The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r054.htm
s054g02 Lockleys 25/8/02 Sunday 21a Refugee Sunday
"Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah" Matt 16.20
I find it somewhat remarkable that we read, again and again Jesus commanding people to silence when they consider telling others about his special nature, but the Church has, down the centuries, completely overlooked this fact or thought that they knew better than Jesus and proclaimed his special status as the good news.
I was thinking a while back of the time when Jesus complained about the religious traditions of his own day, where a person would give what normally would have been for their parents, to God. And I had cause to think, that sometimes some children have been wont to lament that parents seem to have given God and the Church their full attention rather than to their children - to themselves. Children can sometimes think that their parents have (effectively) said to them that the attention they were bound to give to them, was "Corban", given rather to God. It is something I hope and pray I have managed to avoid, but I probably haven't. Each of these possible scenarios alert us to the fact that our worship can be to the neglect of those around us - indeed to the neglect of those who have the greatest claim to our attention, people it is our duty to care for, if not our joy.
So Jesus complaint with the religious authorities of his time was not that they didn't acknowledge himself, or that they didn't adequately perform the religious duties enjoined on them by their faith - but that they did these things while neglecting those around them.
So God doesn't call us out of the situation we are in to perform our religious duties *elsewhere*, in this sacred space or in any other. God calls us to perform our religious duties in our relationships with those around us.
A couple of weeks ago we read that God asked Elijah why on earth he had travelled day and night to come to the mountain of the Lord - as I say, only to be asked by the Almighty: "What are you doing here?". Elijah's place was among the people, not alone with God on the high mountain. So God calls us into a respectful relationship with others, not into a special relationship with the divine. Some time ago I was present when a minister was praying. I got a bit uncomfortable how familiar the person was with the Lord and how many *helpful suggestions* he was able to make in prayer :-) It seemed as if he was saying how special he was to God, and perhaps by implication how important he should be viewed by other people.
Telling other people who Jesus is - for me - again can become a way of avoiding what Jesus would have us do. Witnessing to how important *Jesus* is in my life, fails to see and proclaim Jesus in the lives of those around us.
We now have buses travelling around Adelaide with posters on the back of them. "Behold I am coming soon!" "Every knee shall bow before me" ... Each proclaims something of the majesty of God, when Jesus would have us recognise and proclaim sacredness in others. Another sign is from John 11: "Jesus wept", and I suspect that the intention behind this one is to suggest that Jesus weeps because so few people acknowledge him - but I could be wrong here.
Today is Refugee Sunday and our attitudes towards refugees (along with our attitudes to all who are *different* to us) are always more eloquent of the belief we actually hold, rather than the creed we dutifully recite, Sunday by Sunday. If we "pass by on the other side" when confronted by refugees or anyone else who is *different* to us - then we will need to hear the parable of Jesus which bids us rather become more like the Samaritan and be helpful where we may rather prefer to retain an orthodoxy that fails to help those different from us.
Let me say that "carte blanche" is not what I am advocating - if in fact I am advocating anything at all. It seems to me to be only prudent that some screening of people who come to our shores happens. So it is inappropriate that war criminals should be able to avoid prosecution coming to Australia. I am told however that war criminals are more likely to fly into Australia rather than coming in, in leaking "ships". It seems prudent that medical checks should be undertaken. Unpopular as this view might be to asylum seekers, it is a lot easier to make these security checks, to check people medically, and to make sure that they are fed and clothed and housed, if they are together as a group rather than dispersed within the community to fend for themselves. It does seem to me to be unwise to allow people into the community, when it is likely to be difficult to even find them if it turns out that there are quite valid reasons for returning them to their country of origin. I can also sympathise with the government's policy to not appear too welcoming, lest they be seen to be encouraging people to undertake hazardous journeys. It is not that I want to stamp out those unscrupulous people who make exorbitant amounts of money in people smuggling, but the government does want to deter people risking their lives coming in unseaworthy vessels. Sadly though, I suspect our government is "cashing in" on fear.
What I say is, I hope and pray, out of concern for the people themselves - not that I think Australia can't cope with more refugees. In fact I think, from a purely selfish viewpoint, Australia will benefit from more refugees. The evidence of the past, through successive waves of immigration to Australia, is that we have indeed benefited, and the times we are going through at the moment are no different from any in the past. I have already said that some relaxation of the laws ought to be made for children - but I do not make policy. It is the reality that many people from more developed countries overstay their visas in Australia (after all who wouldn't :-) so this emphasis on the "boat people" seems sad. Perhaps it is easier to deal with boatloads of asylum seekers than it is to find those people who overstay their visas dispersed throughout the community.
I have considerable sympathy with the asylum seekers however. They have risked so much and endured so many privations. To get so close and yet still so far from their entirely understandable goal of being able to live with their families in peace and security - seems cruel to say the least. We do well to understand, if not condone, any expressions of frustration.
A completely practical outcome of the command to silence about the special status of Jesus, is that we do not have to make Australia into a "Christian" country - and by this I mean a country where everyone goes around affirming how Jesus is the Son of God. Our task is indeed to make Australia into a Christian country, but a form of "Christian" country - where people are cared for and respected, whoever they are, whatever faith they proclaim, however *different* they are to *us* *normal* people.
I am actually not sure I think of myself as *normal* - nor do I aspire to be. I suspect that my thoughts on this matter are not so very far different to anyone else's. Most of us consider the things that make us different to others to be our greatest assets.
For let us be quite certain - people want to come to Australia not just because there are more opportunities to provide for themselves and their families, fundamental as this is. I suspect that people also want to come to Australia, as well as other countries, to flee oppression and war. War and oppression are nearly always founded on the premiss that one person has to subscribe to another person's dominance, doctrine or whatever. People want to come to Australia, not just for our beaches and "relaxed" lifestyle - when did I last relax? No, they come because there are opportunities for people to get ahead - whatever race or faith they are.
Our greatest defence is not our border protection but our determination to respect everyone, whoever they are, provided only that they come in peace.
Again some weeks ago, we heard the disciples ask Jesus why he spoke to the people in parables (Sunday 15 Matt 13) and I was thinking, after I had preached on that subject, that there is perhaps another reason. Jesus spoke in parables because he did not want to force people into believing. A parable may elicit faith whereas a command may well elicit rebellion, or at best a begrudging acceptance. Jesus allowed then and still allows now, people to not see things in *his* way. In the light of my text, Jesus accepts that people may be blind to the wonderful things he did and accepts that they would not worship him as Lord - that is immaterial. The most important thing is that people see sacredness in all others and sacredness in themselves. And the reality is, praise God, that it is not only Jesus who brings us this teaching. We ought to be thankful that many other faiths teach the sacredness of all humanity. Indeed the sacredness of humanity is the basis of humanism - among people who do not acknowledge a God at all.
The good news is not that Jesus is Lord, but that we and all people are sacred enough for God to send Jesus to live and to die and to rise again - all this for us - and all this for all people.
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