The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s140g09 Sunday 28 11/10/2009
'receive a hundredfold' Mark 10.30
It is hard to preach on the good news in the wake of the tragedies in the Philippines, Samoa and Indonesia in the last week. I am, and we are, distressed to see the magnitude of the suffering and devastation, and we can only pray and give as we can for the relief of those in so desperate need. It is wonderful that nations have responded so promptly and that there are people trained and equipped to be of assistance in the face of such widespread chaos, when we as individuals, for all our good intentions, would only be in the way.
These tragedies inform my continuing reflections on getting into the kingdom and distinctiveness as Christians. I note that Jesus told this man with many possessions that he needed to both give away his wealth and to follow Jesus. Peter was quick to pick up on the renunciation: 'Look, we have left everything' what will our reward be? Clearly giving away our possessions would set us apart from others. A multitude of ascetics, both 'christian', members of other faiths as well as good humanists have followed this path. I am currently reading a biography of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson, Missionary Bishop to Melanesia in the 1800's, by Charlotte M Yonge and here was a young man who gave up the life of the relatively privileged in England to minister in the wilds of Melanesia. How fortunate he was to have a father and other friends who were sufficiently materially wealthy and devout to fund this mission.
In Australia, sea-changers, tree-changers and grey nomads embrace the lifestyle of simplicity and find it life giving. But I want to suggest that it is life-giving, not just because of the renunciation of the trappings of the good life, but life-giving in the embrace of others. The sea-changers and tree-changers forsake the anonymous life of the city and suburbs for a community in the country. On the road all grey-nomads are equal and companions.
If we are still looking for a reward to make us distinctive from others, we are not following Jesus.
For the promise given is not for some heavenly reward but the return of what we have given away not the money but the people fathers, mothers, siblings, a roof over our head and a field in which to work. If our aim is to escape this humdrum existence, like G. K. Chesterton who said: 'The .. church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age' then we are going in precisely the opposite direction God would have us go.
The promise is NOT some colonialist notion that others have to be raised to OUR standards!
Our discipleship of Jesus which leads to eternal life is incarnation into real life not into separateness, into an existence based on co-operation not competition, and it has got nothing to do with our own personal survival or not. For those who have been born into a life of material or religious privilege it especially requires rebirth into an existence based on renunciation of privilege of being on the same status as others.
I note that in our news recently the churches in Victoria are being allowed to continue to discriminate against gay people and single mothers, believing these undermine their beliefs! Needless to say, for me, this is precisely the opposite of being incarnated into society. http://bigpondnews.com/articles/National-Regional/2009/09/27/Discrimination_to_be_cleared_by_church_376711.html I wonder how the church can be the church without gay people and single mothers! How will these people undermine our beliefs? It is our acceptance of others like these that defines our belief!
As I began this sermon, in these last weeks we have been horrified by the tragedies in the Philippines, Samoa and Indonesia. It is one of the mixed blessings of the communication revolution and the internet that we now become aware of these things whereas in the past we would have been blissfully unaware because the news simply never reached us. I can do a search of Utube and extract a map of the location of the tsunami to use as my picture for this week in a matter of perhaps a minute or two. As I have seen the reports of families losing children, I have been made aware of the fragility of human existence and the grief I would feel if anything happened to my two sons and their wives. I am, like others, reading the book of Job for our evening offices. The television reports make the laments of Job real.
Discipleship with Jesus leads us into this real life. Our human family is expanded a hundredfold, bringing with it both blessings and responsibilities.
And again I reflect that mental illness is characterised by separateness, stigma and denial. Health is integration (or re-integration) into the community at large. The blessing of eternal life is to be with others, all others, with the blessings and responsibilities that this brings.
Baptism and communion properly bring us into this communion with others, and it seems a fact of life that it is most often the religious who have separated themselves off from society that especially need to hear this message and the ones who often most strenuously resist it.
One of our most beloved pictures of Jesus is that of the good shepherd with the straying lamb across his shoulders bringing it back to the (hundred) fold. And of course we instinctively interpret this as the missionary imperative for Christians to cajole and even compel people into the kingdom that we equate with the church. But the mathematics and the paradigm are patently wrong. The flock is society, the hundred, and the church is the one who deliberately separates him or herself off from society, and Jesus bids them return. If we find this scandalous, then we are reacting precisely the same as those who heard Jesus tell this parable and had him killed for speaking it!
As I was mowing my lawns yesterday I began to wonder if really the issue of sexuality that seems to be so divisive in so many denominations at the moment is perhaps smokescreen for the real issue. In the end being right can alienate others. It is more important to be open to others. We are called to be children with room to grow. So often in the church I have seen people who know how things are done here and no up-start is ever going to upset the applecart! The church has to hear the words about the difficulty of the rich the spiritually rich entering the kingdom of God. The church has often become a place to massage my feelings of insecurity when God calls us out of ourselves and into relationship with others. And the business of massaging my insecurity can become an all-consuming and endless pre-occupation. Something much, much more is being offered here.
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