The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s131g06 St Barnabas' East Orange Sunday 19 13/8/2006
'It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God'' John 6.45
I remember the old and hoary story of the person seeking what God's will was -- who decided to open his Bible and open to a page randomly and put his finger randomly on a text. The first time he did this he chanced upon the text in Matthew 27.5 referring to Judas' repentance: 'He went and hanged himself'. Not unnaturally thinking this was hardly inspiring, the person tried again, and this time he chanced upon the text at the end of the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus' advise to the lawyer whose question prompted the parable: 'Go and do likewise'! Luke 10.37
It is quite true that one can read the Bible and get lots of useful advise -- but which we quietly neglect -- like the prohibition of charging interest.
It is easy to read the bible and come away depressed rather than uplifted. There are many passages in both Old and New Testament that speak of condemnation and we can take these on board personally and wonder how we could ever love this God who is so harsh.
I myself find it difficult to read passages about marriage and divorce and wonder if I was ever to remarry -- would I ever be able to redeem myself. But at least there are so many in our society who are also divorced, so I am glad I find myself among many people in the same boat! I cannot imagine how those who find themselves, through no fault of their own, to be gay or lesbian, so often isolated and then feeling shunned by good well meaning Christians in the name of God.
We are all our own worst enemies and we do not need the words of the Bible or the attitudes of the Church to reinforce our propensity of berating ourself.
I have spent my whole ministry teaching and preaching on the words of the Bible. A look at my scriptural index of my archived sermons (http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/si.htm) shows that in the last ten and a half years I have been posting my sermons on the internet I have preached 62 times on the Old Testament, 287 times on the gospels and 192 times on the rest of the New Testament -- 541 in total. Of course I have only continued what I had been doing for the previous nineteen years. It cannot be claimed that I use anything other than the Bible, nor that I have only used selected texts.
But even though I revere the words of scripture, I am glad that in Australia and many other places we have moved on from the words of St Paul: 'If anyone will not work, let him not eat' (1 Thess 3.10) which, in Australia, has fostered the derogatory term 'dole bludgers'. I am glad that our society -- in defiance of St Paul -- makes sure that where possible people have rooves over their heads and some food on their tables, whoever they are and whatever they have been able to contribute or not to society. I have no desire to go back to the 'good old days' when this wasn't so or move anywhere else where it isn't so.
I believe that Jesus here shows us a way of reading and interpreting scripture. 'It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God''. Jesus quotes scripture, so he acknowledges its importance. The particular reference is to Isaiah 54.13 and Jeremiah 31.33,34. The words are: 'All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the prosperity of your children' and: 'this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD.'
Jesus quotes selectively. He uses his brains to select particular passages and in doing so he invites us to use our brains.
Secondly when he quotes scripture he does not do so to magnify his own importance. The authors of the books of the New Testament certainly did search the scriptures and find in them lots of allusions to things and saw Jesus fulfilling those passages. Most often however this is not seen to magnify Jesus, but to explain that 'the Messiah should suffer'.
But thirdly, and most importantly, the text he chooses to use points out that God does not bless himself, nor an elite, but that God blesses all. I note that Jeremiah proclaims that God doesn't restrict God's blessing to the elderly, but to children, the young and idealistic, as well.
This later perception is completely in line with Jesus' other quotations of scripture where he criticises those so versed in the texts so as to claim a monopoly on the truth but have come to very wrong conclusions -- conclusions that magnify themselves and their own perception of the truth -- and denigrate anyone who thinks differently.
I want now to return to some of my former words: 'I myself find it difficult to read passages about marriage and divorce and wonder if I was ever to remarry -- would I ever be able to redeem myself.' The Christian faith has no mechanism whereby I can ever redeem myself. Any redemption has already been achieved and that by Jesus and never by me, or anyone else. So if we look to others who have offended our perceptions of proprietary -- as if they have to do something to redeem themselves -- there is nothing in our faith that enables them to do so. Anything we think others might have to do to redeem themselves has already been done -- by Jesus on the Cross. This throws the impetus back on to us, and our faith in what the Cross and Resurrection has actually achieved.
If our faith has no mechanism for me to redeem myself if I were to remarry, then equally it has no mechanism for those who happen to be gay or lesbian to redeem themselves, or for women to ever extricate themselves from the subordinate place to which large parts of the Church has relegated them. Indeed as I think about it many of those I meet during my hospital rounds think that they have done something to deserve their hospitalisation and they will have to confess or repent or whatever for them to be made well.
If I can find new life with another partner without living the rest of my life believing I am condemned, then surely gay and lesbian people can as well. Women can find a new life in a place of mutuality and equality. Patients can find peace and strength through the presence of God with them as they are, not as they think they should be.
My text for today tells us all that God teaches us all. Time and again, God raises people to their feet, when they have fallen on their faces before the Almighty. This means that the primal dignity of our humanity to stand on our own two feet and to think rather than grovel -- is never taken away. So this teaching that God does is always to our health and up-building of body, mind and spirit. And we do well to take this on board, for if we don't we will only allow others, be they other people or whatever, to keep us in subjection.
Finally I want to return to the earlier statement I made: 'the text Jesus chooses to use points out that God does not bless himself, nor an elite, but that God blesses all'. I sometimes think that Anglicans, in past times, had this fantasy that all Anglicans thought and believed like them. Where this wasn't so this was an aberration that was either overlooked, denied or argued against. And it has come to me that if this is really so -- then our 'communion' actually really only serves to bolster my perception or else it is of no worth. So if this is the case and our support of the Anglican Church is essentially only self serving, then despite its illusion of charity, it is hardly likely to be of God.
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