s118e03 16/2/03 Lockleys Sunday 6
"I do not run aimlessly" 1 Cor 9.26
It is probably worthwhile saying something about how the lessons to be read are chosen. Being Year B the gospel readings come from Mark's gospel, supplemented with passages from John to make up for Mark's shortness. The Old Testament lesson is chosen to complement the gospel for today. So today is a classic example where the story of Naaman the leper is paired with an incident where Jesus heals a leper. The second lesson is chosen independently of the Gospel and Old Testament readings, and they take passages from the various letters in course. So at the moment we are reading passages from 1 Corinthians and next week we turn to 2 Corinthians for a time.
It is worthwhile saying that this system is a safeguard for you, in that it means that the celebrant cannot choose lessons on, say how much money people should give, week after week! I recall my maternal grandmother, who used to attend Church in a different denomination complaining that this was all she heard, whenever she went there. Mind you I gather that she was not adverse to speaking her mind occasionally. I was really too young to know if she was one of those persons who lived by the dictum: "A fool and his money are soon parted" and resented any compromising of this way of life :-)
However the scheme of the Old Testament lesson and the gospel being linked separately from the Epistle does mean that any success in attempting to fit the message of the second reading to the other two is purely coincidental.
Today some of the differences between the readings are instructive. So we might assume from the words of St Paul, that entry into the kingdom is limited to only a few, those who succeed in winning the race. Yet the message of the Old Testament reading and the gospel is God's mercy for all, even for those considered worse than unclean &endash; essentially dead.
And St Paul's attitude to his body is being something to be punished and enslaved &endash; whereas the other readings graphically demonstrate God's care for our physical well being.
So the first of our messages for today, is that we do have to think about our faith. It is not served up to us on a platter, from which we have only to take without thinking. We are given brains to use, and your insights into the faith are as likely to be as pertinent, relevant and true as any of mine. We need to know where the end of the race actually is, lest we run in all sorts of different directions.
Indeed one of the difficulties of reading the Bible alone is that one can think some of the commandments refer to one specifically. It can happen in Church of course. Sometimes a person will comment to the preacher after the service how relevant the sermon that day was to their own life. It is probably not wise for the preacher to enquire just how :-) A good Spiritual Director may well be able to say &endash; that's fine, but you are being way too hard on yourself! I mean, if you haven't been out raping and pillaging lately, that is.
Much of our desire to be charitable is thwarted by our desire to see our charity used wisely and not wasted &endash; and this is fair enough. I vividly recall some years back being asked by one of my parishioners who was also a member of a particular charitable organisation if I could give him the names of deserving people on the parish roll to whom the organisation to which he belonged could give Christmass parcels. Would that it was so easy :-) I was not at all comfortable with the idea that I would make judgements about the material circumstances of parishioners on the parish roll, and whether they would feel comfortable that I made such judgements known to someone else! I have a sign on my front door at home saying that I do not give money to callers at the door. If I began this practice it would soon become known and there would be lines of people down Douglas St, all wanting handouts, and handouts as likely for cigarettes, alcohol and worse things, as for the necessities of life. If people actually need food, we always have some at hand.
But it is clear that it is often a battle to put aside our self-centredness and consider others. The stories of God's care for the lepers in this world, tell us that everyone has a right to exist .
As I look back on my life, my logical engineering mind has wanted to get clear the whole before I can fit each of the pieces into their rightful place. I need to know what the goal was I was running towards.
It's a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, one begins by getting the outside borders done, and only then the middle. I've sometimes felt the finding what my own faith is - was a bit like doing a puzzle without the completed picture nearby to give at least a guide as to where each of the pieces might go. So much of my life has been a sort of race, a single minded effort to try to see the whole, so that after this - individual snippets of the bible, the teachings of the Church and the experience of myself and others all fit in.
The last thing I could do is to proclaim the faith while it was still a jumble of pieces with no discernible relationship one with another. It is my meditations on these relationships which I try to bring to you each week.
Several weeks ago I said in my sermon, that "I was thinking about how we often look to the Lord to deal with the uncertainties of life. We look to God to deal with the weather for the farmers, to bring peace to the world or to stop this or that tragedy happening. In some ways I think that God's hands are tied when it comes to many of these things. What the Lord can do, albeit as unsuccessfully as some of these other things - is make plain to those who are willing to listen that God accepts the contributions everyone makes. God can at least make it plain that the killing or hurting of someone else in God's name is wrong."
As I look at modern secular society, I see a good deal of reluctance among young people to become involved in the Church. People have nothing against God, but the Church has been seen to have been used to exacerbate divisions and tensions. between people. In some ways the Church has not seemed aimless as much as the church has had a multitude of different options as far as directions to take. Some of those options are reasonably acceptable to modern people, but some are quite definitely not. And people are wary of becoming involved in something they do approve of, such as helping asylum seekers, for fear of being dragged into doing things they find themselves less comfortable with, like marching in demonstrations.
And let me say that we do have to take a long hard look at ourselves as the Church. Parts of our Anglican Church have traditionally disapproved of divorce and spurned any help to them. Parts of our Church have not baptised babies when parents brought them along. Parts of our Church are very vocal against IVF and pokies (and personally I would vote for one but not the other) when the ordinary man or woman in the street wonders: "Where is the good news?"
For no particular reason, I happened to pick up one of the books on my shelves, "Women of Spirit" where one of the authors, Janet Nelson says: It is painful that the record of the church is, if anything, worse than that of society in according to women freedom to choose how our own gifts will be exercised. It is painful to see that rejection of women as a continuing pattern within the church. In the Diocese of Melbourne it was in 1919 that a bill was first introduced to allow women to be elected to Vestries (I think equivalent to our Parish Council). It was introduced and outvoted eleven times until in 1931 the mover, Dr Booth, was refused leave to introduce it again on the grounds that it had already been rejected." (page 157) I have no doubt that a similar situation prevailed in this Diocese. And of course there is our reticence to speak openly about intimacy and its joys, which modern young people find bizarre.
There is the perennial joke about how many Anglicans does it take to change a light-bulb? One - provided the subcommittee of five opposing the change don't get their way! :-)
St Paul describes the Christian life as one of running a race, and it's a bit hard to run when a person is on their knees! It has sometimes seemed that Anglicans have more often stopped anyone else running rather than joining in. Sometimes we are dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world. Some of us prefer a quiet walking pace. But running - Anglicans are definitely not used to that!
Matthew Albert writes eloquently in Eureka Street (Jan/Feb. 2003 p16): "Perhaps the most universal religious doctrine is that of concern for the other. A Muslim believes that 'those who act kindly in this world will have kindness.' Confucius taught his followers to help others to achieve their goals as they might wish to achieve your own. 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you', says the Christian believer. A Hindu follows the rule that 'One should not behave towards others in a way which would be disagreable to oneself .' 'In the garden of thy heart plant nought but the rose of love', says a member of the Baha'i Faith. A Buddhist calls people to 'hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful'. (And asks:) How, then, is inhumanity perpetrated at the hands of believers of such noble faiths? And how is it that these convergent viewpoints result in conflict at all?"
Modern society wants nothing to do with further conflict. It wants nothing to do with totalitarian regimes in either the secular or the sacred sphere.
It is my contention that the Church has to be clear that it decries all forms of imperialism and use of power for whatever purpose, before we can expect real growth. We need to be clear that this is what God wants, what Jesus came to restate, and it was the opposition to this that had Jesus nailed to that Cross.
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