s036e02 Lockleys 27/1/2002 Sunday 3 Australia Day & Harvest Festival
"The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 1 Co 1:18
St Paul is writing to the people at the Church at Corinth. It seems an obvious thing to say, yet sometimes it is worth reminding ourselves of this. Paul writes to the Church. He doesn't write to people in the wider community, the people who are not part of the Church community. So the people who are quarrelling are not the people who don't come to Church, but the people who do!
Paul is initially very complementary of the congregation at Corinth. We need only to remind ourselves of last week's epistle reading where we read: "I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind ... you are not lacking in any spiritual gift". (1 Co 1:4-5,7a). This was a very remarkable Christian community, yet for all these apparent gifts and graces, it was a hot-bed of quarrelling and dissension. The same letter contains that wonderful chapter 13, about love: "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." These words were not written in a vacuum. They were written because the Corinthian congregation needed desperately to hear them and take the words to heart.
So the people to whom Paul is referring to as those "who are perishing" are not, in fact people outside the Church community who have not even heard of Jesus, but those who were inside, those who were arguing about who was the most "correct". The old concept that those who come to Church are going to heaven and those who don't won't has no support from St Paul. St Paul well knew the difficulties faced when any group of people come together, and some commentators have made the point that some in the congregation at Corinth did not accept that Paul was in fact a "real" apostle.
I consider it a great privilege to have been asked to come here to be a priest among you, for it is apparent that you have got this lesson, that quarrelling and jealousies, have no part in the Christian life. Indeed, of course, quarrelling and jealousies only betray insecurities - not faith.
Today we celebrate our harvest festival, and the essence of harvest festivals is thanksgiving. And I wonder if we should not, in the light of these words, firstly give thanks for each other. This is a very accepting community, and so perhaps this is the first thing that we can be thankful for - that we can come together and not be quarrelling like the Corinthian Church. Of course there are differences between individuals here, but I am quite astonished how well you work together. Coming so recently from elsewhere, it is appropriate that I affirm that you work together in a remarkable way. It is a real delight. This is something very precious and rather unique. It is something which is so important and delightful and it is well worth recognising and giving thanks to God for this.
The second thing I think I would offer as something to give thanks for today is that it is good to be able to come and be in a safe community to worship. I mean worship is nearly as private as sexual intimacy, particularly for those of us who are reserved. What is the saying? one doesn't talk about sex, religion or politics in polite company" We come together, often in my own life wondering just why I do come, yet I come and are accepted as I am. I am not asked to explain why - which is a very good thing! I am not here criticising those who talk about faith, trying to understand it and increase it. Yet I would want to say that our faith is something that everyone holds very dearly, even the most devout atheist, and we are called to respect the faith that others hold. It is wonderful to come into a community where we are accepted not questioned, where we are accepting and not questioning.
I remember vividly a very competent person coming to Church really for the first time in the person's life, and it was clear that the person was scared. What we find so familiar and easy, others find daunting. There is the old joke that if some person was to darken the doors of the Church, the roof might fall in, or some other disaster occur. We can thank God that the walls and the roof here are quite secure, and will not be dislodged easily :-)
It might be a joke, but people can be suspicious that God might indeed take the opportunity to zap them, good and proper ... When one listens to some people who apparently reflect the views of the Church, this is no place for some people - yet of course this is the place for all people.
Interestingly of course, God stopped St Paul in his tracks on the road to Damascus, not while he was worshipping in the Temple. God stopped St Paul in his tracks, not when he thought he was doing the right thing, praying and listening to God in the Temple - by crikey he certainly did that more than most of us. God stopped Paul as he was out and about, thinking he was doing the will of the Lord. So too God can often speak to us, not in our prayer time here or at home, but when we too are out and about, living our normal lives. I have often had cause to reflect that the one time I heard the voice of God in an unmediated way, was in a street in Flinders Park, as I talked with a man who suffered from schizophrenia, outside his home. God spoke through this man. I reflect that God works through all sorts of people, and God often works as much through our disabilities as God works through our abilities. Keeping our eyes and ears open, as we go through life opens up lots of possibilities and lots of occasions for grace.
