s184acw01 ACW Sermon 25/7/01 In Jesus: Life, Hope, Liberty
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, '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 7:37-39.
The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:19-25.
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, 'You will be made free'?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:31-36.
Thank you for inviting me to preach today. It is a rare opportunity to speak to people who come from different religious traditions and I am honoured by your invitation. While I will speak as an Anglican, I think that others might find that the experiences I have had might resonate with you, from whatever tradition you come - at least I hope so.
Life, hope and liberty are wonderful promises, and I would venture to suggest that each of us here have tasted something of these at some time in our life. Some may look back to a particular conversion experience, when you have first called yourself a "Christian" and at that time felt particularly strongly some of the life and hope and liberty that God promises.
I was talking to someone only recently about clergy and she was saying that older clergy tend to "loosen up" - and I suppose that this points to another reality - that for some, life, hope and liberty in Christ are a growing awareness.
Some of my congregation here recall the halcyon days when this church was being built, when it was a real community and everyone pitched in together to get things done. Despite the difficulties, they really were times of life, of hope and of liberty.
I am, Josie has told you, by initial training, an engineer, and engineers tend to look at things sideways, which can be disconcerting to others. Some people dignify this with the term "thinking laterally" but I think its only one of an infinite number of variations of temprament. I could no more not think laterally as I could not continue to look and appreciate the figure of a pretty female ... The example is deliberate. I am not a better person because I think differently, I just think differently ...
So when I hear these wonderful passages read, I ask the question: "How?"
It is not that I question the reality of the life, hope and liberty in Christ - quite the opposite. Having myself personally tasted, in part, something of these realities, and wanting, quite naturally, for others to experience them too, the real question for me is how do we experience these things, and how do we continue to experience these things?
For it seems true to me that while there is often an initial flush of enthusiasm, this can often fade over time, and our faith comes an exercise in indulging in nostalgia. Earlier this year, my better half and I travelled to Bali and we worshipped at the Protestant Church of Bali in Nusa Dua. I was looking forward to hearing the Balinese, Pastor Yohannes preach, but instead an American missionary spoke. Now I don't mind either Americans or missionaries, but the theme of his sermon was, in part, a lament that we have lost the impetus to convert the heathen ... I came away feeling put down ...
And there seems so many people and there seems an incredible resistance to the message. And after a while in the Church, I have found that it's a bit hard to define what a Christian is - to know that one person is, so that we can move on to someone else. When looked at in these terms we would need incredible stamina to convert the world, it's enough to leave that to the Billy Graham's of this world. And yet there seems a limit to their success too.
We content ourselves with supporting where we can, feeling a bit remote, even envious of those without family ties who are able to get out there and convert people to Christianity, which is the task of the "real" Christian.
Now I am not prepared to live this sort of life - just helping someone else, and feeling "second-best" myself, nor would I commend anyone else to live this sort of way. In Christ there is life, hope and liberty for everyone - not humdrum, monotonous, rectitude.
But equally there is not this incredible burden, this complete impossibility, either.
Bishop Spong talks about us giving life to the world, loving wastefully and enabling all people to be everything they can be. Here is indeed a person of great faith. These phrases he uses capture for me some of the excitement of being a Christian, which many of us have experienced and all of us want to continue to enjoy.
Now I should say at this point that we cannot always live on the mountain. We cannot live on an eternal "high". There are, for everyone the boring and monotonous tasks of life. No one can escape them. I remember in my past parish sometimes lunching on the top of a cliff overlooking Robertstown on the plain below. After a morning's visiting, I needed time apart, time to myself, and this was a perfect place to do this. On a clear day, one could see for miles and miles, and it was a real treat. But sensible people didn't build their homes there - sensible people lived on the plain below in the town. It was too exposed to the weather ...
So we have a task to capture or recapture this enthusiasm - in our daily lives. And I want to suggest some ways to do this - to answer the question "How?"
The first answer might surprise you in it's orthodoxy. Reading the gospels ... Here we put ourselves in touch with ordinary people whose experiences are different from our own and those experiences enrich our own. Here we are put in touch with the God who loves ordinary people enough to send his son who, to the chagrin of the religious authorities, associated with the likes of us ordinary people.
