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s052g11  Sunday 19  7/8/2011


Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.'   Matthew 14.22


I note that this was after the disciples had wanted Jesus to send the crowds away to get their own food, and Jesus had instead got the disciples to feed the crowds themselves.   So the sending of the crowds away has a particular significance as has also the fact that the disciples were sent away first.  


I am a hospital chaplain, and one of the wonderful things about hospitals is that, generally, people are discharged back into the community.  Indeed people are not considered healed until this happens.   Certainly no one who has recovered from whatever ails them is kept in hospital.   Similarly the whole object of the exercise of education is to equip people to live in the real world.   If a student kept coming back to class to learn the same lessons over and over again, a teacher would have to seriously reflect on the real message he or she is conveying to the pupil.


And I contrast this with the church, which strives to keep people.   After the morning worship there is the obligatory morning tea, but then what parish doesn't have a plethora of other activities during the week to keep people interested?  Maybe we reckon that people might get up to mischief if we don't keep the demands of the gospel before them every minute of the day?   'Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee' wrote George Herbert in his hymn 'King of glory, King of peace'.   Recently someone said to me that they had attended another of the same 'christian' education session they had previously done and that they had learned more the second (or third time) around.   Well, I really hope that this person as a real life to lead, otherwise what good is the learning to anyone other than themselves?


Jesus sends the crowds back to their usual places of residence, their occupations, their families and friends, for this is where true healing is; this is where the kingdom is to be found.   The church that separates us from others implicitly suggests there is a limit to those whom we have to love, and therefore is not the kingdom.   It is not that the church is a legitimate subset of the kingdom, for subsets imply there are others who are excluded, and the kingdom by definition cannot exclude anyone, because the kingdom and healing comes in community, not apart from it.


Jesus says: 'If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!'  (Matthew 7.11)   It is not that it is sinful to have divisions – it is evil!   It is evil to restrict our communion to those who 'are to be seen and not heard' – the picture I suspect most clergy have of the ideal layperson!   The opposite of evil is surely righteousness – which must therefore be, to not have divisions between people.   I recall once a treasurer of a parish saying to me: 'You know that you can't please all the people all the time' by which he most definitely meant 'You look after me and my family and you'll get your pay'.


Last week I spoke about the series of the rejection by the devout and the orthodox in the synagogue where Jesus grew up because he suggested the kingdom was found in places other than the synagogue through their mediation, the desire of the disciples to send the crowds away rather than feeding them and Jesus' reaction of sending the disciples away, after making the disciples feed the crowds and before dismissing them, and this week the fact that in Mark's parallel account, he says of Jesus walking on the lake that in anger: 'He intended to pass them by' while they were floundering, helpless and hapless in the boat.  (Mark 6.48)   Suddenly the strange request of Peter to come to Jesus on the water begins to make some sense, and why subsequently Peter was 'the rock' on which the church was built.  Peter was commended for leaving the boat, the boat of seeming security, the boat of discrimination of who was 'in' and who was 'out', and into the world amidst the storms of real life – for this is where Jesus was and continues to be.


So putting these two together, healing comes with our return to the world, so therefore there can be no person or entity mediating between us and the kingdom – for the kingdom is with other people, all other people, where the risen Christ is.


So baptism is not our retreat into a holy huddle but God's imperative and impetus to be a full member of humanity.  Holy Communion is not a gathering of a select few, but a sign of the full acceptance and communion equally between all people.


Some people describe the church as the hierarchy busily rearranging the deckchairs knowing full well (but blithely ignoring the fact) that the ship is sinking.   I am not sure that I want the ship to sink, but I know so many people who consider themselves to be on the fringes of the church.   Their ministry is at the interface of the church and the real world – some attend worship and others don't.   I want to say that the real work of the church is not done as the ship steams successfully to some seemingly ever-receding destination; but over the sides, in the water, helping people tread water and being helped by others to tread water.   For this is where the risen Christ is found – not in church, sacrament, bible study or prayer group.


I spoke last week about the anger Jesus had for the disciples wanting Jesus to send the crowds away and his response was to get the disciples to feed the crowds and then send them, the disciples away.   I mentioned above that Mark's account of the storm on the sea had Jesus intending to pass by the disciples in the boat.   And this causes me to ponder: had he given up on the disciples?   And if he had, will not Jesus similarly pass the church by, while we remain floundering, helpless and hapless in the boat – because Jesus' concern is always for others – and he is always to be found with others – and not with just us?


It requires faith to leave the boat of security and to work on the fringes.   It is not a sign of faith to remain in the boat, busily genuflecting at the appropriate time as if this is going to help anyone else at all.


The gospel story today assures us that the risen Christ is to be found, not in the exclusive sacred space we construct for ourselves, implicitly excluding some others, but amongst people, all other people, perhaps not walking on, but at least treading water!

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