s060e99 Somerton Park 3/10/99 Sunday 27
"I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." Philippians 3:8
I want to affirm this morning, personally and publicly, that I read and say these words for myself, in good conscience, and enthusiastically. For all my difficulties with institutional religion in general and the Anglican Church of which I am most assuredly a part, and have been all my 48 years, and despite the fact that I would far prefer to be called a "disciple" rather than a "Christian" - yet I can echo these sentiments of St Paul wholeheartedly.
And I echo these sentiments wholeheartedly, because I know Christ Jesus, the Christ of the gospels spent his time seeking out and accepting the contributions of one and all.
I have no hesitation in reciting the Apostles and Nicene Creeds - though I confess I find the Athanasian somewhat incomprehensible :-) - for these affirm that the mission of Jesus - seeking out and accepting people - was "of God" - that this reflects the true nature of God from all eternity.
The creeds also affirm that the mission of Jesus was not accepted by the religious leaders of his day - that Jesus was crucified - but that crucifixion - far from being successful in bringing the movement to a halt - the subsequent resurrection has enabled the same mission of seeking out and accepting the contributions of one and all to be extended beyond the boundaries of Palestine and the Middle East to the whole of creation - to people of every race and language and culture and gender and ... whatever. The efforts of religion to restrict and constrain the divine is ever doomed.
I affirm this sentiment of St Paul, because it is not a past experience but a present reality. I rejoice to continue to see something of the risen Jesus in the lives of ordinary people. The resurrection is not for me an "ancient and mouldy" old doctrine of something that happened 2000 years ago, the proof of which I have to take on trust. The resurrection for me is a present reality, as I experience, first hand, the risen Christ in the people around me, both inside and outside the walls of the Church.
And in seeing something of the risen Jesus in ordinary people, I begin to accept the possibility that others see, in the ordinariness of my own existence, something of Jesus too.
It is interesting to me that it is the chief priests and the Pharisees who firstly pronounce judgement on themselves in the gospel story. After telling the parable of the tenants of the vineyard, Jesus asks his hearers: "Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They reply: "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time." (Mat 21:40,41) It is only in verse 43 that Jesus repeats precisely the judgement the authorities had already pronounced against themselves.
I am reminded of the words of the prophet Nathan to David "You are the man!" (2 Sam 12.7) after taking Bathsheba from Uriah the Hittite. It is interesting to me that God's prophet proclaims God's concern for the rights of the alien which takes precedence over the pretensions of the anointed King of Israel. Again, we choose our own God and we choose our own judgement. We do well to choose kindly.
The words of St Paul in our epistle speak of a journey. He talks about "I press on to make (the goal) my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own." (Phil 3:12) St Paul has confidence that others will think differently from himself. He affirms: "if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you." (Phil 3:15). Where people show respect for differences, where we affirm the possibility that God is able to lead others as God has lead us, differences may complement not confront.
For it is in confrontation of others that condemnation is brought upon oneself. There is still, in the words of Isaiah: "bloodshed ... a cry!" (Isaiah 5:7). Tenants still beat and kill the servants of God. And the servants are of God are not just inside the Church. Jesus was not killed by those "outside" the Church but by those "inside".
Where do we want God's forgiveness and grace?
Do we want to find God here in this Church, here in the word of God read and proclaimed, here in the sacrament of the Altar, here as we gaze upon the empty Cross behind the Altar?
Friends I want, with St Paul to: "be found in him" (Phil 3:9) for I know that Jesus comes with acceptance of me as I am - or at least I do intellectually. Whether I do emotionally is another matter. I would like Christ to be found in my home, with me in my day to day routine, with me in my highs and lows. And, strangely enough, this is precisely were we read and hear that Jesus, in his earthly ministry, mainly frequented. We read and we hear that Jesus visited people "where they were at" - and the paradigm hasn't changed one iota.
The Cross and the sacrament of the Altar (which flow from the Cross) is Jesus genuflecting to us. I can only assume that Jesus in the Cross and in the sacrament of the Altar, knows we all need to be reassured again and again of that genuflecting, of that love.
The "words of institution" say "Do this in remembrance of me". What do we do if we don't remember? We forget. And if we forget, it is not as if Jesus will go off all in a huff because he has been overlooked. It is we who will suffer if we forget Jesus' love for us as we are - that to which human love can but approximate. We will begin to climb over others in our efforts to raise our self esteem. The "survival of the fittest" is the rule of the jungle, surely Jesus acts to lift us above that.
St Paul speaks of attaining "the resurrection". Manning Clark's favourite quotation was from Dostoevsky: "I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for". (p 640)
May I echo St Paul's words, similarly wholeheartedly, to you: "if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you." I have no doubt that others will think differently from me, and I rejoice that this is so. It would be a pretty boring old place if everyone thought the same as I do. I offer my words, not that if you disagree with them you will "go to hell", but simply to take what you find valuable from them and to discard the rest. If others are truly turning to God, I am sure God is quite able to reveal to you what is needful without my assistance.
For with the best will in the world, I can only proclaim the gospel as it is revealed to me. Fortunately when one comes to church, everyone has an opportunity to be blessed as we hear the scriptures read, and follow those readings in the prepared sheets. Everyone has an opportunity to be blessed by the beauty of the building and the lusty singing. Everyone has an opportunity to be blessed by prayers, corporate and private, and in the receiving of the sacrament. Everyone has an opportunity to be blessed by the quiet fellowship one with another. The words of the sermon is but one element of a multi - faceted act of worship, packaged in an hour. But the opportunity for blessing doesn't end there. There is the ever present opportunity for blessing as we relate to those we love and meet during the rest of the week. I have often had cause to rejoice that there are these multitude of other occasions for blessing other than just my words from the pulpit.
Not everyone will avail themselves of all or indeed any of these opportunities, and that doesn't matter. What is in your heart and what is in my heart is far more important than the words I say or the clothes in which I dress, for it is in our hearts, yours and mine, that God indeed leads us all, whether you agree with me or whether you don't.
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