The readings on which these sermons are based can be found at:
s031a05 Seventh Sunday of Easter Internet only 8/5/2005
"You will be my witnesses .. to the ends of the earth" Acts 1.8
A while back I was assisting one of our Sudanese priests in the exegesis of Micah 4.6-10, which is not a passage that we often read in Church. It ends with the words: "You shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued, there the LORD will redeem you from the hand of your enemies". These are extremely interesting words from my point of view, for often we are perceived as Christians as being saved as we withdraw from the world and secular society. Our sacred time is when we come to Church, this is when we are saved. For the Jew, they would consider their time in the Temple similarly.
Yet here is an Old Testament prophet saying to the people of God, that they would find their salvation when they were farthest from the Temple, farthest from the promised land, in exile among pagans.
So if the parallelism is true, then our salvation comes not here, but out there in the real world where we live and work and play. Our healing and the healing of the whole world comes, not as we separate ourselves off from others, but as we come in contact with others, as we immerse ourselves in life as it really is.
So the mission of the Church to take the gospel to all creation, is not something we take to give to others, this special and sacred gift available nowhere else. We will witness to the risen Christ, not living in us, that others might have; but witness to the risen Christ already in them, where Jesus has gone before.
So this is mutually beneficial, as others are encouraged but our perception of Christ in themselves and we too are encouraged as we see Christ in them also.
The mission of the Church is where we go out and be enriched by the contributions of others as surely as others are enriched by the contribution we can make to them. Our salvation is not a personal possession, but something that derives from the mutually beneficial relationships we have with those around us.
It is in these mutually beneficial encounters that we witness most clearly to the Lord, for Jesus was killed for doing precisely this; mixing with others, without superiority, without pretensions.
So our salvation is not from others, but living in peace with others. We will take nothing unusual to the world if the gospel message is 'separate yourself, keep to yourself, defend to the death what is your own'. This is thinking identical to that of the mafia. We will take the peace of Christ into this world if we have a message that God is to be found in them as well as in us, and there begins to be a possibility that peace may reign. We can be certain that if we don't, there is no likelihood of peace anywhere.
As I have been reading scripture, I am often struck that people are not told what to say or do, when they are sent off. Jonah is sent off to Nineveh and yet the message that he is supposed to deliver is not really spelt out. He comes up with a warning of doom, but really the message is that it is he, the prophet, who embodies the message of God's care for these heathen as well as their animals. Jonah knew that God was likely to repent if he went and warned them; that was precisely why he went in the opposite direction. He would have much preferred that they weren't warned, and that God would destroy them. But he was sent, to save the people and animals of Nineveh as well as realize that as a part of the ancient people of God, they needed to know that God loved other people as well.
We too, as the descendents of the ancient people of God, need to learn this message just as well as them, otherwise we will be misrepresenting the very God we (supposedly) worship.
God sends people to embody the message of God's love for others. As the church, this means you and I. This will not happen if we go around telling people "God loves you!" It will not happen if we, ever so kindly, invite them to our worship, to read the Bible or to say their prayers. It is much more likely to happen if we go around with eyes to see the beauty in others, the usefulness of their contribution, and the sincerity of their worship.
And again, it is not so much what we do as what we don't do. Just as we cannot expect there to be peace if we deny the presence of Christ in everyone else, so we are not likely to make this world a happier place if we never see the beauty in others, if we denigrate their contribution, if we question their sincerity of worship.
I find it strange that we expect that others will see God in us in a unique way. We expect that God will make it plain to others how "Christian" we are; yet the consistent experience of the Church is that God doesn't do this. You and I are very ordinary people, indistinguishable from the rest of humanity. If God wanted to make his presence in us plain for all to see, then I have no doubt that God could do this. But God doesn't. Others are going to have to take a second and often a third look to see God at work in us. Yet this is to expect God to work on their eyes, and they are not "Christians" like us. Do we not believe that God works in Christians first? Surely we do! So it is our eyes that need first to be opened, before the eyes of others.
And the whole perspective is changed if we make it plain that we see God in them. This is the thing that makes a difference; this totally unexpected dynamic of acceptance that Jesus so embodied and practiced. It overturned the whole religious perspective of us trying to live up to divine expectations, and I suspect that this is as prevalent now as then.
For me, one of the most important descriptors of the church is that it is catholic. In the phrase in the Creed, "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church" for me, the most important is catholic. We are holy in the sense that we are the embodiment of God's message of love for all and we are sent out to the world which needs to hear that God loves them, but how do we be this embodiment, how do we communicate this love? The clue, for me, is in the word catholic, which I was taught meant "universal". However it comes from two Greek words "cath" and "holos" "with all". My Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has the sense "embracing all". (Third Edition revised with addenda p277) So you can see why I consider it the most important. It defines what we do.
Even the message of Jesus is not especially clear. The earliest of the gospels, Mark, has little, if any teaching of Jesus spelt out. In the incarnation Jesus is similarly sent as the embodiment of the divine message of God's love for all people, and the characteristic of his ministry was that he embraced all. So the incarnation embraces all of humanity.
And the Cross and resurrection is all about Jesus dying for the sins of the world; again this is embracing all of us and all people.
We are sent to witness to this embrace of Christ, not just for us as we are, but for all as they are. If we have eyes that are embracing rather than critical then this is all very easy.
When I look at Rebecca*, my very lithe Yoga teacher, she is one person in particular that I consider has eyes that embrace everyone. At the end of each class she greets everyone with a big smile and a "namaste" and from a website "Simply put, namaste intimates the following: 'The God in me greets the God in you. The Spirit in me meets the same Spirit in you' In other words, it recognises the equality of all, and pays honour to the sacredness of all. And it is a joy to respond in kind.
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