The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s117g09 Sunday 5 8/2/2009
'everyone is searching for you' Mark 1.37
(While sitting in Sydney airport waiting for a flight to Hobart)
I guess one of the usual reasons people come to church is to have some 'time out'. It is a point of rest and recuperation as well as preparation to go back to a busy life. We see church as a rock amidst the storms of life.
It is lovely to live in my own house for the first time in my life. After 29 years moving from rectory to rectory as we have moved from town to town - here in Orange I can settle into my own place and pretend that it's mine. (Of course it is really the bank's :-)
And coming to church, we want services that support us in the turmoils of this life, and I suspect that if a preacher gives a sermon which doesn't do this perhaps he or she might suggest that we might have to examine our theology - we go away unfulfilled and dissatisfied.
A while back I read a quote from a disaffected priest about the Bishop: 'He upsets people. Bishops are usually urbane, empathetic people.'
And for all I can sympathise with such thoughts, the problem is that Jesus was always 'on the go'. This year we particularly concentrate on the gospel of Mark and one of the characteristics of Mark is the frequency of the word 'immediately' ('euthus' 42 times in Mark). Jesus does one thing and immediately goes off to do something else. And we see this in today's gospel snippet. Jesus does lots of good things, but rather than stay and consolidate, he is up and about the following morning, praying and planning where next he was going. The disciples and the other people have to search for him. The last thing they expected after such a perfunctory beginning to the ministry in that place was for Jesus to move on elsewhere. But that is precisely what he did, and does.
For all our desire for stability and permanency Jesus calls us onward and upward.
And I rather think our theology matches the desire for an empathetic stability. We look backwards to the certainties of the past. I look back to scripture. Others look perhaps to tradition. There is the old joke that the authority in the Anglican Church is what the last Rector did :-)!
But Jesus has none of this. He conducts his ministry 'on the run' and it is the disciples who have to struggle to keep up!
Jesus takes the initiative to move on to others. He didn't come for the members of his own family. He didn't come for those of his hometown of Nazareth and weren't they mightily pissed off! He didn't come to those who the disciples thought were appropriate he rebuked them when they wanted the children sent away. He didn't come to establish the disciples into positions of power and authority over others, like James and John. He didn't come to reinforce the separateness of the religious authorities and was crucified as a result. He didn't come just to support the nation of Israel, he readily associated with Greeks and others.
This was his mission, and it was a mission that he undertook right from the beginning to go on to others.
So Jesus can never be 'my' Lord, or the lord of the Anglican Church, or the Lord of Christians - Jesus is always moving towards others, and this is what we will find him doing if we search for him.
And so if we are searching for Jesus, we will not find him in church, synagogue, temple or mosque Jesus will already be on his way from these to others!
Anything and everything that we do to make him 'ours' is essentially a distraction from this ministry. No matter what the cost of our sacrifice, no matter the orthodoxy of our faith, or whatever, Jesus is always on his way towards others.
This is the fundamental message, and perhaps so fundamental it is often forgotten or neglected. It disturbs our certainties. It erodes our assurance that we are the centre of Jesus' attention.
But if we look at it carefully it is in fact the basis of our security not of course over others - but because we, and all others, are included.
So if we look at the decline of the mainline christian denominations, it is not that there was never any truth there, it is just that Jesus blesses others as well. If we measure our success in terms of others becoming like us, we are attempting to suggest that God finds a 'lasting city' in an Anglican sanctuary! (Heb 13.14)
If we claim to be disciples of Jesus, we too will be given no option but to find ourselves taken from where our natural 'roots' are and to other people, who we will inevitably find strange, different, other. They might well believe in different terms than we do, they might well not speak our theological lingo, they may well lead quite different lives, they may well call God by a different name than we use but we will be brought to them they will not be brought to us!
I am reminded of St Paul's conversion where the Lord moved him from orthodox Judaism to an acceptance of others, and later from the people of Asia where he was brought up to the alien people of Europe who spoke a different language. (Acts 16.9)
I read one evening's Old Testament lesson the words: 'They did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backwards rather than forwards.' Jeremiah 7.24 The wife of Lot was doomed because she looked backwards. I suspect that she rued the thought of fleeing, she envied the power and authority of the bullies of Sodom. Perhaps she thought that if Lot were a 'real' man he would confront these bullies and beat them.
The Lord wants us to face the future, not hark back to the past, fight un-winnable battles, or live in subjection to others' emotional or theological whims. Indeed the only way we will find the Lord is if we follow him into the future.
I am reminded of the story of the stilling of the storm. We see the power of Jesus when we are with him on the journey. The church has to be moving, and if it is moving then Jesus is 'on board'. If we are stationary and resisting change then probably Jesus has left the boat and strode away to his next destination.
I mentioned that I began this sermon as I was sitting waiting for a plane in Sydney airport. I was travelling to Hobart, Tasmania for a National Health and Welfare Chaplains' Conference to become Spiritual Care Australia. A number of participants took the opportunity to go on one of the various boat tours of the Derwent River and Islands there. No doubt they had a good time. But it caused me to wonder why would anyone get on a boat that was in dry-dock having a refit and going nowhere whatsoever like some people in the church so often want the church to be.
The Conference was excellent. Chaplaincy has always been on the margins of the church, at the interface between the church and the world. In some ways I suspect the conference was and is another example of Jesus leading us away from last century structures of the past and into a newer paradigm being even more at one with others and rejoicing to find Jesus already there with those others.
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