE NAME OF GABRIEL AND HAVING HIM ADDRESS MARY IN PERSON, NOT IN A DREAM AS WITH JOSEPH. OF COURSE BY THE END OF THE FIRST CENTURY JOHN HAS JESUS PRESENT FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME WITH GOD, BUT WE WILL STOP AT MATTHEW’S ACCOUNT FOR TODAY.
THANKFULLY OUR SOCIETY HAS ALSO EVOLVED. AROUND THE MIDDLE OF LAST CENTURY IT WAS SHAMEFUL FOR A GIRL TO BECOME PREGNANT OUT OF WEDLOCK, SO MUCH SO THAT MANY GIRL’S LIVES WERE DESTROYED BY CALLOUS AND SOMETIMES GREEDY “CHARITABLE” ORGANISATIONS – SADLY INCLUDING THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. AS IS CLEAR IN THE GOSPEL STORY THE SAME WAS TRUE IN THE FIRST CENTURY. HOWEVER THEN, LIVING AS THEY DID IN A PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY THEY WERE CLASSED AS SECOND RATE CITIZENS ANYWAY. WITH NO GOVERNMENT WELFARE AND NO CHARITABLE ORGANISATIONS GIRLS WHO FOUND THEMSELVES IN THIS SITUATION FACED A TERRIBLE FUTURE.
IF THE FAMILY REJECTED THEM, AS WAS MOSTLY THE CASE, THEY WERE DOOMED TO STRUGGLE FOR THEIR VERY EXISTENCE. LIFE WAS SHORT AND HARD ANYWAY BUT MUCH MORE SO FOR THESE GIRLS.
MATTHEW CHOOSES TO PAINT JOSEPH IN A VERY GOOD AND KIND LIGHT. IN THAT DAY HE WOULD HAVE HAD NO OBLIGATION TO MARY – BEING “…FOUND WITH CHILD”. BUT EVEN FOR THE JEWISH SCRIBE MATTHEW THE IMAGE OF GOD WAS A SPIRIT OF LOVE. FOR MATTHEW IT WAS IMPERATIVE THAT JOSEPH LEGITIMISE JESUS. THE ALTERNATIVE WAS UNTHINKABLE FOR HIM AND THE BABY’S FUTURE.THE PLAN SUCCEEDED. IN THE LATER GOSPEL OF LUKE – 4:22 – WE READ OF JESUS’ FELLOW NAZARENE TOWNSFOLK, “ALL SPOKE WELL OF HIM AND WERE AMAZED AT THE GRACIOUS WORDS THAT CAME FROM HIS MOUTH. THEY SAID,”IS NOT THIS JOSEPH’S SON”?
MATTHEW PRESENTS JOSEPH AS A MODEL FOR ALL WHO HEAR THE MESSAGE OF JESUS THROUGH THE CHURCH. MATTHEW’S JOSEPH WAS FACE TO FACE WITH AN UNLIKELY MANIFESTATION OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD.
MATTHEW WANTS THOSE WHO ENCOUNTER THIS MESSAGE AND THE MOVEMENT OF “THE WAY OF JESUS” TO ACT IN SIMILAR FASHION AND TO DO AS JOSEPH DID: TO BELIEVE THE MESSAGE OF JESUS IS OF GOD AND TO BECOME PART OF ITS MOVEMENT – TO BECOME PART OF THE CHURCH.
AS WE COME NOW TO THE END OF ADVENT AND ENTER THE LOVELY TIME OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON MATTHEW’S MESSAGE TO US IS CLEAR. GOD IS A GOD OF BOUNDLESS LOVE AND FORGIVENESS – THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS IS THE SPIRIT OF GOD EXPRESSED THROUGH THE MAN JESUS. AS WE PREPARE TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTH WE TOO ARE URGED FOLLOW JOSEPH’S EXAMPLE AND ALLOW OUR LIVES TO BE FILLED WITH LOVE AND FORGIVENESS. AMEN
 SPONG, Why Christianity must change or Die, (1998)
This is not really a sermon but today is our annual Children’s Crib service when the children build the crib and decorate the Christmas Tree. So here is a little children’s story.
Christmas is for Love – a classic story with acknowledgement
Christmas is for love. It is for joy, for giving and sharing, for laughter, for reuniting with family and friends, for tinsel and brightly covered packages. But, mostly Christmas is for love.
Matthew was a 10 year old orphan who lived with his aunt, a bitter, middle aged woman greatly annoyed with the burden of caring for her dead sister’s son. She never failed to remind young Matthew, if it hadn’t been for her generosity, he would be a vagrant – homeless. But despite all the scolding and coldness at home, he was a sweet and gentle child.
Matthew began to stay after school each day to help the teacher straighten up the room. They did this quietly and comfortably, not speaking much, but both were happy to have a little piece of quiet time. When they did talk, Matthew spoke mostly of his mother. Though he was quite young when she died, he remembered a kind, gentle, loving woman who always spent time with him.
As Christmas drew near however, Matthew failed to stay after school each day. The teacher had looked forward to his coming, and when the days passed and he continued to scamper hurriedly from the room after class, the teacher stopped him one afternoon and asked him why he no longer helped him in the room. He told Matthew how he had missed him, and his large brown eyes lit up eagerly as he replied, ‘Did you really miss me?’
The teacher explained how he had been his best helper, ‘I was making you a surprise,’ Matthew whispered confidentially. ‘It’s for Christmas.’ With that, he became embarrassed and dashed from the room. He didn’t stay after school any more after that.
Finally came the last school day before Christmas. Matthew crept slowly into the room late that afternoon with his hands concealing something behind his back. ‘I have your present,’ he said timidly when the teacher looked up. ‘I hope you like it.’ He held out his hands, and there lying in his little hands was a small wooden box.
‘It’s beautiful, Matthew. Is there something in it?’ the teacher asked, opening the top to look inside. ‘Oh you can’t see what’s in it,’ he replied, ‘and you can’t touch it, or taste it or feel it, but mother always said it makes you feel good all the time, warm on cold nights and safe when you’re all alone.’
I gazed into the empty box. ‘What is it, Matthew’ the teacher asked, ‘that will make me feel so good?’
‘It’s love,’ he whispered softly, ‘and mother always said it’s best when you give it away.’ He turned and quietly left the room.
So now I keep a small box crudely made of scraps of wood on the piano in my living room and only smile when inquiring friends raise quizzical eyebrows when I explain to them there is love in it. Yes, Christmas is for happiness, singing and for good and wondrous gifts. But mostly, Christmas is for love because that is when a little baby called Jesus was born and when he grew up would show us all – even 2000 years later – something of what God is like. AMEN
SERMON 4TH DECEMBER 2016 – ADVENT 2
1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD; CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE
YOU HAVE TO ADMIT IT; IF MATTHEW’S PORTRAYAL OF JOHN THE BAPTIST IS ANYWHERE NEAR ACCURATE THE MAN WAS MAD! ECCENTRICITY IS ONE THING BUT DOWNRIGHT CRAZY IS ANOTHER! I MUST ALSO ADD THAT THE EARLY CHURCH WAS LITTERED WITH THEM – BUT THAT IS ANOTHER STORY!
I PONDERED THE REACTION IF ANY MINISTER ADDRESSED PEOPLE WHO CAME TO CHURCH APPARENTLY SEEKING REASSURANCE AND SOME FORM OF CERTAINLTY IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD IN SUCH A MANNER AS JOHN DID IN THIS STORY. “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS! WHO WARNED YOU TO FLEE FROM THE WRATH TO COME?” HOW WOULD THAT GO OVER IN A CHURCH TODAY? IT’S A GOOD QUESTION. MAYBE IT’S JUST THE APPROACH WE NEED. MAYBE WE ARE TOO SOFT. MIND YOU WE NEVER GET TO HEAR WHAT HAPPENS TO THE PEOPLE HE BERATES BECAUSE THE STORY JUMPS STRAIGHT TO THE ACCOUNT OF JESUS’ BAPTISM AND THEY DISAPPEAR FROM THE TALE. I THINK IT IS TRUE, HOWEVER THAT THIS ANTAGONISM OF THE TEMPLE OFFICIALS EVENTUALLY COMES BACK TO BITE NOT JUST JOHN BUT ALSO JESUS HIMSELF. IT TAKES LITTLE IMAGINATION TO VISUALISE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF I FOR INSTANCE ADDRESSED PEOPLE IN SUCH A MANNER WHO CAME INTO THIS CHURCH.
LAST WEEK WE HAD THE PLEASURE OF BAPTISING A BEAUTIFUL LITTLE BABY GIRL. FOR MANY OF THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS WHO WERE IN CHURCH ON THAT OCCASION IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN A STRANGE EXPERIENCE FOR I AM CERTAIN THAT FEW IF ANY HAD ANY CONNECTION OR EXPERIENCE OF THE CHURCH OR FOR THAT MATTER, WITH THE SPIRIT OF LOVE WE CALL GOD. TO ACT AS JOHN THE BAPTIST IN THIS STORY WOULD – I FEAR – HAVE BEEN MOST NON-PRODUCTIVE!
THERE IS ONE HUMAN EMOTION THAT HAS REMAINED CONSTANT THROUGHOUT HISTORY AND UPON WHICH THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH HAS PLAYED AND BUILT ITS POWER – FEAR! PRIMAL FEAR IS A BASIC SURVIVAL INSTINCT WITHIN US HUMANS AS IT IS WITHIN MOST ANIMALS ON EARTH. IN PREHISTORIC TIMES – NO FEAR WOULD HAVE MEANT A SHORT LIFE. THE EARLY CHURCH BUILT ITSELF ON FEAR – NOT JUST THE FEAR OF PAGAN PERSECUTIONS BUT THE MUCH GREATER FEAR OF THE JUDGEMENT TO COME IN THE AFTERLIFE.
BESIDES OUR EMOTIONS WE AS HUMANS HAVE BEEN ENDOWED WITH A BRAIN THAT SEEKS SOME BASIS IN FACT. I BELIEVE THAT FACT IS AVAILABLE TO US WITHIN THE BIBLICAL WRITINGS. SO IT’S WELCOME TO MATTHEW’S GOSPEL FOR THIS COMING YEAR. MATTHEW IS AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CHARACTER FROM LUKE. WE WILL IMMERSE OURSELVES FAR DEEPER INTO JEWISHNESS THAN LUKE’S COMMUNITY. TODAY’S EXCERPT IS A CASE IN POINT. FOR MATTHEW, JOHN THE BAPTIST IS THE NEW ISAIAH – THE PROPHET OF OLD – “PREPARING THE WAY OF THE LORD” WHILST JESUS IS THE NEW MOSES WHO WILL LEAD HIS PEOPLE OUT OF SLAVERY AND INTO THE FREEDOM OF THE “PROMISED LAND”.
JOHN IS UNEQUIVICAL – IF YOU REMAIN FIGURATIVELY FRUITLESS IN LIFE – THAT IS LIVE YOUR LIFE IN A SINFUL MANNER – LIVE SELFISHLY ONLY TO SATISFY THE BASIC ANIMAL INSTINCTS – YOU WILL BE “…CUT DOWN AND THROWN INTO THE FIRE” – YOU WILL GO TO HELL.
NOW THERE IS NO SUCH PLACE AS HELL. DON’T JUST TAKE MY WORD FOR IT – HEAR WHAT POPE FRANCIS SAID IN 2013,
” Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.”
THERE’S A BREATH OF FRESH AIR WITHIN THE ROMAN CHURCH!
MANY YEARS AGO MY WIFE AND I DECIDED TO LEAVE A CONGREGATION DUE TO THE “HELL FIRE AND BRIMSTONE” STYLE PREACHING OF A YOUNG ENTHUSIASTIC MINISTER. HE REMINDED ME IN SOME WAYS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST IN THIS STORY – DRESSED DIFFERENTLY HOWEVER.
THIS STORY DOES RAISE A VERY GOOD QUESTION THOUGH – A QUESTION THAT THIS CHARACTER OF JOHN THE BAPTIST IS REALLY ASKING. LET ME ASK YOU DIRECTLY, “WHY DO YOU COME TO CHURCH?” PEOPLE HAVE ALL SORTS OF REASONS FOR COMING TO CHURCH JUST AS THEY HAVE A MULTITUDE OF REASONS FOR STAYING AWAY. DARE I SAY SOME DO COME OUT OF FEAR – JUST AS MANY HAVE DONE THROUGHOUT HISTORY. SOME COME FROM HABIT – “IT’S A THING WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE”. SOME COME OUT OF A SENSE OF COMMUNITY – JUST AS PEOPLE JOIN A PLETHORA OF AVAILABLE CLUBS – “IT’S GOOD TO FEEL PART OF A GROUP OF LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE”; WHILST OTHERS COME BECAUSE THEY FIND A REAL CONNECTION WITH A SPIRIT OF LOVE AND PEACE. SUNDAY MORNINGS BECOME DELIBERATELY SET ASIDE AS A TIME OF PERSONAL SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT – A CONNECTION – OR PERHAPS A RECONNECTION WITH THAT INDEFINABLE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE.
IT IS THIS CONNECTION THAT HAS THE CAPABLILITY OF RESETTING OUR LIFE – REBOOTING – TO USE A CONTEMPORARY I.T. TERM – AND LET’S FACE IT – WE ALL NEED A REBOOT ON A PRETTY REGULAR BASIS.
SOME CHURCHES OFFER A TIME OF EXCITEMENT – RECHARGING IN A VIBRANT SENSE – AN EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL BUZZ, WHILST OTHERS OFFER A TIME OF QUIETAND REFLECTION. MY EXPERIENCE HAS TAUGHT ME THAT THE “BUZZ” CHURCHES TEND TO SATISFY PEOPLE FOR A LIMITED PERIOD. THEY THEN BECOME BLASÉ AS THE SENSE OF EXCITEMENT WEARS OFF – IT’S ALL EMOTION WITHOUT THE SUBSTANCE THAT MAKES THE TIME TRULY WORTHWHILE. MY PREFERENCE IS FOR A TIME OF QUIETNESS WHEN I CAN RELAX BOTH BODY AND MIND AND THEREBY ALLOW ME TO BECOME AWARE OF THE PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD IN MY HEART AND SOUL. THIS IS TRULY A TIME OF SPIRITUAL RENEWAL AND REFRESHMENT – AND IT LASTS!
SO THIS MORNING I MUST REASSURE YOU ALL THAT I AM NOT IN THE BUSINESS OF BERATING, HARANGUING AND ABUSING. NOR AM I IN THE BUSINESS OF SENDING YOU OUT INTO THE WORLD WITH THE BUZZ OF A “PEP TALK” RINGING IN YOUR EARS. I AM HOWEVER SINCERELY DESIROUS THAT YOU WILL LEAVE THIS LOVELY CHURCH AWARE THAT YOU HAVE IN SOME WAY – PERHAPS IN PRIVATE PRAYER AND CONTEMPLATION – PERHAPS BY PARTAKING IN THE EUCHARIST – “MET GOD” – AS YOU FEEL THE SPIRIT OF PEACE, JOY AND LOVE SETTLE UPON YOU AND WITHIN YOUR HEART. THAT IS THE TRUE MEANING AND INTENTION OF THIS ADVENT SEASON. AMEN
SERMON 27TH NOVEMBER 2016 – ADVENT SUNDAY
11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; 13 let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
TODAY WE CELEBRATE ADVENT SUNDAY – THE FIRST DAY OF THE SEASON OF ADVENT WHEN WE LOOK FORWARD TO THE COMING OF JESUS AT CHRISTMAS.
[THIS MORNING WE HAVE ALSO THE VERY SPECIAL AND EXCITING EVENT IN THE BAPTISM OF WINTER ROSE. IT SEEMS APPROPRIATE THAT WE BAPTISE WINTER ON THIS DAY AS THIS ANCIENT CEREMONY OF BAPTISM REPRESENTS HER INITIATION INTO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, HER DEDICATION TO THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS AND HER PARENT’S AND GODPARENT’S ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF HER PLACE IN THEIR LIVES AS A CHILD OF – AND IN THE BOUNDLESS LOVE – OF GOD. IN SOME WAY THIS REPRESENTS HER ENTRY INTO THE LIGHT OF CHRIST. WE BLESS HER AND OFFER OUR LOVE TO HER AND HER FAMILY.]
THIS SEASON IS AN EXCITING TIME. IT CAN ALSO BE A VERY CRAZY TIME – IF WE ALLOW THE COMMERCIALIST SOCIETY IN WHICH WE LIVE TO TAKE OVER.PAUL GIVES US A WARNING WHICH IS VERY APT FOR THIS TIME.
TO BEGIN LET ME MAKE ONE THING VERY CLEAR. THE WORDS WE JUST READ ARE FROM A GENUINE LETTER OF PAUL AND HE IS WRITING THIS TO A GROUP OF SMALL GATHERINGS OF CHRISTIANS LIVING WITHIN THE PAGAN CITY OF ROME AND WORSHIPPING IN THE SYNAGOGUES THERE. THE COLLOSSEUM HAD YET TO BE BUILT BUT THE CIRCUS MAXIMUS WAS IN USE AS WAS THE GREAT CIRCUS ON THE VATICANO HILL – WHERE THE BASILLICA OF ST PETER AND THE HEART OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH NOW STANDS. PAUL DICTATED THIS LETTER FROM CORINTH IN THE SPRING OF THE YEAR 57CE.
PAUL DID NOT FOUND NOR HAD VISITED THE CHURCHES IN ROME. THEY HAD EXISTED WELL BEFORE THE 50’S AND THEIR FOUNDERS ARE UNKNOWN ALTHOUGH TRADITION HAS IT THAT JESUS’ FRIEND PETER THE FISHERMAN WAS RESPONSIBLE – ALTHOUGH THIS IS UNLIKELY.
IT IS CLEAR HERE THAT PAUL IS ADDRESSING A SITUATION THAT HAD COME TO HIS ATTENTION. THERE WOULD APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN SOME PROBLEMS IN THE CHURCHES – TO SAY THE LEAST – AND HE SETS ABOUT ADDRESSING THEM HERE. NOTE THE OPENING SENTENCE, “NOW IS THE TIME FOR YOU TO WAKE FROM SLEEP”! IN OTHER WORDS AND IN MODERN PARLANCE, “WAKE UP YOU LOT – GET REAL”!
IT APPEARS THE PEOPLE HAD A PRECONCEIVED NOTION THAT JESUS WOULD PHYSICALLY RETURN IN THEIR LIFETIME. THE FACT THAT EVENT HAD NOT HAPPENED HAS LED TO DISCONTENT AND DISCONNECTION. IT IS STILL NIGHT FOR THEM AND THEY ARE SLEEPING. THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST – THEY HAVE REALLY FORGOTTEN THEIR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE OF THE REALITY OF CHRIST’S PRESENCE AND ALL HE HAD MEANT TO THEM EARLIER. THEY HAVE SUNK BACK INTO A WAY OF LIFE THAT IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE WAY OF JESUS THAT THEY HAD HEARD ABOUT AND BEGUN TO FOLLOW. THEY WERE LIVING – AS PAUL PUTS IT – DISHONOURABLE LIVES. THIS IS A WAKEUP CALL IF EVER THERE WAS ONE FOR US – AS WELL AS THOSE EARLY CHRISTIANS.
THE IMAGERY WE USE WHEN WE LIGHT THE CANDLES ON OUR ADVENT WREATH IN OUR ADVENT SERVICES REFLECTS THE IMAGERY OF DAWNING LIGHT THAT PAUL USES IN THIS READING. HE SPEAKS OF THE NIGHT BEING FAR GONE, AND THE DAY OF SALVATION BEING AT HAND. THE IMPLICATION HE DRAWS IS THAT WE NEED TO LIVE PROPERLY – AS IN IF IN BROAD DAYLIGHT – OPEN AND VISIBLE TO ALL – RATHER THAN HIDING IN THE SHADOWS BECAUSE WE ARE AFRAID TO REVEAL OUR REAL SELVES TO THOSE AROUND US.
PAUL’S IDEA OF A DISSIPATING DARKNESS IS ONE THAT WE MODEL EACH SUNDAY AS WE LIGHT THESE ADVENT CANDLES – ONE ADDITIONAL CANDLE EACH WEEK – RIGHT UP TO THE POINT WHERE WE LIGHT THE CHRIST CANDLE ON CHRISTMAS EVE – SIGNIFYING SIMULTANEOUSLY THE MOMENT WHEN THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD WAS FIRST BORN UPON THE EARTH AND OUR HOPE THAT THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD WILL ONCE AGAIN COME AND CAST AWAY EVERY SHADOW OF DARKNESS. ADVENT IS A SEASON OF HOPE – HOPE THAT GOD’S PROMISED FUTURE WILL, IN FACT, ARRIVE AGAIN AS IT DID ON THE FIRST CHRISTMAS.
