The readings on which these sermons are based can be found at:
s045g05 Lockleys 19/6/05 Sunday 12
"fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell". Matthew 10.28
By now we can start to see who and what is soul destroying and who and what is affirming in our lives. Some of these things emanate from within ourselves -- that endlessly criticising voice -- and some of these things emanate from outside ourselves -- those who would put us down and those teachings that marginalize or alienate "our sort".
Similarly we are bidden to look to what is affirming in our lives, the words of the gospel for us and for all. I imagine the look of love on the face of Jesus as he addresses the disciples: "O ye of little faith". I imagine the affirmation of those words, so often used towards others: "Your faith has made you well". And, of course, those golden beatitudes -- beginning with: "Blessed are you poor".
But if we actually want to live different lives, we may well have to do something more than fear these things. We might do well to seek to remove ourselves from that influence also.
But some things are not so simple. Many of us here at St Richard's have thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from the Alpha course run before I came. It was an excellent exercise to get together and to enjoy one another's company and share the faith. Unfortunately it isn't an exercise where we can share OUR faith. The Alpha course has strict guidelines as to what is taught. The Rev'd Sandy Millar, former Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, and founder of the Alpha course is to be / has been ordained a Bishop in Uganda and to become a flying bishop in England, to those who conscientiously object to women clergy and a more liberal approach towards gay people. Neither of these things were ever mentioned in the Alpha Courses, and one has to question why, when they are clearly so important to the founder?
I wonder if people haven't been allowed to consider for themselves these issues, can the founder claim that all those who have found "Alpha" a real help in their lives, actually concur with him on these issues. I think not.
So before we start on some course of education, it is perhaps an idea to consider how such courses treat others first, lest the real benefits we receive do not subtly mask the exclusion of others.
It seems to me that Jesus' ministry was not a re-examination of the principles of Judaism, a sort of adult re-education course for those with the time and the inclination. Jesus' ministry was to mix with all people and to treat all people well. The opposition to this missionary strategy was not slow in coming, by the very upright, learned, devout and orthodox. When Jesus delivered his very first recorded sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, those who could name his parents and family were so outraged at this teaching that they tried to kill him themselves. (Luke 4.28-29)
Blessed are we poor, for we know the grace of God in our lives in a way that will ever elude those who are upright, learned, devout and orthodox. We can live lives of acceptance and peace, rather than worrying about orthodoxy, or whether the Lord will condemn us for not converting the world, or enough of the world, to our perception of the faith.
I was interested to read in the latest issue of Eureka Street an obituary for Tom Butler (1915-2005) lawyer and editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper. (June 2005 p 30) It said: "Central to his beliefs was the conviction about the crucial role of lay people, inspired by the Gospel vision, vigorously to pursue social equity and justice, especially for the working classes and disadvantaged people, as well as to promote human rights and world peace. .. For him, religion was not a private matter but a summons to contribute constructively to public affairs. Crucially, however, this activity was not to be taken under the direction of the church or clergy, but undertaken on the free initiative and independent judgement of lay people themselves."
(I must admit, I have the utmost admiration for Eureka Street, for they include the words of a quotation he used: "The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine, but for unbelievers a proof of it's divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight." And I often think that the same could be said for our Communion :-)."
Now obviously this man was a person of influence, and his contribution to society and the Church great. But it is his stress on the importance of the work of lay people outside in the real world that strikes me as vital. The work of the church is not done here, in Church -- by you or by me. It is done in the world out there -- by you and me -- already. You will contribute to the up-building of society by your friendly relationships, by your work for charity and in service clubs. It is done by your efforts to encourage your children in their pursuits, rather than telling them that their place is to be seen but not heard. It is done as you welcome new settlers into our community rather than seeing them as alien and people who have to assimilate and live up to our expectations. It is done as you believe that each and every person is a child of God, that each and every person has a right to food and drink on the table, a roof over their head, and to pursue, life, liberty and happiness for themselves and those they love.
We each do this as we seek to be encouraging and affirming of all; and not soul destroying toward those who differ from us. And we are most likely doing this if we find that others do not fear us.
There is surely enough to do in this world that everyone might have something to do. There is enough to do, both within the Church and in society in general. I often reflected when I was in Kapunda how the whole infrastructure of that (country) town would come to a grinding halt if those who went to church on Sunday decided that this was going to be their sole contribution to society. By far the majority of people did something useful around the place, or at least kept to themselves and were not a burden to others.
Sadly the Church often seems only to recognise the work that is done for the benefit of the Church. But I do recall a previous Archbishop in our Anglican Church of Australia, who had retired, writing in what was "Church Scene" that he had suddenly realised that there was a person who had come each and every week of his life and taken away the household rubbish. It was quite a revelation on how he was dependent on these "invisible" people. And I'm sure that the life of a Bishop or Archbishop is stressful enough to excuse him not noticing before his retirement.
So who is it that we have to fear, the one who "can destroy both soul and body in hell"? If we presume to judge others, being soul destroying rather than affirming, the person we have to fear is ourselves; whether we do this out of the self critical habits of a life-time, or from the best of biblical principles. The measure ye meet out will be the measure ye get back. We have to fear, both for ourselves and for the world, for continuing soul destroying can never promote peace and harmony, for us or for anyone else.
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