I am also pleased that we make a bit more of Australia Day, here at St Richard's than in other parishes where I have been. Actually I would have normally scheduled a harvest thanksgiving for the Sunday before the last Sunday before Lent. However with Easter so early this year, and next Sunday being our time for anointing and prayer, it seemed particularly appropriate to bring our thanksgiving another week earlier. For, of course, we have much to be thankful for, living in Australia. Indeed, of course, we know how much more we are blessed, living in Adelaide rather than Melbourne or Sydney :-) I would be interested to know if you think it is a good thing to celebrate a harvest thanksgiving on the Sunday of the Australia Day long weekend.
Our news on television shows us graphically each night the atrocious conditions that so many people endure. People pay unscrupulous persons exorbitant amounts of money to travel to Australia in vessels which are anything but seaworthy, to escape heaven only knows. They travel packed together facing an uncertain future. We have much for which to be grateful, for what is just an accident of birth - that we were born here and not in Afghanistan or Iraq, to name just a couple of places. I am very pleased not to have been born a female, or gay, in some places on this earth!
Of course there are things to do here in Australia. Ours is no perfect society. I wondered, when our volunteer fire-fighters went to help combat the Sydney fires after Christmass, how many of these would have been unemployed? I know I couldn't just take time off work to help out, not that I'd be of much use anyway. And I thought, well if some of these have done nothing else to deserve unemployment benefits, they certainly have made up for it by their heroism. (Thanks also to the United States for the two massive helicopters "Georgia Peach" and the "Incredible Hulk" who helped our "Elvis" in the later stages of that emergency).
It is good that people are cared for in our society with unemployment benefits. There are all sorts of contributions that people make to the fabric of society which are not remunerated. Everyone has a right to exist. No one deserves to starve. It is good that we exist in a society where these things are recognised. This is worth thanking God for.
I recall vividly a program on television which made the point that the Exxon Valdiz disaster in 1989 had a measurable impact on the relevant Gross National Product. The employment generated by the cleanup and the insurance pay outs were enormous. The program went on to say that all the unpaid contribution that women have traditionally made to society is simply not considered relevant to GNP calculations! It made the point that somehow our "economics" are wrong.
Now I suspect that I have said nothing this morning with which anyone will disagree. Perhaps I have said it rather differently than you've heard it before, perhaps more forcefully. We all agree with the joys of being in a community where quarrels do not happen. We agree that we are blessed living in Adelaide. Perhaps you have not thought about hearing God "out there" in the community, but you are kind enough to allow for the possibility ...
But what has all this to do with the Cross - which is the central thing for which all Christians give thanks? As I have said before, and you will find I will say again and again, Jesus was crucified by those who wanted to retain their sense of superiority over others, and killed Jesus because Jesus associated with people other than themselves. So our thanksgiving for the Cross and resurrection is linked to our appreciation of the risen Christ in people other than ourselves.
In the context of the Corinthian church those "who were perishing" were those who invoked others to defend their own positions of power and authority over others. The "christian" life for them was a competition and the main thing was that they themselves would "win". Their religion, for all it claimed apostolic authority, was essentially about themselves and their power, and nothing about the welfare of others. They were the sort of people who could never see any good in people who were different from themselves. This is truly foolish, though of course one would never label anyone else a "fool" :-)
But Jesus was not interested in reinforcing the authority of the religious establishment, let alone his own authority. Jesus saw good in ordinary people and accepted their offerings. So we see good in others and accept their offerings too.
And I want to say that my personal experience leads me to affirm that this really is for those "who are being saved" - "the power of God". Here and now it is easy to see God at work, as we give up trying to be right or saved, and see God at work in others, we will find we are encouraged and supported in community.
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