PERHAPS THROUGH THESE WORDS PAUL IS INVITING US – THIS ADVENT – TO PUT ON JESUS CHRIST AS WE WOULD PUT ON OUR CLOTHING EACH MORNING. WE CAN DO THIS BY TRYING A LITTLE EXPERIMENT. PERHAPS EACH OF US MIGHT IMAGINE A “JESUS-LOOKING OPPOSITE” TO ONE TEMPTATION THAT THE “HOLIDAY SEASON” OF OUR WORLD WILL CONFRONT US WITH. ASK OYURSELF – HOW MIGHT I PUT ON GRATITUDE RATHER THAN SUCCUMB TO JEALOUSY? HOW MIGHT I BE PEACEABLE WITH MY FAMILY OVER THE HOLIDAYS RATHER THAN FOLLOWING INTO THE SAME OLD PATTERNS OF QUARRELLING? WHAT MIGHT SOBRIETY OFFER ME AT THAT PARTY WHERE I’M TEMPTED TO HAVE ONE OR TWO DRINKS TOO MANY?
PERHAPS TAKING SUCH SIMPLE STEPS WOULD OPEN US UP TO OUR TRUE SELVES. PERHAPS THESE WOULD BE LITTLE RAYS OF LIGHT PIERCING THE DARKNESS AND LIGHTING THE SHADOW AREAS OF OUR FALSE SELVES. PERHAPS IN THESE WAYS WE MIGHT PUT ON JESUS CHRIST AND BRING A LITTLE BIT OF HIS FUTURE INTO OUR PRESENT TIME OF WAITING AND PREPARATION THIS ADVENT. AMEN
SERMON 13TH NOVEMBER 2016 – PENTACOST 26 – Luke 21:5-19
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and, “the time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE
IT MIGHT BE JUST A MALE THING BUT I DO LIKE TO DEAL IN FACTS IF POSSIBLE AS I FIND PROVEN FACT MUCH MORE SATISFYING THAN MERE SPECULATION, GUESSWORK OR INTERPRETING SOMETHING IN ORDER TO SATISFY ONE’S OWN PRE-JUDGEMENTS. SO LET’S LOOK AT A FEW FACTS RELEVANT TO TODAY’S GOSPEL STORY.
THIS WRITING DID NOT COME OUT OF NOWHERE AND AS PROFESSOR MARTYN PERCY THE EMINENT THEOLOGIAN AND RECTOR OF CUDDESTON COLLEGE IN OXFORD HAS FAMOUSLY SAID, “THE BIBLE DID NOT COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN ON A FAX”!
THE FACTS SURROUNDING THIS GOSPEL OF LUKE IS THAT IT WAS WRITTEN BY A PERSON WHOSE IDENTITY IS SOMEWHAT UNCERTAIN BUT WAS POSSIBLY A MAN CALLED LUKE WHO WAS AN ASSOCIATE OF ST PAUL. SCHOLARS HAVE ASCERTAINED THAT IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE TOWN OF ANTIOCH – A TOWN ON THE EASTERN BANK OF THE ORONTES RIVER IN SOUTHEASTERN MODERN TURKEY. IT WAS IN ANTIOCH THAT PEOPLE WERE FIRST REFERRED TO AS ‘CHRISTIANS’. LUKE WROTE THIS DOCUMENT AROUND THE YEAR 85CE, THAT’S ABOUT 20 YEARS AFTER THE DEATH OF PAUL AND 15 YEARS AFTER THE ROMAN ARMY TOTALLY DESTROYED JERUSALEM AND ITS TEMPLE IN 70CE. SO WHEN LUKE WAS WRITING IT WOULD HAVE BEEN COMMON KNOWLEDGE THAT THE TEMPLE HAD BEEN REDUCED TO A PILE OF RUBBLE YEARS BEFORE – AS HE WRITES, “…NOT ONE STONE WILL BE LEFT UPON ANOTHER – ALL WILL BE THROWN DOWN”. SO LUKE IS DRESSING UP AN HISTORICAL EVENT AS A PREDICTION IN ORDER TO MAKE A POINT. HE IS ALSO USING THE ULTIMATE AUTHORITY POSSIBLE FOR HIM TO MAKE HIS POINT – THE MOUTH OF JESUS. SO WHAT IS IT HE IS TRYING TO SAY? IT SEEMS QUITE APPARENT THAT AS A JEW WHO WAS A LEADING FIGURE OF THE BUDDING CHRISTIAN SECT IN ANTIOCH HE WAS – FOLLOWING PAUL’S HEARTFELT ENTREATIES TO THE NON JEWISH ADHERENTS TO THE WAY OF JESUS – TRYING TO EMPHASISE THAT THE LAW – THE TORAH – HAD BEEN SUPERSEDED BY FAITH IN CHRIST.
THE PHYSICAL JERUSALEM TEMPLE WAS THE GREAT REPRESENTATION OF THE TORANIC LAW – THE ESTABLISHMENT AS IT WERE. ITS DESTRUCTION IS HERE BEING USED AS A POWERFUL LESSON THAT THE LAW HAS BEEN SUPERCEDED BY GOD’S GRACE AND FAITH IN JESUS THE CHRIST. SOME YEARS PRIOR TO THIS PAUL WROTE IN ROMANS 6:14 “FOR SIN SHALL NOT BE YOUR MASTER, BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT UNDER LAW, BUT UNDER GRACE”.
NOTICE HOW THE TEMPLE IS DESCRIBED AS BEING VERY BEAUTIFUL “…WITH BEAUTIFUL STONES AND GIFTS DEDICATED TO GOD”. LUKE AGREES WITH PAUL; THE ANCIENT TORANIC LAW AND THE MAGNIFICENT TEMPLE WAS VERY BEAUTIFUL IN THEIR EYES – BUT HAD SERVED ITS PURPOSE. IT WAS NOW REDUNDANT.
FOR LUKE THIS WAS PARTICULARLY POIGNANT AS IT HAD ALREADY BEEN DESTROYED. IN HIS VIEW THIS WAS A DEFINITE INDICATION FROM GOD THAT CHRIST WAS “THE NEW LAW”.
THERE IS ANOTHER ASPECT TO THIS. LUKE USES THE DESTRUCTION OF THIS MAGNIFICENT TEMPLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT ON THE IMPERMANENCE OF HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT. IN RESPONSE TO THEIR WONDER AT THE TEMPLE’S BEAUTY, JESUS ATTEMPTS TO DIVERT THE ATTENTION OF HIS AUDIENCE FROM THEIR FASCINATION WITH “THESE THINGS THAT YOU SEE” (21:6). THEIR FOCUS SHOULD BE ON SOMETHING ELSE. WHAT EXACTLY, IS NOT SPECIFIED BUT IMMEDIATELY BEFORE THIS EXCHANGE JESUS DREW ATTENTION TO A POOR WIDOW IN THE TEMPLE (21:1-4). PERHAPS LUKE’S JESUS THINKS HIS AUDIENCE SHOULD FOCUS THEIR ATTENTION ON THE POOR, NOT ON THE TEMPLE BUILDING. HERE IS A CONTINUATION OF THE THEME RUNNING THROUGH THE GOSPEL OFLUKE – CARE FOR THE POOR AND MARGINALISED. THIS STORY IS ALSO AN EXAMPLE OF APOCALYPTIC WRITING. APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE USES UNSETTLING LANGUAGE AND IMAGERY AS A MEANS TO ASSURE THE FAITHFUL THAT THEY SHOULD KEEP THEIR TRUST IN GOD EVEN WHEN FACING THE MOST CHALLENGING OF CIRCUMSTANCES.
SURE ENOUGH, WHILE DESCRIBING THE TERRIBLE EVENTS, JESUS TELLS HIS LISTENERS NOT TO BE AFRAID. THERE IS NOTHING PARTICULARLY ORIGINAL OR SPECIFIC ABOUT JESUS’ APPARENT PREDICTIONS HERE. EVERY AGE HAS ITS OWN FALSE PROPHETS – WARS – NATURAL CATASTROPHES, AND SO ON. THIS PAST WEEK HAS SEEN WORLD DISQUIET AND UNCERTAINTY AT THE NEWS OF THE AMERICAN ELECTION RESULT. BUT WE WILL MISREAD VERSES 7-11 IF WE THINK JESUS IS DESCRIBING A SPECIFIC SET OF CALAMITIES. THE POINT IS THAT WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN – THEY HAVE – AND THEY WILL – WE SHOULD “NOT BE TERRIFIED” (21:9) OR FOLLOW ANYONE PROCLAIMING THAT THESE ARE SIGNS OF GOD’S JUDGMENT AND THE END (21:8). INSTEAD, WE SHOULD TRUST THAT GOD REMAINS PRESENT IN OUR LIVES. THAT’S NOT EASY TO DO SOMETIMES – BELIEVE ME – BUT THE DEEP SENSE OF GOD’S LOVING PRESENCE IN OUR LIVES DOES NOT ALWAYS DEPEND ON FEELINGS. WE NEED TO HOLD TO OUR TRUST IN – AND SENSE OF WORTH – TO THE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE.
THE ASSURANCE OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO US IN THE FACE OF DIFFICULT TIMES IS THE REAL CONCERN OF THIS PASSAGE AND IS CONFIRMED BY VERSES 12-19. LUKE HAS JESUS DETAILING THE PERSECUTION THAT HIS FOLLOWERS CAN EXPECT TO FACE: ARRESTS; PERSECUTION; TRIALS BEFORE GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES; BETRAYAL BY FAMILY AND FRIENDS; HATRED ON ACCOUNT OF JESUS’ NAME; AND EVEN EXECUTION. THROUGHOUT HIS GOSPEL, LUKE DEPICTS JESUS AS A PROPHETIC FIGURE WHO RISKS REJECTION AND DEATH AS A RESULT OF HIS PROPHETIC MESSAGE. ANYONE WHO FOLLOWS JESUS CAN EXPECT THE SAME HOSTILITY THAT JESUS AND ISRAEL’S GREAT PROPHETS ENDURED. INDEED, THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES – WRITTEN BY THE SAME AUTHOR WHO WROTE LUKE’S GOSPEL – PROVIDES NUMEROUS EXAMPLES OF EARLY CHRISTIAN LEADERS FACING PRECISELY THE SORT OF TROUBLES THAT ARE DESCRIBED IN VERSES 12-19.
BUT DOES JESUS TELL HIS AUDIENCE THEY SHOULD LAY BLAME ON A PARTICULAR PERSON OR GROUP OF PEOPLE – ON THEIR SOCIETY – OR EVEN ON THEIR ENEMIES FOR SUCH TREATMENT? NO.
HE SAYS THAT PERSECUTION IS “AN OPPORTUNITY TO TESTIFY” (VERSE 13). JUST AS GOD GAVE MOSES AND OTHER PROPHETS THE CAPACITY TO SPEAK TO AND CONFRONT THEIR DOUBTERS AND OPPONENTS JESUS HIMSELF WILL PROVIDE STRENGTH AND WISDOM FOR SUCH TESTIMONY. USING A PROVERB THAT SIGNIFIES DIVINE PROTECTION, JESUS TELLS THEM THAT NOT A HAIR ON THEIR HEAD WILL PERISH. ULTIMATELY, THEIR EXPERIENCE OF PERSECUTION WILL NOT END IN DEATH BUT IN A VICTORY FOR THEIR SOULS. UNDERSCORING ALL OF THESE STATEMENTS IN VERSES 12-19 IS THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUSTING IN GOD EVEN IN THE MIDST OF HARDSHIP AND PERSECUTION.
A CLOSE READING OF LUKE 21:5-19 SHOWS THAT USING THIS PASSAGE AS SOME PEOPLE HAVE – AS A SPRINGBOARD FOR PROCLAIMING GOD’S JUDGMENT ON SOCIETY WOULD MISS THE POINT. RATHER, THE PASSAGE WARNS US ABOUT BECOMING TOO FIXATED ON TEMPORARY HUMAN INSTITUTIONS – PERHAPS WITH THE IMPLICATION THAT WE SHOULD ATTEND TO THE POOR IN OUR COMMUNITIES INSTEAD – AND IT EXHORTS US TO BE FIRM IN OUR TRUST IN GOD WHEN CALAMITY AND PERSECUTION STRIKE. DESPITE ITS LANGUAGE AND ITS IMAGERY OF DESTRUCTION, LUKE 21:5-19 IS ULTIMATELY A PASSAGE GROUNDED IN HOPE – IN THE HOPE THAT GOD REMAINS PRESENT IN THE WORLD AND IN ONE’S LIFE EVEN WHEN THINGS HAVE BECOME SO BAD THAT IT FEELS LIKE THE WORLD IS CLOSING IN ON US. NOW THAT’S INDEED A HOPE WORTH CLINGING TO IN THESE VERY UNCERTAIN TIMES. AMEN
Here is the sermon for tomorrow morning at St John’s – All Saints.
Blessings and love to all.
SERMON 6TH NOVEMBER 2016 – ALL SAINTS – LUKE 6: 20-31
20 Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: SPIRIT OF LIFE, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.
TODAY THE CHURCH REMEMBERS AND HONOURS ALL THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE US AND WHO ARE CONSIDERED SAINTS. WHAT EXACTLY DO WE MEAN WHEN WE CALL SOMEONE A SAINT? THE DICTIONARY DESCRIBES A SAINT AS, “… A VERY VIRTUOUS, KIND, OR PATIENT PERSON” AND OFFERS AS AN EXAMPLE. “SHE’S A SAINT TO GO ON LIVING WITH THAT MAN”! THERE ARE MANY SAINTS!
IN OUR LIFETIMES WE HAVE ALL KNOWN PEOPLE WE CAN HAPPILY REFER TO AS SAINTS, THOSE WHO’S MEMORIES WE HONOUR AND WHOM WE HOLD IN LOVE AND OR SIMPLY DEEP RESPECT. WE ALWAYS SEEM TO REMEMBER THE GOOD ASPECTS – THE VIRTUES OF THOSE WHO HAVE DIED – AT LEAST PUBLICLY. BUT LET’S ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT SAINTS ARE ALSO HUMAN, EVERY PERSON LIVING OR DEAD, SAINT OR EMBODIMENT OF EVIL, HAS THEIR FAULTS AS WELL AS THEIR VIRTUES. IT’S JUST THAT IN SOME THE BALANCE IS MORE ONE WAY THAN THE OTHER.
THE GOSPEL READING THIS MORNING IS SOMETIMES REFERRED TO AS “THE SERMON ON THE PLAIN” AS IT FOLLOWS THE STORY OF JESUS CHOOSING HIS APOSTLES AFTER SPENDING A NIGHT ON A MOUNTAIN PRAYING. FROM WHICH GROUP DID HE MAKE HIS CHOICE? IT IS CLEAR THAT IT WAS AFTER HE SEPARATED THE TWELVE CHOSEN ONES THAT THOSE LEFT WERE THE ONES BEING ADDRESSED IN THIS SO CALLED “SERMON”. HIS AUDIENCE WERE PEOPLE IN NEED WHO HAD COME FROM ALL REGIONS “…TO HEAR HIM AND TO BE HEALED OF THEIR DISEASES” (V18). SO IT WAS THE SICK, THE MAIMED, THE POOR, THE UNEDUCATED AND THE CRAZIES WHO FLOCKED TO JESUS’ FEET. LUKE WROTE THIS STORY IN THE COMMON GREEK AND HE USED THE WORD “PTOCHOI” TO DESCRIBE THOSE PEOPLE. IF WE TRY TO SAY THAT WORD OUT LOUD IT SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE ITS MEANING. IT MEANS “I AM SPITTING” – PTOCHOI”! SO THE PEOPLE BEFORE JESUS ARE THOSE WHO ARE TO BE SPAT UPON – THE BOTTOM TIER – THE DREGS OF THEIR SOCIETY – THOSE BENEATH CONTEMPT – UNWORTHY. SO FOR LUKE IT IS FROM THIS RAGTAG GROUP OF THE LOWER ECHELONS OF THEIR SOCIETY THAT JESUS CHOOSES HIS TWELVE – UNEDUCATED FISHERMEN – AND OTHERS. ALSO LET’S NOT FORGET THAT JESUS HIMSELF WAS BORN INTO A VERY ORDINARY WORKING CLASS FAMILY – RESIDENT IN A SMALL RURAL TOWN IN GALILEE – AN AREA CONSIDERED TO BE “HICKSVILLE” BY THOSE LIVING IN THE CITIES.
SO WHAT DOES JESUS DO WITH THIS ROUGH COMPANY? HE BLESSES THEM! BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE SPAT UPON! THERE IS LUKE’S LESSON HERE. FOR LUKE THE SAINTS ARE NOT THE WELL DRESSED WEALTHY PEOPLE OF THE CITY – PARTICULARLY THE SO CALLED “RELIGIOUS”. THE SAME REALLY APPLIES TODAY. HOW MANY REALLY WEALTHY PEOPLE, THOSE WHO HELD HIGH POSITIONS IN THEIR COMMUNITIES, ARE REMEMBERED AS SAINTS AS OPPOSED TO THOSE WHO HAD THEIR HANDS SOILED BY WORKING IN THE DIRT AND WITH THE “PTOCHOI” OF HISTORY?
JESUS WAS CERTAINLY A RADICAL. WE NEED TO ASK OURSELVES THE QUESTION, “IF I HAD TO CHOOSE SOMEONE WHO WOULD WORK CLOSELY WITH ME, SUPPORT ME AND BE PREPARED TO GIVE THEIR ALL FOR ME AND MY WORK, WOULD I CHOOSE SOMEONE FROM A GROUP SUCH AS THIS? “ THE ANSWER FOR MOST OF US WOULD BE, “PROBABLY NOT”.
DUGALD RUSSELL IS AN AUSTRALIAN BUSINESSMAN WITH LONG MAJOR CORPORATE EXPERIENCE AS CEO OF A COMPANY WITH ANNUAL REVENUES OF $560M PLUS AND EMPLOYING ABOUT 9000 PEOPLE IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND. MICHAEL MCLEAOD IS AN ABORIGINAL MAN FROM SOUTHERN NEW SOUTH WALES. IN 1963 AT THE AGE OF 2, HE WAS REMOVEDFROM HIS FAMILY AND SPENT HIS YOUTH IN FOSTER HOMES. HE SUCCUMBED TO DRUG AND ALCOHOL ADDICTIONS THAT ALMOST CLAIMED HIS LIFE. HE HAD ASPIRATIONS TO SUCCEED AND TRIED TO ESTABLISH A BUSINESS BUT FAILED. LATER MICHAEL MET DUG RUSSELL WHO CHOSE HIM FROM A GROUP OF ABORIGINAL MEN AND IN 2004 THEY ESTABLISHED “MESSAGE STICK”- A PROVIDER OF AUDIO AND VIDEOCONFERENCING SERVICES. “THAT WAS AN AMAZING CHANGE IN MY LIFE”, SAYS MICHAEL, “FROM LIVING IN POVERTY TO BEING COMFORTABLE”. HE IS NOW CEO OF THE COMPANY AND IS LOOKING TO RETIRE IN A FEW MORE YEARS. HE WANTS TO GROOM ANOTHER YOUNG ABORIGINAL MAN TO BECOME THE NEW CEO. HE SAYS,” I WANT TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK … BUT I LOOK BACK NOW AND GO ‘WOW’ – IT’S BEEN AN EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY.” FOR ME IT’S PEOPLE LIKE GUGALD RUSSELL WHO ARE THE CONTEMPORARY SAINTS. THEY ARE THE PEOPLE WHO USE THEIR POSITION AND TALENT – AND OFTEN ALSO THEIR MONEY – TO REACH DOWN TO HELP OTHERS RISE FROM THE PITS TO LIVE AN EFFECTIVE AND USEFUL LIFE.// LUKE’S TEXT USES DIRECT ADDRESS – “YOU” – AND DOESN’T MINCE WORDS ABOUT BEING POOR, HUNGRY, GRIEF-STRICKEN, AND THE LIKE. WE DO NOT HAVE TO WORK VERY HARD TO IMAGINE THE LIVES OF 1ST CENTURY PALESTINIAN JEWS AS VERY SUSCEPTIBLE TO POVERTY, HUNGER AND LOSS. NOR DO WE HAVE TO WORK VERY HARD TO IMAGINE THE LIVES OF MANY 21ST CENTURY PEOPLE EQUALLY BESET BY HARSH REALITIES. AS THOSE IN NEED WERE ALL AROUND JESUS, HAVING COME FOR BOTH HOPE AND HEALING, SO PEOPLE CONTINUE TO NEED HOPE AND HEALING IN OUR OWN AGE.
WE COME TO THE REAL QUESTION FOR OURSELVES: ON ALL SAINTS SUNDAY – WHAT DOES THIS TEXT OFFER TO US – REMEMBRANCE, LOVE, AND HONOUR FOR OUR FOREBEARS? YES, INDEED. WE ARE CALLED TO REMEMBER SAINTS IN EVERY TIME AND PLACE – PEOPLE WITH NEEDS AND HOPES – PEOPLE WHO THROUGH THEIR CONTACT WITH JESUS CAUGHT AT LEAST A GLIMPSE OF A WORLD MORE FULLY GOD-SHAPED THAN THE ONE THEY LIVED IN.
