The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s059e05 Lockleys Sunday 26 25/9/2005
look .. to the interests of others Philippians 2.4
Many people look back to the good old days of the Church, when the parish was the centre of social life to which all came. The local parish had Sunday Schools, netball, tennis and cricket clubs. Here at Lockleys we still have a long-standing table tennis club. At the parish at Kapunda there is still a badminton team. There were youth groups for boys, the CEBS and the girls, the GFS. There was the YAF and dances, There was the Mothers Union and the Men's Fellowships. By and large these were only loosely connected to the worship of the church, usually to the chagrin of the minister and the worshipping congregation. But the participants in these activities found life and community in them.
The world has changed enormously. Schools and local sporting clubs have taken over the role of providing the facilities for these activities. Guides and Scouts have their own organizations. There is a world of opportunities for young people to find life and community without any more contact with the worshipping community.
We have been talking a lot about Australian ideals recently (often, to my chagrin, as if WE invented mateship!!!) and these are taught in every school, public as well as private.
Young couples find life and community in the work place and attached child care centre, in supporting their children in their school activities, in service and sporting clubs, in the local pub and pokie-parlor. All of these are good. We often look at modern society as very individualistic. People seem loath to be involved in community and commitment. Yet many young people have their community and find life through the Internet and the ubiquitous mobile phone.
And we too, members of the worshipping community find life and community in places outside of this congregation in addition to what we find within here.
We are involved in sport and service clubs, in hospital auxiliaries, in political parties, in union activities, in looking after grandchildren. We find healing as we go to doctors and hospitals. Even though we have our times for the laying on of hands and anointing, I hope we all make good use of the medical professionals God has put around us as well.
In fact of course, there are times when we don't find a parish community a particularly life giving one. Like any human organization, the Church occasionally is wracked with dissension. Mostly we quietly get on with our own worshipping life and leave that to someone else. In the diocese we find there are "turf-wars" over the "modern" moves for church planting. I must say that there is a lot of truth in the words of Ecclesiastes: "there is nothing new under the sun". Church planting is nothing new.
I personally find extra life and community in my Yoga, for I have been living a very "cerebral" existence, and I need the physical aspect of Yoga to give me some balance. Other people will need other things to bring extra life and community to their lives. It doesn't really matter where we find life and community, it is to be found, certainly sometimes in parish life, but also, and often far more abundantly in activities outside what we consider to be the worshipping community.
There is no point in wishing we could return to the halcyon days of yesteryear when the parish was the centre of everything. We cannot turn back the clock, and of course even if we could, there is no guarantee that the worshipping congregation would be any larger than it is now.
Of course we are also aware that the presence of young people has attracted the deviant in society and the church has harboured those who would exploit their positions of respectability to molest children.
The Church as we are presently constituted cannot hope to resume to undertake all these things. The world does them so much better. And even then we wouldn't really consider these things to be the first priority of the Church. Our message is somewhat different.
What are we to do? Quietly do our own thing had hope and pray that some might join us because they might find a bit of life and community here?
Then we read the words of Jesus to the religious of his day: "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of heaven ahead of you". The people out there, the ones who we seem to think are doomed to eternal damnation because they are not members of the worshipping community like us -- they are going to be admitted before us. The ones who play sport on Sunday, The ones who find life and community elsewhere.
We are bidden to look to the interests of others, and see where others find their life and community. Rejoice when we see others finding life and community. When we actually acknowledge that others are finding life and community in places other than the Church, things that most assuredly come from God -- then we might have a chance to touch the lives of other people with the sort of love that Paul describes in his letter to the Philippians.
We are invited to acknowledge that life and community from God is found in places outside this Church. We are invited out of our self-imposed exile and invited to share in these blessings that others enjoy. St Paul tells us: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit"; he tells us, not others. We, the Church, are told not to be conceited -- not just as individuals, but also more importantly as Christians. It is a conceit to think that we are better than the rest of society or that life and community is only to be found within our parameters. We, the Church, are told not to do something for selfish ambition, not just as individuals, but also as a congregation. We are not here just as a self-perpetuating institution. We should not charge for something which we should be offering free of charge.
I began to ponder just why should Jesus have so commend the tax collectors and the prostitutes before the religious people? It is not just that they are assumed to be the dregs of society -- showing that there is no one beyond the love and care of Jesus. The common element for both tax collectors and prostitutes is that they benefit from the prosperity of others -- the tax collector because in those days he or she got a bigger cut -- the prostitute because he or she may be visited more frequently. They actually do sincerely look to the interests of others, even if they might perhaps benefit as well.
Recently I was listening to Dr Keith Suter being interviewed on the radio by Margaret Throsby and his comment was that trade between nations has meant that by and large the modern nation states will no longer fight one another. One doesn't kill one's customers. War has changed into terrorism, where there is isolation, one from another.
Look to the interests of others has a good deal of sense on the global scale as well as on the parish scale. Isolation rather than interdependence will not bring anyone any good.
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