The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s066g14   Sunday 33  16/11/2014

‘it is as if a man, going on a journey’  Matthew 25:14

Traditionally God has been pictured as fixed, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient - all powerful, always present, knowing everything.   God can’t move, because there isn’t actually anywhere else to move.   And this has been a very comfortable delusion where we all seek stability, harmony, a refuge from the ‘changes and chances of this fleeting world’ as the final Collect for Compline so gracefully puts it. (1)

One of the saving graces of monotheism is that humanity is not at the mercy of competing deities found in the ancient Greek and Roman pantheon.   We don’t have to back the winner, the strongest, the wisest or the more skilful manipulator.   So scripture and the church proclaims the identity of God the parent, God the offspring and God the Spirit.   And this is vital because the ancient message of God’s love for all rather than God’s love for just some cannot be compromised.   There is ‘nothing new under the sun’ (2) as the ancient teacher proclaimed.

But this has the disadvantage that it presumes the world and the laws which govern it are fixed.   We are not static creatures and neither is the earth static.   The sight of the snow-covered alps in the distance are testament, yes to the beauty of creation, but yes also to the cataclysmic forces of nature that happened to make them in the first place.   And these creative forces have not stopped, as we here in Christchurch have been so rudely reminded over the last four years.

And God’s laws have changed.   Laws which were interpreted as defining God’s people, like male circumcision, sabbath observance and clean and unclean foods - have from a christian perspective been relativised.

My text for today is also testament to the reality that most of us often think but are not game to express openly - that God seems absent.   There is that lovely prose by Mary Stevenson titled ‘Footprints’ with the crunch line that when times were tough there was but one set of footprints which was when God was carrying the person. (3)   However when one is ill, for instance, I believe that God’s absence is real enough, for we are meant to give other people the opportunity to minister to us.   The old story of the man on the roof waiting for God to rescue him as the flood waters come higher and higher, comes to mind.  (4)   When we need them, God sends doctors, surgeons, nurses, all sorts of professionals, most of whom will not believe in God in precisely our terms, if at all.

If our religion has the effect of exempting us from contributing to, or receiving succour from, those around us, what earthly use is served by the commandment to love one’s neighbours?   If our love is actually indifference it might as well be hate for all the good it will do.   To love, we actually have to be a part of society and community, and again, this is far more importantly true on a corporate level than it is on a personal level.   If the church is seen to be antagonistic to society and disdainful of their efforts to promote peace, prosperity and equality - where is the love?   If our religion is actually a flight from the world - how does this emulate Jesus’ incarnation?

And if my thesis about the absence of God on a personal level is true, then it is quite likely to be equally as true on a corporate level.   God’s absence from the church corporate is meant to force the church to be a part of the community; to not be antagonistic and disdainful.  

One does not have to go all that far back into history to remember a time when Catholics were forbidden to marry Protestants and vice versa.   It was forbidden to enter a place of worship of another denomination, let alone another faith.   Were not these rules designed to make sure we never heard any other version of reality than what our parents taught us?   Does our god need so much protection?   Is our orthodoxy so fragile?  

The church rightly took an active role in the abolition of apartheid in South Africa achieved in 1991, blithely forgetting that most parts of it practiced their own denominational apartheid not so very long before.   And there are still parts of the church who practice apartheid on theological grounds, on gender roles, and in terms of intimacy.   Is our god so blinkered that he (usually god was male) sees only our worship and overlooking our selfishness and discrimination - but slighted by the world’s neglecting worship or using the wrong name and overlooking the world striving to establish peace, government and unity?   ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting others?’  (5)

If our God is so fixed that we as the church are exempted from communion with society and that we as individuals are exempted from regarding anyone else with respect, then our orthodoxy is fallacious.  

God isn’t our own personal, perennial baby-sitter.   God has others to care for, not just us.   ‘Jesus is’ NOT JUST ‘a friend of mine’  (6)  We as individuals are not the centre of God’s universe, just as the earth is not at the centre, but just on the very periphery, of a vast cosmos.   To suggest that we as Church are the sole recipients of God’s grace smacks of a very convenient selfishness.   We as humanity are surely evolving even as we are using up the resources of the earth exponentially. 

And we lose out if we decide to limit our world view to the cultural, religious and scientific perceptions of first century Palestine.   In fact our lives depend on our embracing society around us, and this is what my text alerts us to, for God is indeed elsewhere, not confined to the limits we arbitrarily, and again selfishly, place on our idol we piously call God.

Our parable today tells us to use our talents in society, to be involved, and results will come.

But will results come?   It might be easy for a white middle class Pakeha (european) straight male to claim that results will come.   We may have meaningful jobs, secure families, and sufficient income to cushion times of hardship.   What about those not so blessed?   Yet everyone has their place in society.   Each and every one of us has brought joy to our parents, along with some angst. :-)   Most of us have siblings to support as well as with whom to spar. :-)   Some of us are blessed by bringing children to birth, but all have the opportunity to nurture others and to be nurtured by them.   These are the talents and even the one who only made two more was commended.   These are the stuff of life, intangible but vital.   We don’t all have to be Mother Theresas or Pope Francis’. 

And finally I want to suggest that there is good news in the picture of the divine being like a person going on a journey and leaving us to get on with it, and that is that God is not the ever present voyeur and critic of our attempts at intimacy and love.   There is no one alive whose attempts at intimacy as a teenager have been the source of much embarrassment in later life.    Indeed some of us don’t learn much along the way :-)  To worship a god addicted to porn seems a particularly unusual thing to do.   This seems a good way of demeaning God and others, and avoiding the gospel of affirmation and inclusion of all.

2.  Ecclesiastes 1.9
5.  Acts 9.4