s123g97 Somerton Park Sunday 11 Pentecost 4 15/6/97
"So we are always confident" 2 Corinthians 5.6
I would guess that few would argue that one of the most pressing things we feel in our society today is a lack of confidence. We here in South Australia have been told again and again not to knock Adelaide and the State. Eagerly we are told by the housing association that we have reached the bottom of the cycle and everything's looking up. With interest rates so low and prices about to rise, now is the time to buy and to build!
But it is not only in society - there is a feeling that the Church is under threat. The prophets of doom tell us that the church is in decline, but they fail to mention the scorn the Lord has for numbers of people. Even the most cursory look at scripture has God cutting the numbers of soldiers in Israel's army to the barest minimum so that God can win the victory. The great sin of David was to hold a census of the people. It was not the sin of counting, but the sin of trusting in a number of people which lead him to trust God less.
So confidence is a vital relevance to us all.
It is important to distinguish between facts and feelings. I think I am a classic workaholic. I enjoy my work and I enjoy people. Along the way God gives me a break, which I do not know what to do with. I do not recognise as God's gift to me. With nothing to do, I become anxious and fearful, beyond all proportion to the little problems I face in life.
I was interested when I was watching the tennis once. The commentator said that a particular player struggled to get on top of her opponent. But as soon as she had done so, her game fell apart and she slipped back.
Worry in inactivity is a particular affliction of those of the male gender. Often they have had less experience of being in hospital than those of the female gender. Landing in hospital, often for the first time at 60 or 65 for a "prostate" (which they do like a sausage machine) suddenly the enforced rest - they often begin to have imaginings of impending disaster. I still remember my own anxiety when I landed up in the Royal Adelaide Hospital a week before my third year at St Barnabas College began. I thought all hell would break loose if I wasn't at the Wardens' session on the Friday evening. It was a spontaneous pneumothorax, for those who are interested. I didn't sleep for five nights - until the final Friday morning when the hospital chaplain came to give me the Holy Communion! I was dead to the world! I was discharged in time to get to the Wardens' session that evening.
It is a bit of the same with this parish. In the early days when it was a bit of a struggle, there was work to be done, and people banded together to get the church built. The fellowship and the task was enjoyed. Now however there seem an endless stream of little maintenance items to be attended to and they seem a hindrance. Bricks and mortar are important and they are somewhat easier to work with than our relationships with others. In the early days the fellowship came through the bricks and mortar, without that concrete task to do, the fellowship seems to flounder a bit. When times are tough financially is gets hard to get enthusiastic about raising money for renovations.
So perhaps our perceived lack of confidence reflects only that we have, by and large, achieved the material things we need for worship in this place. This is in no sense a criticism, it is true the hungry have no time to be depressed. The devil finds work for idle hands.
However I do not think that the answer is to build a bigger building or whip up enthusiasm for this or that project., in an effort to placate our own consciences and keep our anxiety at bay. God does not love us for what we can do for him, God's love is totally unconditional.
Yet we can't love others in a vacuum. We are not called to sit in a holy circle saying to one another repeatedly "I love you". How can we as individuals and as a community work together without feeding our work-a-holism? Can we feel comfortable with ourselves as individuals and as a community without having a task to complete?
I would not want to suggest I have the answer to these questions, for I suffer from them as much as anyone else. Some guidelines I offer, as much to assuage the frustration and guilt I battle with no more successfully as others.
As the Church, we face what is not an entirely new phenomenon. People "outside" who have not heard of Jesus or God, or what is worse, have heard a distorted version of the truth. That distorted version is as much my own fault as anyone else's. As I reflect by my activity "for God", people get the mistaken impression that God likes those best who are busiest. Compassion and forgiveness have always been at the centre of the picture of God, and it is this that we should be reflecting.
We live in a generation hell bent on suing anyone and everyone, and this causes many to shun responsibility. We live in a society where the pressures for all to work and contribute mean that the ordinary persons ability to be an active part of any group is severely restricted. Commitment even to ordinary things, like sporting and social groups is tenuous to say the least. Unwillingness to be involved is no rejection of God, just a reflection of the circumstances of our times.
So all is not "doom and gloom". If people are rejecting a distortion of God, then that is good. I would far prefer people reject a distorted picture of God. If people want to avoid responsibility, it may be because the Church has had a history of loading too much responsibility upon Church members. All too often down the centuries the Church has answered "Yes" to the murderer's question "Am I my brother's keeper?" God refused to respond to this blatant attempt to escape the honest enquiry of God.
The confidence that St Paul is talking about in not the sort of "devil may care" lackadaisical attitude, "cool" as the young ones may say.
My confidence comes from looking at others and realising what lies behind their attitudes. If we can seek to understand and appreciate why people seem to reject God and responsibility, then we can live our lives not endlessly trying to change other people. I find remarkably little evidence in sacred scripture of any commandment to God's people to try to convert other people. I find a lot more evidence about loving them.
There is absolutely no point in doing anything else. We can spend our lives complaining about others, complaining about God and getting frustrated with ourselves and our perception of our own deficiencies, and end up thinking that God likes us more this way. Where is the confidence we are called to reflect?
No amount of conning, badgering, haggling or spruiking will help another person to say "yes" to God or "yes" to the Church - only unconditional acceptance.
God loves each and every person quite unconditionally. The good news is that this includes we ourselves, despite all our fears and frustrations. We have said, each of us, a little "yes" to that unconditional love. The still small voice of God is saying the same thing, not just to us, but to all. In the midst of a busy life, it is easy to miss it, it is easy to mistake it for just another cause to support, or to think "yes" - but I can't live up to what "Christianity" expects of me.
God has all the time in the world, for in the end the good news is that God believes in us - he, if not us, knows the reasons behind what people do and don't do, and God remains ever the God of compassion and forgiveness.
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.