The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r170.htm
s170g04 Lockleys Epiphany 3 Australia Day / Harvest Festival 25/1/2004
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me ... to bring good news to the poor" Luke 4.18
There is something enormously liberating when we find ourselves as an instrument of God's plan. We do not have to be a large instrument, but it is good to be confident that we are not doing things God would prefer we didn't and so to see ourselves and our place within what God is doing in this world.
Jesus had clearly found his own purpose and place within what God was doing in his time and he was perhaps 30 years old at the time. I'm only beginning to realise my purpose and place at 50 plus.
And all the great religious figures really are just those people who have found their particular purpose and place in God's plan. Often it has been a tangible thing, a particular message for that age, succinctly expressed. Their message and hence their person is remembered. But when we look back I find it startling how simple some of these messages are. They are things we all take for granted. Indeed even atheists would take them as true.
One thinks of the prophet Amos and his immortal words: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5.24), the words of the Lord to Jonah: "Is it right for you to be angry?" (Jonah 4.5) or the words of Micah: "Do justice, .. love kindness and .. walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6.8). More contemporary, one thinks of Martin Luther and his 95 theses, the speech beginning "I Have A Dream" by Martin Luther King, Jr,. delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on August 28, 1963, or the just one word title of John Lennon's song "Imagine".
And the other distinguishing mark of each of these, besides their simplicity, is that they bid us consider others. None of them are about the status of God, the person making the proclamation or the rightness or blessedness of a particular group of people.
I often think of young people who have seemingly rejected the church and God, and see in them the truth that John Cornwell expresses "What we are fleeing, perhaps, is not God at all, but the false or the inadequate representations of him which hinder any possibility of ever making progress in coming to recognise him or reaching out for him. What we are rejecting, even hating, is not God, but the "trash and tinsel" that passes for him. And thus it is that "Hatred of God may bring the soul to God" (Powers of Darkness, Powers of Light" quoted in "God for all Worlds" Lucinda Vardey page 69.) We do well to engage with such sentiments and learn from them, rather than being confronted or affronted by them.
It is interesting that when Jesus saw himself as part of God's plan he also saw himself in relationship with others. The spirit of the Lord was on him to be a blessing to others - to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour. His part in God's plan had nothing to do with his own personal status before the Lord, or the blessedness of those who would follow him, but had everything to do with other people.
But I have often felt somewhat let down by these statements and in particular the final one "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" - which seems distinctly strange. In the parallel passage Mark tells us that "he could do no deed of power there" (Mark 6.5 // Matt 13.58) What is this good news to the poor? No captives seem to have been released. Certainly he cured the blind and exorcised demons from people, but not in this, his home town. If people were looking for proof, or Jesus was seeking to demonstrate it, it sort of miscarried.
For me, I want to start by saying that at least this means that God does not look at our wallets for support. It doesn't matter to God if we've got lots of money or little, we are equally children of God. It at least means that God does not look at us and our ability to be useful for the kingdom or not. We might indeed be captive to a whole lot of fears and inabilities - it doesn't matter to God, we are still God's sons and daughters. This at least means that our intelligence, insight or academic standing doesn't matter to God. We might be blind to everything a foot past our nose, yet we are still God's sons and daughters. This at least means that we might not be free to do everything we want, being at the mercy of the whims of others, yet we are still sons and daughters of God. And just as these things are true for us, they are true for everyone else too.
This means that we too can accept others, not just for the money that they can contribute to our collection, not just for the work that they can do for the church, not just for the insights they can bring to our situation, and not just for the time they are free to devote to the work of God's kingdom.
It is enough that we too accept others as God accepts them and us - for if nothing else we won't be working against God if we don't :-)
Recently I had occasion to hear a very eloquent preacher give a sermon about becoming extraordinary Christians - to raise ourselves above the mediocre. His first prescription was to not sink to the level of the society around about but to have our own standards and stick to them. And as I reflected on these words, I thought about how Jesus mixed with the religiously mediocre. Indeed I would say that he was killed for doing precisely this. And Jesus wasn't noted for pointing out to those with whom he kept company how mediocre they were. No, he accepted what they had to offer, and in doing so acknowledged that they were remembered by God and precious to the divine.
I note that in our own community, before Christmass there were two celebrations in our local park - the Christian one and the one done by the local service clubs. Why are there two? Do we not both worship the one God? Were there two babies born at Christmass rather than one - the religious and the secular one? The Christianity proclaimed is one of separateness from secular society, when the incarnation is surely about being one with secular society. If we are not getting the correct message across, the message that God wants - why bother?
Recently in the "Advertiser" there have been reports of the success of the "Planet Shakers" - a young "christian" movement originating from the Paradise Assemblies of God community. Superficially it all seems really quite remarkable, thousands of young people flocking to worship God. The movement claims the direction of the Holy Spirit, as we in the Anglican Church do too. As I said in last week's sermon, the actions of God are always discerned by the amount of blessings left over for others. I made it quite plain then that if our service of Holy Communion really determined to whom God's blessings are limited, then there will be nothing left over for others. I have my suspicions that the theology being taught to these young people is remarkably similar - that their experiences determine to whom the blessings of the Holy Spirit is limited. Until we and they lift our sights to the blessings amongst those outside - in the poor, among those who are captive, the blind, and those possessed by demons.
Blessed indeed are those who know what is wrong with them. They may not in fact be able to be cured, but at the very least they will not blame others for their own inability to be perfect in their own eyes.
Today we celebrate our Harvest Festival as well as Australia Day. Do we have good news for our fellow citizens and the community in which we live? There are some people who never seem to be satisfied and are for ever grizzling about this or that or something else. One sometimes thinks that if everything actually became perfect some people would grizzle that there was nothing to complain about :-) One particular group of people have the hardly commendable name - and reputation of being - whinging poms. When we hear someone like this we quietly remind them they are free to go home. Sadly we don't see that "Christians" often seem similarly afflicted, and are similarly shunned. "Christians" are told to go back to church - where they belong.
Well anyone is free to live like this, but personally I prefer to look at Australia and think how wonderful it is. My neighbours might be Aboriginal, Greek, Italian, Sudanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, South African, Indian, Sri Lankan or whatever - I don't care. Similarly they might be Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists or Agnostics - but few of these tote guns or rob others. It is the druggies that do that, and they have a distinctly limited life span. What about the motor cycle gangs? Again, they are mostly intent on shooting members of other motor cycle gangs!
People come to Australia in leaky boats, paying unscrupulous people for the privilege. Some people would rather sew their lips together and go on a hunger strike rather than be sent back to their own country. Of course many people have come here - going through the proper channels too. Other people know what a blessing it is to live in Australia - this Australia Day we join them in blessing God for our country - for all that it is - and forgetting what we think it ought to be. It is incredibly sad that "Christians" have earned for themselves a reputation for being critical rather than being a blessing.
Let us be quite clear, God will only bless us to be a blessing to others. If we want to do anything else, we will be most definitely "on our own".
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