s126o00 Somerton Park Sunday 14 9/7/2000
"A spirit entered into me and set me on my feet." Ezekiel 2:2
One of the lovely things about my computer is that it reads to me. I do not jest - my computer (a Macintosh) has a program which reads text to me. So the point of the preparation of the sentence, the collect, psalm and readings for each Sunday and Holy Day is not just to have them printed out for the pew bulletins each week for you to read while they are being read. It is also so that I can "dial up" a Sunday, have the computer read to me the propers and readings, and in a fairly short period of time get a "snapshot" of the readings and the parts on which I want to focus for the sermon and how those parts fit into the whole.
I find that this is a really helpful feature, because of course the computer reads the words more accurately than I do when I read them to myself - even though the pronunciation is sometimes unusual. Actually it is remarkable how accurately it does pronounce some of the biblical names :-) But I can, through sheer "familiarity" with passages of scripture, fail to see important words, completely skipping over them as if they weren't even there! Having the collect and the readings together, one can "see" similarities and differences. As I say, I sometimes hear words I've never seen before :-)
So as I did this exercise in preparation for this sermon, I was struck by the Collect, which asserts that the Spirit is given to make us children ... Whereas the Old Testament lesson tells us that the spirit sets us on our feet.
How fascinating. If the spirit sets us on our feet; the Holy Spirit can't be given to us to make us childish, incompetent, incoherent, and dependent. God does not seek to make us less competent but more competent. We are not to be babies, ever demanding our every desire be satisfied. One of the less pleasant aspects of children are tantrums, when children don't get their own way. An essential part of socialisation is to go through that stage of life. Adults who still throw tantrums to get their own way tend to find acquaintances and friends making themselves scarce. The spirit puts us on our feet, so we have a part to play in our need for food, clothing, companionship and reassurance being satisfied. And our part is often to ask, always to be grateful, and sometimes to realise that there are some things that we really don't actually need.
Being put on our feet, means that we have a part to play in the provision for food, clothing, companionship and reassurance for others too.
So if we are to be made children, it surely refers to the fact that we are part of a family with others, that is important. It is not about regressing, but about being social, being "house trained".
And actually as one thinks about it, the paradigm of having the computer read the propers and the readings to me, sets me "on my feet" to enable me to get a message to you as the congregation. When we are on about helping others, being part of a community, the Spirit comes to our aid.
So the Holy Spirit is about helping us with our socialisation. God puts people around us, and if we choose not to fight to get our own way, the Spirit will help us get on with others. The Spirit cannot help us throw a tantrum to get our own way at the expense of someone else.
And this gives us clues to the age old problem of God helping us or only helping us to help others. Everything which raises us up and enables us to raise up other people to stand on their own two feet, is the operation of the Holy Spirit.
It is the universal experience of humanity when faced with the divine, to fall on our faces and worship. But just because it is the universal experience of humanity does not mean that God wants or desires this. Most often, the scripture tells us, people are immediately strengthened to stand up again.
Would not the world be a better place if people stood on their own two feet and helped others do likewise, rather than spending inordinate amounts of time on our knees and criticising others that they do not follow suit? So recently a member of the clergy was saying how he still had people coming to weekday celebrations on saints days in his church. This would be really lovely, but it could also point to a desire to disclaim responsibility for what is happening around us in society.
A nice aspect of the Holy Spirit making us children, is that we are to be just children. The word is devoid of any connotation of differences between genders, races, or abilities. Children are accepted for who they are, and accept other children; ideally without the prejudices that seem to sneak up on us with age and "maturity".
There is the lovely story about the child attending a recently integrated school in the United States for the first time. She and a friend were so scared they spent the day holding hands, sublimely oblivious to the fact that one was "white" and her friend "black".
And we are all to be children, not just some children and others leaders - pushing the children around. We are all to be brothers and sisters - and may I say that this is a lesson lay as well as clergy need to heed.
It is therefore inconceivable that those who follow and seek to emulate the actions of the good Samaritan, could claim to be lead by the Holy Spirit to harm or kill another human being in the name of Christ, what ever they believed. Sectarian violence is precisely that - sectarian - not of the Church. Sectarian violence is by definition at the expense of someone else, where others are "put down" either psychologically or actually. This is the opposite of helping people to their feet.
One of the most precious times in the lives of families is when parents help their siblings in their first steps in walking. Later it is holding the bicycle and running along with it, as the child learns to balance. These are both sublimely the actions of the Holy Spirit.
But of course the very action of helping a child to walk, helping a sibling to ride a bike, is inevitably to give them the resources to walk away, to begin to live independently of that very help. And this is a sure sign of a healthy relationship between parent and sibling which should likewise be reflected also in our other relationships, relationships we have in our fellowship of faith and in our community. We give others encouragement to develop themselves to the fullest, not to be tied to a particular bandwagon, philosophy, theology or political agenda. We encourage others, not to be dependent on us, but to have space to find and exercise their own gifts and talents.
It can hardly be accidental that our gospel portion for today, describes Jesus' total failure in ministry and immediately afterwards, in stark contrast, the success of the twelve sent out, two by two. We are told that: "he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them." whereas: "they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them." (Mark 6:5,13). Again the paradigm is clear, we as disciples are not meant to be dependent, but to stand on our own two feet. Jesus makes it quite clear, neither are they to be dependent on worldly possessions. They took nothing but themselves. They themselves were the gifts sent by God, to a world to show them their true status, beloved by God equally as the disciples were themselves.
We too, as we learn to stand on our own two feet are useful for God's mission not as we have things, like money or bread, to give to others in their need, which could lead to dependency. No, we are sent to help people stand on their own two feet too.
As soon as we take things, others will seek to acquire what we bring to them. If we take but ourselves, is to within themselves that others will (hopefully) look to find empowerment. After all, Jesus died for them as well as for us.
It is indeed a revolution in thinking and indeed something to be thoroughly welcomed by everyone. There is nothing of which to be afraid - it leads to our complete maturity - along with everyone else's. Sadly though some "refuse to hear", because they still want to lead lives pretending or insisting that others be dependent on them.
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