The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s161g10 Third Sunday of Easter 18/4/2010
'when you grow old .. someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.' John 21.18
.. and I often think, into a nursing home :-)!
'Christianity' it seems is often used as an antidote to dependence. The faithful 'christian' shouldn't ever need to go to a doctor, should always be as energetic and agile as a sixteen year old, and should be able to spend their lives helping others. The prospect of ever having to accept the help of others is, of course, quite out of the question. Numbers of good 'christians' I have met have told me, with much determination, that they will only leave their homes horizontally in a wooden box! It is notoriously difficult to get some (Australian) men to go to a doctor! Despite all the evidence that each and every Christian who has ever lived has died or will do, somehow we pray that we alone should be spared.
Interestingly some time ago, when I had lots to do with Sudanese refugees, one once asked me why young Australians didn't go to church, like the Sudanese. Always interesting questions that make me think. Then I realized that of course Sudanese, from a very young age experience hunger, thirst, homelessness, illness, torture, rape and death. Young Australians have none of these experiences and believe that they are invincible. Hence they are often surprised when they drive at 150kph in a 60kph zone and kill themselves. They don't go to church because they are invincible. Mind you, while some aches and pains of old age are coming on me, I'm not sure that I myself don't still think I'm invincible. It doesn't come necessarily with age and 'maturity' :-)! But it also makes me think that I am glad that young Australians think that they are invincible and don't go to Church. A much better upbringing than knowing hunger, thirst, homelessness, illness, torture, rape and death, first hand!
And we must confess that there is some justification in scripture for some expectation of not having to ever ask others for help.. We only have to have enough faith!
Well, I believe that something is seriously wrong when we take the words of Jesus: 'everyone who lives and believes in me will never die' (John 11.26) without considering the words he prefaces them with: 'I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.' (John 11.25) We hold out the hope of life without death and life beyond death, when I wonder if Jesus is actually talking about life before death?
If real life, full human life is about real mutual relationships, then separation from others through superiority or inferiority is death.
The decision to give up one's independence living in one's own home is one of the most difficult. I suspect that the difficulties of the depression years meant that there were few others around who actually could be of much assistance. My own parents lived very much 'hand to mouth'. In Australia the worst name one could call another was a 'bludger'.
I know how much joy it has given me to be able to render assistance to someone else in need. Most often, of course, the difficulty is to know when one is actually helping and knowing when one is getting 'conned'. But 99% of the population will help another when a need arises if they can. One has only to look at the magnificent responses to natural disasters overseas.
Today, when in the first world countries we have all sorts of assistance by people who are paid to provide it, we deny someone else the joy of being able to help us if we don't accept their help.
And the issue goes deeper than just wanting to be independent. Those who had Jesus killed, had him killed because he associated with people other than themselves. He associated with, horror of horrors, tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes. The word Pharisee literally means 'the separated one'. They separated themselves from others, and they would have been horrified to have to accept help from someone less devout than themselves. And yet I see parallels with this today, when it is important for some people that their doctor is 'christian'. It was a real offence to think that the Jew going down from Jerusalem to Jericho had no option but to accept help from a Samaritan when the more righteous past him by.
But, and here you must forgive me, but I cannot but draw on my recent four years as a hospital chaplain. No one ever wants to go to hospital. Usually people are taken there in an ambulance. They have had an accident or a turn for the worse in their illness. And people in hospital usually only want to leave. And I can well understand this. We don't usually spend the day in pyjamas amongst people we do not know. We do not usually spend our day in idleness, waiting on someone else to do something. We so much value our independence.
Yet the hospital is where we get better! Out in the world at large is where people have accidents, where their illness most often takes a turn for the worse. Amongst people is where healing, if it is to come, comes. And the hospital consists of all sorts of people, both medical professionals and caring staff. The most important of those people are the cleaning staff making sure that infections are kept out. And we don't question the faith of these people. For our own health's sake we cannot separate ourselves from these other people, yet few choose to ever go to hospital.
The paradigm of the caring in the hospital should be the paradigm of caring in the whole community. How strange that we know this to be true, yet we shy away from such community!
I have had many occasions when I have commented that if you want to know where I see God most clearly at work it is in hospitals rather than churches. Here people are cared for whoever they are, rich or poor, black, white or brindle, of whatever faith or none, and with whomever they choose to share their intimate affections. So often in churches, the people we are called to relate to are so similar to us that loving them isn't in the least remarkable.
God leads us all into places we often don't want to go, but it is in precisely those places where God's healing is found. And God's healing is found in community, not in independence. And the wider and broader the community the wider and deeper is the healing.
Last week I spoke about the risen Jesus' first command: to go to others. It is strange but that command is often unwelcome. We prefer to be in our own space amongst people with whom we are comfortable; yet the risen Jesus calls us out of this 'comfortable' existence, for our own health's sake, and for the health of the whole community, as we spread the peace of God.
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