WE COME FROM A PEOPLE AND FROM INDIVIDUALS TO WHOM WE OWE MUCH OF WHO WE ARE AND MUCH OF WHO WE LONG TO BE. OUR HISTORY AND OUR IMAGINING OF GOD’S REIGN LOOK BACK TO THE PROMISES OF GOD AS JESUS SPOKE THEM LONG AGO. OUR HISTORY AND IMAGINATION LOOK BACK TO OUR MORE RECENT FOREBEARS WHO CARRIED THE FAITH AND WHO TAUGHT IT TO US. THESE PEOPLE GONE BEFORE REMAIN VITAL IN THE GREAT COMMUNION OF GOD’S PEOPLE WHOM WE CELEBRATE AT ALL SAINTS.
THERE IS MORE FOR US, THOUGH, MUCH MORE. IT IS FOR ALL SAINTS WHO GATHER NOW TO BE REMINDED THAT THE HOPE OF THE WORLD IS NOT FOR THE SAME OLD THING TO CONTINUE – NOT FOR ALL OF US TO BECOME THE ELITES – NEVER TO WORRY ABOUT ILLNESS OR LOSS. THE HOPE FOR GOD’S WORLD IS THAT WE WALK INTO GOD’S FUTURE TOGETHER. JESUS DELIVERS THIS SERMON NOT AS AN ESCHATOLOGICAL GUIDE BOOK BUT AS A GUIDE FOR DAILY LIFE RIGHT NOW.
THE MESSAGE THAT JESUS BRINGS IS A TOUGH ONE FOR US HUMANS. IT CALLS FOR A CHANGE OF VISION – A CHANGE OF BEHAVIOUR. RESISTANCE TO AND FEAR OF CHANGE IS ONE OF THE MAIN DRIVERS IN BOTH THE POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS WORLDS TODAY AND THAT FEAR IS SYMBOLISED BY THE IDEA OF CREATING A WALL BETWEEN PEOPLE. THERE IS A CLEAR NEED IN ALL OF THIS FOR A SENSE OF SAFETY AND HOPE – BUT THE MEANS TO SUCH A PEACE ARE OF THIS WORLD AND MUST FAIL. SEEKING TO PROTECT OURSELVES AND KEEP WHAT IS” OURS” WILL FAIL: SO JESUS WARNS US IN THIS PASSAGE. SO AS WE THINK TODAY OF ALL THE SAINTS OF THE PAST LET US NOT FORGET THE SAINTS OF THE PRESENT – THOSE WHO ARE POOR – THOSE WHO ARE HUNGRY NOW – THOSE WHO WEEP. THE HATED – THE REVILED – THE PTOCHOI! REMEMBER VERSE 31: “DO TO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU”. AMEN
SERMON 16TH OCTOBER 2016 – LUKE 18: 1-8 – St STEPHENS HONG KONG
1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: SPIRIT OF LIFE, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.
HEARING THIS GOSPEL READING BROUGHT TO MIND A SAYING WHICH IS COMMON IN AUSTRALIA – MAYBE ELSEWHERE TOO – “IT’S THE SQUEAKY WHEEL THAT GETS THE OIL”. IT’S MAINLY APPLIED WHEN DEALING WITH BUREAUCRACY – I’M SURE YOU CAN ALL APPRECIATE THAT FROM VARIOUS FRUSTRATING EXPERIENCES.
THIS MORNING WE ARE CONFRONTED WITH ONE OF THE PRIMARY UNIVERSAL CONCERNS OF OUR TIME – JUSTICE. WHAT IS THIS SUBJECTIVE THING WE CALL JUSTICE? THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY DEFINES IT AS: THE QUALITY OF BEING JUST OR RIGHT – MORAL UPRIGHTNESS; ONE OF THE FOUR CARDINAL VIRTUES OF PRUDENCE, TEMPERANCE, FORTITUDE AND JUSTICE. IT ALSO ENCOMPASSES INTEGRITY, RECTITUDE – TRUTH, REASON AND FAIRNESS. IT IS ALSO DEFINED AS THE MAINTENANCE OF WHAT IS JUST OR RIGHT THROUGH THE EXERCISE OF AUTHORITY OR POWER. IN OUR WESTERN SOCIETIES THE POWER TO DISPENSE JUSTICE IS PLACED IN THE HANDS OF AN INDEPENDENT AND IMPARTIAL JUDICIARY.
THERE IS A LITTLE STORY ABOUT A JUDGE DISPENSING TRUE JUSTICE. – WHEN ASKED FOR HER OCCUPATION, A WOMAN CHARGED WITH A TRAFFIC OFFENCE SAID SHE WAS A SCHOOLTEACHER. THE JUDGE ROSE FROM THE BENCH. “MADAM, I HAVE WAITED YEARS FOR A SCHOOLTEACHER TO APPEAR BEFORE THIS COURT,” HE SMILED WITH DELIGHT. “NOW SIT DOWN AT THAT TABLE AND WRITE ‘I MUST NOT DRIVE THROUGH A RED LIGHT AGAIN’ FIVE HUNDRED TIMES.” NOW THAT’S EFFECTIVE JUSTICE?
NOW CONSIDER THE JUDGE IN LUKE’S STORY. HE NEITHER FEARS GOD NOR HAS ANY RESPECT OR REGARD FOR HIS FELLOW PEOPLE. THE WIDOW STANDS IN STARK CONTRAST TO THIS ARROGANT MAN. SHE IS ASKING FOR JUSTICE. IT IS THROUGH THIS CONTRAST THAT WE CLEARLY SEE LUKE’S CONCEPT OF JUSTICE. FOR LUKE JUSTICE MEANS FEARING GOD AND HAVING RESPECT FOR OTHERS – THE VERY OPPOSITE OF HIS BAD FICTIONAL JUDGE. IF LUKE’S DEFINITION WERE ACTUALLY AT WORK IN OUR WORLD HERE AND NOW, I SUSPECT OUR WORLD WOULD BE A RATHER DIFFERENT AND BETTER PLACE IN WHICH TO LIVE.
I FEEL THAT THIS PLACE OF St STEPHENS IS VERY SPECIAL. I HAVE BECOME AWARE OF THE HORRENDOUS EVENTS THAT TOOK PLACE HERE ON CHRISTMAS DAY IN 1941 WHEN JAPANESE SOLDIERS MASSACRED DOCTORS AND PATIENTS IN THE HOSPITAL – AND THIS PLACE OF LEARNING WAS TRANSFORMED INTO AN INTERNMENT CAMP FOR MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN OF NON JAPANESE ORIGINS. I THINK WE CAN ALL ADMIT THAT THE FIRST REACTION TO THAT STORY IS ONE OF DISGUST AND RAGE THAT MEN COULD TREAT FELLOW HUMANBEINGS IN SUCH A MANNER. THE DEAD AND THE SURVIVORS CRY OUT FOR JUSTICE. BUT WHAT DOES JUSTICE IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES MEAN – RETRIBUTION – AN EYE FOR AN EYE – THE DEATHS OF THE MEN RESPONSIBLE? TOO OFTEN JUSTICE IS CONFUSED WITH REVENGE. I KNOW IT IS OFTEN THE KNEE JERK REACTION TO SUCH A DISGUSTING DEHUMANISING ACT AND THE DEATH PENALTY IS EXACTED. IN TASMANIA IN APRIL 1996 35 TOTALLY INNOCENT PEOPLE WERE MURDERED BY A SINGLE YOUNG MAN. HE WAS SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT – NEVER TO BE RELEASED – AND REMAINS IN ISOLATION IN THE HOBART PRISON TO THIS DAY – HE WILL DIE THERE. HE HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM SOCIETY BUT HIS BLOOD IS NOT ON THE HANDS OF THE COMMUNITY. I SUGGEST THAT JUSTICE HAS BEEN SERVED – RATHER THAN REVENGE.
REMEMBER THE JUDGE IN THE PARABLE – BESIDES HAVING NO RESPECT FOR HIS FELLOWS HE ALSO HAD NO FEAR OF GOD? LET’S THINK OF OUR OWN SOCIETY. IS THERE ANY FEAR OF GOD LEFT? I THINK A FAR BETTER WORD IS ‘AWE’ – FOR THE GOD OF JESUS OF Nazareth – THE GOD WE SEEK TO RELATE TO AND WORSHIP – IS THE EPITOME OF BOUNDLESS LOVE AND FORGIVENESS AND SURELY ONE CANNOT FEAR LOVE AND FORGIVENESS. THIS SPIRIT IS BEYOND HUMAN UNDERSTANDING BUT THANKFULLY NOT BEYOND HUMAN EXPERIENCE.
SOME PEOPLE INSIST THAT WE NEED TO HAVE THE MYSTERY OF GOD ALL FIGURED OUT – SO MANY WITHIN OUR SOCIETY NEITHER FEAR GOD NOR OFTEN HAVE ANY RESPECT FOR THE OTHER PERSON – JUST LIKE LUKE’S JUDGE.
I POSE THE QUESTION – IS IT THAT THE OTHER CAN ONLY EXIST AS OUR OPPOSITE – THE ONE WHO IS DIFFERENT? IS THERE ANY RESPECT LEFT FOR THE OTHER? OR HAS FEAR COMPLETELY CRUSHED OUR COMPASSION? IS THERE ANY RESPECT LEFT FOR THE OTHER? OR HAS NARCISSISM TRULY BECOME SUCH AN EPIDEMIC AS IT APPEARS?
AS CHRISTIANS WE MIGHT STEP FORWARD WITH WORDS OF LOVE TO COUNTERACT THE RHETORIC OF HATE, MISOGYNY AND BIGOTRY – IF WE COULD ONLY REALISE HOW THESE THINGS SO BLATANTLY CONTRADICT THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. WE MIGHT ALSO REGAIN OUR RESPECT FOR THOSE WHO FEEL THE BRUNT OF THE RHETORIC OF HATE. YES, IF FEAR OR AWE OF GOD AND RESPECT FOR THE OTHER WERE OPERATIVE IN OUR UNDERSTANDINGS OF JUSTICE – THEN JUSTICE MIGHT INDEED LOOK DIFFERENTLY FROM OUR KNEE JERK IMAGININGS.
ANOTHER DETAIL OF THIS STORY WE MUSTN’T OVERLOOK: AGAIN – THE JUDGE – THE ONE WITH POWER AND AUTHORITY IS THE ONE WHO DENIES FEAR AND REJECTS REGARD. THE WIDOW, COMPLETELY LACKING IN POWER, IS THE ONE WHO NAMES AND EVEN DEMANDS THE CENTRAL CLAIM OF THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – WHICH IS – JUSTICE FOR ALL – EVEN HER.
IN OUR POSITIONS OF POWER – BECAUSE WE DO HAVE IT WHEN COMPARED TO THE MAJORITY OF THE WORLD’S PEOPLE – ARE WE ABLE TO HAVE A SENSE OF THE AWE OF GOD AND RESPECT FOR THE OTHER? HOW DOES POWER BLUR AN ABILITY TO FEAR GOD AND RESPECT OTHERS? AFTER ALL, WHY LIVE IN AWE OF GOD WHEN YOU ARE SECURE IN YOUR OWN POWER? WHY RESPECT OTHERS WHEN YOUR PRIMARY FOCUS IS HOW TO SECURE THE RESPECT OF OTHERS?
AND YET THE WIDOW GETS WHAT’S AT THE HEART OF GOD — JUSTICE. SHE DOESN’T ASK FOR JUST ANYTHING – BUT FOR THE JUSTICE SHE IS OWED, DESERVES, AND WHICH GOD PROMISES.
IT IS NO ACCIDENT THAT THIS STORY TAKES PLACE ONLY ONE CHAPTER BEFORE JESUS’ ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM – WHEN JUSTICE WILL BE ABANDONED BY THE POWER OF EMPIRE AND THE POWER OF EMPIRE WILL REVEAL ITS ABSOLUTE INABILITY TO RESPECT THE INDIVIDUAL OR ANYONE WHO IS DIFFERENT FROM THE NORM.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU – FOR ME? MAYBE IT MEANS NOT ONLY BEING PERSISTENT IN JUSTICE, BUT PUTTING OURSELVES ON THE OTHER SIDE. THE SIDE OF THE JUDGE – THE SIDE OF GOD – IF YOU WILL – AND ASKING OURSELVES – DO WE HEAR THE PLEAS FOR THE GRANTING OF JUSTICE? OR DO WE PLUG OUR EARS IN AWE OF THE STATUS QUO RATHER THAN AWE OF GOD? DO WE SILENCE THE CRIES FOR JUSTICE IN DISRESPECT, IN JUDGEMENT? DO WE DISMISS THOSE DOGGED AND DETERMINED VOICES AS ONES THAT “NEED TO MOVE ON OR GET OVER IT?”
THIS STORY SUGGESTS THAT WHEN YOU WORK FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THE QUEST FOR JUSTICE IS NEVER OVER. THE NATURE OF OUR HUMANITY – THE TRUTH OF THE HUMAN CONDITION – MEANS THAT WE WILL ALWAYS ASSUME THAT JUSTICE IS OURS TO MANIPULATE. IT WILL ALWAYS BE OUR TEMPTATION TO MANOEUVRE PERCEPTIONS OF JUSTICE TO LEAN TOWARD OUR OWN STAKES AND FOR OUR OWN SAKES. IT WILL ALWAYS BE OUR INCLINATION TO BEND JUSTICE SO AS TO LEVERAGE OUR OWN AGENDAS.
WHAT’S THE ANSWER? THE ANSWER IS TO PUT VOICE TO THE WIDOW’S BID: “GOD, PLEASE. GRANT ME JUSTICE.” BECAUSE WHEN WE OURSELVES CAN BEG FOR JUSTICE, THE KINGDOM OF GOD INDEED COMES NEAR.
I CONCLUDE WITH A COUPLE OF QUOTES FROM TWO HIGHLY REGARDED PEOPLE – ONE FROM THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY AND ONE FROM OUR OWN TIME.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN SAID, “JUSTICE WILL NOT BE SERVED UNTIL THOSE WHO ARE UNAFFECTED ARE AS OUTRAGED AS THOSE WHO ARE.”
AND ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU SAID,”IF YOU ARE NEUTRAL IN SITUATIONS OF INJUSTICE, YOU HAVE CHOSEN THE SIDE OF THE OPPRESSOR!”
NOW THERE’S SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT THIS WEEK! AMEN
SERMON – 9TH OCTOBER 2016 – LUKE 17. 11 – 19 – ST STEPHENS – STANLEY – HONG KONG
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: SPIRIT OF LIFE, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.
I SPEAK TO THE PARENTS AND GRAND-PARENTS OF CHILDREN WHEN I REMIND YOU OF THE TIMES A GIFT OR TREAT WAS GIVEN TO A SMALL CHILD. WHAT IS THE MOSTLY AUTOMATIC REACTION FROM THE ADULT? “SAY THANK YOU TO … GRANDMA / UNCLE ETC.” A CHILD IS BORN A SELF-CENTRED INDIVIDUAL WHO IS INTENSELY INTERESTED IN TOYS, SWEETS AND THE GIFTS THAT COME AT TIMES OF SPECIAL CELEBRATION – ESPECIALLY BIRTHDAYS AND CHRISTMAS. I AM STILL SLIGHTLY SHOCKED WHEN MY SMALL GRAND-CHILDREN SAY “THANK YOU” OF THEIR OWN VOLITION. UNFORTUNATELY MANY PEOPLE CARRY THIS TRAIT OF EARLY CHILDHOOD INTO THEIR ADULT LIVES.
THIS PARABLE IN LUKE’S GOSPEL IS MAINLY A LESSON ABOUT GRATITUDE – SAYING “THANK YOU” – AND THAT INCLUDES WORSHIP AND THE REALITY OF FAITH. IT HELPS TO PUT THIS WRITING INTO ITS CONTEXT – ITS PLACE IN TIME – IN HISTORY – BECAUSE IT COMES FROM A REAL PERSON IN A REAL HISTORICAL COMMUNITY – YES, A RADICAL JEWISH COMMUNITY STRUGGLING WITHIN ORTHODOXY. THESE WORDS WERE WRITTEN IN THE 9TH DECADE OF THE FIRST CENTURY – AROUND THE 80’S – SOME 40 OR 50 YEARS AFTER THE LIFE OF JESUS OF Nazareth – THAT’S A WHOLE GENERATION IN THE FIRST CENTURY MIDDLE EAST. IT WAS WRITTEN BY A MAN WHO REMAINS POSITIVELY UNIDENTIFIED BUT PROMINENT IN A BREAKAWAY GROUP OF SYNAGOGUE JEWS CALLED “THE WAY OF JESUS” – THE BUDDING EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH – AND POSSIBLY IN THE ANCIENT SYRIAN CITY OF ANTIOCH. IT WAS AND STILL IS THE WAY OF THE MIDDLE EAST TO TEACH A LESSON BY TELLING A STORY. IT WAS ALSO THE HABIT TO PLACE THE STORY INTO THE MOUTH OF A PROMINENT PERSON. WHO MORE PROMINENT AND AUTHORITATIVE THAN JESUS HIMSELF? THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT THIS STORY REFELECTS A SITUATION WITHIN LUKE’S COMMUNITY. IT CAN READILY BE SURMISED THAT PEOPLE WERE BEING JUDGED AND EXCLUDED ON THE GROUNDS OF ETHNICITY OR SIMPLY “NOT BEING GOOD ENOUGH”.
WHEN WE READ OF THE SAMARITAN – WE ALSO NEED TO UNDERSTAND SOMETHING OF THE BACKGROUND OF THE SAMARITANS AND THEIR ENMITY WITH THE JUDEAN JEWS. THE SAMARITANS CLAIMED THEY WERE DESCENDANTS OF THE NORTHERN ISRAELITE TRIBES WHO SURVIVED THE DESTRUCTION OF THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL BY THE ASSYRIANS IN 722 BCE AND THE EXILE TO BABYLON. THEY HAVE ALSO BEEN CALLED THE “PAGAN HALF-JEWS”. THERE ARE MANY REFERENCES TO THEM IN THE GOSPELS – NONE PARTICULARLY FLATTERING. THEY WERE HELD IN DISDAIN BY THE JUDEAN JEWS. WE CAN ALL THINK OF THE PARABLE OF THE SO CALLED “GOOD SAMARITAN” WHO RESCUED THE MAN WHO FELL AMONG THIEVES. HE EMERGES IN GOOD LIGHT BUT UNEXPECTEDLY TO THE JEWISH HEARERS. IN THIS PARABLE OF THE TEN LEPERS WE SEE THE SAME REACTION – INCREDULITY THAT A SAMARITAN WOULD BE THE ONE TO POSSESS THE FAITH TO BE HEALED AND THEN TO HONESTLY EXPRESS GRATITUDE. LUKE’S MAIN THRUST IS THE CONTINUATION OF HIS GOSPEL’S UNDERLYING MAJOR THEME – WHICH IS THE CARE AND CONCERN FOR THE MARGINALISED IN SOCIETY. THE SAMARITANS WERE A MARGINALISED GROUP IN FIRST CENTURY PALESTINE – THEY WERE CONSIDERED DIFFERENT BY THE JEWS. THE LESSON FOR US THIS MORNING IS BLATANTLY OBVIOUS. HERE IN HONG KONG WE ARE A MIGHTY EXAMPLE OF A MOST DIVERGENT SOCIETY. THIS CONGREGATION IS MADE UP OF PEOPLE FROM A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT LANDS AND ETHNIC BACKGROUNDS. THE QUESTION LUKE PUTS FIRMLY TO US IS,” HOW DO WE TREAT THOSE ON THE MARGINS OF SOCIETY – THE POOR – THOSE WHO MUST SLEEP ROUGH ON THE STREETS – THE UNWASHED – THE SMELLY – THOSE WHO ESPOUSE A DIFFERENT FAITH?” DO WE IGNORE THEM – HOPING THEY WILL GO AWAY – PRETENDING THEY ARE NOT THERE – DO WE GRIT OUR TEETH AND MAKE SOME TOKEN EFFORT TO HELP? OR DO WE EXTEND A GENUINELY WARM AND WELCOMING HELPING HAND IN THE TRUE SPIRIT OF THE LOVE THAT IS THE VERY GOD WE SEEK TO WORSHIP?
