The readings on which this sermon is
be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r012.htm
s012g11 Lent 1 Amberley 13/3/2011
‘you will not dash your foot against a stone’ Matthew 4.6
In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.
(Fr Jim Cotter http://www.cottercairns.co.uk/)
In my time at theological college, last century, across the ditch *,
those of us who lived in during the week were required to attend
Compline each night at about 10pm. This short service gave
God for the day and asked protection during the night. It
beginning of silence which was broken only after matins the following
One of the psalms set for this lovely devotion was psalm 91, which
includes the promise: ‘For the angels of God have been charged: to keep
you in all your ways. They shall bear you up in their hands: lest
should strike your foot against a stone.’ (v12) So
the devil was
quoting scripture to Jesus. Therefore we can assume that
those who can and do quote scripture to us are necessarily of God.
But these words are indeed lovely and comforting .. however .. an
earlier verse reads: ‘A thousand may fall beside you, ten thousand at
your right hand: but you will remain unscathed.’
(v7) Do we not
care about the thousand and the ten thousand? Are we so
wrapped up in
our own salvation and our own safety that, as far as we are concerned,
everyone else can really go to hell?
I have sometimes reflected how many people in Africa and South America
continue to suffer poverty, sickness and early death because of a
religious objection to the use of condoms? In 2006 I heard
Lectures presented by Stephen Lewis appointed Special Envoy for
HIV/AIDS in Africa by the then Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi
Annan. Mr Lewis said that he spent the past four years
people die. He says: "Nothing in his adult life could
prepare him for
the carnage of HIV/AIDS."
can only hope and
pray that the Holy See (as well as some Anglicans) might listen to
Stephen Lewis's words as they consider the use of condoms.
Are we so
concerned for our own salvation that the very human plight of these
MILLIONS is immaterial to us?
Quite some years ago I met a lapsed church person and her
Her husband was hospitalised for some months so I did have the
opportunity to get to know them rather better than most. The lady
that she had left off going to church when the minister couldn’t answer
the question why the Egyptians had to die in the Red Sea.
they done that was so wrong?
And my mother, God rest her soul, once taught Religious Instruction at
the local primary school. One day one of her students (a
bit of a
rabble-rouser) asked why so many people and animals died in the flood
and only Noah and his family survived? She promised to ask
who explained that when you have part of an apple that is rotten you
have to cut into what is good to make sure that you cut out all that is
rotten. I remember that the questioner actually was
impressed that my
mother did take him seriously and did keep her promise to get an
Interestingly these betray a concern for the OTHER which is often sadly
lacking when I hear some ‘christians’ talk about the certainty of their
own personal salvation.
It is lovely to hear that some relief workers from overseas have
commented that they will gain weight coming to help Christchurch begin
to recover from the earthquake - they are being fed so
well. I don’t
imagine this would be the case for relief workers in Haiti.
But it is
stupid and unfeeling to say to someone who has lost house and
possessions: ‘One does not live by bread alone’.
Similarly it is stupid and unfeeling to say to someone who is shattered
by the earthquake that they will be safe if they become a
‘christian’. What balderdash!
And worship. It is stupid in the extreme to suggest that
personally reward those who worship God in a particular way - it is the
devil that promises rewards - not God!
At the exact time, one week on from the earthquake there were 154
confirmed victims for the earthquake. Two minutes silence was
across the country for them. Observed, not just by
by Atheists, Agnostics, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Moslems,
Calathumpians, people of every faith and none. Everyone
the lost - and what a different sentiment this is to the words of
scripture: ‘A thousand may fall beside you, ten thousand at your right
hand: but you will remain unscathed.’ The local Press
has a web page
with a photo and brief words about some of the victims here:
seems to me that this care is far more ‘christian’ than pious
sentiments, however scriptural.
I have been reflecting that the ancient people of God were concerned
about the survival of their national identity, and ‘christians’ have
personalised this and we are concerned with the survival of our
personal identity - which we assume ‘eternal life’ implies. But
is a good deal of self interest in being concerned with the survival of
the national identity and so praying for God’s blessing on a monarch
might seem altruistic. I am suggesting that instead
of narrowing it
down to the individual - our concern should properly be made broader
and that the real message of the gospel is the survival of all.
is eternal life, life with others, life with all others.
And it is interesting. Of course other things have been happening
this world other than the earthquake in Christchurch. There
regime change in Egypt which has inspired similar movements
elsewhere. Our global world means that such things are more
and that freedom and human dignity is possible for all. I
is far more ‘christian’ to concern ourselves with this rather than
fussing about our own sinfulness - it is far more UNSELFISH to concern
ourselves with the conditions others endure rather than eternal navel
gazing. And indeed people other than ‘christians’ do
themselves with the conditions in life in Egypt, Libya and other
places, in the well being of emergency workers in the aftermath of the
earthquake, on those dying in Africa, on the Egyptians pursuing the
Israelites through the Red Sea, on those not of Noah’s family swept
away by the flood.
In the midst of our own personal concerns, soldiers and civilians are
being blown up by suicide bombers, inspired no doubt by people who
haven’t really heard the words of St Paul: ‘if I hand over my body so
that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing’ (1 Cor 13.3) -
surely sentiments that those sane people of all religions and none
would consider true.
I want finally to return to a couple of things. Those who
scripture are not thereby necessarily inspired by God. I
scripture for my own benefit, just as the devil quoted scripture to try
to get his own way. I could use scripture to manipulate
doing things that enhance my own ego. St Paul had cause to
those in Galatia: ‘I wish those who unsettle you would castrate
themselves!’ (Gal 5.12)
And the other thing is that it is the devil who offers personal rewards
at the expense of others. So if the church’s proclamation
life is a personal reward denied to others, then this is not of
This is not to say I deny eternal life, but it is something that
everyone is already included. Jesus modelled eternal life
life being incarnated into real life, including not just the religious,
but the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners.
* For those who are not Australians or New Zealanders the term ‘West
Island’ is what New Zealanders call Australia and ‘across the ditch’ is
the other side of the Tasman Strait, the body of water that separates
the two countries.
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