The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s200g04 Lockleys Sunday 33 14/11/2004
"by your endurance you will gain your souls" Luke 21.19
This is not a comfortable gospel reading, especially if we are one of those who find our immortality through bricks and mortar.
I was interested to read recently that our faith is often a clever disguise for our doubts. (God In All Worlds)
I find it fascinating that the permanence of each and every hair on our heads is contrasted with the transience of beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God.
Again the power and authority of "kings and governors" is contrasted with the simple word that no one will be able to "withstand or contradict".
"Wars .. insurrections .. earthquakes .. famines .. plagues .. signs from heaven." Not particularly comfortable times. Even within the religion of sibling love, the prophecy is that "you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends".
One of the things that I am often moved to say is that we are accepted unconditionally, that is, as we are. We are complete. In baptism we are made, members of Christ, children of God and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. One cannot be anything more than this. The devil tried to tempt Jesus to prove that he was the Son of God. Adam and Eve are tempted to "become like God" when they had only just been made in God's image.
If we are anything, we are our soul. How can we gain something that we already have?
As I have gone through life, there are various pressures put on us, which demand our attention, and rightly so. We do have to feed and clothe ourselves, and provide a roof over our heads, for ourselves and for those we love. Not everyone finds these things easy to come by. But also through life it is good to have a time apart, to reconnect with what is already there, to nurture ourselves and to appreciate ourselves. The time I spent on pilgrimage was particularly effective for me to do this, but I suppose I have been doing some things for myself for some time now, which has been good for me.
When I was in my last parish, I used to often walk from the kiosk at the end of the Broadway to the Glenelg Jetty and back after lunch. During summer you saw lots of some people along the way :-)! But each and every time I did this, I returned to work very much refreshed.
More recently I have been doing Yoga and this has similarly brought me back to myself and my need to care for me. There is no need for my soul to be neglected, or any soul for that matter. Yoga people enjoy silence, the absence of clatter, distracting us from being attentive to the needs we all have.
I have often recalled thinking that one or other of my boys had grown an inch overnight! Much growth and healing comes while we are resting and even asleep.
The thing that continues to impress me about this passage is how personal it is. You will know me well enough by now to realise that I have some difficulty with a personal God. God is everyone's or God is no one's. Yet here, in the hurly burley of apocalyptic events and political machinations, God is very personal. God is so personal that we do not have to look beyond ourselves for direction. "Do not go after them", we are told when others say: "I am he" and "the time is near". It is not that these people are pointing in the wrong direction, for we will find God in whatever direction we look. What these people do is point us away from ourselves, the most important place where we will all find God. When we find God in ourselves, we can also see God elsewhere, a god who is not in competition with the reality of the God we know within ourselves.
So I do not want to commend a barren endurance; a sort of theology that commends the standing against the tide as it is coming in. I want to commend the sort of faith where we dive in and enjoy all the experiences that life has to offer.
I seem to recall an interview with Mark Knoffler, the lead singer of "Dire Straits" who made the comment that music made him humble it was so vast. And I picked up on that word "humble", which we often think of in terms of our relationship with God. Mark Knoffler's appreciation of his humility before the vastness of music did not deter him from jumping in and enjoying it to the full. Similarly our appreciation of our humility before God should not stop us jumping in and enjoying life to the full.
But again, there are things that would distract us. Like the seed that falls on differently prepared soil, so too the cares of the world can distract us eternally from what is important; us. Other seed can be taken by birds, other plants can be chocked by thorns and weeds. Yoga people would say that we need to be attentive to ourselves, which is remarkably like the endurance that Jesus commends to us. But it is not barren, but eternally fruitful.
So God loves us personally but not because we are Anglicans or Christians or people of faith. God loves us because we are part of the creation and every part of this creation is equally loved by God. Each of us need to continually remember that we are loved this personally simply because if we don't remember we are apt forget. And to forget that we are loved is to try to earn it somewhere else; following this or that direction at the beck and call of sincere or dubious guides.
We do well to remember that Jesus was killed because he associated with people other than the religious, those who were ever ready to point out just which other direction in life others should take. Jesus took away their power over others. May we all find in these words that love of God for us as we are. I am not suggesting that we neglect the contribution others can make to our lives for others are as much God's gift to us, just as much as we are God's gift to others.
And see in these words the origin of strife and wars, which are not of God. If they are not of God then we are best to leave them alone. I have sometimes reflected that for all the distress that thieves cause to their victims, their life expectancy is considerably shorter than ours, especially if they are stealing to feed a drug habit. The bikie gangs must have some limits to their revenge or else they will eventually destroy each other.
Be happy; though I would be the first to admit that it sometimes takes a good deal of effort to do this, but you know as well as I do that it reaps rewards. If God loves each and every one of us this personally, we might as well enjoy our little portion of that love!
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