AT THE OUTSET OF THIS STORY, TEN MEN ARE STUCK. THEY LIVE IN A “NO-MAN’S” LAND OF BEING SOCIALLY, RELIGIOUSLY, AND PHYSICALLY UNCLEAN. ALL TEN ARE MADE WELL. BUT ONE HAS SOMETHING MORE. HE HAS SEEN JESUS, RECOGNIZED HIS BLESSING AND REJOICED IN IT, AND CHANGED HIS COURSE OF ACTION AND BEHAVIOUR. AND BECAUSE HE SEES WHAT HAS HAPPENED, THE LEPER IS NOT JUST HEALED, BUT IS MADE WHOLE, RESTORED, DRAWN BACK INTO RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND HUMANITY. IN ALL THESE WAYS HE HAS BEEN, IF WE MUST CHOOSE A SINGLE WORD, SAVED. SO WHAT IS TRUE WORSHIP AND CHRISTIAN LIVING? IT IS THE TENTH LEPER TURNING BACK. MARTIN LUTHER WAS ONCE ASKED TO DESCRIBE THE NATURE OF TRUE WORSHIP. HIS ANSWER: “THE TENTH LEPER TURNING BACK. “
THERE’S A GREAT DESCRIPTION OF THE CHURCH I ONCE HEARD: THE CHURCH IS THE PLACE WHERE WE PERFORM WEEKLY CATARACT SURGERY. WHICH IS ALSO, I THINK, A PRETTY GOOD IMAGE FOR WHAT HAPPENS TO THE TENTH LEPER IN LUKE’S GOSPEL. WHATEVER ELSE THIS STORY MAY BE ABOUT, I THINK IT’S ALSO ABOUT SIGHT. TEN MEN ARE HEALED, BUT ONLY ONE SEES WHAT HAS HAPPENED AND THAT SEEING MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE. NOT ONLY DOES THE TENTH LEPER CHANGE DIRECTION, MOVING TOWARD JESUS RATHER THAN THE TEMPLE PRIESTS, BUT HE ALSO HAS THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORSHIP GOD WITH THANKSGIVING AND HEAR THE PRONOUNCEMENT OF BLESSING FROM JESUS: “GO, YOUR FAITH HAS RESTORED YOU, MADE YOU WHOLE, AND SAVED YOU”. THIS BECAUSE HE RECOGNIZES – SEES WHAT HAS HAPPENED; HE HAS NOT ONLY BEEN HEALED OF LEPROSY, BUT HAS BEEN GIVEN NEW SIGHT.
MOST OF US GREW UP HEARING THE ADAGE, “SEEING IS BELIEVING.” WE WERE INSTRUCTED NOT TO BE GULLIBLE – TO WANT PROOF – TO DEMAND EVIDENCE OF WHAT PEOPLE WERE TELLING US. BUT BY NOW MOST OF US ARE OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, THE OPPOSITE IS EQUALLY TRUE. THAT IS, WHAT WE BELIEVE DEEPLY SHAPES WHAT WE PERCEIVE, AND WHAT WE EXPECT OFTEN DETERMINES WHAT WE ENCOUNTER. IS THE GLASS HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY? IS THE CHALLENGE IN FRONT OF US AN ADVERSITY OR AN OPPORTUNITY? HOW WE ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS REGULARLY DETERMINES OUR EXPERIENCE OF THE WORLD. IN OTHER WORDS, BELIEVING IS SEEING. FOR THIS REASON, I THINK ONE OF THE FUNCTIONS OF SUNDAY WORSHIP IS TO CLARIFY OUR VISION. TO REMIND US THAT THIS IS GOD’S BELOVED WORLD. TO ANNOUNCE TO US THAT GOD LOVES US AND THAT GOD LOVES OUR NEIGHBOUR – ALL OF THEM – JUST AS MUCH. TO PROCLAIM TO US AGAIN AND AGAIN THAT IN JESUS CHRIST WE SEE GOD’S ABUNDANT LOVE. KNOWING THESE THINGS — BELIEVING THESE THINGS — MAKES AN INCREDIBLE DIFFERENCE TO HOW WE VIEW OUR LIFE, OUR NEIGHBOURS, OUR WORK, AND OUR WORLD. OUR CHRISTIAN FAITH HELPS US SEE THE WORLD DIFFERENTLY. AND THAT’S WHERE THE CATARACT SURGERY COMES IN. ANYONE ACTIVELY ENGAGED IN THIS WORLD CAN’T HELP BUT HAVE HIS OR HER VISION MADE A LITTLE FOGGY. THERE IS SO MUCH PAIN – AND DOUBT – AND HARDSHIP THAT IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO SUSTAIN FAITH IN A LOVING GOD. FURTHER, THE CHALLENGES THAT CONFRONT US IN LOVING OUR NEIGHBOUR AND STRIVING FOR A MORE JUST AND PEACEFUL WORLD ARE DAUNTING. SO EVEN THOUGH OUR FAITH MIGHT BE SURE AND CONFIDENT ON SUNDAY MORNING, BY THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY — SOME WEEKS IT’S BY MONDAY AFTERNOON! — WE NEED TO HAVE OUR FAITH REKINDLED AND THEREBY HAVE OUR VISION CLARIFIED. THE READINGS AND SERMON, THE PRAYERS AND SONGS THAT CONSTITUTE OUR WEEKLY WORSHIP SERVE TO REMOVE THE FILM THAT CLOUDS OUR ABILITY TO SEE THE SPIRIT OF GOD AT WORK IN THE WORLD AND TO RECOGNIZE GOD’S FACE IN THE NEED OF OUR NEIGHBOUR. SO WEEK IN AND WEEK OUT, WE COME TO CHURCH TO HAVE OUR VISION CLARIFIED, OUR EYESIGHT RESTORED, SO THAT WE MIGHT RETURN TO THE WORLD LOOKING FOR GOD OUT AHEAD OF US, KNOWING THAT BY THE END OF THE WEEK OUR VISION WILL ONCE AGAIN BE CLOUDY AND THAT CATARACT SURGERY AWAITS US AGAIN ON SUNDAY. WORSHIP, FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW, IS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR US TO COME TO CHURCH THAT WE MIGHT PERCEIVE, LIKE THE TENTH LEPER IN THIS WEEK’S GOSPEL, HOW GOD HAS RESTORED US – AND SEEING – GIVE GOD THANKS – AND ALLOW OUR LIVES TO REFLECT THE LOVE OF CHRIST AND THE SPIRIT OF GOD. AMEN
SERMON 25TH SEPTEMBER 2016 – Luke 16:19-31
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
THE INVISIBLE MAN
IN THE NAME OF GOD: SPIRIT OF LIFE, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.
IN 1897 THE FAMOUS NOVELIST H G WELLS PUBLISHED A MASTERPIECE OF SCIENCE FICTION ENTITLED “THE INVISIBLE MAN”. IT IS THE FASCINATING STORY OF ‘GRIFFIN’ – A SCIENTIST WHO CREATES A SERUM TO RENDER HIMSELF INVISIBLE – AND HIS DESCENT INTO MADNESS THAT FOLLOWS. SINCE THEN THERE HAVE APPEARED MANY BOOKS AND SUBSEQUENT FILMS IN THE 30’S AND EVEN A TV SERIES IN 2000 – 2002. THE IDEA OF INVISIBILITY HAS INTRIGUED PEOPLE FOR AGES – I REMEMBER ALSO HARRY POTTER AND HIS INVISIBILITY CLOAK – WHERE IT CAME AS A MYSTERIOUS CHRISTMAS PRESENT IN ‘THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE’ – VERY HANDY – AS IT WAS LATER TO PROVE!
BUT BEING INVISIBLE IS NOT ALWAYS ABOUT CLEVER SCIENCE OR HAVING FUN. THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE TODAY WHO LIVE IN OUR CITIES – EVEN ADELAIDE – WHO LIVE INVISIBLE LIVES. TODAY HOMELESS PEOPLE ARE KNOWN AS “THE INVISIBLE PEOPLE “– THEY DO NOT FEATURE AS BEING IDENTIFIABLE, OBVIOUS OR EVEN PRESENT IN OUR SOCIETY. THIS GOSPEL STORY TELLS US THAT DURING HIS LIFE THE RICH MAN DID NOT EVEN SEE THE POOR MAN WHO WAS AT HIS GATE EACH DAY – HE WAS ONE OF THE “INVISBLE PEOPLE” – AN ‘INVISIBLE MAN’.
THE ANGLICAN SOCIETY OF THE SACRED MISSION (SSM) AT ST JOHN’S CHURCH, HALIFAX STREET, ADELAIDE, PARTICIPATES IN A SERVICE AIMED PARTICULARLY AT HOMELESS YOUTH.
THEY RUN A COMMUNITY BASED ORGANISATION THAT PROVIDES ACCOMMODATION AND RELATED SUPPORT SERVICES TO YOUNG PEOPLE AND CHILDREN IN THE CITY OF ADELAIDE.
DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE ARE NEARLY 8,000 SOUTH AUSTRALIANS HOMELESS EVERY NIGHT. THIS IS LIKELY TO BE A CONSERVATIVE NUMBER AS THE CENSUS WAS UNDERTAKEN IN AUGUST WHEN PEOPLE SLEEPING ROUGH HIDE AWAY TO ESCAPE THE COLD. 66% OF THE HOMELESS POPULATION IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA IS AGED 34 YEARS OR YOUNGER, WITH AROUND 27% TEENAGERS (MAINLY ON THEIR OWN) BETWEEN 12 AND 18 YEARS.
LUKE MUST HAVE HAD A PROBLEM WITHIN HIS COMMUNITY. ONE CAN SURMISE THAT THERE WERE SOME PEOPLE WHO WERE NOT PULLING THEIR WEIGHT – SO TO SPEAK. IN THE EARLY DAYS THE WAY OF JESUS REQUIRED OR AT LEAST ENCOURAGED ITS MEMBERS TO SHARE THEIR WORLDLY GOODS – THEIR WEALTH – THAT WAS ONE OF THE DISTINGUISHING FEATURES OF THIS BUDDING JEWISH SECT BUT IT SEEMS SOME WERE WEALTHY AND WERE KEEPING THEIR ASSETS CLOSE RATHER THAN SHARING WITH THOSE LESS FORTUNATE THAN THEMSELVES. THIS STORY FOLLOWS LAST WEEK’S PARABLE ABOUT A RICH MAN AND MAMMON. THE ENTIRE 16TH CHAPTER OF LUKE CAN BE ENTITLED “RICH MEN AND LOVERS OF MONEY”. THE RICH MAN’S SUMPTUOUS FEASTING ALSO ECHOES THE “EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY” BOAST OF THE MAN WITH BIGGER BARNS IN LUKE 12:19.
AS USUAL THE GOSPEL WRITER USES HYPERBOLE TO MAKE HIS MESSAGE SINK IN. WITH ITS VIVID JOURNEY TO THE AFTERLIFE, AND ITS EXAGGERATED IMAGERY OF CONTRAST, THIS PARABLE FITS THE FORM OF AN APOCALYPSE. AN APOCALYPSE SERVES AS A WAKE-UP CALL, PULLING BACK A CURTAIN TO OPEN OUR EYES TO SOMETHING WE URGENTLY NEED TO SEE BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. NOW, IN THE AFTERLIFE, THE RICH MAN SEES LAZARUS – BUT TOO LATE. THE PARABLE PORTRAYS A PERMANENT CHASM FIXED BETWEEN THE RICH MAN AND POOR LAZARUS, WITH NO WAY TO CROSS OVER.
THE EXAGGERATED APOCALYPTIC CONTRASTS ARE MANY: THE LAVISH MEALS OF THE RICH MAN’S TABLE IN LIFE – CONTRASTING WITH HIS UNQUENCHABLE THIRST AFTER DEATH – THE DEATHLY POVERTY OF LAZARUS – CONTRASTING WITH HIS REST WITH ABRAHAM. THESE CONTRASTS UNDERSCORE THE PARABLE’S FUNCTION AS URGENT WARNING.
WHERE DOES LUKE INTEND HIS AUDIENCE TO SEE ITSELF IN THIS PARABLE? THE IMAGE OF VINDICATION IN ABRAHAM’S BOSOM IS A WONDERFUL ONE, OFFERING COMFORT FOR THOSE IN LUKE’S AUDIENCE AND THOSE IN THE WORLD TODAY WHO ARE AS POOR AS LAZARUS. THE IMAGE OF RESTING IN THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM INSPIRED THE AFRICAN AMERICAN SPIRITUAL “ROCK MY SOUL IN THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM.” BUT BEAUTIFUL AS THIS IMAGE IS, THE PRIMARY MESSAGE OF THIS PARABLE IS NOT COMFORT.
IN MARTIN LUTHER’S DAY, THE PARABLE INSPIRED MUCH SPECULATION ABOUT WHERE WE GO AFTER WE DIE. THE LOCATION OF THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM IN RELATIONSHIP TO HEAVEN, AND WHETHER WE GO THERE IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING DEATH, OR MUST WAIT FOR THE RESURRECTION AT THE LAST DAY, WERE THE PRIMARY CONCERNS FOR LUTHER AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES. THIS DISCUSSION ALSO INSPIRED LUTHER’S CRITIQUE AND REJECTION OF THE ROMAN CHURCH’S INVENTION OF A PLACE OF PURGING OF LIFE SINS – PURGATORY. IN A 1523 SERMON ON THIS VERY PARABLE LUTHER ARGUED THAT THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM WAS NOT A PLACE, BUT THE WORD OF GOD. “THUS WERE ALL THE FATHERS BEFORE THE BIRTH OF CHRIST CARRIED INTO ABRAHAM’S BOSOM – THAT IS – AT DEATH THEY WERE ESTABLISHED IN THIS SAYING OF GOD AND FELL ASLEEP IN THE SAME, THEY WERE EMBRACED AND GUARDED AS IN A BOSOM, AND SLEEP THERE UNTIL THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.” BUT THE PARABLE WAS PROBABLY NOT ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS AN EXPLANATION OF THE AFTERLIFE. TO UNDERSTAND THE MEANING, WE SHOULD TURN TO THE THREE RESPONSES OF ABRAHAM DENYING THE RICH MAN’S REQUESTS TO “SEND LAZARUS” (LUKE 16:24, 27). TENDERLY BUT FIRMLY, ABRAHAM REFUSES EACH OF THE RICH MAN’S REQUESTS. HE EVEN CALLS THE RICH MAN “CHILD,” MAKING IT CLEAR THAT BEING A CHILD OF ABRAHAM IS NO GUARANTEE OF SALVATION. FOR THE RICH MAN, IT IS TOO LATE AND ABRAHAM WILL NOT SEND LAZARUS TO HELP THE RICH MAN’S FAMILY AFTER DEATH.
APOCALYPSES OFTEN TELL HEARERS NOT JUST WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE BUT ALSO HOW TO GO ABOUT IT. WITH THEIR EXAGGERATED IMAGERY APOCALYPSES ALSO OFFER A WAKE-UP CALL, A WARNING, LIKE THE DREAM SEQUENCES OF EBENEZER SCROOGE IN CHARLES DICKENS’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. IF THIS PARABLE IS AN APOCALYPSE, THEN LUKE IS SITUATING THE AUDIENCE NOT SO MUCH IN THE ROLE OF EITHER LAZARUS OR THE RICH MAN, BUT IN THE ROLE OF THE FIVE SIBLINGS WHO ARE STILL ALIVE. THE FIVE SIBLINGS WHO ARE STILL ALIVE HAVE TIME TO OPEN THEIR EYES. THEY HAVE TIME TO SEE THE POOR PEOPLE AT THEIR GATES – BEFORE THE CHASM BECOMES PERMANENT. “SEND LAZARUS TO THEM, THAT HE MIGHT WARN THEM,” CRIES THE RICH MAN ON BEHALF OF HIS BROTHERS AND SISTERS, “SO THAT THEY DO NOT COME TO THIS PLACE OF TORMENT.” THE TERRIFYINGLY VIVID APOCALYPTIC IMAGE OF THE MAN SUFFERING IN HADES SERVES TO AWAKEN A SENSE OF URGENCY ON THE PART OF LUKE’S AUDIENCE.
LET’S BRING THIS PARABLE HOME TO US HERE IN THE 21ST CENTURY. WE ARE THOSE FIVE SIBLINGS OF THE RICH MAN. WE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE HAVE BEEN WARNED ABOUT OUR URGENT SITUATION – THE PARABLE MAKES THIS CLEAR. WE CAN READ OF MOSES AND THE PROPHETS – JUST AS LUKE’S HEARERS COULD – WE HAVE THE GOSPEL – WE CAN SEE THE EXAMPLES OF GOOD PEOPLE’S CARE FOR THE POOR AND HUNGRY – SUCH AS THE ST JOHN’S COMMUNITY ORGANISATION. WE EVEN HAVE THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS – HIS LIFE LIVED OUT FULL OF EMPATHY AND CARE FOR THE WEAK AND NEEDY. THE QUESTION IS: WILL WE – THE FIVE SISTERS AND BROTHERS – SEE? WILL WE HEED THE WARNING, BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE AND WE BECOME LOST IN THE MIRE OF OUR OWN SELFISHNESS? AMEN
SERMON 18TH SEPTEMBER 2016 Luke 16:1-13
1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?’ He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: SPIRIT OF CREATION, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.
CAN YOU VISUALISE A TRILLION DOLLARS? NO? WELL TO PUT IT INTO SOME KIND OF PERSPECTIVE – IF YOU WANTED TO SPEND ONE TRILLION DOLLARS YOU WOULD NEED TO SPEND IT AT THE RATE OF TEN MILLION DOLLARS EVERY DAY FOR 273 YEARS. CURRENTLY AUSTRALIA IS IN DEBT TO THE TUNE OF APPROXIMATELY SIX TRILLION DOLLARS OF WHICH GOVERNMENT DEBT ACCOUNTS FOR SOMETHING LIKE 770 BILLION (THAT’S 770 THOUSAND MILLION) – THAT TOTAL DEBT – PUBLIC AND PRIVATE – IS ABOUT $250 THOUSAND FOR EACH ONE OF US.
THE BIG FOUR AUSTRALIAN BANKS MADE PROFITS FOR THE YEAR 2015/16 OF A TOTAL $30.78 BILLION. DO YOU EVER WONDER HOW BANKS WORK? THEY BORROW MONEY FROM INVESTORS, GOVERNMENTS AND OTHER BANKS – ALSO TRADING HUGE SUMS OVERNIGHT ON THE SHORT TERM MONEY MARKET. THEY THEN ADD A PROFIT MARGIN AND LEND THAT MONEY OUT TO THEIR CUSTOMERS. CURRENTLY THE CASH RATE IN AUSTRALIA – THAT IS THE RATE AT WHICH BANKS BORROW MONEY FROM THE AUSTRALIAN CENTRAL BANK – IS 1.5%. THE AVERAGE HOME LOAN RATE IN AUSTRALIA IS PRESENTLY ABOUT 3.4 TO 4.2% – A MARGIN OR PROFIT OF ABOUT 2%. PEOPLE ALSO INVEST THEIR MONEY IN BANK TERM DEPOSITS ETC WHICH RETURN ABOUT 3% AT PRESENT. IT ALL SOUNDS FAIRLY REASONABLE UNTIL WE COME TO CREDIT CARDS. IF YOU HAVE A BALANCE OUSTANDING ON YOUR CREDIT CARD YOU WILL PAY ANYTHING FROM ABOUT 13.5 TO 21% INTEREST. WESTPAC CURRENTLY ADVERTISE A LOW CREDIT CARD INTEREST RATE OF ONLY 13.49% – PLUS AN ANNUAL FEE OF $59. THEY MADE THE SECOND LARGEST PROFIT OF THE BIG 4 BANKS LAST YEAR OF OVER $8 BILLION.
THERE’S A GLIMPSE INTO THE CURRENT ECONOMICS OF CONTEMPORARY AUSTRALIA BUT TO TRY TO UNDERSTAND THIS PARABLE IN LUKE’S GOSPEL IN THE CONTEXT OF LUKE’S NARRATIVE WORLD, WE NEED A MINI-COURSE ON THE ECONOMICS OF ROMAN-OCCUPIED GALILEE IN THE FIRST CENTURY – AND I HAVE TO SAY THAT NOT TOO MUCH HAS CHANGED. RICH LANDLORDS AND RULERS WERE LOAN-SHARKS – I HESITATE TO DRAW PRESENT DAY COMPARISONS. THEY USED EXHORBITANT INTEREST RATES TO AMASS MORE LAND AND TO DISINHERIT PEASANTS OF THEIR FAMILY LAND, IN DIRECT VIOLATION OF TORAH LAW. I WILL QUOTE JUST TWO EXAMPLES FROM THE TORAH – THERE ARE MORE: DEUTERONOMY 23.19 “DO NOT CHARGE INTEREST ON THE LOANS YOU MAKE TO A FELLOW ISRAELITE, WHETHER YOU LOAN MONEY, OR FOOD, OR ANYTHING ELSE.” EXODUS 22:25 “IF YOU LEND MONEY TO MY PEOPLE, TO THE POOR AMONG YOU, YOU ARE NOT TO ACT AS A CREDITOR TO HIM; YOU SHALL NOT CHARGE HIM INTEREST.”
