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

s197g13  Sunday 30  27/10/2013

'left house or wife or brothers or parents or children'   Luke 18.29

There can be lots of reasons for renunciation of possessions or relatives.   In post-earthquakes Christchurch (well we pray it is actually so :-) many people say - well they are only possessions.   At least we have our lives and we consider ourselves so fortunate that the death toll was not greater.   It certainly could well have been.   Everyone has broken crockery and glasses.   Plastic and melamine have become the new normal.   Matching dinnerware is so passé :-)

But there are also reasons to renounce family.   Abraham left his family to follow the call of God and this paradigm has led many to think that renouncing community is how we follow God.   I know how much I have grown spiritually since I left the place where I was born and experienced other cultures (I am a fifth generation South Australian).   This has been on 'holidays' as well as moving to another state and now another country.   I reflect how frequently those who suffer mental illness also isolate themselves.   Sometimes they do this through stigma, sometimes through the fear others feel towards them.   Mental health is synonymous with being able to live in society and community.   Religious and spiritual health should also be synonymous with living in society and community - and this more importantly on a corporate level than on a personal level.

And there are few families which are not in some way dysfunctional.   Often the only thing to do is to walk away from abuse.   Those clergy who would advise women to return to an abusive relationship need to make sure the sacrifices they make to God are their own and not someone else's.   I have been reflecting that my father tried to teach my siblings and I to be business people.   Through the post-war depression he saw earning a living as hard work and for better or worse tried to instil in us the necessity to work out how we could provide for ourselves and our families when they came along.   Looking back I can see the 'love' behind this, but know that it was also at the expense of real affection.

In the parallel passage in Mark, Jesus says: "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age -- houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions -- and in the age to come eternal life. (1)   So what is only alluded to in Luke is made perfectly clear in Mark - renunciation for the sake of renunciation is self-defeating!   If we are giving up things or people because we think we don't need them, God begs to differ!   We do need things and people and we are meant to enjoy the things of creation and those whom God has put around us, not turn our back on them.   The things we turn our back on are heaped back on us an hundredfold!   I am not sure how puritans and sectarians read this passage.

God is God of community in its widest possible sense.   God is God of the whole creation, not just of baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing, faithful, straight Anglicans!  

After the earthquakes began here, people would say that they knew earthquakes happen frequently in New Zealand, but they never thought it would happen in Christchurch!   But of course they did, and while we have lost many beautiful buildings, we have found strength in our local communities, many of whom are not baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing, faithful, straight Anglicans!

When sickness strikes, people often pray or pray harder, sometimes in the hope of avoiding having to have treatment by doctors or surgeons.   But God brings us into community and health that may well only come as we accept the expertise of doctors and surgeons.    And these doctors and surgeons may not be baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing, faithful, straight Anglicans either!

As a new grandparent, I am rejoicing to see two grandchildren come into the world and to grow and learn.   Most often this is through Skype, but sometimes we are able to visit and enjoy their real company.   Grandchildren keep grandparents young.   They are a blessing to the old!

Interestingly I recently read the passage from 1 Timothy: 'the woman .. will be saved through childbearing.' (2)  I know how this infuriates most women but I wondered how this squares with: 'by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast'? (3)

We are saved from a life of religious drudgery and we are saved for a life in family and community, and it is precisely community which brings us health and new life.   So just as women are saved through the ordinary things of life, so are we all, men and women, parents as well as those without children, saved for immersion into community God puts around us.   Jesus invites the rich ruler to forgo striving to make himself acceptable to God and to join in the community, setting aside that which separated him from ordinary humanity - his wealth - and following Jesus who was friends with tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners.

Jesus calls us into eternal life, but it is not an eternal life of me with Jesus, but an eternal life where divisions between people are done away with.   In the words of the late John Lennon:

'Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

'Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

'You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

'Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world.

'You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one.'  (4)

For it is only this sort of existence to which the world would actually look forward!

The question for me is: 'Have we stood up for a better life for others, a life with less reasons for divisions between people?' or 'Have we been so sure of the rightness of our own faith that everyone has to become like me?'   The latter sounds a lot like what the GAFCON 2 are propounding, but I know which sounds more God-like to me!

(1) Mark 10.29-30
(2) 1 Timothy 2.15
(3) Ephesians 2.8,9