The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r128.htm
s128g12 Sunday 16 22/7/2012
'people .. rushed about .. to bring the sick on mats' Mark
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
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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