The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s051g08 Sunday 18 3/9/2008
'you give them something to eat' Matthew 14.16
We have a couple of examples of compassion in our readings for today. St Paul has great sorrow and anguish for his 'own people, my kindred according to the flesh', so much so that he wishes that he was 'accursed and cut off from Christ' rather than them. This is a remarkable statement. It reflects something he wanted to do for others and is the sort of self-denying sacrifice that Jesus called the disciples to; when faced with the hungry multitude. They were asked to give something of their own to someone else.
But secondly we are told that Jesus had compassion for the great crowd. It seems the needs of the crowd were rather more important to him than the bare essentials that the disciples had to eat. So if we have a theology that with discipleship comes blessedness plenty to eat, drink and security to boot, we will be greatly disappointed. Jesus may well call us out of our security and give something of ourselves to others, people we don't even know.
The well being of Christians is not Jesus number one priority, for all we might pray 'give us this day our daily bread'! Jesus calls us to follow and have compassion, not just on fellow Christians, not just on our family and friends, not even just on the members of our own religious community, but on those outside.
For there is always enough in Christianity to satisfy everyone, indeed of course, there is always basketsful of scraps left over even after everyone is satisfied. When we give of ourselves, even when that which we give seems miniscule in comparison to the needs, it is always enough and with some left over for others.
And Jesus doesn't do this in order to make disciples. Our story in Matthew continues by saying that he dismissed the crowds and told the disciples to get into the boat and travel to the other side of the lake. He himself went up to the mountain to pray by himself. In John's account he realises that the crowds want to make him King and he escapes this fate. It is enough that the crowds are fed Jesus wants nothing in return.
Or, more accurately, he wants nothing in return - for himself. He certainly wants people to them give of themselves to others, in the sure and certain knowledge that in giving of themselves, there will be enough and more left over as well.
We have been privileged to host the World Youth Day in Sydney, though I must confess I'm pleased to be 350 kms (220 miles) away from the crowds :-)! One of the best things about this is that young people have had an opportunity to mix with people from other countries and other cultures and begin to realise that mostly people are not much different from them. This is especially important for Australians, because we are so far from nearly everywhere else. In Europe or Asia, it is not far to travel to a neighbouring country and culture, but that is not so true here. The experience of benefiting from the other is paramount. People from Europe are able to mix with people from Africa, Asia, America and vice versa. We are all so very much the same, the same needs for peace, security, acceptance and love. And those needs are met by our 'shalom', our welcome, our acceptance of them as they are, our love.
So too it is the same in my hospital work. As I mix with all sorts of people, I begin to realise how these people in hospital are not so very different from myself. I meet them with a 'shalom', a welcome, an acceptance of them as they are, my love. And it is of course, never just one way.
The aim of the World Youth Day, and my aim in hospital, is to hope that others will find the experience of giving to the other something joyous and fulfilling. If it stays with the pilgrims, if it stays with the clients, then it will go mouldy, like the manna that was gathered and stored overnight by the Israelites.
As I see other health practitioners caring for clients here in hospital; while they have specific and differing therapies to offer, what lies behind them all is a desire for others to become all that they can possibly be. It comes with a 'shalom', a welcome, an acceptance of others as they are, a love, and I venture to suggest that this is as important as the therapy they are able to offer.
In the same way, when I offer the sacrament of Holy Communion to one and to all, whoever they are, it is not the bread and wine that is important, but the love of Christ that lies behind the sacrament which one hopes is perceived. For Christ always bids us feed the other, not just ourselves and other like minded people. He has compassion for all.
And we should remember that St Paul, in his desire for the inclusion of his own people, is really is concerned for the other. He, of all people, knows how he was not so very different from them.
So we as Christians, as we follow St Paul and Jesus will find how we are not so very different from other people. We are not saints and others sinners. We are not even redeemed sinners and others un-redeemed, for any presumed superiority / difference whatsoever will negate our own redemption. (cf the parable of the unmerciful servant Matthew 18.23).
So if we marginalise women and alienate gay people and so act uncharitably towards them, even if we do this in the name of our god, then we will find all hell will break loose on us! We are bidden to feed others with a 'shalom', a welcome, an acceptance of them as they are, our love. And it will be of course, never just one way. There will always be more acceptance left over for others to enjoy.
Now we might reason that my little contribution of acceptance is actually not going to make any perceptible difference in this world. And it is true that we might never see the effect our acceptance of others has on them. But let me say quite categorically that we will experience the effect on others that our non-acceptance will have - rejection, hostility. All we will get is more of the same and we can blame it on God, or we can blame it on others, but in the end it will be ourselves who bring the wrath of God on ourselves.
And other people don't want advice any more than we ever want advice! So if we try to tell women that they are second-class citizens or gay people that they are no better than animals, in the name of God, they are entirely justified in telling us where we can go and stick our religion. So would I.
Recently I heard an Anglican Bishop say that the parable of the wheat and the tares had nothing to say to his condemnation of gay and lesbian persons. He referred the interviewer to a passage in St Paul about Christians judging those inside the Church. Sadly this Bishop might be himself hoisted on his own petard. I'm sorry I can't but revert to the old language: 'Ye reap whatever ye sow.' I suppose that this Bishop would say this refers to everyone but Christians, but by this logic Christians don't need to read and observe the words of the bible at all!
We are bidden to give something of ourselves, and I strongly suspect that which we are primarily bidden to give away is our presumed superiority over others. Giving others advise, giving others the words of the Bible, giving others the task of navigating the dangerous shoals of *our* church all give nothing except the impression that others have to measure up to us, and that is indeed nothing at all.
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