The second thing is to come to Church. Here we are put in touch with the God who loves us enough to continue to say to us, in the reading and preaching of the word and in baptism and in the holy communion, that this Jesus died by the hands of the religious authorities because he associated with the likes of us ordinary people, and so his resurrection is a sign that the efforts of the religious authorities to stop Jesus associating with the likes of us are ever doomed to failure. God is found in us.
And the third thing we can do is see the risen Jesus in other people, again in ordinary people just like us. We will find the risen Jesus all around us, where Jesus was found, sitting down and eating with sinners. If Jesus was killed for doing this, his resurrection assures us that this is where he will be found for all time.
I will talk to you as women since this is an ACW gathering. I would hazard to suggest that there would be some here who love their husbands even though their husbands don't go to Church or profess the faith. You may well wish they did, but the love that you share is in fact more important than their profession of faith. You may have forgotten the pleasures of the new love you shared when you first met, when you delighted in physical intimacy. That unconditional love is precisely the love that Jesus has for each of us. So there is something of the risen Jesus in your husbands, and of course in yourselves.
Another example. I am certain that there would be quite a few people here who have children who don't go to Church. You, as parents quite naturally love them quite unconditionally. If you are anything like me, I marvel at the accomplishments that my two boys have already achieved in their lives. I have no doubt that each will make their little mark for the benefit of one or two around them. Whether they believe is actually of secondary importance to whether they live and love and make the most of the opportunities that they find present themselves.
I wonder if you've ever considered that God loves your children even more unconditionally than you do?
I don't know about you, but when I've heard the words "rivers of living water" I've always thought this water flowed from God to the individual believer to get them through this life. But reading this service a while back and again as I prepared this sermon, I realise that the rivers of living water flow out of me and you ... The rivers of living water are not for my benefit, to slake my thirst - they are for others ... And lest you think I am asking you to do more,I believe that the unconditional love that you share with your spouses, that unconditional love that you have for your children, is precisely this flow of "living water".
Again as women, but this time from a variety of religious traditions, I have no doubt that you all come here appreciating and loving other people here, whatever their views, however they express their faith. You do not come here hoping to get everyone to become Anglicans or Catholics or Uniting Church or whatever. Again the unconditional love that you already have, the joy in sharing, is more important than anything else.
So how do we experience "in Christ" the life, the hope and the freedom? The answer is easy for the risen Christ is found all around us, in the ordinary people in our Sunday by Sunday congregations, in this gathering of disparate people, in our children and their achievements, in our significant partners in life, in the multitude of individuals God puts around us.
I finished putting these words down yesterday afternoon about 4pm and went to check my e-mail. My elder son Philip who is 20 and at University had sent me something he had found on the internet - which I had put aside to read when I had finished the sermon. But then I did, and I thought, what a wonderful words to end this with:
This is from the latest issue of 'Index' with Bjork on the cover:
JUERGEN: "You once mentioned to me that you and Thom Yorke decided that you both hated yoga and meditation. What was that all about?"
BJORK: "[laughs] Well, I'd always resisted meditation with a full-on defense mechanism, but I'd never understood why. I wouldn't meditate - no way, ever - and Thom felt the same way. He got angry just talking about it. We ended up laughing about the whole thing, but we figured that singing is a form of meditation, where you kind of go to an imaginary place that you've built over many years. It's like a state of trance. So to go to a meditation class where somebody tells you, "Do this, feel this," like they've got an instruction manual on how to get to this place - it's offensive. It's like reading a sex guide before you are with the one you love, and then asking whether they wouldn't mind moving their thigh, like, twenty centimeters to the left - and then measuring it with a stick.
Everybody has a different method of getting to that place, because everybody needs it. Some people play golf, some people get drunk - one method isn't better than another. But if I ever sat down and listened to a guru tell me how to meditate, I would feel like I was having an affair. I would feel disloyal to my own temple."
Here is a person who recognises that people have a worth just as they are, and can find self respect from within themselves. And I am reminded of the words of Jesus:
Call no man your master ...
It doesn't matter what faith people profess or not, if there is love there is the risen Christ, and if there is the risen Christ, there is life, there is hope and there is indeed liberty.
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