s181o01 Somerton Park Sunday 14 c 8/7/01
"Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her -- that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom." Isaiah 66:10-11 (The bashful are welcome to leave at this point :-)
Bishop Spong talks about love and eating being inseparable. He makes the point that "companion" means "eating with". And I recall thinking that Jesus' command to Peter was not tell everyone else what to do or not do, or what to believe or not to believe, but to "feed my sheep". Three times he was told, lest he be tempted to do something other than this.
And I was taken reading the word of Jesus recently: "'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.' Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified."
(John 7:38-39). This is a very loose rendering of "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" but Jesus' words cannot mean anything but that the rivers of living water are supposed to flow out of us!!!
When I've heard words spoken about "living water" I've always assumed that the water was for me to drink and be satisfied. So in last Sunday's second hymn by Horatius Bonar (1808-89 Living Praise # 85), we sang:
I heard the voice of Jesus say: Behold I freely give
The living water; thirsty one, Stoop down and drink and live!
I came to jesus, and I drank Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, And now I live in Him.
- all about me, me, me ...
But the living water Jesus gives is not for me alone, but for me, for others.
Suddenly Christianity takes on a whole new meaning. It has nothing to do with me and God, sin, repentance and forgiveness and me getting into heaven - by hook or by crook :-) It's all about me giving others the wherewithal to live.
And that other passage, the favourite of Christian educators - the Great Commission: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20). If we haven't got the message that Jesus commands us to do as he did, to sit down and eat with people other than Church people, inevitably we are going to spend a lot of time telling people a lot of other quite irrelevant things. And, surprise, surprise, we find that we in fact haven't time to do as Jesus did and commanded his disciples to follow his example, and accept the hospitality others have to offer.
For it is as we accept the hospitality others have to offer that we honour them, that we extend to them dignity and worth. And these are indeed precious gifts to share around.
Jerusalem, we are to realise is a type of the Church, and so we are to be nurturing. An essential part of nurturing is that the child grows up, and in turn becomes an independent living being, to reproduce and to nurture others in turn. It is this ever flowing outward, global perspective, that I want to capture. Again, it is not just me and God and my salvation.
So baptism is no mere ritual, for ritual's sake, we are baptised into the death of Jesus, which speaks about our intimate identification with the one made accursed by the religious authorities for associating with someone other than themselves.
So the gospel reading tells us that the seventy are sent out, and they are told to go and say to a house: "Peace to this house!" Now there are certain curiosities here. This is the ONLY word the disciples were authorised to say! Now if that is all they had to say, then you would expect that they could actually visit every home in most of the towns and say this word to everyone. Surely that would be a much more efficient way of seeing lots more people and spreading the message a lot quicker to lots more people. But this is quite definitely forbidden. Do not move "from house to house" they are told. They are to visit only one house and say "Peace" to it. Now I am not Jewish, but I don't think I am wrong when I say that "Peace", "Shalom" is the normal manner of meeting someone and opening a conversation, like people would say "hello", or Australians would say "g'day". So Jesus was quite specifically saying that they didn't need to do anything which anyone would have found unusual. It would be far more unusual if they hadn't said that. And it really wasn't all that a difficult thing to do, to say to someone "Peace". It was not "hard labour". And yet Jesus says to them this labour deserves its wages.
So if they are not to say anything, what are they to do. Sit in stunned silence contemplating their navels - while everyone feels awkward? No, Jesus is quite specific, that they are to "eat what is set before" them. There is something quite fundamental about enjoying hospitality one with another. THIS was their primary task and by implication ours also. Perhaps it is because it is rude to talk with one's mouth full :-)
Dining with someone implies mutual full acceptance, and this is what we are COMMANDED to do.
I presume that during these meals, the apostles would hear lots of things their host wished to impart. But again the only word that the disciples are authorised to say is "Peace" - "Shalom".
The message that is important is not the detailed teaching of the messiah that the disciples could impart, the latest things that Jesus had said or did, or the reaction of the authorities or the crowds. No, the real message was one of acceptance, of peace on the host and the cares and concerns of their lives.
Archbishop Keith, in one of his retreat addresses told the story of a time as a priest when he had a problem with an assistant curate, and he phoned the Bishop to make an appointment to see him to get advise as to how to act. The Bishop asked him if he would be free at 11.30 pm that night. Yes, Keith would be free. Not many of us have appointments at that late hour. So Keith duly arrived at the Bishop's home at 11.30 pm. He was ushered into the bishop's study and the Bishop asked him if he'd like a glass of sherry. Keith accepted, and they had a glass of sherry together. They talked about this or that, not much about the particular assistant in question, and certainly didn't come to any conclusion about what might be done. About midnight, the Bishop suggested it was probably time for bed and that Keith might go then - so off he went. The problem, whatever it was, managed to resolve itself without any further action :-) Humphrey's comment in "Yes Prime Minister": "Have you tried masterful inactivity?" springs to mind! St Paul's words in our reading from Galatians seem appropriate here: "My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted."
Nurture and care, go hand in hand with healing, and the seventy are bidden to "cure the sick". Well here at least is something to do, if not to say. Again the picture of the rivers of living water flowing out of us come back to my mind. So I believe that the healing comes from us, not from God or Jesus. And, before anyone gets ideas about seeing ourselves as anything special, I believe that this points to the vital ingredient, that the message of peace is from us, not just from God. It is important not that we faithfully deliver this message of peace from God through Jesus, but that WE offer OUR peace to others. Healing comes we say to another "Peace" from our own heart.
And here is a clue as to why the disciples were not to go from house to house. It was more important that the people in the one house to which they visited got the message well and truly, so that they too could enjoy the hospitality of their neighbours and engender a true peace. The importance was not the delivery of the message but that people act on it, if nothing else by not killing their neighbours ... All people have a responsibility to appreciate, maintain and extend this peace in the situation of life in which they found themselves.
Some time ago, I was visiting around the 'Village, and a couple who come to the service there were sitting together in the corridor and we started chatting together. The lady showed me a book that she and her husband had always enjoyed throughout their long life, and she pressed me to hear her read a page. It was one of those daily meditation books, and the page she read was entitled "Peace" on John 14.27. These words jumped out at me: "For He came to establish peace between heaven and earth, between us and God. He did that by taking away our sin". And I thought, I don't believe that! Jesus came to bring peace between people ... not between us and God at all. I was staggered at the blind statement about the whole purpose of God in sending Jesus, which I suppose I as much as most other people have taken to be "de fide" true, when in reality it is so very deficient.
The person was indeed good enough to get me a photocopy for me to quote.
The words were indeed lovely and affirming, and this couple were right to rejoice in the comfort that these words have brought them all their lives.
Please note that I am not saying that Jesus didn't come to bring us peace, or that our sins haven't been forgiven. But the second great commandment is "love your neighbour as yourself" not "believe that God has forgiven your sins". God sent Jesus not to forgive the sins only of those who believe, but to declare that God forgives the sins of the whole world, so that we might get on with loving one another.
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