The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s189g13   Sunday 22  1/9/2013  St John's Hororata

'Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?'   Luke 14.3

Quite some years ago I read the book: 'The Calendar - The 5000-Year Struggle to Align the Clock and the Heavens - and what happened to the Missing Ten Days' by David Ewing Duncan (1) and it is clear that any perception that the period from Friday 6pm to Saturday 6pm is actually a multiple of 7 from the day God rested after the creation has a 14% probability of being correct.   Having just returned from a wonderful trip to the United States, we have concluded that a Thursday we lost flying home became part of the extended Sunday we had flying there :-)  I find it hard to get my head around this.

Our trip included a UCC conference lead by Church Historian, the Rev'd Dr Mary Luti and we also heard Bishop Gene Robinson preach at the outdoor chapel on Chocorua Island on Squam Lake, NH, so it has been hard to think that there might be more inspiration to be had.   I have been struggling to think what I could say about this well known passage, something that I haven't said before.

But then on Tuesday night (20th Aug) I attended a lecture at the Christchurch Interfaith Council entitled: 'The spiritual rebuild of Christchurch; more than religion alone ..' and the guest speaker: Mr Chris Stedman writer and humanist chaplain at Harvard University USA, who describes himself as an atheist.   The title of his address was: 'Building Bridges between Atheists and Believers: finding our common humanity for a stronger community'.      What a privilege it was to hear him speak!   But all through the evening a thought kept nagging at me.   The audience, made up of people of various faith traditions and none, were, it seemed uncomfortable with abandoning some form of belief or spirituality.   None were fundamentalists, expecting everyone else to conform to their take on truth, but all wanted to assert the importance of some form of spirituality, not necessarily their own.   I suspect that each is acutely aware of the limitations of their own tradition, but there seemed to be an anxiety that modern 'millennials' have abandoned organised religion in droves.  

And this is not just other's concerns.   No doubt my perception of the anxiety of others is because I feel the same thing.   I have my own spiritual discipline but I would hardly commend this to anyone else.   It is merely a product of my upbringing and the various circumstances of life that have happened along my way.  I see that it would have little or no relevance to anyone else.   When I read Anglican or Episcopal websites, there seems no spark.   Perhaps a small spark comes when I read HuffPost religion - and the fact that this is wider than my own tradition is surely significant.  

So when Jesus goes to eat in the house of a leader of the Pharisees the same question is there too.   Is religion still relevant?   What is the status of the foundational beliefs - things that everyone took for granted - like the Sabbath?

Jesus does not criticise the tradition, but says that tradition, whatever its source, should not come in the way of helping another.   I could immediately hear Chris Stedman's approval in my head.     The religious person felt uncomfortable in the extreme with such an abandonment of belief.   Tradition and spirituality seem to be swept aside - the important thing is that others are fed, clothed, housed, and given dignity, whatever their belief, or unbelief, gender or any other consideration.   In this sense Jesus is the archetypal secular humanist, one for whom orthodoxy takes second place.

Interestingly, one of the topics Mary Luti talked about was the fabulous growth of the early church, from a tiny nucleus of disciples to become the only State endorsed religion by 350CE.   Her analysis of the reasons included the invitation of the early christians to all, to join them in a religion that cared for people whether they were members or not.   In a time where most religions were esoteric philosophic discussions and basic services provided by the State (we take for granted) non-existent, Christianity alone was concerned for the actual welfare of people.   Post 350CE the establishment of christianity led bishops to argue over doctrinal niceties and the persecution and exile of the less-than-orthodox.   I immediately saw the parallels with the ministry of the hospital where I work as the one closest to ancient church practice.

But then the morning following the lecture I read this piece in HuffPost religion, by Jennifer Meer about seeing her children swim.   (I am sorry but it's so nice - I can't make it shorter!)

'It was one of those moments when I saw my kids.   I mean really saw them.   Saw how much they'd grown up even in just one summer.   They weren't babies.   They weren't just keeping themselves afloat.   They were really swimming.   They were scanning the pool for my approval and thumbs up, not for my arms to encircle them and hold them up.   This seems right. Especially for Dylan who begins kindergarten in just two weeks.   While I know that I will be an emotional mess on that day, I have no doubt in mind that he is completely ready for this next chapter: a new bus, new school, new classmates and teacher.   There will be a whole host of challenges and I can just see how ready he is to dive into it, ready to soak it up.   I'm not worried.   I'm perhaps a little nostalgic.   But I have no hesitation about his ability to not just meet any challenges but even to embrace them; to struggle, to pull himself up for air.   I know now he can do it.   For Ruby too, she is beginning a new year of preschool.   Yet again she will surely be the youngest in her class which from a social and emotional perspective will almost certainly be daunting.   But as I watch her in the pool, I see her readiness to go farther, a little deeper.   She is not scared.   I am, but she is not.   At a lake that she had never been in yesterday, I watched as she ventured well beyond my reach.   But I stayed close.   I knew I could get to her in an instant if I had to.   But I wanted her to try.   To feel confident and free to go farther than she'd gone before.   We were all out of our comfort zone.   She flailed and floated and kicked and glided.   She proved herself and all of us wrong and swam right on by.'   (2)

And the anxiety about swimming is all the parents'.   In fact they have to get out of the way for young people to learn that they will, in fact, float.   The assistance that parents would give actually gets in the way of children growing up.   The focus for this parent is entirely the wellbeing of the child not the eternal continuing of the parent-child relationship.

Suddenly things become clearer.   Our anxiety about God and spirituality for our children is keeping them children.   They will float.   In the great information age, people of goodwill will not sink.   They will find their own equilibrium, and imposing ours on them will be unwelcome, irrelevant and demeaning.   Indeed my faith, nurtured last century, is being swamped by the plethora of religions, doctrines and spiritualities, that abound on the World Wide Web.

And I recall a priest - last century and in another country - who wanted me to join him in saving that little part of the church from women priests.

So the question Jesus asked in that house is the same.   Are others there only to perpetuate the tradition / spirituality / organisation to which we have devoted our lives, to save it from oblivion?   Was that Jesus' task?   Are our traditions water-wings that we may have indeed found helpful but that have to be dispensed with to really swim?

Recently the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “It is a dangerous place, a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present.   On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message.   On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth, and exclude any who question.   When we fall into this place, we lose touch with human beings and create a small church, or rather many small churches – divided, ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering, incapable of living with each other, and incomprehensible to those outside the church.   We struggle with each other at a time when the Anglican Communion’s great vocation as bridge builder is more needed than ever.”  (3)

Do we actually have faith that God will survive the flood of ideas about the divine and life?   Surely the incarnation guarantees this!

I am grateful that I am beginning to swim on my own rather than treading this tight-rope of fear!   My journey has been one of great blessing.

If God exists and is a God worthy of worship then surely God's concern must be the wellbeing of all, 'the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind' - not the eternal perpetuation of the parent-child relationship either by coercion or bribery.

(1) Fourth Estate London