The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s177o07 Sunday 10 10/6/07
'you have come .. to bring my sin to remembrance' 1 Kings 17.18
The Consultation on Common Texts in 1992 wrote: 'From the first Sunday after Trinity Sunday to Christ the King, provision has been made for two patterns of reading the Old Testament .. paired readings in which the Old Testament and gospel readings are closely related .. and a pattern of semicontinuous Old Testament readings ..' (The Revised Common Lectionary p11). So different congregations may or may not be reading this passage from 1 Kings this morning, simply because I have chosen to use the first option - the OT and gospel paired readings. It is somewhat more complicated by the fact that the RCL first alternative is given as the second alternative in our Australian Lectionary and put in [square brackets]. Those who use the scripture readings as printed through my lectionary index of archived sermons and readings will note that I use 'Sunday #' rather than 'Pentecost #'. This is only because the readings for 'Pentecost 2' might be those for a range of Sunday numbers depending on the date of Easter. The RCL calls the readings for 'Sunday 10' 'Propers 5'. As a general principle I will prepare sermons on the gospel and the epistle readings rather than the Old Testament lesson.
There is a mystique about being a priest, a minister, a pastor or whatever; and it frequently revolves around people's perceptions that we have extra-sensory perception and are here to bring people's sins home to them, to get people to repent, come to church and tithe! Needless to say that prospect doesn't fill lots of people with anticipation, more like dread.
Elijah does not answer the woman's question, but rather turns to the problem at hand - the dead boy. Real persons of God are far too well aware of their own sins to want to bring the sins of others' to remembrance.
Recently I was criticised for doing something I was requested to do by someone else, by the person who thought that the job I did belonged to them. I had to quietly suggest to the person that had they been doing their job, I would not have been asked to do it! I did not find this exercise of gentle suggestion at all easy, I can assure you!
But this led me to think how often the church has been quick to be critical of other people. We have, of course, been critical of people who don't come to church. But all too often we have been critical of those who come to church but a different one to ours. Perhaps this is diminishing a little nowadays. But then people have often been critical of our fellow members of our own denomination, for not agreeing with us and our perceptions. What a miserable lot of folk we have made ourselves!
As I visit in hospital how frequently do I see people wondering why I come to visit them, and being relieved when I make it plain that I only wish to enquire about their welfare. I have not come to bring their sins to remembrance, to change or convert them.
Jesus, of course, was criticised for associating with tax-collectors and sinners, indeed for me it was the reason that he was killed by those who considered themselves to be the religious persons of Jesus' day. But had Jesus been busy bringing the sins of the tax collectors and sinners to remembrance, the religious persons would have applauded him and elected him high priest rather than had him killed. The religious would have been delighted because they would have assumed that Jesus was trying to get the irreligious to imitate them! Jesus didn't associate with others to bring their sins home to them, otherwise he wouldn't have drawn the crowds he did. And there is no evidence to suggest that Jesus later 'changed his tune' to make the crowds turn against him and have him crucified. The decision to have Jesus killed was made very early on in his ministry. I reflect that most new clergy have a honeymoon period of about a year before the real ministry begins. It is thought that Jesus had a ministry of three years, but this is only because the gospel of John mentions three Passover feasts. (Jn 2.13, 6.4, 11.55) I suspect that Jesus' ministry was indeed shorter than three years, and that John's concerns were not primarily chronological.
Instead of bringing other people's sins to remembrance, Jesus' proclamation to the crowds was: "Blessed are you .." I cannot conceive of a successful televangelist Jesus proclaiming to others: "Blessed are you poor .." (Luke 6.20) or a successful Anglican Jesus either! I can't conceive of a charismatic or evangelical Jesus proclaiming to others: "Blessed are you who are poor in spirit"! (Matthew 5.3)
Jesus proclamation was 'blessed are you ..' as you are. What a difference this makes! What a happier proclamation this is rather than bringing someone else's sins, deficiencies, or whatever home to them!
Any fool can point out when someone else has stuffed up. There are few who are not able to exercise the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. It takes a special person to shut their mouth and let someone learn from their mistakes without outside assistance!
And one can live a life telling others how they ought to live theirs! As I have listened to sermons over the years, I have begun to notice if the preacher is telling the congregation how they might improve their lives. This is often expressed by the use of the word 'challenge' which has become an all-pervasive substitute for loving the other person. But again, telling others how to live their lives implies that they are deficient and / or sinful and need to change their ways bringing their sins home to them.
How might the atmosphere of our services change if our sermons were about how blessed the people in the congregation already are how God is already working through them in their day to day lives?
Of course the Church is full of people, all with THEIR job to do, and woe-betide anyone who trespasses on THEIR patch! I recall in a past parish a new family moved into the area, and the young mother was an experienced journalist and offered to do the parish paper! How many parishes would welcome such a person with open arms! When I took this offer to the Parish Council it was implied that the new parishioners were 'special' friends of mine! So they missed out on someone else taking an active part in the life of the parish, an opportunity was missed. The role of the priest becomes getting everyone else to recognise THEIR ministries, to help them continue with them, world without end, Amen, and certainly not to take them over. Is it any wonder the church is not growing? Many years ago I recall that a visiting minister from Korea came to a wealthy parish in Adelaide and wondered out aloud to the local minister how the church could grow it was all there and provided for. There was nothing else to do but appreciate the contributions of those who were long ago dead and buried.
We might well be like that widow in our gospel snippet for today - out to bury her beloved son we might be ready to bury our beloved but moribund church. Jesus comes to bring life, but that is hardly likely if we continue our relentless criticism, personal power plays, rules and regulations.
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