The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s049e08 Sunday 16 20/7/08
who hopes for what is seen? Romans 8.24
What do we hope for? Time and again in the psalms it so often is victory over the enemy, either in this world or the next. So Psalm 23 wants our enemies to be forced to look on enviously as God serves us at the heavenly banquet. The ultimate retribution!
But as I was thinking about this, I suddenly thought - this is only a small step from the survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle. We only win because God is on our side and God will prevail over all. In this picture of reality the Cross is only a momentary aberration.
So if we are using our religion to gain precedence over others, what difference is there between us and the animal kingdom, those who walk generally on four legs rather than upright on two, and who are incapable of creativity and community much beyond their own need for safety? We can hope for this all we like, but it is hardly likely that God will help us. God made us to be human, to stand rather than cower and to think rather than comply, and time and again lifts us up to our own feet that we might think for ourselves.
But this is God's hope for all of humanity, not just a select few, so any thought that we can get precedence over others is essentially doomed to failure, however much we might invoke the name of God.
So we are invited to think and to reason, and if we think and reason the inescapable conclusion we must come to - is that we all need others. There would be no need to operate on the survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle if we were alone in this world. But who of us, in the western world, grows all our own food for instance, or provides for all our own necessities? The idea of a self made man is laughable. We are so domesticated that if there weren't supermarkets and the like, most of us would starve. Well I certainly would anyway!
We might decide that we want eternal life as if this means an eternal existence in the presence of God after we die. But to suggest that this should be a priority of the religious life is to imply that God grants this to some and damns others. Again we find that we are in surreptitious competition with others, albeit perhaps hypothetical others, not necessarily personal others.
One cannot ever really preach with any effectiveness in a vacuum, though perhaps I flatter myself that I preach effectively :-)! So I was grateful for an e-mail this last week which ended with this gentle warning: 'A word of loving caution brother: Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth, no one comes to the Father EXCEPT BY ME."' This caused me to wonder, just who was this ME by which no one would come to the Father. My correspondent would no doubt say 'Jesus' of course. But in reality, what my correspondent actually means is his conception / interpretation of who Jesus is. Perhaps this correspondent has not read my words about Jesus being killed by the religious because he associated with people other than them. So I can quite agree with Jesus' words that no one comes to the Father but by Jesus, because this implies that we also come in communion with all those with whom Jesus associated, the tax-collectors and sinners, the woman caught in adultery and the woman who was living with her sixth partner. We only come to the Father when we accept that we will come with others, some of whom will call on God by a different name, or who are so frustrated by the exclusive religion that has been peddled that they ignore what they know can't be true and try their best to love their neighbours, whoever they are.
Again we see a blurring between God who sows the seed and we individuals who are the seed sown and not the sower.
Even my preaching depends on others who think differently!
What do we hope for? That everyone agrees with my conception / interpretation of Jesus? Well one can hope for this all one likes, but I suggest that this is little different from what those who had Jesus killed hoped for! They wanted to be right and others wrong. They wanted God to bless them and curse others. And when Jesus showed them a God who blessed all they were scandalized enough to have him killed.
Hope gives us the time, the opportunity, indeed the invitation to think about what we want. I might like a new car and an iPhone; but actually what I want is a more equitable society, a society where the church of which I am a part works to remove discrimination rather than foster and profit from discrimination. The foundations for this society are found in Jesus who founds our community, so I can no more leave the Church than I could voluntarily stop breathing or thinking. The visible church either is true to her founder or not. Whether this visible church is useful to God's hopes for humanity is for others to judge, mainly God. But if it isn't useful to God's hope for humanity then I suspect for all we might pray and hope for God's blessing we are 'barking up the wrong tree'.
I am reading the words from 2 Chronicles for the morning office at the moment. There is this endless procession of kings, some of whom spurn the gods of the nations about them and those who embrace them. And this causes me to wonder about the gods of those nations and surely those gods are invoked to gain success over their enemies. The true God is not like this at all, for this will only lead to further divisions and warfare; hardly the peace which passes all understanding.
St Paul speaks of the 'whole creation (waiting) with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God' and surely if all are eagerly waiting, all are eagerly expecting to be included. Do we have any hope to give them or only threats?
Fashion icon Jenny Kee talked about her pain at loosing a loved one on a recent 'Talking Heads' program: 'Tibetan lamas, they gave me this understanding that suffering can be a blessing because, you know, when you suffer .. (as) one of the greatest lamas said .. to me. Don't see this as your pain. See this as the pain of humanity. And then, your heart will stay open.' (http://www.abc.net.au/talkingheads/txt/s1868042.htm) And I thought how similar to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross this is. True compassion is always about humanity's suffering. Jesus died on the Cross for the inclusion of all of humanity, not me or some select few who think like me, believe in my terms, live my sort of lifestyle, or worship identically to me. For in the end all of these just reinforce my presumed precedence over others.
Again, my preaching is enriched by others who think differently!
The peace of the world, the conception that in the words of Isaiah 11: 'The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea' (6-9) - may indeed be the hope of an unrealistic simpleton, but it seems it might be what God has wanted for humanity for a very long time.
On the other hand, if what I say is incorrect, all we can hope for is more of the same - divisions, in-fighting, discrimination, alienation, and marginalisation - but who on earth hopes for more of these things that we see all around us?
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