The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s185g07 Sunday 18 5/8/07
'Teacher, tell my brother ..' Luke 12.13
It is a function of how I operate but I began looking at this sermon on the Sunday evening Sunday 16 after hearing the words of the gospel for that day that morning, where Martha says to Jesus: 'Lord .. tell (Mary) to help me.' I reflect that often religion is used to try to arm-twist the divine to do our will rather than someone else's - to acknowledge our contribution rather than someone else's. And we hope to arm-twist the divine actually to avoid us having an appropriate relationship with those God puts around us.
This is amplified in the gospel reading where the rich man has this conversation with himself about the extent of his riches. His wealth is his - regardless of anyone around him. His life is not just without God; it is without other people.
Many years ago I decided to not have notices during worship. People could put notices in the pew bulletin, on the notice board or they could announce them over morning tea after worship. But I wasn't going to pick and choose whose announcements were the most 'spiritual', the most important. Some people wanted me to tell their spiritual brothers and sisters to help them, to do what they want, to acknowledge that their ministry was just so much more important than their own. Jesus refused to tell Mary to help her sister, and this man's brother to share the inheritance. Not having notices was one of the best decisions I have made.
In last week's sermon I wrote that: 'prayer is related to our human interactions rather than God giving me what I want, when I want it!'
God will not fulfil our prayers so that we can avoid having an equal relationship with someone else, or for us to avoid us asking someone else for help, for us to be boss rather than listening to others. God will not fulfil our prayers for us to avoid the directions and medication a doctor might prescribe. God will not fulfil our prayers to get others to do what we want without asking, and without saying 'please' and 'thank you' to them.
I have always thought that if God were interested in our worship, Jesus would never have said: 'When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.' (Matthew 5.23-24) This tells us in no uncertain terms God's priorities to live peaceably with other people and not drag the name of some deity or another into our fights.
The context of dividing the inheritance and the rich man hides the fact that these can be corporate and specifically ecclesiastical greed, not just personal. We do not need a new messiah to teach us the evils of personal greed our own good sense tells us this. We do need a new messiah to teach us the evils of ecclesiastical greed even though all genuine faiths do this. If our church doctrine neglects the salvation of those outside, we are rejoicing in our own ecclesiastical riches and largely speaking to ourselves.
The kingdom of God will come not when one particular denomination agrees to help another the kingdom of God will come when we recognize the sacredness of every other person, of the validity of every other persons' faith. The kingdom of God will not come when a rival sibling recognizes the magnitude of his error and seeks to make restitution. The kingdom might come when we recognize that no one owes anyone anything in the light of the gospel.
During this week I have been at a clergy conference where we were blessed by the Rev'd Rowland Croucher who was the keynote speaker. Rowland is at the John Mark ministries (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/), ministering to clergy as well as former pastors. He spoke, amongst other things, about clergy stress and church growth. One of his very startling statements was for me - that the three important things that Jesus mentions - the weightier matters of the law: 'justice, mercy and faith' (Matthew 23.23) are included in no Christian Creed. At least I will get no argument that the first two are about our relationship with those around us (though I would argue all three are).
Last year, I decided to update the form of worship for the chapel service at the psychiatric hospital where I minister. For it I composed this simplified Creed:
'I believe in God, who as Lord of all creation, loves me, as well as those who do not live like me, those who do not believe like me, those who do not worship like me and those I do not love;
I believe in Jesus, who was crucified because he loved others; and rose again because this love that God has for all could not be extinguished;
and I believe in the Holy Spirit, who enables me and seeks to enable me to love others as Christ has loved me. Amen.'
I am grateful that Rowland's perception reinforces the importance of these words.
Of course it also reinforces the end of my sermon for last week, which bear repeating: 'My edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Vol I p277) gives as the third meaning of the word Catholic = Kath holou as 'embracing all'. This gives us, the one holy and apostolic church, something to do!' It give US something to do rather than expecting God to get everyone else to do something we want.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"