The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s188e04 Lockleys Sunday 21 22/8/04
"you have come .. to the sprinkled blood .. better .. than the blood of Abel." Heb 12.22,24
The blood of Abel is the blood of sibling rivalry over whose offering to God was more acceptable and which was less acceptable. The significance of the words of Jesus in John's gospel has recently come to me: "You are from your father the devil and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning." John 8.24 The first murderer was, of course Cain, and if were to take the Bible literally, then it can be truly said that all people are descended from him.
The religious authorities of Jesus' day still engaged in the age old games of sibling rivalry of which sacrifices made to God were acceptable and which were not. The whole point of their opposition to Jesus was because he invalidated all these games. In associating with people other than themselves, he was saying that their offerings were as acceptable as their own.
So our offerings are acceptable to God. They are no more acceptable to God than the offerings that someone else brings and no less acceptable. Of course the religious authorities went to some lengths to ensure that only acceptable offerings were brought. That was their job in life.
So the blood of Abel is that which was spilled over competition for the Lord's favour. Jesus was killed over precisely the same issue, competition for the Lord's favour. Abel's blood called for vengeance; Jesus blood calls for forgiveness and acceptance.
The result of Cain murdering his brother was expulsion from the Garden of Eden. I wonder if it is too much to assert that the Garden of Eden is where there is no competition over whose offerings are more acceptable and which are less acceptable; and so Cain's expulsion was in fact a logical result of his own competitive thinking. He was not expelled in this sense; he chose competition so he chose to be somewhere else.
So again, eternal life is something we choose. When we live non-competitively we are choosing the kingdom. If, heaven forbid, we choose to live competitively, then we can hardly claim to be part of the kingdom Jesus sought to bring about.
The leader of the synagogue didn't care about the woman who was cured, he was more concerned about the keeping of the Sabbath. Which was the more important offering? Of course the offering that the leader of the synagogue made; the unsolicited advise to come back tomorrow; didn't cost him much at all, whereas the offering that he was demanding of the woman, to come back another day to be cured, meant at least one more day for her to be crippled. A fairly heavy price indeed. Not for the first time do I suggest that we need to make sure that the offerings we make to God are our own or there will be hell to pay.
There have been occasions when it has been suggested to me that to be successful a priest one ought to keep parishioners busy. That way they haven't got time to think about what the priest is doing or not doing :-)! In my experience in the church with aging congregations, often people are getting too old to keep up the annual events. The congregation has often lamented that there are not more young people to take over where they want to leave off; completely oblivious to the entirely changed situation that young people face these days.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of "removing the yoke among you". We, all too often are wanting to place the yoke we have been given onto someone else, when God wants to get rid of it completely.
Recently I heard on television a report that a prominent Australian Church person agree with a political leader who has surmised that Australian society is becoming courser and more violent. The article ended with a report that in the United States there is a push in public education for course known as "character education". "What started as a small part of the US character education courses, lessons in every day manners is burgeoning into a nationwide enthusiasm for old world charm and grace". (http://2gb.com/cgi-bin/501/501-2gb-news.pl?A=PrintStory&ID=2251) When Timothy heard the suggestion that teachers ought to have classes to instil manners in students, he made the comment it would be like throwing a stone at a hornet's nest :-)! Now there's a vivid allusion for you! I think that the church person who made this comment in fact does not have children, or at least not any he's admitting to!
How easy it is for people who have not gone through the situation to offer advise to others; just like this leader of the synagogue decided to do. It is as if all the evils of the world stem from the lack of common courtesy training. When families have had generations of unemployment and little prospect of employment for generations to come, it's a bit rich to suggest that they should at least accept their situation and be courteous towards others!
Isaiah speaks about "the pointing of the finger". Wouldn't the world be a much better place is the other person didn't do what they were doing or did what they ought to do? There is an ideal world, but this is not part of it.
Jesus points to those who are scandalised by his actions and says to them, would they not do precisely the same if it were something or somebody they cared about that was in difficulty? The implication is that religious devotion and orthodoxy does not necessarily imply that those people actually care about anyone else. In fact of course, those who opposed Jesus enough to have him killed, opposed him because Jesus' actions and their opposition shows graphically just who cares for others and who doesn't.
The Blood of Christ shows us that Christ cares for each and every individual, not just us who kneel (or stand), meekly or otherwise, and receive the sacrament at this altar rail.
If you want my personal opinion, it is much more important to recognise that we come to the Altar rail along with others who are absent, than it is to kneel or stand or whatever.
So to suggest that the Holy Communion should be restricted to some but not to other people, verges on a denial of what it is all about. This is a theme to which I shall be returning.
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