The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s065e05 Sunday 32 Lockleys 6/11/2005
"We urge you .. to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders." 1 Thessalonians 4.10-12
This seems very down to earth advice for the apostle to give to his readers. It seems to be stating the obvious, yet sometimes the obvious needs to be stated. For me, this is precisely the opposite of the lifestyle of a terrorist. We are called to live a life that is especially concerned to be a good model of behavior in front of others.
Last St Luke's Day, I was celebrating at St Raphael's Nursing Home, and the gospel was Luke 10:1-9 which says: "After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you ..'"
I was astonished at these words, which are surely as familiar to you as they are to me. Jesus' paradigm of mission was to send the disciples out into the world, to accept what was offered by the world. And I thought of the paradigm of mission that has been the Church's for however many centuries -- to build wonderful churches and expect people to come to us and marvel at our offerings.
And lest it be thought that I have something against buildings; we have also build marvellous moral and spiritual edifices, again to which we expect people will be inevitably drawn. Our morals are just so superior; our spirituality is just so much more orthodox. Everything anyone else has to offer is so inferior, irrelevant, heretical, or demonic. We have only to look at the suspicion the church has had towards the advances in reproductive technology over many years, of which the most spectacular and the most spectacularly reviled is the condemnation, in some parts of the Church, of the contraceptive pill.
The British (and other nations) colonial history in Australia and elsewhere, of which our Anglican Church is inextricably linked has operated on the assumption of the superiority of all things British and Western. I understand (and can well imagine) that some Australians can become obnoxious when travelling overseas. But the most difficult thing for us is that even though we might as individuals try to be courteous and respectful, we need to hear the aversion that the indigenous people of Australia have to our "superior" religion and culture, and how they associate this with God and Jesus -- and want no part of our Church.
On the other hand I was glad to hear an interview with Judith Erskine on Radio National recently (Verbatim 22/10/2005) "In 1954, Judith .. was 21 years old, just married, and about to begin a new life at an isolated out-station in New Guinea, where her husband was a Native Patrol Officer. Over the following nine years in PNG, Judith had four children, discovered a variety of ways to serve tinned meat, and learned how to fix a generator." She spoke both of how paternalistic the Australian Government operated, but also how very strong bonds of friendship were forged between the Australians and the Papua New Guineans. The local PNG police saw it as their duty to protect the young married wife of the Patrol Officer and his family while he was away.
Now we might not be sent to some far-flung outpost of civilization, we might not be called to travel to any other country; but wherever we find ourselves, our epistle for today bids us behave appropriately, not just personally, but also corporately. Any attitude of superiority, especially in the name of God, is a betrayal of the mission of Jesus.
For the direction, "to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands" is something that is not beyond the reach of anyone. One does not have to have a theological degree or special gift in order to fulfill this word. One does not have to be of a particular race or culture. Each and every person can do these things.
That quotation from Luke talks about saying to those we come across: "peace be with you". The ancient people of God, the Jews, still greet one another with the word: "Shalom" which is "peace" and I suppose that other cultures do similarly. We say "hello" or "g'day" which is rather ambiguous.
But "peace be with you" denotes a positive acceptance of others as they are, and a desire to "live quietly". When we are bidden "to eat what is set before you" we are bidden to reassure our hosts of our acceptance of their offerings.
In recent times I have been conscious of just how much negativity there is around in the Church and how this affects people. So I can name four former members of the clergy of this diocese, all very senior and with a lifetime of ministry and caring behind them -- each of whom on retirement have declined a license. Four good and faithful priests lost to the pool of clergy who might do locum work. They are tired of the negativity. Similarly a couple of my good friends, people who were once wardens in a past parish, now no longer want to take any part in the organization of any parish. They are still friends with me, but any cajoling on my part to take a more active role in support of the Church would destroy that friendship.
So I am starting to turn away from expressions of negativity, for my own health's sake as well as for the sake of the Church.
It is my general observation of life that those who most need to hear this (or any) message will dismiss it out of hand; while those who are already trying to do this, may well try to redouble their efforts, in fact unnecessarily.
I repeat, these words call us to live a life that is especially concerned to be a good model of behavior in front of others. We are called to be a blessing to others, and this means that we accept them and their offerings.
I can only say that these are important words of St Paul, and we dismiss them at our peril.
"We urge you .. to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly."
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