The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s186g07 Sunday 19 12/8/2007
'make purses .. that do not wear out' Luke 13.33
Many years ago in a country town in South Australia the local delicatessen owners were Lebanese Roman Catholics. When they originally came to Australia they were Orthodox, but without a local church they became Catholics. But these brothers were really more ecumenical. While they worshipped in the Catholic Church they supported the functions of every denomination in town. No minister of any denomination paid 'full price' for anything they bought in their shop. I have no doubt that they would have assisted anyone in need. But more than this, this family were the centre of social life in the town. They knew everyone in town and everyone knew them .. or almost.
One night they were robbed. I've forgotten how much was taken, and probably the people were really looking for money and goods they could sell to buy drugs. None of the store attendants were hurt. In the end the life expectancy of the perpetrators was considerably shorter than those they robbed God rest their souls.
I thought of this when I began this sermon. For all this lovely family did for God and the community, it didn't protect them from being robbed. It was sad that the robbers didn't realise that they could get what they wanted without such violence. Some people live happily with other people, others live at odds with people.
When these brothers eventually retired a picture of them in front of their store appeared on the front page of our State newspaper. So their memory will last, not just in the surviving members of the community in that town, but in the archives of the State. No doubt many other towns in many other countries would have families like this. People who are new-comers but fit in and become central to a community. Others, like those who robbed them, are again found everywhere. Through a poor upbringing and continuing circumstances, their time in this world is ever a struggle.
All this serves to demonstrate how easy it is to make this into a personal parable, something that we use to guide our own personal day to day actions. But if the purses we make are our own, be they for money or salvation, they will wear out. If the purses we make effect society at large, then they are likely to be rather more long lasting. I have in mind that we might look to Mahatma Ghandi and his principle of non-violent resistance. His legacy lives on to this day.
But undoubtedly the person who made for himself a purse that would not wear out was Jesus. And he did this not by teaching people about their personal morals or ethics but announcing a re-ordering of society. 'Blessed are the poor' and 'the first shall be last and the last first'.
There are, of course, other people whose memory is not so revered. Adolf Hitler's legacy lives on to this day, but generally not with admiration. He was a master at controlling other people, to get others to do his bidding. For all his initial success it was at the cost of the lives of a lot of other people, whatever David Irving believes.
Much of what passes for 'christianity' these days is about trying to control other people, trying to get them to do what we believe God wants them to do, but in the end this really only kills people's uniqueness. Often 'christianity' is about maintaining the status quo, keeping the edifice of Christianity standing. The first will inevitably be seen for what it is, and the second will eventually crumble. To suggest that Jesus came so that we can continue 'keeping up appearances' is laughable. That he should be killed for such a mission is beyond belief.
Jesus came to re-order society to fill 'the hungry with good things and' send 'the rich away empty' (Lk 1.53). It is as we live the same sort of life that we will 'make (for ourselves) purses .. that do not wear out'.
But perhaps this is really delusional and beating our heads against the proverbial brick wall. If it is delusional then I can only conclude that Jesus was delusional. If Jesus was delusional then Christianity has nothing to offer anyone - either personally or society in general. But this delusion (if it be one) is different from most delusions for most delusions focus on the status of the leader, the guru, the führer. By contrast this delusion (if it be one) focuses on the importance, the sacredness of every living being. Instead of looking at how other people don't measure up, this 'delusion' looks at other people appreciating the diversity, the uniqueness the sacredness of others. And this is a happy way to live. To actually try to control other people or to 'keep up appearances' in the end is impossible we will wear ourselves out.
It is only when we have this appreciation of the diversity, uniqueness and sacredness in all other people as central to what Jesus is all about that we can even begin to think of Jesus being unique and uniquely God in anyway different from other religions. If Jesus does anything other than get us to appreciate the diversity, uniqueness and the sacredness of all other people, then he remains really no different from sectarian leaders of most other movements. On the other hand, as any other religion appreciates the diversity, uniqueness and sacredness of all other people, this is the spirit of the one true God operating in them, by whatever name they call him or her.
So immediately we see that we as humans have a choice, the choice to recognise the good in others and ourselves or not. But if we choose to call ourselves Christians we have no choice but to recognise the good in others and ourselves; otherwise what is the Christian message? And why would one choose to not recognise the good in others and ourselves, given the invitation to do so? Or perhaps better expressed, it is precisely because we have no choice as Christians but to see the good in others, that we give others the choice of how they believe, worship and act.
But is the diversity, uniqueness and sacredness of each and every person a delusion, or the world as it really is? So Jesus calls us to accept creation as it is and not try to make it into something else.
Jesus calls us to make purses for ourselves that do not wear out, not change the world, which perhaps doesn't need to be changed all that much anyway. In our own small spheres of life we are called to recognise the diversity, uniqueness and sacredness of all human beings, for if we don't Jesus might as well not have came, lived, died and rose again. But if we do recognise the uniqueness, diversity and sacredness of all other people we will be those towards whom Jesus directs the seventh of his beatitudes: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.' Matt 5.9
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