The readings on which this sermon is based are found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r082.htm
s082o03 Lockleys 21/9/03 St Matthew
"do not rely on your own insight" Proverbs 3.5
When we read the passage "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" it might seem that the meaning is plain. God does not want sacrifices, and we take this to mean that God does not want us to ritually slaughter animals any longer. Well nobody really wants to do this anymore anyway, so we can breathe a sigh of relief.
Those of the more evangelical side of the Church have sometimes criticised the more high church amongst us, condemning any notion of the "sacrifice of the Mass". Whatever the service of Holy Communion is, it ought not to be seen as a sacrifice, for God does not want sacrifices.
However there would be few clergy (of any church-person-ship) who are brave enough to suggest that God did not want us to give of our money in a sacrificial way :-) ! That is a different matter, and anyway most money is tainted so the less people have the better, and therefore the more that the Church has the better :-)! We must save you from temptation :-) !
It is easy to be against things. One can fill one's life with good bandwagons on which to leap, in the name of improving society. I remember a Church Treasurer once saying &endash; if everyone tithed the Church wouldn't have any problems. This might be true, but it was said in a manner critical of those who didn't. We might campaign against pokies, but the reality is the economy of our State depends very much on revenues from the tax on pokies as well as our driving fines. It seems to be only the police who campaign vigourously against driving dangerously. Some people can play the pokies in a responsible way. The ones who play irresponsibly are not evil, yet this is hard to see this in the rhetoric. Some time ago I was given a postcard with a picture of a baby on it. The idea was to send it to our Prime Minister with the message that babies do not belong in detention centres. With my small knowledge of new settlers and the difficulties they do face in the community &endash; I am not sure that a detention centre might not be a preferable (if not perfect) alternative for a new born baby &endash; at least they have food and shelter. It is the same dynamic as the de-institutionisation of people with mental illness. It is wonderful in theory &endash; if only there was ready support in the real community to which they have been sent. I am led to believe that some criminals re-offend to be sent to prison so that they can be fed and clothed properly for a while!
And it is easy to be against things knowing, but discounting, the impact this might have on real people. So a legitimate desire to retain sovereignty for our boarders may mean that huge obstacles are put before innocent people. I'm sure our attitudes would be different if it were us!
One of the greatest contributions that the evangelical traditions of the Church teach us is the importance of scripture. The evangelical side of our Church are rightfully suspicious of liberal "wooly" thinking. Most often, of course, this is reflected in matters of an intimate nature. The evangelical wants to assert that God uses scripture to communicate what we should and what we should not do when it comes to our relationships with people of the opposite and the same gender as ourselves.
I would agree that the Bible is a manual for how we are to behave, though from my reading of scripture it has little if anything to say how we relate intimately to one another. It has lots to say when it comes to how we relate less than intimately, one with another. The words: "loving our enemies" spring immediately to mind.
If it is easy to fill one's life with causes to fight against &endash; the question becomes what are we called to fight for? But again it is easy to pick a cause that implicitly means that we are actually fighting against someone else. From my way of thinking, one of the most unhappy denominational descriptors is "Protestant". The scripture of Jesus is plain &endash; what God wants is mercy and this means us to be merciful towards others - not protesting all the time.
We cannot pick and choose towards whom we should be merciful, for that would mean that those towards whom we might be called to extend most of our mercy, would probably miss out. Most likely we would be most merciful towards those who have least need of our mercy &endash; those who are least different from us.
And there is surely an element of personal sacrifice called for here? "Mercy and not sacrifice" is sounding less and less easy to interpret.
Similarly the words: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight." Yet many people will say how much in later life they have come to rely on their own instinct and I can reflect on the truth of both of these sayings. And indeed there is good evidence in Christian ethics for the supremacy of informed conscience. The Catholic theologian, Richard P McBrien comments on "medieval theology's remarkably provident teaching on the inviolability of conscience, even when it is in opposition to ecclesiastical law." ("Catholicism" p148)
I can testify to the blessings that come when one does what one is told. Half way through my University career I was told to stick at it rather than drop out and go to theological college. And looking back I recognise that it was a good thing to do, though I resented it (a little) at the time. When I finished at Theological College an Archbishop who shall remain nameless insisted I complete my final Greek subject in my deacon's year to get my Th.L. rather than my Th.Dip. Again, looking back I realise the wisdom of this, though again, I resented it somewhat at the time. It was personally rather satisfying that I actually passed that Greek subject with my best ever mark &endash; I was far from a brilliant academic :-) !
And the author to the letter to the Ephesians tells us that we are not to be children &endash; who are to be seen and not heard. We are to be adults, making our own contribution, not simply being compliant.
So the words of the Bible are meant to be taken seriously, but like every other possible authority, it is more important to God that we are fully ourselves rather than fully compliant. Indeed the picture of God looking for Adam and Eve in the garden at the cool of the evening is sometimes interpreted as God trying to find out where Adam and Eve "were at".
So scripture is for our up-building and maturity comes as a result of our faithfulness as well as our failures. We will not be mature individuals if we are so timid as to never attempt anything, and we will not be mature individuals if our whole world only revolves around ourselves, and it doesn't matter if this self-absorption is about our happiness or our salvation.
Is God actually interested much in my personal salvation? Is God actually interested in anyone's salvation? The God I worship is much more interested in how merciful I am towards those who differ from me. In the end, Jesus was crucified by those who were upset because he was merciful towards people other than themselves. The first murder in the Bible was committed because one brother thought the offering his brother brought to God was more acceptable than his own.
There is an enormous number of people out there, ready willing and able to help us. As the old army saying goes: "the only stupid question is the one you don't ask". And it is not just the young who need to solicit the help of those around them before doing things. The elderly can be equally as reticent in accepting help from other people. It seems a bit late and sad to only need others to be carried out of a home horizontally, and it's a bit hard at that time to thank those who do the carrying :-)
And if we are called to listen to the advise and accept the help of others personally, then there is a good case for this to be true corporately also. So we in St Richard's do not hold the Anglican faith in it's entirety. We as Anglicans don't hold the truth of Christianity in it's entirety. We as Christians don't hold the truth of faith in its entirety. We as people of faith don't hold the truth of God almighty in his, or her, entirety. We are made for each other - both personally and corporately.
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