THE RICH MAN OR “LORD” IN THIS PARABLE – ALONG WITH HIS STEWARD OR DEBT COLLECTOR – WAS EXPLOITING DESPERATE PEASANTS.
THROUGHOUT THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, JESUS’ MINISTRY INVOKES THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF DEBT FORGIVENESS. ECONOMIC RESTITUTION IS PART OF THE JOY OF MARY’S MAGNIFICAT (LUKE 1:53 – “…THE RICH HE HAS SENT EMPTY AWAY”) AND THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMED TO TAX COLLECTORS SUCH AS ZACCHAEUS. WHEN ZACCHAEUS RESTORES WHAT HE HAD “DEFRAUDED” FOUR-FOLD, HE IS RESTORED ALSO TO COMMUNITY, AS PROCLAIMED BY JESUS, “TODAY SALVATION HAS COME TO THIS HOUSE” (LUKE 19:8).
EVEN THOUGH THE WORD “DEFRAUD” IS NOT USED IN TODAY’S PARABLE (UNLIKE THE STORY OF ZACCHAEUS), LUKE’S HEARERS WOULD KNOW THAT THE DEBT CONTRACTS INCLUDED EXORBITANT INTEREST HIDDEN FROM ILLITERATE PEASANTS. TODAY, ANALOGIES MAY BE HIGH-INTEREST LOANS OR HARSH AUSTERITY MEASURES IMPOSED ON COUNTRIES WHOSE CITIZENS HAD NO ROLE IN AGREEING TO A DEBT. LOANS MADE AT CRIPPLING INTEREST RATES TO SMALLER DEVELOPING COUNTRIES HAVE BEEN DESCRIBED AS ”ILLEGITIMATE” AND HAVE BEEN LIKENED TO VIOLENCE BECAUSE OF THE CRUSHING EFFECTS ON PEOPLE AND THEIR FUTURES. WEALTHY LANDLORDS IN JESUS’ DAY CREATED WAYS TO CHARGE INTEREST UNDER OTHER GUISES – OFTEN HIDING INTEREST BY ROLLING IT INTO THE PRINCIPAL. AS NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLAR WILLIAM HERZOG EXPLAINS, “THE HIDDEN INTEREST RATES APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN ABOUT 25 PERCENT FOR MONEY AND 50 PERCENT FOR GOODS.” THE MANIPULATIVE STEWARD WAS PROBABLY EXTRACTING HIS OWN CUT OF THE PROFITS, ON TOP OF THE 50% FOR THE LANDLORD, AND THE ADDITIONAL PAYMENT FOR ROME.
WHEN HE REDUCED THE PAYMENTS, THE STEWARD MAY HAVE BEEN SIMPLY FORGIVING HIS OWN CUT OF THE INTEREST – OR HE MAY HAVE BEEN DOING WHAT THE LAW COMMANDED – NAMELY FORGIVING ALL THE HIDDEN INTEREST IN THE CONTRACTS. AS DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF LIBERAL ARTS AND THE STUDY OF RELIGION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS, BOSTON – RICHARD HORSLEY -DESCRIBES, “TO INGRATIATE HIMSELF WITH THE DEBTORS, HE HAD THEM CHANGE THE AMOUNT THEY OWED ON THEIR BILLS TO EXACTLY THE AMOUNT THEY BORROWED, ELIMINATING THE HIDDEN AND PROHIBITED INTEREST.”7 IF THE RICH LANDLORD WAS NOT A GENTILE, BUT A JEW (THE TEXT DOES NOT SAY BUT IT CAN BE ASSUMED HE WAS JEWISH), HE WOULD KNOW THE TORAH TEACHING AGAINST INTEREST. THE RICH MAN, “SUDDENLY RECOGNIZING THAT HE NEEDED AT LEAST TO APPEAR TO BE OBSERVING CONVENANTAL LAWS, COMMENDED HIS STEWARD.”
ALTHOUGH THE RICH LANDLORD IS CALLED “LORD” (KYRIOS, A WORD THAT CAN SIMPLY MEAN “SIR”), JESUS DOES NOT WANT US TO SIDE WITH HIM, CONTRARY TO SOME TRADITIONAL INTERPRETATIONS. THE CHALLENGE IN THIS PARABLE IS KNOWING WHERE JESUS WANTS US TO SIDE. THERE ARE MANY INTERPRETIVE POSSIBILITIES TO THIS PARABLE; EACH OPENS UP QUESTIONS.
IN LUKE 16:12, ANOTHER DIFFICULT VERSE, OUR INSTINCTS MAY BE TO JUMP TO THE CONCLUSION THAT “BEING FAITHFUL TO WHAT IS ANOTHER’S” MEANS BEING FAITHFUL TO WHAT BELONGED TO THE RICH LANDLORD, INCLUDING THE INTEREST HE WAS CHARGING. BUT WHAT IF, INSTEAD, THE OPPOSITE MIGHT BE EQUALLY PLAUSIBLE — THAT JESUS MIGHT BE TALKING ABOUT BEING FAITHFUL TO WHAT RIGHTFULLY BELONGED TO THE PEASANTS WHO WERE BEING DISINHERITED OF THEIR LAND?
WE CANNOT KNOW – BUT WHAT WE CAN KNOW IS THAT LUKE IS MAKING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN DEBT STRUCTURES, THE URGENCY OF IMPENDING JUDGMENT, AND THE IDOL OF WORLDLY WEALTH.
RECENT TRANSLATIONS OF LUKE 16 – “YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON” – HAVE SHIFTED AWAY FROM “MAMMON” – (KING JAMES VERSION) TO “WEALTH” (NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION) OR “WORLDLY WEALTH” (COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE). BUT PERHAPS WE NEED TO RETAIN THE PERSONIFIED IDOL NAMED MAMMON, AS A REMINDER OF HOW A FINANCIAL SYSTEM ITSELF CAN FUNCTION AS AN IDOL OR “RELIGION,” AS HARVEY COX NOTED IN HIS BOOK “THE MARKET AS GOD.” OUR CURRENT FINANCIALISED ECONOMIC “RELIGION” IS STRUCTURED AROUND DEBT — INCLUDING ECOLOGICAL DEBT OWED TO FUTURE GENERATIONS. THESE ARE A FEW OF THE UNSETTLING QUESTIONS JESUS’ MULTIPLE REFERENCES TO MAMMON, IN THE CONTEXT OF A PARABLE ABOUT DEBT AND IMPENDING CRISIS, RAISE.
ENGLISH RENAISSANCE LITERATURE PORTRAYED MAMMON AS A CHARACTER ON A LOWER MORAL LEVEL THAN AVARICE. IN SPENSER’S THE FAERIE QUEENE, MAMMON ESCORTS PEOPLE DOWN INTO THE UNDERWORLD, TO THE GATE OF HELL, TO LEARN TO MINE AND SMELT GOLD. MILTON (PARADISE LOST) AND OTHER AUTHORS PORTRAY MAMMON IN LEAGUE WITH FALLEN ANGELS TO LEAD PEOPLE ASTRAY.
HEARING THIS VIVID PARABLE IN LUKE 16 MEANS FOLLOWING JESUS INTO QUESTIONS OF HOW WE PRACTICE NEIGHBOURLY LOVE IN ECONOMIC RELATIONSHIPS, IN THE MIDST OF UNJUST STRUCTURES. WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS TO SITUATE THE PARABLE IN THE BROADER ECONOMIC CONTEXT OF HOW JESUS WAS REVIVING VILLAGE LIFE BY REVIVING ANCIENT TORAIC ECONOMIC LIFE – FORGIVING DEBTS AND GIVING PEOPLE NEW HOPE. IN LUKE, THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL IS THE JOY OF GOD’S HEALING OF RELATIONSHIPS, INCLUDING ECONOMIC RELATIONSHIPS. AS LUTHER WARNED ABOUT MAMMON 500 YEARS AGO, “‘MANY A PERSON THINKS HE HAS GOD AND EVERYTHING HE NEEDS WHEN HE HAS MONEY AND PROPERTY. IN THEM HE TRUSTS AND OF THEM HE BOASTS SO STUBBORNLY AND SECURELY THAT HE CARES FOR NO ONE. SURELY SUCH A MAN ALSO HAS A GOD — MAMMON BY NAME – THAT IS, MONEY AND POSSESSIONS – ON WHICH HE FIXES HIS WHOLE HEART. IT IS THE MOST COMMON IDOL ON EARTH.”
THE GOSPEL REPEATEDLY WARNS THAT WE CANNOT BE DISCIPLES WHILST ACCUMULATING WEALTH AT THE EXPENSE OF THE POOR. AMEN
SERMON 11TH SEPTEMBER 2016
1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
+ IN THE NAME OF GOD – SPIRIT OF CREATION AND LOVE, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.
MANY PEOPLE SAY THEY REMEMBER EXACTLY WHERE THEY WERE AND WHAT THEY WERE DOING ON THE 22ND NOVEMBER 1963 – DO YOU? THAT IS THE DAY THAT JOHN KENNEDY PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA WAS SHOT AND KILLED WHILST DRIVING THROUGH DALLAS TEXAS. I HAVE TO ADMIT I HAVE NO MEMORY OF WHERE I WAS ON THAT PARTICULAR DAY. I DO REMEMBER HOWEVER BEING DRIVEN ALONG THAT SAME ROAD IN 1976 WHEN I FIRST VISITED DALLAS AND I ALSO HAVE A VERY CLEAR MEMORY OF WHERE I WAS AND WHAT I WAS DOING ON THIS DAY IN 2001 – 15 YEARS AGO. TODAY IS THE 11TH OF SEPTEMBER – OR AS WE HAVE BEEN TAUGHT BY THE AMERICANS – 9/11. I WOKE EARLY THAT MORNING AS I WAS SCHEDULED TO FLY TO SYDNEY ON THE NOW DEFUNCT ANSETT AIRLINE TO UNDERTAKE A PHOTOGRAPHIC ASSIGNMENT. I STILL RECALL THINKING IT MUST HAVE BEEN SOME SORT OF SICK JOKE AS I FIRST HEARD THE NEWS ON THE RADIO. THAT IDEA CHANGED OF COURSE WHEN TO CHECK WE TURNED ON THE TELEVISION AND WITNESSED THE HORRENDOUS EVENTS UNFOLDING IN AMERICA. I FELT IT WAS NOT AN AUSPICIOUS MORNING TO BE PUTTING MYSELF IN AN AIRCRAFT AND FLYING TO SYDNEY BUT I WENT AHEAD ANYWAY AND OF COURSE ARRIVED WITHOUT INCIDENT. INCIDENTALLY THAT WAS AN INTERESTING TRIP AS WHEN I WAS DRIVEN TO THE AIRPORT TO RETURN TO ADELAIDE A FEW DAYS LATER THE ANSETT TERMINAL WAS CLOSED AS THE AIRLINE HAD GONE INTO RECEIVERSHIP.
BY SOME STROKE OF LUCK I HAD BEEN BOOKED ON THE FLEDGLING VIRGIN TO COME HOME AS THE CLIENT THOUGHT I WOULD APPRECIATE THE NEW AND DIFFERENT AIRLINE. SO I LEFT ADELAIDE WITH THE IMAGES OF NEW YORK IN MY MIND AND LEFT SYDNEY VIA A TIN SHED NEAR THE AIRPORT ENTRANCE – AN UNFORGETTABLE TRIP.
WHAT A DREADFUL DAY THAT WAS NOT JUST FOR AMERICA BUT FOR THE WHOLE OF THE WESTERN WORLD. THE WORLD WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN. IT WAS, AS ONE OF MY HISTORY TOPICS AT FLINDERS UNIVERSITY STATED – A TURNING POINT IN WORLD HISTORY. IT BEHOVES US THIS MORNING TO PAUSE AND REMEMBER THE ALMOST 3000 INNOCENT PEOPLE WHO DIED THAT DREADFUL MORNING IN NEW YORK AND IN THE OTHER TWO PLANES THAT CRASHED INTO THE PENTAGON IN WASHINGTON DC AND THE FIELD IN PENNSYLVANIA. ABOUT 400 OF THE DEAD WERE FIREFIGHTERS, POLICE OFFICERS AND OTHER EMERGENCY WORKERS. NOW 15 YEARS LATER THE MESS HAS BEEN CLEARED AWAY AND THE MEMORIALS ERECTED BUT THE WORLD IS STILL COUNTING THE COST BOTH IN HUMAN LIVES AND RESOURCES.
WE REMEMBER THOSE THOUSANDS KILLED IN THE USA BUT LANDMARK RESEARCH PROVES THAT THE SUBSEQUENT US-LED ‘WAR ON TERROR’ HAS KILLED AS MANY AS 2 MILLION PEOPLE. BUT THIS IS A FRACTION OF WESTERN RESPONSIBILITY FOR DEATHS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN OVER THE LAST TWO DECADES. ACCORDING TO THE MIDDLE EASTERN EYE WEBSITE WESTERN WARS HAVE KILLED 4 MILLION MUSLIMS SINCE 1990. THAT’S A STAGGERING THOUGHT. BASICALLY THE POPULATION OF SYDNEY LOST TO WAR DURING THE PAST 25 YEARS.
THE DEPTH OF HUMAN MADNESS AND PROPENSITY FOR EVIL IS CLEAR TO SEE. THE PURSUIT OF RETRIBUTION – REVENGE DISGUISED AS JUSTICE – THE EGOS GRASPING FOR POWER AND WEALTH IN THE PERVERTED NAME OF RELIGION – ALL THIS WITH A TOTAL DISREGARD EVEN DISDAIN – FOR INNOCENT HUMAN LIVES FROM BOTH SIDES. THE WORLD IS DOUBTLESS IN A SORRY MESS. ONE HAS TO ASK “WILL THIS MADNESS EVER STOP?”
“WILL PEOPLE EVER COME TO THE POINT OF REALISATION THAT WE – THE HUMAN RACE – ARE ALL BROTHERS AND SISTERS – THAT WE ALL SHARE THE SAME DNA – THAT WE HAVE ALL ORIGINATED FROM COMMON ANCESTORS?
TODAY’S GOSPEL MESSAGE DOES OFFER US A RAY OF HOPE IN ALL THIS GLOOM. IN BOTH THE INSTANCES QUOTED – THE LOST SHEEP AND THE LOST COIN – IT IS NOT THE THING LOST THAT BRINGS ABOUT ITS OWN RECOVERY – IT IS THE ONE SEARCHING. IN BOTH INSTANCES THE SHEEP AND THE COIN ARE INERT – THEY DO NOTHING EXCEPT GET THEMSELVES LOST – OF COURSE THE COIN BEING AN INANIMATE OBJECT HAS NO RESPONSIBILITY – BUT LUKE’S STORIES INFER THAT IT IS GOD WHO IS THE ONE SEARCHING FOR LOST PEOPLE. CAN IT BE THAT WE CAN TAKE THIS REASSURANCE TO HEART TODAY? EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE MOVED ON FROM THE FIRST CENTURY CONCEPT OF AN ALL POWERFUL GOD IN HUMAN FORM LIVING SOMEWHERE ABOVE THE CLOUDS – CAN WE SOMEHOW LOOK FORWARD TO WHAT WE EXPERIENCE AS THE GREAT CREATING SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE – THE SPIRIT OF LIFE ITSELF RATHER THAN THE SPIRIT OF DEATH – EXERTING SOME INFLUENCE IN THE MINDS OF THE PERPETRATORS OF MADNESS? I AM SURE WE ALL REALISE THAT THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN UNLESS GOOD PEOPLE TAKE A STAND AND BECOME THE ACTIVE PARTICIPANT – THE SEARCHER. I BELIEVE THAT IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS CHRISTIANS – WE WHO CLAIM TO EXPERIENCE THE PRESENCE IN OUR LIVES OF THIS SPIRIT OF LOVE AND PEACE. GOOD PEOPLE NEED TO ACT – NOT JUST SIT AROUND IGNORING THE PROBLEM OR WRINGING OUR HANDS IN SADNESS AND FRUSTRATION. WE AS CHRISTIANS NEED TO DO ALL WE CAN TO STOP DISCRIMINATION THROUGH RACE, COLOUR OR CREED.THESE EVILS OF DIVISION AND HATE HAVE NO PLACE IN AN EDUCATED AND AWARE SOCIETY. I BELIEVE THE ANSWER BEGINS WIITH US AS IT IS NO USE LEAVING IT TO THE POLITICIANS. AMEN.
SERMON 17TH JULY 2016
LUKE 10; 38 – 42 – MARY AND MARTHA – EQUALITY AND INEQUALITY
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
THIS WEEK THE WESTERN WORLD HAS ONCE AGAIN BEEN ROCKED BY A NAUSEATING HATEFILLED ATTACK ON INNOCENT CIVILIANS INCLUDING CHILDREN, IN NICE, SOUTHERN FRANCE.
ONE MUST ASK, “WHAT IS IT IN A HUMAN BEING THAT CAN POSSIBLY ALLOW A PERSON TO PERPETRATE SUCH AN ABHORRENT ACT?” I OFFER ONE SUGGESTION. THE PERPETRATOR OF THAT AND MOST OTHER ACTS OF PREMEDITATED VIOLENCE HAS TO VIEW THE VICTIM OR VICTIMS AS “OTHER”. THE VICTIMS ARE VIEWED AS ALIENS – DIFFERENT – PERHAPS EVEN SUB-HUMAN – UNWORTHY. FOR TO VIEW THEM AS EQUALS WOULD MAKE SUCH AN ACT VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO CARRY OUT. SOLDIERS ARE TRAINED TO VIEW THE OPPOSING FORCES NOT AS PEOPLE SIMILAR TO THEMSELVES WITH FAMILIES AND HOMES AND LOVED ONES BUT SIMPLY AS “THE ENEMY”. THE ENEMY IS OTHER THAN US – PERHAPS EVEN SUB-HUMAN – JUST AS JAPANESE SOLDIERS WERE PORTRAYED WITHIN OUR OWN SOCIETY DURING WW2 – AND CERTAINLY NOT OF EQUAL WORTH. IN ORDER TO PERPETUATE DREADFUL VIOLENCE SUCH AS WE HAVE WITNESSED IN FRANCE THIS WEEK THE PERPETUATOR MUST HOLD THESE SORTS OF VIEWS. THE VICTIMS AS FOREIGNERS AND UNBELIEVERS ARE NOT WORTHY TO LIVE FOR “THEY ARE INFIDELS AND THEREFORE ARE CONDEMNED AND ONLY WORTHY OF DEATH” IS THE MANTRA. IN 2014 I.S. MAIN SPOKESMAN, ABU MUHAMMAD AL-ADNANI CALLED ON ITS FOLLOWERS TO KILL WESTENERS, “ESPECIALLY THE SPITEFUL AND FILTHY FRENCH”.THIS EVIL MAN ALSO SAID, “IF YOU CANNOT DETONATE A BOMB OR FIRE A BULLET, ARRANGE TO MEET ALONE WITH A FRENCH OR AN AMERICAN INFIDEL AND BASH HIS SKULL IN WITH A ROCK, SLAUGHTER HIM WITH A KNIFE, RUN HIM OVER WITH YOUR CAR, THROW HIM OFF A CLIFF, STRANGLE HIM, OR INJECT HIM WITH POISON”. HE ALSO SAID THERE WAS NO NEED TO CONSULT ANYONE AS ALL UNBELIEVERS ARE FAIR GAME. “IT IS IMMATERIAL IF THE INFIDEL IS A COMBATANT OR A CIVILIAN … THEY ARE BOTH ENEMIES. THE BLOOD OF BOTH IS PERMITTED”, HE SAID.
IF WE TURN TO THE GOSPEL READING FOR THIS MORNING WE SEE LUKE TRYING TO CONVINCE HIS HEARERS THAT WHILST PEOPLE MAY HOLD DIFFERING VIEWS OF WHAT IS OF PRIMARY IMPORTANCE IN LIFE, THEY ARE TO BE CONSIDERED AS NOT BEING OPPOSED TO EACH OTHER – ONE BEING INFERIOR TO THE OTHER – BUT OF ABSOLUTELY EQUAL VALUE.
WE ALL FIND IT EXCEEDINGLY EASY TO PIT ONE EXPRESSION OF BELIEF – OF DISCIPLESHIP – OF SERVICE – OF VOCATION – AGAINST THE OTHER. YET, WHEN WE MAKE THESE KINDS OF ASSUMPTIONS, WE RARELY STOP TO THINK ABOUT WHAT WE THEN ASSUME ABOUT JESUS. WE CAN ASSUME THAT TO FAVOUR MARY IS TO SAY JESUS DISCOUNTS SERVICE – WHICH, IF YOU READ THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL – AND MAKES JESUS MAKE NO SENSE AT ALL. ON THE OTHER HAND TO FAVOUR MARTHA WOULD BE TO SAY SERVICE IS ALL THAT MATTERS. CLEARLY, BOTH MATTER, IF YOU READ THE GOSPEL OF LUKE CAREFULLY.
