The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s086bg09 All Saints 1/11/2009 Mt Pleasant & Heathcote Diocese of Christchurch NZ
'Lazarus, come out'. John 11.43
It is delightful to be with you this morning. It is my first visit to New Zealand and 'God's own country' in the South Island. I will talk slowly lest you find my dialect from the 'west island' difficult to understand :-)! As I was typing these words I was listening to our ABC and a program describing our language as: 'the common speech of the Commonwealth of Australia represents the most brutal maltreatment which has ever been inflicted upon the language that is the mother tongue of the great English nations. (William Churchill, American philologist and sometime Consul-General of the United States in Samoa and Tonga.) In .. 1911, Valerie Desmond wrote her memorable book The Awful Australian, where she complains at length on the use of language in the Antipodes. The Australian accent has frequently been described by travellers, but none have done justice to its abominations.' http://www.abc.net.au/rn/linguafranca/stories/2009/2707161.htm#transcript
When one looks at different churches, the architecture shows us what that particular church considers the most important. So in the usual Anglican Church the altar is in the central front position, with the pulpit to one side. So the sacrament of Holy Communion is central to our expression of the faith. Of course for those of more 'evangelical' persuasion, the bible is more important so the lectern, often an impressive brass 'eagle' is prominent. The pulpit becomes grander. In some Lutheran churches the pulpit is central, sometimes there are stairs to a platform higher than the rest, dwarfing a small table for the communion. So preaching the Word has prominence in Lutheran circles. In Catholic Churches a crucifix is mounted above a tabernacle and altar. There may be no formal pulpit. Of course for musicians, the organ and placement of the choir becomes the most important things. In recent years the sacrament of baptism has been stressed as most important; initiating people into ministry; so often the font has come from near the front door to the rather more convenient position in the front. A number of months ago I visited an early cathedral and around the walls were memorials to deceased prominent people. It was obvious that their heritage was important to that congregation. So the architecture of the building betrays the spirituality of the congregation. Even the outside shows things that are important. One church in which I ministered was essentially invisible even though it was situated on a main road. It was only of recent construction. It was a low building set back from the road, hiding behind a row of thick oleander bushes. The building itself held perhaps 150 people and I suspect that a number of the congregation, some of whom were foundation members, were pretty happy that it was never much filled. More people would only mean that they might have to make changes.
Some deluded folks even think that the parish priest is the most important thing in the church :-)!
But of course, Jesus died for none of these. Jesus didn't die for the bible, the holy communion, the altar, the building, the organ, nor especially for the priest. Jesus died for that which is the most important thing in the building, and that is, of course, the souls inside. Jesus died for you and for me.
Today we celebrate All Saints Day and so I should make some reference to our Anglican Heritage and the writings that our Anglican saints have handed down to us. In my copy of the 'New Zealand Prayer Book' (1989) I see that you (mercifully) have followed the example of the 'Alternative Services Book' (1980) from Britain and omitted the 39 Articles of Religion. Since we in Australia recite them each night before we retire for sleep we still have them printed in our 'A Prayer Book for Australia' (1996) along with the equally inspiring 'Athanasian Creed' :-)!. They are relics of reformation theology, and only useful if one wants to hold on to reformation paradigms. But they do contain some gems and one such gem is part of Article X: 'Of Free Will' which states: 'We have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God ..' Now each and every one of us agrees that coming to church and worshipping God is a good work, pleasant and acceptable to God. So we have come to church this morning, not out of a sense of duty, not because we are rostered to do the morning tea, nor because we love singing, or we have a particular need for which to pray. No, we have come, because God has called us. Mary is here because God has called her to be the priest in this place. I am here preaching not because I decided to holiday in New Zealand for these few days, but because God has called me. You are here because God has no more, nor less, obviously called you to worship this morning.
It is interesting to ponder (as an aside) that this also means that God hasn't called those who aren't here. So it is not that others are lazy, irreligious or preoccupied they haven't been called this morning.
However if we are all called, just as Mary and I are called, then each and every person here has an equal right to be here. If each person is called by God, then no one has more of a right to be here, and no one less. The child in our midst is no less called by God than the patriarch or matriarch of the congregation and I've met one or two of them in my time (or wannabes)! The gay or lesbian person, the unmarried mother, those suffering mental disturbance and the addict have just as much right to be here as anyone else. So every person who has come this morning has come because God has called them, and it would be interesting to hear why God has done so. In fact of course, for those who are here regularly the reasons are likely to be fairly pedestrian. The more interesting reasons might come from newcomers.
And I wonder if our attitudes might be enlivened as we marvel that God still calls people into this place and into this congregation. Might we not be encouraged that God is still active in this world, rather than worried how we can cajole more here. The 'trouble' is God calls the poor and the outcast, rather than the rich and influential, and calls us to accept them into our presence.
Of course, not many of us could actually articulate just why we are here this morning. We are not to know what God has for us to hear or experience, especially this morning. It is most likely that God wants us to know that we are loved. I am sure that each and every Sunday Mary preaches the gospel of love.
Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, out of death, out of confinement - into real life. It is curious that other than a dinner held in Jesus and Lazarus' honour, he is never heard of again. Legend has it that Martha, Mary and he went to Cyprus where he was made a bishop and in 890 his relics were translated to Constantinople. He was a bit like the replacement for Judas. Matthias was chosen and appointed an apostle and was never heard of again! They were active in the world. Our Christian ministry happens not when we put on our white dresses and do things up the front in worship, but during the week. It is during the week that we are incarnated into the real world, following our Lord who was incarnated into the real world among the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners, and who calls us to follow him.
One of the things about travelling to different countries is that one learns about oneself and the culture from which one comes. So when I travelled to New York in 2002 I learned more about myself and my Australian prejudices than I did about America. So too I expect the same will happen when I am here in New Zealand now. As we, like Lazarus, come out of those things that confine us and deaden us, we will find we learn more about ourselves and from whence we have come.
I wouldn't want to suggest that this act of worship is like being entombed (though some Anglican worship is not far different :-) but it is as we go out and mix with other people that we grow. In coming to New Zealand I will become more aware of who I am and that from which I have come. I also will find things here that you have to complement my own perceptions of the truth and perhaps I will have something to contribute to your perception of truth. It is as we mix with people with different perspectives that we ourselves grow. Sadly, of course, some in the church think the fullness of life exists just here on Sunday morning within the bounds of these walls. Jesus calls us out, just as he called Lazarus out, into the real world.
I work as a hospital chaplain and one of the things I have learned since taking up my job three and a half years ago is that our aim is always to return the patient into the community. No one who is well stays in hospital for any length of time. Health is reintegration into the community at large. God heals people in hospitals but full health is not achieved in a cloistered community but when someone is returned to the glorious melting pot of normal life. I have only to think of the wonderful things that post war migration has brought to Australia and which have enriched our corporate life. No doubt it is the same here.
On this All Saints Day we rejoice in the fellowship of notable people of the past and how they enrich our perspectives, and we rejoice in the fellowship of the others who worship with us, and how they enrich our perspectives. Ours is not a solitary journey and it is a journey towards community and not away from it.
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