The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s189e07 Sunday 22 2/9/2007
'through him, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God' Heb 13.15
As a hospital chaplain, I have a care, not just for patients, but also on occasion relatives, more frequently staff and sometimes management itself. I wonder just how many life and death decisions are made by staff each day, decisions that are not welcomed by the patient concerned? The 'ordinary' patient is unaware of the protocols that staff work under and if a decision is made that doesn't suit them and suit them immediately, they can grumble and the staff have to accept this. The staff and management deserve as much care as the patients, for without them the hospital would not function.
The other day I was speaking to some staff in a light-hearted banter that one does and one suggested I should remember them in my prayers as they had to work on Sunday. As I thought about this afterwards, I realized that behind this there was an unspoken assumption that they needed forgiveness for having to work in the hospital on the Lord's Day. Naturally I agreed, but afterwards I wished I had the quickness of wit to say that Jesus healed on a Sabbath! Jesus went about his work of healing each and every day, and if it was good enough for Jesus it is good enough for his disciples. Why would they need forgiveness when they were doing as Jesus did?
Why on earth would we continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God'? What do we have to praise God about? Some Christians and Anglicans I have met are the most miserable of people! Some say they come to church because they 'have' to. Some complain about the service, others about the music, and others the preaching. The priest hasn't done his or her job if there aren't enough young people there; but woe betide any young person who distracts us from OUR routine or disturbs OUR devotion!
These days with the ease of communication, we are aware of the natural disasters that occur anywhere in the world. We look at the television news and the print media and we don't expect to find much good news reported!
And even the Church is not immune to change. Instead of being a bulwark, a rock, to which we can turn, now the old verities are being questioned. No longer can we assume that the Church upholds the doctrine that the man is the head of the household and the female is there to do his bidding. Now we have female persons ordained as Deacons, Priests and in some places Bishops. No longer are children to be seen and not heard. No longer does the Church particularly look askance at couples who live together before marriage or those who use contraception. In some Churches gay and lesbian people are as accepted as any other.
For many people the Church is the 'Church militant here in earth' as it is in heaven, not the people of praise. And the militancy is about not changing, about keeping the old truths, and rigidly defined standards of who is acceptable and who isn't. While militancy is to the fore, praise goes out the window. Praise is reserved to when victory over others is won.
I rejoice that the Church is changing. I rejoice that women are finding an equal place in the economy of the Church and society. I rejoice that children are encouraged to make their contribution and are there to be seen and heard. I rejoice that the integrity of the love between persons of the same gender is beginning to be widely recognised. I have lots to rejoice about, because others are being included along with me.
And it seems that this is a joy that is likely to continue, because there will always be others who can be included.
As I look at that gospel for today, there is always someone else to find healing rather than being left to fend for themselves, there is always someone who can be bidden 'come up higher'.
I want to say to the management and staff in hospitals: 'come up higher' for you are doing the Lord's work of healing each and every day. I want to say that the task of healing, of lifting people to their feet so that they can be fully human and able to think for themselves, is the work of God through doctors, nurses and the multitude of other people who keep the hospitals functioning.
But it goes further than this. Each and every person has a part to play in encouraging others. We all have a part to play in providing something for society. I think of the young idealistic university students whose radical ideas call us to examine if our society cannot be made fairer. How much poorer we would be as a society without these people! Thank God in Australia we don't run down such young people with tanks!
It is often thought that the future of the church really depends on the wealthy parishioners, and of course the church has existed for centuries on the back of significant benefactors. But Jesus tells us that the church is really the church when it consists of 'the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind', people who have no money or talents to contribute to building or maintaining huge edifices of the stone or the theological variety. 'Come up higher' for Jesus was killed because he included 'the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind' and rose again because God's love for 'the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind' could not be extinguished. 'Come up higher' for Jesus was killed because he included others and rose again because God's love for others could not be extinguished.
Time and again in the Bible, God lifts people to their feet, men, women and children. Jesus finds faith in all sorts of unexpected people, faith to bring healing, to themselves and others. Jesus deliberately picks Nicodemus the outcast, from the crowd, and asks to dine at his home. Jesus dined at the house of Simon the Pharisee as well as Simon the leper.
Jesus calls us friends and bids us move up higher. Jesus calls all people friends and bids them move up higher too. There is so much cause for celebration!
C. S. Lewis in his final book in 'The Chronicles of Narnia', 'The Last Battle' describes the joy of those who go through the Stable Door, the joy of reunions of present and past friends to the constant refrain: 'Come further in! Come further up!' (p149).
The choice remains ours, to live for ourselves, saying with the dwarfs: 'We haven't let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.' (p140) or to rejoice in new life with all others.
This praise and rejoicing that others are included is inherently a 'now' thing. If we put it off, it is us who will live miserable rather than joyous lives, and we really don't have to look around us too far to see others doing this.
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