SO, THIS STORY CANNOT BE ABOUT WHO IS BETTER OR WHAT IS BETTER, BUT RATHER ABOUT ACKNOWLEDGING AND ARGUING THAT EVEN A WOMAN CAN BE A DISCIPLE – CAN SIT AT THE FEET OF JESUS AND LEARN. THIS STORY IS NOT ABOUT WHICH IS BETTER – BECAUSE SERVICE AND LEARNING ARE BOTH HALLMARKS OF FOLLOWING JESUS. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN A RADICAL IDEA IN 1ST CENTURY PALESTINE AND IS STILL A RADICAL IDEA IN SOME PARTS OF THE WORLD TODAY – TWO THOUSAND YEARS LATER.
THIS IS ALSO A STORY ABOUT POINTING OUT WHAT IS POSSIBLE. THOSE WE DEEM UNWORTHY FOR THE ROLE OF DISCIPLE ARE THOSE THAT JESUS INSISTS ARE MORE THAN QUALIFIED. OUR CERTAINTY ABOUT CRITERIA FOR DISCIPLESHIP JESUS SEEMS TO UPEND. IS IT SERVICE OR SITTING? HOSPITALITY OR LISTENING? ATTENTIVENESS OR LEARNING? – OR ALL OF THE ABOVE? THIS IS A STORY ABOUT THE FACT THAT EVEN MARY – EVEN A WOMAN – EVEN THOSE WHO WERE JUDGED TO BE OUTSIDE OF GOD’S GRACE – CAN IMAGINE THEMSELVES AS DISCIPLES.
IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT IF THIS STORY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHO IS BETTER AND EVERYTHING TO DO WITH WHO MATTERS? WHAT IF THIS STORY IS NOT PREOCCUPIED WITH THE NICETIES OF PROPER POLITE ACCEPTANCE BUT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH WHOM YOU ACCEPT?
IT IS AN INDICTMENT ON ALL OF US AS TO HOW WE ADJUDICATE RIGHT AND WRONG, IN AND OUT, WORTHY AND UNWORTHY, WHICH ARE MANIFESTED NOW IN OUR WORLD AS RELIGIOUS INTOLERNCE, RACISM, SEXISM, XENOPHOBIA, HOMOPHOBIA — TO NAME ONLY A FEW.
ARE WE ABLE TO CONFESS, AS WE READ IN THIS MORNING’S PSALM 15 – “O LORD, WHO MAY ABIDE IN YOUR TENT? WHO MAY DWELL ON YOUR HOLY HILL? THOSE WHO WALK BLAMELESSLY, AND DO WHAT IS RIGHT, AND SPEAK THE TRUTH FROM THEIR HEART; WHO DO NOT SLANDER WITH THEIR TONGUE, AND DO NO EVIL TO THEIR FRIENDS, NOR TAKE UP A REPROACH AGAINST THEIR NEIGHBOURS”?
THE RECENT SPATE OF RELIGIOUS INSPIRED ACTS OF VIOLENCE ARE MANIFESTATIONS OF THE SIN OF DISREGARD. DISREGARD IS NO SMALL MOMENT OF OVERSIGHT. NO UNINTENTIONAL ACT OF OVERLOOKING. NO MERE “I JUST DIDN’T NOTICE.”BECAUSE, DISREGARD, OVERSIGHT, OVERLOOKING, PASSING BY – IS NO MERE LAPSE OF JUDGMENT. NO MERE MISUNDERSTANDING. NO MISTAKE IN ASSESSMENT. IT LEADS TO THE REALITY OF A NONCOMMITTAL ACCEPTANCE. IT LEADS TO COMPLACENCY EVEN COMPLIANCE. WE BECOME IMMUNE TO THAT WHICH SHOULD CAUSE OUTRAGE. WE GIVE IN TO SAYING, “WELL, THAT’S THE WAY IT IS.” WE ACCEPT THAT THE WORLD AROUND US IS THE WORLD WE SHOULD ACCEPT.
THIS STORY OF MARY AND MARTHA CANNOT BE ABOUT THE BETTER THING THAT MEANS WHO IS BETTER, WHO ACTS BETTER, WHO CAN BE BETTER. THE BETTER THING IS THE INVITATION TO BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE WHO GOD SEES YOU TO BE – AND THAT IS PRECISELY OUR PROBLEM. AN INHERENT, SYSTEMIC, OMNIPRESENT, INGRAINED, INTRINSIC, DYSFUNCTIONAL, DISTURBING BELIEF THAT NOT ALL ARE WORTHY OF GOD’S REGARD AND LOVE – THE CONVICTION, AS PAUL FARMER – AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST AND PHYSICIAN FAMOUS FOR HIS WORK AMONGST THE POOR OF HAITI – SAYS, “THAT NOT ALL ARE NOT EQUAL IN GOD’S EYES. THAT ALL ARE NOT MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD.”
THIS IS NOT A STORY ABOUT COMPARISON BUT COMPLETION. NOT ABOUT WHO IS BETTER, BUT WHEN IS BETTER. NOT ABOUT WHAT IS BETTER, BUT WHY IT IS BETTER. PERHAPS IF WE ALLOW FOR A MORE NIMBLE AND GRACIOUS VIEW OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, WE MIGHT BE ABLE TO IMAGINE MORE OF THE WORLD AS PART OF IT — EVEN OURSELVES. AND WHEN WE IMAGINE OURSELVES AS PART OF GOD’S KINGDOM, WE ARE INSTANTLY CALLED TO BRING ABOUT ITS PRESENCE HERE AND NOW – AND TO UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS INCLUSIVE OF ALL – NOT JUST THE ONES WHO SHARE OUR OWN BELIEFS. IF ONLY THAT IDEA COULD TAKE ROOT WITHIN HUMANITY THE WORLD WOULD BE A BETTER PLACE. AMEN.
SERMON 12TH JUNE 2016
LUKE 7: 36 – 8:3
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man was a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 8:1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
LAST WEEK GREG SHERIDAN WROTE A MAJOR ARTICLE IN THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER. BASICALLY HE COMMENTED THAT THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES ARE CURRENTLY DIMINISHING IN BOTH NUMBERS OF ADHERANTS AND RELEVANCE TO THE BROADER COMMUNITY. HE IS A GRADUATE OF THE MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY AND THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY AND IS A PERSONAL FRIEND OF TONY ABBOTT FROM THEIR UNIVERSITY DAYS. HE APPEARS TO WRITE FROM A CONSERVATIVE CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE AS MOSTLY THE ARTICLE IS FOCUSED ON THE CATHOLIC CHURCH BUT ANGLICANISM GETS A MENTION. LET ME READ A BRIEF PART OF THE ARTICLE. ……
SHERIDAN MAKES A VERY VALID POINT WHILST SPEAKING OF “AUSTRALIA’S SECULAR RELIGION”. THE SECULARISATION OF OUR SOCIETY HAS IN FACT BECOME EMPOWERED WITH THE VITALITY AND ZEAL THAT RELIGION FORMERLY POSSESSED. BEING AN EMINENT JOURNALIST SHERIDAN FOCUSSES ON THE MORAL ISSUES THAT THE MEDIA TEND TO BE FIXATED UPON; THE ISSUES OF ABORTION, HOMOSEXUALITY, MARRIAGE AND HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS IN GENERAL.HE IS ARGUING THAT THE CHURCHES ARE NOT MILITANT AND VOCALLY STRONG ENOUGH TO PUT FORWARD THEIR POINT OF VIEW. THAT POINT OF VIEW, ACCORDING TO SHERIDAN SEEMS TO BE STRICTLY CONSERVATIVE. WHILST I AGREED WITH HIS GENERAL STATEMENT THAT THE CHURCH IS LOSING ITS ONCE LEADING, CENTRAL AUTHORITARIAN PLACE IN WESTERN SOCIETY I FOUND MYSELF BECOMING LESS ENTHUSIASTIC AS HE DEFENDS THE “ONCE BEACON OF MORAL AUTHORITY”.
I MUST ASK THE QUESTION; WHY IS THE CHURCH LOSING ITS RELEVANCE? WHY IS IT BEING SIDELINED WITHIN OUR COMMUNITIES AND WHY ARE FEWER PEOPLE INTERESTED IN REMAINING OR EVEN BECOMING PART OF IT? THERE IS NO POINT IN BLAMING SOCIETY FOR TO TAKE THAT POSITION IS FRUITLESS AND A WASTE OF TIME. NO, THE CHURCH MUST LOOK TO ITSELF – WITHIN ITSELF AND ITS LEADERSHIP FOR THE ANSWERS AND THE POSSIBLE APPROPRIATE RESPONSES.
THE READING FROM TODAY’S GOSPEL IS TELLING AND I BELIEVE RELEVANT TO THIS MATTER. THE PHARISEE – THE PERSONIFICATION OF THE CHURCH IF YOU LIKE – IS TOTALLY JUDGEMENTAL IN THE STORY. VERSE 39: Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it [ THE WOMAN’S ACTIONS], he said to himself, “If this man was a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”
THIS IS EXACTLY HOW THE CHURCH OF TODAY IS PORTRAYED – CONSERVATIVE AND JUDGEMENTAL! CONSIDER THE MISOGYNISTIC HISTORY WHICH IS ALIVE AND WELL IN THE CHURCH TODAY. WOMEN WITHIN THE CHURCH – AND ALSO WITHOUT IT – HAVE FOUGHT TOOTH AND NAIL FOR DECADES FOR SOME SEMBLANCE OF EQUALITY. THE CHURCH IS BEING DRAGGED KICKING AND SCREAMING INTO THIS 21ST CENTURY AND THE INHERENT CONSERVATISM IS STILL ALIVE AND WELL IN MOST PARTS OF THE CHRISTIAN WORLD. I AM GRATEFUL THAT IN AUSTRALIA AND IN SOME DIOCESE – CERTAINLY NOT ALL – WE AT LEAST NOW HAVE ACCEPTED WOMEN PRIESTS AND EVEN A BISHOP! WITH THE ELECTION OF A NEW ARCHBISHOP OF ADELAIDE LOOMING IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE WHETHER A WOMAN IS CONSIDERED – OR EVEN –MIRACLES MIGHT BE POSSIBLE – ELECTED!
THE CHURCH RETAINS THE AURA OF CONSERVATIVE ALOOFNESS – A HOLIER THAN THOU ATTITUDE AND UNTIL IT COMES TO GRIPS WITH THIS IT WILL CONTINUE TO SINK INTO IRRELEVANCE.
IN CONTRAST LOOK AT THE REPORTED RESPONSE OF JESUS. HE REMINDS THE CHURCH OFFICIAL OF HIS LACK OF HOSPITALITY AND SAYS: “VERSE 44 … turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
HER DECISION TO GO TO THE HOUSE, HER DETERMINATION TO ENTER INTO WHERE SHE WAS NOT WANTED OR WELCOME, HER DESIRE TO BE LIKE THE OTHER WOMEN WHO FOLLOWED JESUS, WERE ALL ACTS OF FAITH: BECAUSE FAITH, YOU SEE, IS ALSO THE BELIEF THAT YOU ARE WORTHY. YOU ARE WORTHY TO SIT AT THE TABLE. YOU ARE WORTHY OF TOUCHING, AND BEING TOUCHED BY, GOD. YOU ARE WORTHY OF BELONGING. YOU ARE WORTHY OF BEING CALLED A DISCIPLE. THIS IS ONE REASON I HAVE INTRODUCED MY FRIEND DAVID’S “PRAYER OF CONFIDENT APPROACH” INTO OUR LITURGY. WE ARE WORTHY – ALL ARE WORTHY. YOU ARE VALUABLE TO GOD AND TO US AS A LOVING COMMUNITY OF CHRISTIANS. I READ A STORY ABOUT A WOMAN WHO FELT HER FIRST “CALL” WAS TO MINISTRY, BUT SHE WAS REMOVED FROM HER POSITION BECAUSE THE NEW “SHERIFF IN TOWN” – THE CHURCH MINISTER – DECREED THAT NO WOMAN SHOULD BE TEACHING MEN. HER FAMILY ALL BUT REJECTED HER FOR HER “NEWFANGLED BELIEFS” ABOUT A GOD WHO WANTED AND NEEDED ALL, EVEN WOMEN, TO BRING ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD. SHE GREW UP INDOCTRINATED ABOUT WHAT WAS RIGHT AND WRONG, WHO WAS IN AND OUT, WHOM GOD LOVED AND DIDN’T LOVE. UNWORTHINESS CAN VERY WELL EXTEND FOR A LIFETIME.
SO THE CHURCH COMES ACROSS – SADLY TOO OFTEN RIGHTLY – AS EXCLUSIONARY AND JUDGEMENTAL. I READ IN THE LOCAL NEWSPAPER OF THE MINISTER WHO IS SEEKING TO DISSASSOCIATE THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FROM THE GOVERNMENT MARRIAGE ACT SHOULD THE PARLIAMENT PASS THE AMENDMENT ALLOWING UNIVERSAL MARRIAGE. I HAVE TO ASK, DOES THIS ATTITUDE DO ANYTHING TO FURTHER THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN OUR COMMUNITY? OF COURSE NOT – IT IS AGAIN ANOTHER REASON FOR REJECTION. UNTIL THE CHURCH CHANGES ITS CONSERVATIVE AND JUDGEMENTAL ATTITUDES AND REPLACES THEM WITH ALL ENCOMPASSING LOVE AND COMPASSION AND FOLLOWS THROUGH WITH THE APPROPRIATE ACTIONS, ITS FUTURE WILL REMAIN DARK. REMEMBER, “THE ONE TO WHOM LITTLE IS GIVEN LOVES LITTLE!”
LET’S GET RID OF THE HERETICAL AND IGNORANT HUMAN LITERALIST INTERPRETATIONS OF THE BIBLICAL WRITINGS AND THE – I USE THE WORD DELIBERATELY – MAN-MADE – RULES AND INVIOLABLE LAWS. LET’S INSTEAD LISTEN TO THE SPIRIT OF LOVE WHO HAS NO RULES AND REGULATIONS – ONLY ALL ENCOMPASSING LOVE AND FORGIVENESS. MAYBE THAT IS WHAT PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR. MAYBE THAT IS WHERE THE CHURCH MIGHT HAVE A FUTURE. AMEN
SERMON 5TH JUNE 2016 PENTECOST 3
LUKE 7: 11 – 17
11 Soon afterwards JESUS went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favourably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
DURING THIS PAST WEEK I HAVE ATTENDED TWO FUNERALS – ONE HERE IN ST JOHN’S WHERE I ASSISTED BISHOP IAN GEORGE AND THE OTHER IN ST JOHN’S HALIFAX STREET ADELAIDE. THERE WAS A FASCINATING CONTRAST BETWEEN THESE TWO SERVICES. CERTAINLY THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE DEATHS OF THE TWO PEOPLE CONCERNED WERE QUITE DIFFERENT. IN ONE INSTANCE THE FAMILY HAD ONLY THREE WEEKS WARNING OF THE IMMINENT DEATH, WHILST IN THE OTHER DECLINING HEALTH HAD BEEN INDICATING THE END OF LIFE FOR QUITE SOME TIME – EVEN YEARS. BOTH DECEASED WERE IN THEIR EIGHTIES AND BOTH HAD CONTRIBUTED TO THE WELLBEING OF A LOVING FAMILY AND THE BROADER SOCIETY. THE FAMILY INVOLVED IN THE LOCAL FUNERAL WERE STILL IN SOME SORT OF SHOCK I BELIEVE – AND THERE WAS A GENUINE OUTPOURING OF REAL GRIEF AND LOSS. ON THE OTHER HAND THE FUNERAL OF THE REVEREND DUNSTAN MCKEE SSM AT ST JOHN’S HALIFAX STREET WAS A WONDERFUL CELEBRATION OF HIS LIFE ALBEIT TAINTED WITH DEEP SADNESS AT HIS PASSING. I HAD KNOWN DUNSTAN SINCE HE WAS PART OF THE VIBRANT SSM COMMUNITY AT ST MICHAEL’S HOUSE CRAFERS IN THE LATE 60’S AND EARLY 70’S. I ALWAYS GREATLY ADMIRED HIS GENTLE NATURE AND ACADEMIC LEARNING. I WELL REMEMBER ON ONE OCCASION NAÏVE LY ASKING HIM, “WHAT IS THE PURPOSE IF ANY OF HUMANITIES’ EXISTENCE?” IN OTHER WORDS THE OLD 64 THOUSAND DOLLAR QUESTION, “WHY ARE WE HERE?” HIS RESPONSE WAS NOT WHAT I HAD EXPECTED FROM AN EMINENT THEOLOGICAL SCHOLAR. HE SAID, “IT’S QUITE SIMPLE REALLY, WE ARE HERE TO SIMPLY ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE OF LIFE AND THIS WONDERFUL WORLD.” WOW! THAT’S NOT WHAT I HAD EXPECTED. IT SOUNDS SO SIMPLE –
BUT AS I THOUGHT MORE ABOUT IT I CAME TO REALIZE THAT THERE WAS MUCH MORE TO THAT STATEMENT THAN WAS FIRST EVIDENT AND IT’S SOMETHING I HAVE KEPT IN MY MIND EVER SINCE.
WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF THIS STORY IN LUKE? WHY IS IT THERE AND WHERE WAS ITS INSPIRATION? THERE ARE A FEW CLUES. LET’S GO BACK TO THE INTRODUCTION OF THE GOSPEL BECAUSE WE READ HERE OF LUKE’S PURPOSE IN WRITING. HE IS ADDRESSING “MOST EXCELLENT THEOPHILUS”. THAT NAME TRANSLATES AS “LOVER OF GOD” SO I BELIEVE WE CAN ASSUME HE COULD ALSO BE WRITING TO US AS CONFESSING CHRISTIANS. WHETHER SUCH A PERSON AS THEOPHILUS EVER EXISTED IS IRRELEVANT – THE PURPOSE IS CLEAR. LUKE WRITES IN ORDER TO “… SET DOWN AN ORDERLY ACOCUNT OF THE EVENTS THAT HAVE BEEN FULFILLED AMONG US” (LUKE 1:1-4). “AN ORDERLY ACCOUNT” TO ANSWER THE QUESTION, “WHO THEN IS THIS?” WHO IS THIS MAN JESUS? WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES HE MAKE IN OUR LIVES? HOW ARE WE TO MAKE SENSE OF HIS STORY AND ALL THAT HE SAID AND DID? PERHAPS THOSE WERE THE QUESTIONS ASKED BY THEOPHILUS – AND THEY ARE CERTAINLY THE QUESTIONS THAT ARE STILL BEING ASKED BY MANY PEOPLE TODAY. SO HERE WE HAVE LUKE’S PURPOSE – WRITING SOME FORTY OR FIFTY YEARS AFTER JESUS’ LIFE TO PROVE BY EXAMPLES THAT JESUS WAS THE LONG HOPED FOR AND AWAITED MESSIAH OF THE JEWISH NATION.
WE CAN NOW LOOK FOR LUKE’S SOURCE IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – THE OLD TESTAMENT – THAT MIGHT GIVE MEANING TO THIS TYPE OF HEALING MIRACLE ATTRIBUTED TO JESUS. IN THE 35TH CHAPTER OF ISAIAH THE PROPHET IS ADDRESSING THE SUBJECT OF THE SIGNS THAT WILL MARK THE EMERGENCE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH. THIS WAS, IN APOCALYPTIC JEWISH THOUGHT, TO BE THE BIRTH OF THE MESSIANIC AGE. ISAIAH RESPONDED THAT THE WORLD WOULD RECOGNIZE THE IN-BREAKING OF THE KINGDOM IN THESE WAYS: WATER WOULD FLOW IN THE DESERT, THE CROCUSES WOULD BLOOM IN PLACES WHERE THEY HAD NEVER BLOOMED BEFORE AND HUMAN WHOLENESS WOULD APPEAR IN PLACES THAT HAD BEEN MARKED WITH HUMAN BROKENNESS. THAT IS “THE BLIND WOULD SEE, THE DEAF WOULD HEAR, THE MUTE WOULD SHOUT AND THE LAME WOULD LEAP.”
FOR ISAIAH THESE WOULD BE THE SIGNS THAT WOULD SIGNAL THE MESSIAH’S ARRIVAL ON EARTH TO INAUGURATE THE “KINGDOM OF GOD.” IT IS QUITE CLEAR TO ME THAT THE MIRACLE STORIES IN THE GOSPELS ARE INTERPRETIVE SIGNS INSPIRED BY THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS RATHER THAN LITERAL EVENTS.
