The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s126g15   Sunday 14   5/7/2015

‘he could do no deed of power there .. he was amazed at their unbelief.’   Mark 6:6

When I read this gospel again, I continue to be struck by the townsfolk’s knowledge of Jesus and his whole family.   I guess Nazareth was no different from any other small town, everyone knew everyone else, their occupations, who went to synagogue and who didn’t, from whom you could borrow, who were the alcoholics and who were the prostitutes, who to brown-nose and who to shun.   They were the learned of whom I read the other week: ‘In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.’ (1)   While we continue in this knowledge of our own place in society and the place of everyone else, we are condemning ourselves to perpetuating a world that most people find alienating.   No one gets through life unscathed, but surely there are some wounds that are avoidable!   If we actually want a society and community that all people find less challenging, then we, the church have to get up off our knees, stop praying that God will do something about it, and make some changes to the faith structure of the church corporate.

I work in a hospital and each and every day I see people being enabled to walk (through hip and knee replacements), enabled to hear (through cochlear ear implants), enabled to see (through cataract and other eye surgery) and given a chance to live again (through heart surgery and chemo and radiotherapy).   We rejoice to see new life amongst us, in these as well as in the maternity ward.   In the sacred spaces of birth suite, operating theatre, cancer treatment rooms and wards, people’s lives are changed.   People’s lives are changed without the name of Jesus being invoked or prayer to any god being uttered.   Is this unbelief?

So I live in this disconnect where miracles happen every day in a secular setting, but seeing a church divided and ineffectual, loudly praising the name of Jesus.   Is the personal relationship with Jesus the church claims to have actually unbelief?   Does our pseudo-knowledge of ‘divine’ things actually render the risen Jesus powerless?

This causes me to reflect that the sort of co-operative team effort from the cleaners to the surgeons  in the hospital must count for something in bringing this about.   Yes, I guess there are politics and personalities, but somehow these are transcended for the good outcome of the whole.   In contrast congregations, churches and denominations all cling tenaciously to the perception that they alone are right and others are expendable.

And the aim of the hospital is to discharge a patient back into society, in stark contrast to the aim of the church - to add to their adherents.   Inherent in the hospital is a selflessness which eludes the church.

My daily personal experience leads me to conclude that it is beyond question that God blesses co-operative selfless effort rather than individuals using a particular form of worship, prayer using a particular name for the divine, or persons who espouse a particular doctrine - as I say - I witness this each and every day.

I conclude, therefore, that there is no magic formula, which will bring healing to individuals, no matter how orthodox this may appear, because this is fundamentally selfish.   There is no magic formula because if there was one, it would result in us being able to dispense with the services of the hospital team, from cleaners to surgeons, all their skill and dedication.

I do not want to diminish the value of prayer, after all I guess one can successfully give birth without the help of a midwife, but if I was a woman, I know I’d prefer one to be present.   But prayer and faith brings us into the wider community; they do not enable us to dispense with the services of other people, whatever their faith or lack thereof.

I now realise the importance of this recounting of his rejection by his townsfolk is that here Jesus talks about faith in a corporate way.   Faith is not just a personal thing.   Being sufficient unto oneself precludes belief, a community sufficient unto itself doesn’t believe, and by extension a church sufficient unto herself doesn’t believe.

Increasingly these days there is a search for spirituality, that life-giving creativity in each of us that makes life bearable.   It is why we work and how we spend our leisure time.   We actually don’t worship money, we simply want enough for ourselves and others that we can engage in that which actually is personally affirming.   I was interested to hear an interview with the photographer, David Jay, who uses his income from fashion photography to fund his passion for art photography such as ‘The Unknown Soldier’ series.  (2)

And that which is personally affirming is our relationships, one with another.  We know, without being told, the truth of that ancient perception that it in not good for anyone to be alone.  (3)

As I have been reflecting, I realise that spirituality and creativity brings people together, and when people come together, spirituality and creativity are generated.   It’s a bit like a chain reaction!   Is the modern ease of communication causing the Age of Aquarius; are we in the very midst of an explosion of creativity and spirituality - which many parts of the church are doing their level best to deny and thwart?

After the shooting in Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church, (4) the governor and senators in South Carolina have decided to take down the Confederate flag on their Capitol complex.  (5)   In Christchurch there has been an acrimonious debate about the ruins of the Anglican Cathedral in the centre of the CBD.   It is like the Confederate flag, which ‘for some whites, many of whom can trace their ancestry back to the Civil War, the flag represents heritage and pride.  "It's a symbol of family and my ancestors who defended the state from invasion. It was about standing up to a central government," said Chris Sullivan, who is a member of the Sons of the Confederacy. "The things that our ancestors fought for were not novel and they really are the same issues we have today.”’  (6)

So for many Păkehă (7) in Christchurch, they can trace their ancestry to those who originally built and worshipped in the now ruined Cathedral; it represents their heritage and pride.   It is a symbol of family and ancestors and the benefits of British colonialism and indeed a justification for it.   Where is the line between elitism and racism?   Is this not inimical to belief?

Clearly ‘in the midst of life we are in death’ and we all have to die of something.   There is always going to be sadness and pain, for these are but the other side of the love we feel for others.   What the gospel achieves is to stop individuals, communities and churches hurting one another in the name of the divine.  

1.  Eric Hoffer
3.  Genesis 2:18
7.  Those who are not of Măori descent.