The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s200g07 Sunday 33 18/11/07
'When will this be?' Luke 21.7
Many years ago the sometime liberal Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Frazer uttered those now famous words: 'Life wasn't meant to be easy!' Many Australians thought that he had had a fairly privileged life in comparison to they themselves, and as Prime Minister, he earned far more money than most. It sounded a little hollow coming from him.
The description of the life of Christians that Jesus gives shows us that if we think the Christian life is a path of ease and comfort, then we are sadly mistaken. It is sometimes worth pondering whether it is all really worthwhile if it is not necessarily going to benefit us personally, if we are going to be 'hated by all'.
The opening words about the Temple tells us that in fact the fate of Jerusalem, the centre of the faith of the ancient people of God, was no less fragile and transient. Neither the faith of ancient Israel nor that of the Church was ever going to insulate its adherents from adversity and strife. Another example of God being unjust!
I sometimes think that some 'christians' make a practice of being as uncharitable as possible towards those who are different, to provoke enmity, and they wear this enmity as a badge of honour. But the flaw in this argument is that whatever you do, someone will oppose it.
The question 'When will this be' seems innocuous enough, yet actually it is a very deceptive question. Knowing beforehand when something might happen actually determines what we do now. So, for instance, if we knew the world was going to end tomorrow, we might well make the most of tonight! We could spend all our savings unwisely as if there was no tomorrow, for there wouldn't be. And who would bother about worrying about who to vote for in the next election, for it wouldn't in fact happen? There would be no need to worry about the conditions that the indigenous people live in, for it would all be irrelevant tomorrow.
I note that all of these focus on our own personal benefit. Knowing the time something might happen puts us at an advantage over others, and it would be unusual for our God to single out someone to have an advantage over others when he 'sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous'. (Matt 5.45) Knowing that some event was immanent will often mean that we put off doing something good and to put off taking responsibility for our own destiny.
God wants us to live wisely, God wants us to consider who we should best vote for, and the state of life that many indigenous people suffer. God wants us to be a benefit to society. God wants us to make the best of this life for all people, and surely there is still enough to do to make this so!
We are invited to live wisely and this means that any conception that Christianity is a path of ease, an add on of worship, or a means of avoiding responsibility is entirely mistaken. If we act uncharitably, marginalizing women and alienating gay people for instance, 'christians' evade responsibility for this uncharitableness by quoting the bible. It is not 'their fault'.
Over the past few weeks I have been commenting on the unjust God. The biblical witness is that God's justice primarily includes the weak, the powerless, the marginalised, the alienated, those other than the 'chosen' or the 'elect'. As 'christians' we have a choice, yet God gives us a clear path to follow if that's our choice.
If we are going to spend our energies on trying to do what God wants knowing that this will not necessarily bring personal benefit - it is worthwhile making sure that we've got God's will clear in our own minds. When we benefit the weak, the powerless, the marginalised, the alienated, those other than the chosen or the elect, those who do not think, believe or worship like us we are automatically benefiting the society in which we live. To not do this means that no one is ever likely to benefit from our existence, and to actively promote difference and privilege means we condemn society to continue to live with the present injustices.
And working for the marginalized and alienated will provoke hatred, just as Jesus provoked hatred from those in positions of power and authority, when he associated with people other than themselves. It provokes hatred because such people want to be the centre of attention. So Jesus says: 'Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.' (Mark 12.38-40)
'When will this be?' was my text, and we might as well make it true here and now, for it is up to us. God has done everything possible and it is now up to us to take responsibility for our own actions and make the kingdom ours and everyone's, by including everyone.
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