The readings on which these sermons are based can be found at:
s042g05 Lockleys Sunday 9 29/5/05
"You will know them by their fruits" Matt 7.20
I wonder just how often we have heard these words throughout our lives, and thought, well they seem all straightforward. Clearly we are meant to produce good things. Yet I find it interesting that straight after these words about bearing fruit, the Lord says: "On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out many demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?"" Surely these are fruits and in abundance. Yet the Lord says to these very people: "I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers."
One could reasonably conclude that the Lord is nit picking rather than loving; that he likes oranges rather than apples, so it's just too bad if we happen to be an apple tree.
These two sayings are put side by side and in doing so the writer invites us to think about them. We are invited to see where they say the same thing and to see where they are different.
The deeds that are dismissed, even if done in the name of the Lord, are deeds of power, prophecy and exorcism. They are things that seemingly achieve instant results. So we can conclude that the exercise of power, even if it gets results, actually doesn't achieve the Lord's objectives.
The Lord's objectives are achieved by slow growth. So in this life, we may well get our own way by being strong and right, but the world is diminished rather than enhanced.
Jesus tells us that we will not be accepted as we address him as "Lord". So our relationship with Jesus as Lord is immaterial, it won't matter how devout our prayers, how kosher our worship, if these things actually magnify our selves at the expense of others then we are very likely to be disappointed.
The three things that are criticised are deeds of power, prophecy, and exorcism; and each of these reduces the extent of another person's self-determination. A deed of power may well render an act of kindness by someone else unnecessary. A word of prophecy way well be taken as something unalterable, something which will happen no matter what. Again an exorcism may well (supposedly) obviate the necessity for a person to take some charge of their own life. The reality is that each of these might bring some temporary relief, but in the long run they will all encourage dependence rather than the full humanity that God wills for everyone.
God does not need us to do miracles so that the divine is magnified. It is our self-determination that is God's priority. If we take away someone else's self-determination, we are the evildoers, even though we are supposedly working in God's name.
I return to the fact that we need to read the words of scripture carefully to get the real message. There are enough people who go around purporting to be performing miracles in Jesus' name and taking the Bible very literally, yet clearly they have overlooked this passage. They practice selective reading, like some people have selective hearing :-)!
The bible doesn't give instant answers to all life's problems, so the bible itself encourages us to take time, to think and to grow. I think it also encourages us to relate to the people God puts around us rather than rely on our biblical scholarship. Indeed I suspect that Jesus and God are less concerned with our relationship with themselves, than they are concerned to foster our mutually respectful relationships with all those around us.
We are invited to grow and we are invited to allow others to grow as well.
For many years I thought that the Church had all the answers, indeed of course there are some who continue to think that we do. Yet as I get older, I am beginning to see that this is not true. Even the Church needs to relate to the real world.
Recently I was lent the book: "Hard to be Holy" by Paul and Libby Whetham and while I haven't finished the book, I found this passage significant: "Individuals who grew up in religious environments and later became church leaders were more prone to relationship problems. This finding has very important implications in the life of the church. It suggests that a life lived predominantly in a religious environment may not be a healthy one. While these individuals may feel safer and more in control of their familiar and immediate environment, it can come at a cost." (page 38)
When I was on Kangaroo Island I was asked by a Catholic Nun was I a "fringe dweller?" like her. I hadn't heard the term before, and I suppose it means, am I a diocesan "heavy"; and I'm happy I am not. But here was a person, a professed Nun, who saw herself as on the periphery rather than at the centre of the Church. I strongly suggest that she was doing much more useful things "on the fringes" than the hierarchy were doing at the core. And I then reflected that most of us consider ourselves "on the outer", and I am beginning to think that this is really a good thing. We are much more likely to be living a healthy life, relating to a variety of people rather than to a select group of supposedly like minded individuals like ourselves.
Fruit, left uneaten for any length of time, will eventually rot and be thrown away. We are all here to live our lives as fully as we can and be useful rather than harmful to others as we are made to be. To strive for anything else is I suspect a waste of time and energy, and will only cause us to consume ourselves, which, if the aim is self preservation, is ultimately self defeating anyway.
Self-determination is what God wants for all. I have reflected often enough that so often in the Bible God lifts people to their feet. I have often concluded that God does not want our primal dignity to stand on our own two feet and to use our brains to be taken from anyone. But I have also suddenly realised that if people are able to stand on their own two feet, they are also completely entitled to "vote with their feet" as the saying goes. We often lament in the Church that people don't come as they used to. Often they used to come because they we taught that they would go to hell otherwise. If they have not found health for themselves and health for the wider world within the church environment then good on them for voting with their feet and finding other ways to be fruitful, for themselves and for others.
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