NAIN (TODAY THE LARGELY ARABIC TOWN OF NEIN) IS IN GALILEE ABOUT 14 KILOMETRES SOUTHWEST OF NAZARETH. WE ARE TOLD THAT A LARGE CROWD IS FOLLOWING JESUS BECAUSE THE WORD WAS SPREADING ABOUT THIS WORKER OF MIRACLES. AS JESUS AND HIS CROWD APPROACH THE TOWN A PROCESSION GOING OUT OF THE CITY MEETS THEM. A MAN OF THE TOWN HAS DIED AND VILLAGERS ARE ACCOMPANYING HIS MOTHER OUT TO THE CEMETERY FOR HIS BURIAL. WE ARE TOLD THAT HIS MOTHER IS A WIDOW AND HE WAS HER ONLY SON. THIS TELLS US MUCH ABOUT HER NOW PRECARIOUS STATUS BECAUSE WITHOUT EITHER A HUSBAND OR SON SHE WAS IN A DIFFICULT POSITION FINANCIALLY. SHE WOULD NOT HAVE A SOURCE OF INCOME. WE SHOULD ALSO UNDERSTAND THAT HER GRIEF IS RAW FOR ACCORDING TO JEWISH BURIAL LAWS SHE WOULD HAVE TO BURY HER SON WITHIN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS OF HIS DEATH. THAT TELLS US THAT HER SON HAD JUST DIED. SURROUNDED BY NEIGHBORS SHE IS WALKING IN PAIN AND SORROW. ONE CAN ONLY IMAGINE THE THOUGHTS THAT WERE RACING THROUGH HER HEAD — “WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ME? HOW WILL I SURVIVE WITHOUT MY SON?” SHE WAS WRAPPED IN THE FOG OF DESPAIR.
LUKE DEFINITELY WANTS HIS HEARERS TO RECALL THE STORIES OF ELIJAH AND ELISHA AS DESCRIBED IN 1 KINGS WHICH WE READ THIS MORNING. THE PROPHET ELIJAH HELPED A WIDOW AT ZAREPHATH. HE MEETS HER AT “THE GATE OF THE TOWN” – THE WOMAN’S SON FALLS ILL AND DIES. CRYING OUT TO GOD AND COVERING THE CHILD WITH HIS BODY THREE TIMES, ELIJAH RESUSCITATED THE BOY. LATER, ELIJAH’S PROTÉGÉ THE PROPHET ELISHA ALSO WAS ABLE TO RETURN A DEAD CHILD TO A WOMAN WHO SOUGHT HIS HELP. LIKE ELIJAH, HE LAY ON THE CHILD AND THE CHILD REVIVED. THESE STORIES TELL US, AS THE WIDOW OF ZAREPHATH DECLARED; “NOW I KNOW THAT YOU ARE A MAN OF GOD AND THAT THE WORD OF THE LORD IN YOUR MOUTH IS TRUTH”.
BUT UNLIKE THE PROPHETS WHO HAD TO TOUCH THE BOYS, THIS MAN JESUS WHOM LUKE IS PORTRAYING AS A FAR GREATER PROPHET NEED ONLY TOUCH THE BIER ON WHICH THE DEAD MAN LIES. HE DOES NOT CRY OUT TO GOD. RATHER, HE ONLY HAS TO TELL THE MAN TO RISE AND THE MAN SITS UP AND BEGINS TO SPEAK. ELIJAH “GAVE HIM TO HIS MOTHER” AND JESUS ALSO “GAVE HIM TO HIS MOTHER”. THEN LIKE THE WIDOW, THE CROWD WHO WITNESSED THIS RESUSCITATION DECLARED, “A GREAT PROPHET HAS RISEN AMONG US!” THE PARALLELS ARE PLAIN. HERE WE READ LUKE’S INSPIRATION.THE DEAD RETURN TO LIFE – THESE ARE SIGNS HELPING THE CROWDS, HELPING “MOST EXCELLENT THEOPHILUS”-HELPING US – TO UNDERSTAND WHO THIS MAN OF GOD – THIS JESUS – TRULY IS. THE ANCIENT PROPHETS DID AMAZING THINGS BUT JESUS EXCEEDS AND IS GREATER THAN THEM ALL – HE IS THE MESSIAH – THAT IS LUKE’S MESSAGE.
THIS IS A WONDERFUL STORY – BUT IT IS NOT EASY FOR US TO HEAR BECAUSE SO MANY OF US HAVE BEEN IN THE POSITION OF THE WIDOW. WE HAVE LOST PEOPLE WE DEARLY LOVE BUT THERE WAS NOT A PROPHET TO TOUCH THEIR BIER AND BRING THE DEAD BACK TO LIFE. THAT IS THE REALITY OF BEING HUMAN AND SELF-AWARE BEINGS LIVING IN A REAL WORLD.
WHAT WE ALL NEED TO REMEMBER HOWEVER IS THAT IT IS STILL POSSIBLE TO EXPERIENCE THE TOUCH OF CHRIST. NO – IT MAY NOT BE A PHYSICAL TOUCH – NO MORE THAN JESUS’ RESURRECTION WAS PHYSICAL – IT IS A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE. THOSE DISCIPLES OF OLD WHO EXPERIENCED THE RISEN CHRIST ATTEST TO THAT SO POSITIVELY.
I PRAY THAT YOU ALL MAY EXPERIENCE THAT GENTLE TOUCH OF THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST – MAYBE YOU WILL FEEL IT WITHIN YOUR DEEPEST BEING – MAYBE YOU WILL FEEL IT AS AN ARM AROUND YOUR SHOULDERS AND A HUG FROM A FRIEND – AS I DID THIS WEEK. AMEN.
SERMON 22ND MAY 2016 – TRINITY SUNDAY – Romans 5:1-5
1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
TODAY THE CHURCH RECOGNISES AND CELEBRATES “TRINITY SUNDAY”. I PROPOSE THAT VERY FEW – IF ANY – PEOPLE OUTSIDE DEDICATED THEOLOGIANS HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THIS WORD “TRINITY” MEANS – NOR I MUST SAY – DO THEY CARE. HERE IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE CHURCH DOING ITS BEST TO ALIENATE PEOPLE OF THE 21ST CENTURY BY CLINGING TO FORMULAE AND TENETS OF THE 4TH.
WE CAN ASK, “WHERE DOES THIS TERM COME FROM AND WHAT IS IT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?” IT IS OBVIOUSLY AN ATTEMPT TO DESCRIBE AND DEFINE GOD. PROFESSOR FREDERICK BORSCH, OF THE PRINCETON UNIVERSITY DIVINITY SCHOOL SAID THE IDEA STEMMED FROM THE EARLY CHRISTIANS’ EXPERIENCE OF GOD RATHER THAN AN IDEA “THOUGHT UP BY IVORY-TOWER THEOLOGIANS WHO, TYPICALLY, WERE MAKING THINGS MORE COMPLICATED THAN THEY NEEDED TO BE…” – SO THE IDEA EMERGED FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD IN HUMAN LIVES AND MORPHED INTO AN ATTEMPT TO DESCRIBE THE WONDER BEHIND THEIR EXPERIENCE.
THE FIRST OF THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS RECORDED AS USING THE WORD “TRINITY” WAS THEOPHILUS OF ANTIOCH WRITING IN THE LATE 2ND CENTURY. HE DEFINED THE TRINITY AS – GOD – HIS WORD (LOGOS – MEANS WORD IN GREEK) AND HIS WISDOM (SOPHIA – WISDOM IN GREEK). WE READ ABOUT WISDOM IN OUR FIRST READING TODAY (PROVERBS 8). THIS TERM ‘TRINITY’ DID NOT TAKE DEFINITE SHAPE UNTIL THE 4TH CENTURY – SPECIFICALLY THE FIRST COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE IN 381. THE WHOLE IDEA PERHAPS STEMS FROM THE IMAGE OF JESUS’ BAPTISM IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW CHAPTER 28 WHICH SAID CHRISTIANS MUST BAPTISE “IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”.
BISHOP JACK SPONG HAS PRESENTED SOME VERY CLEAR IDEAS ABOUT THIS. WE FIRST HAVE TO RECOGNIZE THAT THE HOLY TRINITY IS NOT A DESCRIPTION OF GOD – WHICH IN ITSELF IS AN IMPOSSIBILITY – BUT A DESCRIPTION OF A HUMAN EXPERIENCE OF GOD. THE IDEA IS A PRODUCT OF DUALISTIC GREEK THINKING WHICH SEPARATED GOD FROM HUMANITY -THE HOLY FROM THE PROFANE – THE FLESH FROM THE SPIRIT – AND THE BODY FROM THE SOUL. THAT WAS A CULTURAL MINDSET AND NO ONE IN THAT ERA OF HISTORY KNEW HOW TO STEP OUTSIDE THAT FRAMEWORK. HOWEVER, THAT FRAME OF REFERENCE DIED IN THE PERIOD OF HISTORY WE CALL THE ENLIGHTENMENT, LEAVING MODERN CHRISTIANS WITH THE IMPOSSIBLE TASK OF FITTING A 4TH CENTURY DOCTRINE INTO A 21ST CENTURY WORLD-VIEW OUT OF WHICH IT DOES NOT COME AND TO WHICH IT CANNOT SPEAK.
THE TRINITARIAN LANGUAGE, WHICH WE USE AS WE TO SEEK TO RELATE THE TRINITARIAN EXPERIENCE IS SIMPLY IRRELEVANT. WHEN WE LOOK BEHIND THE TRINITARIAN VOCABULARY WE DISCOVER THAT WHAT WE ARE TRYING TO DO IS TO FIND WORDS THAT WILL MAKE SENSE OF THAT HUMAN ABILITY TO DISCOVER WHAT SPONG CALLS THE “BEYOND IN OUR MIDST.” WHAT WE CALL GOD IS BEYOND ANY IDEA THAT THE HUMAN MIND CAN DEVELOP. GOD IS THE ULTIMATE REALITY SOMETIMES DESCRIBED AS “THE GROUND OF ALL BEING” THAT THE HUMAN MIND CAN ONLY EVER PARTIALLY EMBRACE – AND SO WE REVERT TO THE USE OF SYMBOLS. THE TRINITARIAN WORD FOR THE ULTIMATE REALITY OF GOD IS, “FATHER”- THE SOURCE – THE ORIGINATOR OF ALL THAT IS. WE ALSO EXPERIENCE GOD AS THE ULTIMATE DEPTH OF LIFE-MEANING THAT IS DEEP WITHIN US. THAT IS WHAT THE SYMBOL “HOLY SPIRIT” STANDS FOR. FINALLY, WE EXPERIENCE GOD COMING TO US FROM OTHER LIVES AND MOST ESPECIALLY THROUGH THE LIFE OF THE ONE WE CALL CHRIST. THAT IS WHAT THE SYMBOL “SON” STANDS FOR. SO, HOLY TRINITY IS AN ATTEMPT TO GIVE RATIONAL FORM TO OUR GOD EXPERIENCES. IT IS NOT A CREED TO BE BELIEVED SO MUCH AS IT IS AN EXPERIENCE TO BE EXPLORED. I CHALLENGE YOU TODAY TO THINK ABOUT BEGINNING THAT EXPLORATION.
THE BIGGEST PROBLEM WITH MAKING SENSE OUT OF A DOCTRINE LIKE THAT OF THE HOLY TRINITY IS THAT IT WAS FRAMED AGAINST A FOURTH CENTURY, GREEK-THINKING, DUALISTIC BACKGROUND. THAT IS NOT THE FRAME OF REFERENCE IN WHICH ANYONE THINKS TODAY. I CERTAINLY DO NOT THINK OF THE DIVINE AND THE HUMAN AS DISTINCT AND MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE CATEGORIES. I SEE THEM, RATHER, HOLISTICALLY AS IF ON A SCALE OR SPECTRUM. THE WAY INTO DIVINITY, I BELIEVE, IS TO ENTER THE POTENTIAL FULLNESS OF THE HUMAN. I DO NOT ENVISION GOD AS EXTERNAL TO MY WORLD. THE REALITY OF GOD FOR ME IS ALWAYS FOUND NOT OUTSIDE OF LIFE BUT WITHIN THE DEPTHS OF LIFE ITSELF. THE DIVINE IS THE FULLNESS – THE COMPLETENESS – OF THE HUMAN. WE CAN SPEAK OF THE HOLY ONLY FROM WITHIN THE EXPERIENCES OF THE HUMAN. SOMEDAY THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH WILL BE FORCED TO RETHINK ALL OF ITS THEOLOGICAL CONSTRUCTS IN TERMS OF OUR CONTEMPORARY WORLD VIEW. THE THEOLOGICAL CONSTUCTS OF ANTIQUITY – LIKE THE DOCTRINE OF THE HOLY TRINITY – WILL ALWAYS BE HONOURED AND RESPECTED – BUT THEIR WORDS WILL INEVITABLY IN TIME BECOME IRRELEVANT TO THE WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE – FOR THOSE WORDS WERE FORMED IN AN AGE THAT NO LONGER EXISTS. THE HOLY TRINITY IS A HUMAN ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN THE ETERNAL TRUTH OF GOD. THAT TASK WILL NEVER SUCCEED. TIME HAS A WAY OF MAKING ALL OF THE EXPLANATIONS OF ANTIQUITY SEEM UNCOUTH – QUAINT BUT NAÏVE. ANY CHURCH THAT LITERALIZES ITS EXPLANATIONS WILL BE A CHURCH THAT DIES WHEN THOSE EXPLANATIONS DIE.
THE IMPORTANT THING HERE IS TO GET SOME UNDERSTANDING OF THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD. NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO OF COURSE AND IF YOU DON’T – YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE MISSING. WE ALL ASPIRE TO BE THE BEST WE CAN BE – TO LIVE OUR LIVES TO THEIR FULL POTENTIAL. THAT EXPERIENCE IS WHAT IS BEING OFFERED BY THIS SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE WE SIMPLY CALL GOD. SO SET ASIDE THE TEMPTATION TO DEFINE WHAT IS UNDEFINABLE AND LOOK FOR THE EXPERIENCE. YOU WILL FIND THAT REWARDING IN TERMS OF A NEW OUTLOOK ON LIFE – DEFINED BY THE WARMTH OF LOVE – FORGIVENESS AND PEACE. AMEN.
SERMON 15TH MAY 2016 PENTECOST
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
TODAY THE CHURCH CELEBRATES WHAT IS KNOWN AS “PENTECOST” – IN THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION THE TIME WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT BECAME MANIFEST TO THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS AND WHEN THE SUBSEQUENT PREACHING OF PETER CONVERTED MANY PEOPLE TO THE NEW JEWISH SECT CALLED “THE WAY” OF JESUS OF NAZARETH.
THE WORD LITERALLY MEANS “FIFTIETH”. IT IS A JEWISH FESTIVAL AND IS KNOWN AS “THE FEAST OF HARVEST” OR “THE DAY OF FIRSTFRUITS”. WITHIN JUDAISM IT CELEBRATES THE COMPLETION OF THE GRAIN HARVEST AND OCCURS AFTER SEVEN WEEKS FROM THE SECOND DAY OF THE PASSOVER FESTIVAL – THAT’S 49 DAYS – SO ON THE 50TH DAY THE FESTIVAL IS CELEBRATED – HENCE “PENTECOST”.
WE NEED TO GO BACK TO THE BOOK OF EXODUS TO GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THE MEANING HOWEVER. ACCORDING TO ONE ANCIENT TRADITION IT WAS ON THE 50TH DAY AFTER LEAVING EGYPT THAT GOD APPEARED TO MOSES ON MOUNT SINIA TO HAND DOWN THE TEN COMMANDMENTS THUS ESTABLISHING THE LAW – AND THUS ESTABLISHING THE JEWISH PEOPLE AS A SINGULAR NATION. SO AS THE APPEARANCE OF GOD ON SINAI WAS THE BIRTHDAY OF THE JEWISH NATION SO WAS THE DAY OF PENTACOST LATER CONSIDERED THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. THERE IS SOME DEBATE ABOUT THE ANCIENT AUTHENTICITY OF THIS AS SOME SCHOLARS THINK THE IDEA ENTERED THE JEWISH TRADITION IN LATER TIMES – BUT I STILL THINK IT IS AN INTERESTING IDEA AND POSSIBLY EXPLAINS ITS PLACE IN LUKE’S STORY OF THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
IN JOHN’S GOSPEL STORY JESUS PROMISES TO BE PRESENT WITH THE DISCIPLES IN A DIFFERENT WAY: “I WILL ASK THE FATHER, AND HE WILL GIVE YOU ANOTHER ADVOCATE, TO BE WITH YOU FOREVER.” BUT JOHN’S MEANING IS THAT FOREVER WASN’T TO BE POSTPONED TO A TIME AFTER DEATH; FOREVER INCLUDED LIFE ON THIS EARTH. THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH, THE ADVOCATE WILL COME HERE IN THIS LIFE. JESUS’ PRESENCE WILL BE DEEPER THAN MEMORY AND CLOSER THAN HEAVEN. JESUS WILL FOREVER BE A VITAL LIVING PART OF THIS PHYSICAL BODY-LIFE, THIS EARTHINESS WHICH SOME PEOPLE WOULD TELL US TO DISCOUNT – EVEN DISDAIN. FAR FROM DISCOUNTING OR HOLDING OUR PHYSICAL EXISTENCE IN DISTAIN WE ARE MEANT TO TREASURE IT – HONOUR IT – AND LIVE THIS LIFE AS WE WERE INTENDED TO LIVE IT – TO THE FULL. WE ARE WORTHY! THAT’S THE UNDERLYING MESSAGE HERE.
THOUGH THIS PROMISE IS PERSONAL, IT IS PRIMARILY COMMUNAL. THESE WORDS ARE JESUS’ LAST WORDS TO THE COMMUNITY OF DISCIPLES THAT WOULD LATER BECOME THE CHURCH – AND WAS INDEED THE CHURCH IN JOHN’S TIME. IN HIS BOOK COSTLY DISCIPLESHIP, DIETRICH BONHOEFFER WROTE ABOUT CHRIST’S BODY, THE CHURCH: “THE BODY OF CHRIST TAKES UP SPACE ON THE EARTH,” HE SAID – JUST AS BUILDINGS TAKE UP SPACE, ALSO CARS, DIRT, FLOWERS, ROCKS AND PEOPLE. THEN BONHOEFFER WENT ON, “A TRUTH, A DOCTRINE, OR A RELIGION NEED NO SPACE FOR THEMSELVES. THEY ARE DISEMBODIED ENTITIES … THAT IS ALL. BUT THE INCARNATE CHRIST NEEDS NOT ONLY EARS OR HEARTS, BUT LIVING PEOPLE WHO WILL FOLLOW HIM.” THE BODY OF CHRIST TAKES UP SPACE ON THE EARTH – IT IS PHYSICAL.
AS I HAVE SAID PENTECOST IS OFTEN CALLED “THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHURCH.” BUT THOSE OF US WHO ARE PART OF THE CHURCH KNOW WE ARE NOT WHAT JESUS CALLED US TO BE. WE SPEND TOO MUCH AND SHARE TOO LITTLE; WE JUDGE TOO MANY AND LOVE TOO FEW; WE WAIT TOO LONG AND ACT TOO LATE. WE’VE HEARD PEOPLE SAY, “SHOW ME A CHURCH WHERE PEOPLE AREN’T SELF-SERVING, WHERE THERE IS NO HYPOCRISY – WHERE LOVE IS GENUINE – AND I’LL BECOME A MEMBER.” THEY’LL WAIT A LONG TIME, FOR I DON’T BELIEVE SUCH A CHURCH EXISTS. BECAUSE THE CHURCH IS NOT SOME AIRY – FAIRY SPIRITUAL ENTITY BUT IS COMPRISED OF HUMANS WITH ALL OUR FAULTS AND FOIBLES IT WILL ALWAYS CONTINUE TO BE IMPERFECT DESPITE OUR BEST INTENTIONS.
THIS IS PENTECOST IN JOHN’S GOSPEL. THE BODY OF CHRIST MUST CLAIM SPACE ON THE EARTH AND IT IS NOT ALONE. BUT WE WHO DANCE AND CLIMB, WHO RUN AND GET KNOCKED DOWN – WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAT ARE NOT ALONE.
THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH, THE ADVOCATE COMES – SOMETIMES SURPRISING US. REMEMBER JESUS’ WORDS AS WRITTEN BY JOHN – “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “WHAT A PROMISE – THE SPIRIT WILL BE WITH US FOREVER – AS LONG AS WE LIVE – NOT JUST FOR A TIME NOW AND THEN AND NOT AT SOME TIME IN THE FUTURE – BUT NOW.
SO JUST WHERE DO WE FIND THIS SPIRIT? – WITHIN US – WITHIN OUR INNERMOST BEING AND MIND – THAT WAS JOHN’S EXPERIENCE AND IT CAN BE OURS. IT IS THE SAME SPIRIT OF GOD THAT PERMEATES THE UNIVERSE AND MANIFESTS ITSELF TO WE HUMANS IN THE FORM OF LOVE AND DEEP PEACE. A SPECTACULAR IMAGE OF FIRE AND WIND MIGHT BE DRAMATIC AND EXCITING BUT IF WE ONLY LOOK OUT FOR THE DRAMATIC AND EXCITING WE MIGHT WELL MISS THE SPIRIT’S PRESENCE.
