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

s128g12  Sunday 16   22/7/2012

'people .. rushed about .. to bring the sick on mats'  Mark 6.55

A commentator from 'Network Awesome' recently wrote about his experience of attending a Westboro Baptist Church protest: (WBC is particularly strong about God hating gay persons in particular and sinners in general) - 'let me try to give you a capsule experience of being at a WBC protest:  There is a man standing in front of you, and he hates you.   He hates you more than you've ever been hated before in your life, to the point where all other instances of hate you've experienced (maybe you hate the Yankees. Maybe you hate your ex) now seem to require a different, lesser word, because they're a different, lesser emotion than what this man feels for you at this moment.   He is not the only one who hates you, as he's brought his whole family.   There's at least 10 of them -- everyone from the man himself to his children -- and they hate you with a ferocity and volume that makes you wonder if there's room left for anything else in their hearts.   The man and his family are all holding signs, in the most garish colours and configurations possible, informing you and everyone else around you (everyone -- there are a enough signs to cover all their bases) that you're going to hell.   Maybe you're screaming at the man, telling him that he is wrong, but he will scream right back at you, throwing his memorised and practiced interpretation of the Bible right in your face.   He will look like he wants to hit you.   You will want to hit him.   If you do hit him, he will sue you for everything you've got.   Fred Phelps (WBC pastor) was disbarred a while ago, but his flock have made a habit of becoming lawyers.’

Such things happen in my own home town of Adelaide in South Australia too.

What a different picture we have of Jesus' preaching and acting!   People rushing about, bringing their friends for healing.   No coercion was necessary.   These were the ordinary folk, the poor, uneducated, illiterate masses.   Jesus didn't have to cajole others, they came to him, in numbers that made the orthodox and the devout jealous.  Jesus had to retreat with his disciples to catch their breath.

With the Westbro 'evangelists' and those in Adelaide, all the initiative is taken by the 'preachers'.   With Jesus, all the initiative is taken by the people round about.   Somehow people around Jesus were empowered, not diminished - they were enthusiastic!   'Enthusiastic' means 'pertaining to possession by a deity' from the Greek.   (   So Jesus gave away his divinity!    The enthused people around Jesus reached out to those around them - for the response to real healing is to include others.   Those around Jesus didn't consider themselves special through their healing, their only concern was that those they loved shared in the blessings.   This is the natural direction of enthusiasm, to include others, not to shout at them, challenge them, motivate them, threaten them, marginalise, alienate or condemn them.

So, turning to the church, how do we share the blessings, of the Eucharist for example?    (The gospel portions for today bracket the feeding of the multitude.)   Do those in a congregation gather those they love to come and share in the blessings?   Well no, because they need to be baptised and confirmed first.   They need to repent of their sins, renounce evil and believe.   There are so many hoops through which 'ordinary' people have to jump.   The blessings Jesus distributed were given without any preconditions - in complete contrast to the blessings the 'Church' distributes.

So often throughout my life I have heard ministers of the church bitterly accuse the faithful laity of neglecting their ministry to bring others into the congregation, failing to see that the church itself has some movement to make.   There have been times when I have wondered why on earth I would invite someone whose friendship I valued into a congregation where I was the minister when I know the four or six power-brokers in the congregation would abuse them!   And if I wonder why I would invite someone whose friendship I valued, why would I invite a chance acquaintance?   They might stay out of friendship and loyalty to me, but why should church-going be so fraught?   Perhaps it is because we live by the rule that we are doing unto others as has been done to us in the past, 'as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.   Amen.'   Jesus teaches us to ‘do unto others as we would have done unto us’ – a rather different precept – which, if we actually practiced, might well elicit a similar response by those outside, as happened in Jesus’ day.   They too might be enthused, and what a good thing this would be!

We are surely about enthusing others.   People will be enthused when they realise that they themselves are accepted, that they have a unique contribution to make, and that their contribution makes a difference to the lives of others.   They will be enthused to reach out to those they love to share in the blessings of acceptance, of contribution, of making a difference.

One of the deepest needs each and every person has, is to feel that their life has made a difference to others.    For some this will instinctively imply that they will be remembered kindly by their children, grandchildren and perhaps great grandchildren.   One of the things that diminish others is their feeling of insignificance in the course of this world - which makes progeny so important.   For those whose job is to be a small cog in the capitalist machine, meaning in life implicitly means handing on to one's children a bit better start in life than was dealt to us.   Perhaps they will make a recognised contribution to the course of this world.   After all, each and every one of us is unique and important.

Which makes me wonder about those millions in third world countries born because effective contraception is forbidden by the church - born to a life of poverty, illness, and premature death - because someone else has defended (to the death) a right of all to exist - ever so briefly and painfully - without actually sharing enough of the resources of the church to make the lives of these others somewhat bearable.   Who is being helped?   Who is being enthused?

Jesus had compassion on the crowds.   I myself cannot see much compassion for others in those from Westboro Baptist Church publicly protesting.   Similarly, in the proclamation of the gospel by most mainline churches, I cannot see much compassion for others so evident that those who hear are enthused to rush about to bring those whose friendship they valued to the church.

The mark of enthusiasm, of having the indwelling of the divine, is to give it away, rather than keep it to oneself.   How does the church be seen to give away the indwelling of the divine in people other than those who worship with them, believe in the same terms as them and are intimate when and with whom someone of whom we approve?   We don't!

Jesus had compassion on the crowds, and it was this compassion which served to enthuse the crowds – here, finally, was someone who cares!

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