A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS THE MOST INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WE CAN KNOW. ALSO CALLED THE “PARACLETE’ – FROM THE GREEK “PARACLETOS” – ONE WHO IS CALLED TO BE BESIDE – THE SPIRIT OF GOD – THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST – IS ALWAYS RIGHT ALONGSIDE US – WHEN WE ARE JOYOUS AND WHEN WE ARE SUFFERING – BUT ESPECIALLY WHEN WE ARE SUFFERING. WE ONLY NEED TO STOP – PAUSE IN OUR HEADLONG RUSH – BE STILL AND SO FEEL THE SPIRIT’S PRESENCE RIGHT THERE ALONGSIDE US – ACTUALLY WITHIN US – A VERY PART OF US. NO TONGUES OF FIRE – NO RUSHING WIND – JUST THE QUIET REASSURANCE OF A CALMING PRESENCE DEEP WITHIN US – THE WARMTH OF LOVE. AMEN.
1ST MAY 2016 – EASTER 6 John 14:23-29
23 Jesus answered him [JUDAS – NOT ISCARIOT], “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
AS THIS IS STILL THE EASTER SEASON WE NEED TO CONTINUE TO DISCUSS RESURRECTION AS PORTRAYED IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN. PREVIOUSLY I HAVE SUGGESTED THAT RESURRECTION IS SAFETY – AND RESURRECTION IS LOVE. TODAY LET’S THINK OF RESURRECTION AS – COMPANIONSHIP. WHY COMPANIONSHIP? THE GOSPEL READING FROM JOHN IS ONE OF THE MAJOR PASSAGES WHERE THE PARACLETE IS INTRODUCED — THE ONE WHO IS CALLED TO BE BY YOUR SIDE. THE DISCIPLES WILL NOT BE LEFT ALONE OR BE LEFT ORPHANED. THE ONE – THAT’S JESUS – WHO WALKS ALONGSIDE THEM NOW WILL STILL BE KNOWN IN THE PARACLETE WHICH WILL BE BREATHED INTO THEM BY THE RESURRECTED CHRIST (JOHN 20:22). THE PRIMARY REASON FOR THE GIFT OF THE SPIRIT IS SO THAT THE DISCIPLES MIGHT EXPERIENCE THE CONTINUING PRESENCE OF JESUS – AND ONE EXTRAORDINARY GIFT OF THE INCARNATION IS KNOWING A KIND OF COMPANIONSHIP FOR WHICH WE ALL LONG AND DESPERATELY NEED.
THE READINGS FROM REVELATION AND FROM ACTS MIGHT ALSO POINT TO THE THEME OF COMPANIONSHIP: “AND THERE WILL BE NO MORE NIGHT; THEY NEED NO LIGHT OF LAMP OR SUN, FOR THE LORD GOD WILL BE THEIR LIGHT, AND THEY WILL REIGN FOREVER AND EVER” (REVELATION 22:5).” AND, “COME AND STAY AT MY HOME,” SAYS LYDIA (ACTS 16:15). I THINK THAT A CHARACTERISTIC OF LIVING A RESURRECTION LIFE IS THE NEED FOR AND THE INVITATION TO COMPANIONSHIP. ONE TRUTH OF THE RESURRECTION IS THAT COMPANIONSHIP IS SECURED.
THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS PROMISES LIFELONG COMPANIONSHIP WITH JESUS AND WITH GOD. RESURRECTION IS THAT WHICH SECURES COMPANIONSHIP WHEN ONLY ISOLATION AND SEPARATION SEEMED THE LIKELY RESULT. WHAT DIFFERENCE MIGHT THIS MAKE FOR WHAT DIFFERENCE THE RESURRECTION MAKES? I WONDER TO WHAT EXTENT OUR FEAR OF DEATH IS NOT A FEAR OF TOMBS OR GRAVES OR URNS BUT THAT THERE JUST MIGHT BE SOME CONSCIOUSNESS OF BEING ALONE. NOTICE THAT SO MUCH OF OUR RESURRECTION IMAGINATION IS REUNION – THAT WE WILL BE WITH OUR LOVED ONES AGAIN. WE ARE NOT MEANT TO LIVE COMPANIONLESS -YET SO MANY OF US DO.
IN JOHN IT IS THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT, THE ADVOCATE OR PARACLETE (THE GREEK WORD PARACLÊTOS SIGNIFIES “CALLED ALONG BESIDE”), THAT JESUS WILL CONTINUE TO BE PRESENT WITH HIS DISCIPLES – THAT THE FATHER WILL SEND THE HOLY SPIRIT TO BE ALONGSIDE HIS DISCIPLES – TO TEACH THEM AND REMIND THEM OF ALL THAT JESUS HAS SAID TO THEM (VERSE 26). IF WE FOLLOW FOR A MOMENT THE LATER THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY IT IS OBVIOUS THAT THIS PARACLETE – THIS ONE CALLED TO BE ALONGSIDE OF US – THIS HOLY SPIRIT – IS IN FACT THE VERY SPIRIT OF CHRIST. THAT BEING THE CASE – THE PROMISE IN THE WORDS “I AM GOING AWAY AND I AM COMING TO YOU” – HAS ALREADY HAPPENED – JESUS HAS COME AGAIN – IN SPIRIT – AS PAUL FOUND OUT ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS AND THE DISCIPLES FOUND OUT IN LUKE’S STORY OF PENTACOST.
COMPANIONSHIP – I’VE SAID IT BEFORE BUT I CAN SAY IT AGAIN – THE VERY WORD ‘COMPANION’ IS MADE UP OF TWO – “COM” TOGETHER – AND “PANE” BREAD. THAT IS ONE WITH WHOM YOU BREAK BREAD – SIT DOWN AND EAT TOGETHER. SHARING THE MOST BASIC HUMAN ACTIVITY – EATING. FOLLOWING ON FROM THAT – ACCORDING TO THE DICTIONARY – COMPANIONSHIP IS “THE GOOD FEELING THAT COMES FROM BEING WITH SOMEONE ELSE.”- OR – COMPANIONSHIP IS WHEN YOU FEEL A SENSE OF CLOSENESS BEING WITH ANOTHER PERSON. THIS CRITERION IS WORTH SOME REFLECTION. I’D LIKE TO THINK THAT THE GOOD FEELING JOHN’S JESUS HAS IN MIND HAS TO DO WITH THE REASON FOR THE INCARNATION IN THE FIRST PLACE. I SENSE THAT MANY OF US THINK WE HAVE COMPANIONS. BUT HAVING SOMEONE TO DO THINGS WITH IS NOT THE SAME AS EXPERIENCING A GOOD FEELING FROM BEING WITH THAT SPECIAL SOMEONE.
I DIDN’T KNOW TOO MUCH ABOUT THE LATE MUSICIAN PRINCE BUT HE WROTE A SONG THAT INCLUDED THESE WORDS – “DEARLY BELOVED, WE ARE GATHERED HERE TODAY TO GET THROUGH THIS THING CALLED LIFE.” AND THAT’S ONE REASON FOR COMPANIONSHIP. ESPECIALLY FOR HUMANS GETTING THROUGH LIFE IS NO SMALL TASK. AND TRUE COMPANIONSHIP IS A KIND OF ACCOMPANIMENT THAT HELPS US LIVE WITH A RESURRECTION PERSPECTIVE. EVEN WAY BACK IN THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE GENESIS CREATION MYTH IT SAYS “THEN THE LORD GOD SAID, “IT IS NOT GOOD THAT THE MAN SHOULD BE ALONE; I WILL MAKE HIM A HELPER FIT FOR HIM.” MOST OF US HAVE A DEEPSEATED NEED TO BE IN COMPANY – THAT WORD AGAIN – IN COMPANIONSHIP.
ANTONYMS FOR COMPANIONSHIP INCLUDE DISCORD, DIVORCE, HOSTILITY, SEPARATION, ANTAGONISM, STRANGENESS. I SUSPECT THAT MANY OF US KNOW THESE FEELINGS BETTER THAN WE KNOW THE TRUE FRIENDSHIP AND ACCOMPANIMENT OF COMPANIONSHIP. ARE WE AS A COMPANY OF CHRISTIANS REPRESENTATIVES FOR AND EMBODIMENTS OF THIS KIND OF COMPANIONSHIP? BECAUSE JESUS SEEMS TO SUGGEST THAT PART OF WHAT THE RESURRECTION MEANS IS THE KIND OF COMPANIONSHIP THAT IS REAL. THAT WILL NOT GO AWAY.
THERE IS AN OLD AFRICAN PROVERB THAT READS – “IF YOU WANT TO GO QUICKLY, GO ALONE. IF YOU WANT TO GO FAR, GO TOGETHER”. THE NEED FOR COMPANIONSHIP IS AS BASIC, PERHAPS, AS THE NEED FOR THAT WHICH KEEPS US ALIVE. THAT IS, IN PART, JOHN’S POINT. THE RESURRECTION PROMISES FUTURE COMPANIONSHIP FOR US — WITH GOD, WITH JESUS, WITH EACH OTHER. BUT IF IT IS TRUE WHAT PAUL WROTE IN 2 CORINTHIANS 5 – THAT GOD WAS IN CHRIST RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF – THE COMPANIONSHIP THAT IS PROMISED IN RESURRECTION HAS TO BE KNOWN HERE AND NOW.
DELAYED COMPANIONSHIP DOES LITTLE TO MAKE ITSELF KNOWN – YET I WONDER HOW MANY OF US ARE SATISFIED WITH COMPANIONSHIP THAT WE THINK MIGHT COME IN OUR FUTURE – THAT ‘PIE IN THE SKY’ THAT IS SO OFTEN HELD OUT TO PEOPLE IN DIRE NEED BY EVANGELICAL PREACHERS WHILST KNOWING FULL WELL IT IS NOT AN EXPERIENCE IN OUR PRESENT. TRUE COMPANIONSHIP IS HARD TO FIND. WHERE WE HOPE FOR IT, IT FAILS US. WHERE WE TRUSTED IN IT, IT DESERTS US. WHERE WE COUNT ON IT, IT LEAVES US. BUT THE TRUTH OF THE RESURRECTION? THE COMPANIONSHIP OF GOD AS FOUND IN THE SPIRIT AND DISCOVERED THROUGH US AS CHRIST’S COMPANIONS IS FOR LIFE – THIS LIFE. WHAT IS THE RESULT OF BEING A PART OF THIS COMPANIONSHIP? PEACE – BUT NOT JUST ANY PEACE. WE ARE PROMISED THE PEACE OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD – VERSE 27 – “PEACE I LEAVE WITH YOU; MY PEACE I GIVE TO YOU. I DO NOT GIVE TO YOU AS THE WORLD GIVES. DO NOT LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED, AND DO NOT LET THEM BE AFRAID.” SURELY WE COULD NOT RECEIVE A MORE PERTINENT MESSAGE FOR THE TIMES IN WHICH WE LIVE. AMEN.
SERMON EASTER 4 – April 17th 2016
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”
THE TIME OF CELEBRATION OF THE JEWISH FESTIVAL OF THE DEDICATION – ALSO CALLED THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS OR HANUKKAH VARIES SLIGHTLY FROM YEAR TO YEAR MUCH LIKE THE CHRISTIAN EASTER BUT WILL BE HELD THIS YEAR FROM SUNSET ON OUR CHRISTMAS EVE UNTIL SUNSET ON NEW YEARS DAY 2017. THESE EIGHT DAYS OF HANUKKAH ARE A CELEBRATION TO REMEMBER THE REDEDICATION OF THE TEMPLE FOLLOWING THE DEFEAT BY THE MACCABEES OF THE TYRANT ANTIOCHUS 4 EPIPHANES IN ABOUT 160 B.C.E. THE RESULTANT JUDEAN SOVEREIGNTY LASTED UNTIL THE ROMANS INVADED IN 63 B.C.E. SO JOHN PLACES THIS STORY IN THE CORRECT TIME – IT IS WINTER.
TWO ASPECTS OF THIS MORNING’S READING STAND OUT FOR ME. FIRST “THE JEWS GATHERED AROUND HIM…” AND “…THEY [MY FOLLOWERS] WILL NEVER PERISH. NO ONE WILL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND”.
FIRST – IT IS NOT DIFFICULT TO GET A MENTAL PICTURE OF JESUS BEING SURROUNDED BY A GROUP OF MEN – ALL QUITE EXCITED BUT HOLDING DIFFERING OPINIONS ABOUT WHAT HE HAS BEEN SAYING – ALL SPEAKING AT ONCE – PRESSING IN AGAINST HIM PERHAPS. “HOW LONG WILL YOU KEEP US IN SUSPENSE?” THEY CRY. EACH ONE IS TRYING TO GAIN HIS ATTENTION – EACH ONE WITH HIS OWN OPINION AND EACH ONE HOLDING A DIFFERING IDEA OF HIS MESSAGE – WHAT’S NEW?
THERE ARE ALSO MANY VOICES CLAMOURING FOR OUR ATTENTION TODAY – EACH ONE WITH A DIFFERING POINT OF VIEW – BUT EACH ONE CONVINCED THAT THEIR IDEAS ARE THE RIGHT ONES AND THE ONLY WAY TO UNDERSTAND THE MESSAGE THAT JESUS HAS BEEN OFFERING. THIS LAST WEEK I HAD A MEETING WITH A YOUNG MAN FROM THE AUSTRALIAN FEDERATION OF EVANGELICAL STUDENTS AT THE UNI SA CAMPUS ON ST BERNARD’S ROAD MAGILL. WHEN WE WERE WAITING FOR THE LIGHTS TO CROSS THE ROAD I NOTICED FOUR PEOPLE – TWO STANDING AT THE LIGHTS ON EACH SIDE OF THE ROAD AND WITH STANDS CONTAINING VARIOUS PIECES OF LITERATURE. THEY WERE JEHOVAH WITNESSES WAITING TO SPEAK TO ANYONE CROSSING THE ROAD AT THE UNIVERSITY. THEY WERE OBVIOUSLY CONVINCED OF THEIR FAITH AND WERE DESPERATE TO SHARE IT WITH ANYONE WHO WOULD LISTEN. AS I WAS DRESSED IN CLERICAL COLLAR WE WERE NOT APPROACHED BUT OTHERS WERE BEING ASKED TO STOP AND ACCEPT THEIR LITERATURE AND ENTER INTO A DISCUSSION IF POSSIBLE. I THOUGHT, HOW MANY PEOPLE CLAIM TO SPEAK FOR GOD? THERE ARE MANY VOICES THAT WANT TO TELL US HOW TO GROW CLOSER TO GOD AND WHO SEEK TO CONVINCE US: BY HAVING A PRESCRIBED RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE – BY BELIEVING THE CORRECT [FOR THEM]DOCTRINE – BY REACHING A HIGHER LEVEL OF KNOWLEDGE OR A HIGHER LEVEL OF MORALITY. OF COURSE ON THE OTHER HAND WE HAVE THE EXAMPLE OF RADICAL ISLAM, RADICAL ZIONIST JUDAISM AND RADICAL CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANITY WHO ARE ALL HAPPY TO RESORT TO VIOLENCE WHEN THEY FEAR THEIR MESSAGE IS BEING IGNORED OR WORSE REJECTED.
BY CONTRAST, THE GOOD SHEPHERD TELLS US THAT EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON BELONGING TO HIM. UNDERSTAND THAT NEVER DOES OUR STATUS BEFORE GOD DEPEND ON HOW WE FEEL – ON HAVING THE RIGHT EXPERIENCE – NEVER IS IT ABOUT BEING FREE OF DOUBT – OR ON WHAT WE ACCOMPLISH. IT DEPENDS ON ONE THING ONLY: THAT WE ARE KNOWN BY THE SHEPHERD -[VERSE 28] “MY SHEEP HEAR MY VOICE. I KNOW THEM, AND THEY FOLLOW ME.”
THE VOICE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD IS A VOICE THAT LIBERATES RATHER THAN OPPRESSES. IT DOES NOT SAY, “YOU MUST DO THIS, AND THEN MAYBE YOU WILL BE GOOD ENOUGH TO BE ONE OF MY SHEEP.” IT SAYS, “YOU BELONG TO ME ALREADY – NO ONE CAN SNATCH YOU OUT OF MY HAND.” SECURE IN THIS BELONGING, WE ARE FREE TO LIVE THE ABUNDANT AND FULLY SATISFYING LIFE OF WHICH JESUS SPOKE EARLIER IN THE CHAPTER – IN VERSE 10: “I CAME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY”.
THE ABUNDANT LIFE OF WHICH JESUS SPEAKS IS NOT NECESSARILY ABOUT ABUNDANCE IN YEARS – OR WEALTH – OR STATUS – OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS. IT IS LIFE THAT IS ABUNDANT IN THE LOVE OF GOD AS MADE KNOWN IN JESUS – THE LOVE THAT OVERFLOWS TO OTHERS. IT IS ETERNAL LIFE BECAUSE ITS SOURCE IS IN GOD WHO IS ETERNAL – AND IN JESUS, WHO IS THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE – AND IT IS HERE AND NOW – NOT SOME PIE IN THE SKY PROMISE FOR AN UNKNOWN BUT HOPEFUL FUTURE. AMIDST ALL THE OTHER VOICES THAT EVOKE FEAR, MAKE DEMANDS, OR GIVE ADVICE, THE VOICE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD IS THAT STILL SMALL VOICE OF PROMISE — THE VOICE THAT CALLS US BY NAME AND CLAIMS US AS GOD’S OWN.
MY SECOND POINT – “MY FOLLOWERS WILL NEVER PERISH – NO ONE WILL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND”. THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS THAT WE ALL NEED TO KNOW. JESUS AS GOOD SHEPHERD PROMISES PROTECTION – THAT WE DO NOT TRAVEL THE VALLEYS OF DEATH AND DEPRESSION AND DESPAIR ALONE – THAT THE SHEPHERD REALLY DOES PROTECT HIS SHEEP. NO ONE WILL SNATCH YOU AWAY – NO ONE – NO THING – AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST YOU CAN FEEL SAFE.
SAFETY IS ESSENTIAL – ON SO MANY LEVELS. PROFESSIONAL, PERSONAL, SPIRITUAL. I ASK YOU – WITH WHOM DO YOU FEEL TRULY SAFE? LITERALLY SAFE – SAFE WITH WHO YOU ARE – WHO YOU WANT TO BE – SAFE WITH YOUR CONCERNS AND YOUR GRIEF AND YOUR SORROW – SAFE WITH YOUR CELEBRATIONS AND JOYS AND DREAMS – SAFE WITH YOU ASPIRATIONS AND HOPES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS – SAFE WITH YOUR FEARS AND YOUR BODY AND YOUR MIND – SAFE WITH YOUR THOUGHTS AND YOUR CONCERNS AND YOUR NEEDS.
IN THE PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF THE RESURRECTED CHRIST IS FOUND SAFETY – SAFETY FROM GRIEF THAT COULD OVERWHELM HOPE – SAFETY FROM ANGUISH THAT COULD CRUSH YOUR SPIRIT AND LONELINESS THAT CAN ISOLATE YOUR SOUL.
RESURRECTION IS SAFETY BECAUSE THE SPIRIT OF LOVE SEES TO IT THAT OUR DEEPEST NEEDS ARE FULFILLED. THERE IS NO SAFETY WHEN YOUR BASIC SENSE OF WHAT YOU EXPECT FROM LIFE – INCLUDING BEING SAFE – IS NOT MET. JOHN’S MESSAGE IS THAT RESURRECTION IS SAFETY BECAUSE THE SHEPHERD IS TOTALLY COMMITTED TO THE WELL-BEING OF THE SHEEP. WHO IS COMMITTED TO THE WELL-BEING OF YOU? RESURRECTION IS SAFETY BECAUSE THE SHEPHERD KNOWS HIS SHEEP INTIMATELY.
THE EMPTY TOMB IS A PROMISE OF PROTECTION – NOT FROM THE TRUTHS AND REALITIES OF LIFE – BUT FOR THE SAKE OF THE TRUTH INHERENT WITHIN YOUR LIFE. I ASK – WHAT IS THAT TRUTH?
THAT TRUTH WHICH WE FIND IN THE DEEPEST RECESSES OF OUR BEING IS THAT YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE – ACCEPT THAT. ALSO THAT GOD LOVES WHO YOU ARE AND NEEDS YOU TO BE WHO YOU ARE – IN EVERY MOMENT OF CONFIDENCE AND IN EVERY MOMENT OF SELF-DOUBT. THAT YOU ARE INDEED – A SHEEP IN JESUS’ FOLD AND THAT NOTHING – NO ONE – NO THING – NO CHURCH – NO INSTITUTION – NO HUMAN IDEOLOGY – CAN CHANGE THAT – EVER. POWERFUL WORDS OF COMFORT AREN’T THEY? AMEN.